The country has been at war since Soviet forces invaded around Christmas 1979. The Soviets withdrew in defeat 10 years later, beaten by Afghanistan's mujahideen and bands of Arab fighters led by an obscure, tall figure at the time: Osama bin Laden.
In the 1990s, Afghanistan descended into civil war until a Pakistan-sponsored army known as the Taliban consolidated power and took control of most of the country in 1996. Only Pakistan and Saudi Arabia recognized the new regime, which gave refuge to bin Laden by the end of the decade, when bin Laden was booted out of Sudan.
George W. Bush launched the invasion of Afghanistan in October 2001 after the 9/11 attacks. His twin objectives: defeat al-Qaeda and rebuild Afghanistan. He failed at both, and soon virtually abandoned Afghanistan to refocus American power on invading Iraq. The Taliban, once routed, reconstituted and took over about 70% of the country by the end of the decade as the Afghan presidency of Hamid Karzai proved a mixture of incompetence and corruption.
Soon after taking office in January 2009, Barack Obama escalated American involvement in Afghanistan, and did so again late in the year under intense pressure from Gen. Stanley McChrystal, his commander in Afghanistan. But Obama did not explain how or what he would do differently in the field to defeat the Taliban. Nor did he set Afghan democracy as an objective.
At the beginning of a new decade, Afghanistan's prospects for peace looked no brighter than they did at the beginning of the previous decade, or the decade before that.