Frontline: “America and the Taliban”

Tuesday, April 4 at 9 p.m.

How did the U.S. lose the war in Afghanistan? Who bears responsibility? And what has been the human cost?

FRONTLINE investigates those questions in an epic, three-part documentary series, America and the Taliban.

Drawing on 20 years of on-the-ground reporting and revealing new interviews with both U.S. and Taliban officials, award-winning producers Marcela Gaviria and Martin Smith chronicle how what began in the wake of the 9/11 attacks as an effort to eliminate Al Qaeda and oust its ruling ally, the Taliban, became America’s longest war — and how it ended in defeat in August 2021 with U.S. troops withdrawing, the Western-backed government collapsing, nearly 50,000 Afghan civilians dead, approximately 2,400 American servicemembers killed, and the Taliban once again in control.

“For all the lives and money spent, over two trillion dollars, Afghanistan has regressed to what it was before America invaded, a country where women are denied an education, music is banned, beards for men are mandatory and homosexuality is punishable by death,” says Smith, who has been covering Afghanistan and the Middle East for FRONTLINE for two decades. “Our new series traces the mistakes, miscalculations and hubris that allowed this to happen.”

Over the last 18 months, Smith pressed former U.S. military leaders and officials — including retired Gen. David Petraeus and retired Lt. Gen. Douglas Lute — about America’s approach in Afghanistan, and sat down with U.S. soldiers and Marines who carried that approach out. He spoke with U.S. diplomats, among them former ambassador to Afghanistan Zalmay Khalilzad, who negotiated the 2020 deal with the Taliban to end the war. On the ground in Afghanistan, Smith met and asked tough questions of numerous Taliban officials, many of whom have never before spoken publicly, among them senior members of the powerful Haqqani clan and the governor of Helmand, Afghanistan’s largest province. Smith also interviewed former high-ranking members of the Afghan government, the former commander of Afghanistan’s Special Forces, and numerous Afghan civilians — including, in powerful split-screens, people he first met while reporting in Afghanistan years earlier and tracked down again now to see how their lives have changed.

Ultimately, Smith and the rest of the film team pieced together a trail of missteps and missed opportunities dating back to the war’s very beginning.

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