US forces have now spent almost as much as time in Afghanistan as the Greeks at Troy. Even by the most optimistic assessments, they will return well after the Greeks did from Illium. That a campaign on distant shores has been sustained for close to a decade by the blood, bone and sinew of volunteers beggars the imagination. If every nation has its Illiad, this is the American one.

I think I know why US troops are fighting. But I am puzzled about why the Taliban are. Consider the following `what if’. What if, when the US entered Afghanistan, the Taliban leadership scurried over the border to Pakistan (which they did) whilst rank and file hid their weapons and passed themselves off as `civvies’. In short they, the Taliban, sat on their hands. Afghanistan would have been considered `pacified’ or `safe for democracy’. The desire to bring troops home or redeploy to Iraq coupled with no pressing peace keeping duties in Afghanistan would have  resulted in elections in a year, two at most. A feckless, corruptible government would come to power. The US would exit leaving a token force as advisors and trainers. The conditions would be ripe for the country to descend again into the chaos which the Taliban exploited to come to power the first time. It is unlikely the US would return to eject the Taliban. All told, the Taliban would have been back on top by 2006.