Afghans have known conflict for more than three decades. From the desert flats of Kandahar to the high plateaus of Badakhshan, everyone has been touched by the sharp edge of war, uncertainty and deprivation. In America's 15-year campaign against the Taliban, errant airstrikes, night raids and gun battles have displaced tens of thousands of civilians. Militant attacks continue to kill record numbers and uproot even more. And predatory behavior by Afghan security forces has helped turn communities against the government they claim to represent.
The toll of endless conflict is collective trauma, which fuels more conflict. While American veterans count on world-class medical facilities and psychological support for their invisible wounds, mental health care in Afghanistan—for soldiers and civilians alike—is almost non-existent. With nowhere to turn, new generations succumb to nihilism and drug addiction that moves the country closer to what so much has been spent to avoid: a failed state. Returning for the first time in four years, journalist Jason Motlagh reports from a shell-shocked nation.