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When the Taliban Are in Your Bed room

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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, it’s a must to hold it collectively.

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

And the empty beer can in your trash that you just drank the evening earlier than Kabul fell in August if you had a sense this may 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 biggest operation towards the Taliban of the American battle in Afghanistan, if you have been a Marine in Helmand Province greater than a decade in the past. That was when the insurgents have been shadows within the reverse tree line, however now, in October, they’re toes away, standing subsequent to your mattress, separated by a decade and a misplaced battle.

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

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

These Talibs insist they’re right here to verify nothing has been stolen from what was as soon as the New York Instances Kabul bureau, and that all the pieces is correct the place we left it when all of the newspaper’s staff members fled the country, like hundreds of different Afghans and foreigners did, in August because the Afghan authorities collapsed.

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

That is the truth now: the tip of the battle and the brand new starting of the Islamic Emirate.

Essentially 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 encircling Inexperienced Zone belongs to the Taliban.

The Inexperienced 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 Help headquarters and a handful of different diplomatic missions.

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

It’s the place The New York Instances and different information companies 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 Division contractors had somewhat base with a supposed Starbucks inside. It’s the place embassy employees members dared not enterprise away from as a result of the battle was on. It’s the place armored vehicles have been deserted as Westerners scurried onto helicopters, in order that they may very well be ferried overseas because the Taliban entered town.

The Taliban now do what they please within the Inexperienced Zone. They’re investigating the deserted buildings, on the lookout for spies and weapons or something that might hurt them as a result of the individuals throughout the Inexperienced Zone as soon as did simply that, working the battle from behind its partitions. A blimp with cameras as soon as floated above it, watching all the pieces within the metropolis in shade and infrared. At Resolute Help headquarters, American officers approved airstrikes that killed Taliban and civilians alike.

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

“Are there navy weapons right here?” one Talib asks us, standing on the second ground of the Instances bureau in a room the place the safety supervisor as soon as painted miniature troopers. He carried a suitcase stuffed with them overseas because it collapsed.

No, there aren’t any navy weapons.

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

We would have liked the physique armor as a result of we have been masking the battle that simply ended, the place individuals killed each other with roadside bombs and artillery and airstrikes and Kalashnikovs. His query is sort of obscene, as if the violence his band of insurgents and the Western-backed Afghan authorities and NATO and america perpetrated had existed in some parallel universe.

We reply courteously as a result of our new landlords are carrying loads 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 garden is overgrown.

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

On the wall is a map of town of Kunduz and the place the Taliban entrance strains as soon as have been, with the insurgents held in test for a number of transient weeks by the demoralized and depleted Afghan security forces earlier than they evaporated and town fell.

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

“Free vehicles,” 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 navy 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.”

That is what dropping a battle appears to be like like. And the Taliban are nonetheless in my bed room.

One appears to be like about the identical 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 assumed then we have been going to win the battle or flip the tide or kill the fellows who are actually sifting by means of my wardrobe, pointing to a pair of sneakers in my closet. The very sneakers have 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.

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