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When the Taliban Are in Your Bedroom

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KABUL, Afghanistan — When the Taliban are in your bed room and there’s {a photograph} of you on the wall holding an American flag, a rifle and dressed like a recruiting industrial for the Marines, you need to maintain it collectively.

Then there’s the kitschy mug in your desk that you simply picked up from a store simply as Bagram Air Base closed in July. It reads, “Been there…done that/Operation Enduring Freedom.”

And the empty beer can in your trash that you simply drank the night time earlier than Kabul fell in August whenever you had a sense this could be the final beer you drink in Afghanistan for awhile as a result of the insurgents-turned-rulers don’t take kindly to booze.

And that picture of you in uniform? Taken simply earlier than the largest operation towards the Taliban of the American struggle in Afghanistan, whenever you had been a Marine in Helmand Province greater than a decade in the past. That was when the insurgents had been shadows in the reverse tree line, however now, in October, they’re toes away, standing subsequent to your mattress, separated by a decade and a misplaced struggle.

But the Taliban aren’t right here to take something or kill you, regardless that that they had loads of probabilities to do exactly that whenever you deployed in 2008, and in 2009. Or whenever you had been a journalist in the nation years afterward.

But they nonetheless managed to kill some guys in your unit and blew others in half, one thing not misplaced on you as they choose up and put again a memorial bracelet engraved with the names of your mates (Josh, Matt and Brandon) and a line from a John McCrae poem: “We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow.”

These Talibs insist they’re right here to ensure nothing has been stolen from what was as soon as the New York Times Kabul bureau, and that all the things is true the place we left it when all of the newspaper’s employees members fled the nation, like 1000’s of different Afghans and foreigners did, in August as the Afghan authorities collapsed.

And all the things is true the place I left it. There’s the new Xbox I purchased at Dubai International Airport after I flew again into Afghanistan in late July, nearly two weeks earlier than Kabul fell, pondering that Kabul wouldn’t fall and that I’d have loads of time to play Microsoft Flight Simulator. My soiled laundry is in the hamper. My mattress is made. There is a skinny layer of mud on all the things.

This is the actuality now: the finish of the struggle and the new starting of the Islamic Emirate.

The most distinct and reoccurring reminders of the lengthy U.S. presence are the black American-supplied rifles now cradled by Taliban at checkpoints and on amusement rides and slung on the again of their motorbikes. The acquainted and intrusive thunder of the helicopters flying into the U.S. Embassy isn’t any extra, as a result of the U.S. Embassy isn’t any extra, and the surrounding Green Zone belongs to the Taliban.

The Green Zone, or worldwide zone, was blocks of concrete blast partitions constructed round what was as soon as an prosperous neighborhood with tree-lined streets, till it was was a fortress that linked the American Embassy and NATO’s Resolute Support headquarters and a handful of different diplomatic missions.

Now all that infrastructure is only a skeleton of a 20-year struggle, misplaced by the diplomats and troopers who as soon as lived inside it: a museum to failure.

It’s the place The New York Times and different information businesses stored their bureaus, and the place I had returned final month to proceed protection of Afghanistan and examine what had occurred to our compound.

It’s the place the State Department contractors had a bit base with a supposed Starbucks inside. It’s the place embassy employees members dared not enterprise away from as a result of the struggle was on. It’s the place armored automobiles had been deserted as Westerners scurried onto helicopters, so that they could possibly be ferried out of the nation as the Taliban entered the metropolis.

The Taliban now do what they please in the Green Zone. They’re investigating the deserted constructions, on the lookout for spies and weapons or something that might hurt them as a result of the folks inside the Green Zone as soon as did simply that, operating the struggle from behind its partitions. A blimp with cameras as soon as floated above it, watching all the things in the metropolis in colour and infrared. At Resolute Support headquarters, American officers licensed airstrikes that killed Taliban and civilians alike.

Why wouldn’t the Taliban search each nook? Look underneath each desk? To them, it’s nearly like the Green Zone is the Dragon King Under the Mountain, one thing that might flip the struggle again on in the event that they one way or the other woke it up.

“Are there military weapons here?” one Talib asks us, standing on the second flooring of the Times bureau in a room the place the safety supervisor as soon as painted miniature troopers. He carried a suitcase stuffed with them out of the nation because it collapsed.

No, there are not any army weapons.

One Talib factors to the physique armor on high of a closet. “This is military, no?” he asks in near-perfect English. “Why would you need this?”

We wanted the physique armor as a result of we had been protecting the struggle that simply ended, the place folks killed each other with roadside bombs and artillery and airstrikes and Kalashnikovs. His query is nearly obscene, as if the violence his band of insurgents and the Western-backed Afghan authorities and NATO and the United States perpetrated had existed in some parallel universe.

We reply courteously as a result of our new landlords are carrying plenty of weapons with them.

I throw away a membership soda that has been sitting on the kitchen desk since August. The fridge is rancid. The backyard is overgrown.

The Taliban stroll by means of the bureau inspecting a house and workplace frozen at the second of collapse. On the mattress in the room reverse mine is an open suitcase, half-packed, garments scattered about. In the small newsroom downstairs, the white board that marked the fall of provincial capitals continues to be there, although in the finish, the nation fell aside too quick to trace.

On the wall is a map of the metropolis of Kunduz and the place the Taliban entrance strains as soon as had been, with the insurgents held in test for just a few temporary weeks by the demoralized and depleted Afghan safety forces earlier than they evaporated and the metropolis fell.

Now, in Kabul, the Taliban are driving round in the Afghan army’s vans and Humvees and armored personnel carriers, and sporting their uniforms.

“Free cars,” one Talib had messaged me days earlier from the entrance seat of some armored S.U.V. that had belonged to a contracting firm or got here from an deserted army motor pool. He then despatched an image of his rifle, additionally free, with its markings circled: “Property of U.S. Gov. M4 Carbine. Cal 5.56 MM W0207610.”

This is what dropping a struggle seems to be like. And the Taliban are nonetheless in my bed room.

One seems to be about the similar age I used to be in that {photograph} on my wall the place I’m standing beside a big and newly unpackaged American flag, holding that rifle and grinning, as a result of I believed then we had been going to win the struggle or flip the tide or kill the guys who at the moment are sifting by means of my wardrobe, pointing to a pair of sneakers in my closet. The very footwear had been the topic of an article we wrote: “In Afghanistan, Follow the White High-Tops and You’ll Find the Taliban.”

He smiles, factors and tries them on.