To find the best news on trending topics in 2021, The Factual is conducting a series of studies using its AI-powered algorithm for rating the credibility of news articles and analysis. The Factual Grade — our measurement of an article’s credibility — can be used to help us identify which publishers, authors, and specific articles account for the most well-researched articles on any topic. 

The U.S. has reached a critical juncture in Afghanistan — the upcoming withdrawal of U.S. forces may mark the end of nearly 20 years of military involvement. Up-to-date, incisive journalism remains critical for helping keep the public informed, both on the conditions of our withdrawal and the impacts we may leave behind. The biggest concern now is that our departure could invite a period of chaos and collapse, with far-reaching impacts in the region and even in the realm of geopolitical competition. That makes informed journalism on the topic all the more important. 

The Topic: U.S. Withdrawal from Afghanistan

If U.S. forces truly depart by September 11, 2021, their absence will mark the end of a long and bloody U.S. presence, and ultimately yet another failed foray by outside powers into Afghanistan, known as the “graveyard of empires.” Though there are some strong reasons to retain a military footprint in the country, such as to safeguard against the growing influence of the Taliban, bolster the Afghan national government, and protect the Afghan people from harm, there are reasons to leave as well. The war is fairly unpopular with Americans, has been immensely costly over the last two decades, and has no end in sight. For these reasons, and especially because a continued U.S. presence will not change the fundamental dynamics on the ground, the Biden administration has chosen to end one of America’s “forever wars,” deeming it the best outcome, despite the apparent risks.

Finding the Best Articles

The Factual looks at four key metrics in every article: the number and diversity of links and direct quotes, the writing tone, the topical expertise of the author, and the publishing history of the hosting site. (To learn more, watch this video or see our How It Works page.) Together, the metrics give us a percentage score for each article, what we call the Factual Grade, which is essentially a measure of how well-researched and credible an article is. It’s quite difficult to score well, just 5% of articles in our dataset scored 80% or higher.

For this particular ranking, we wanted to spotlight just the very best, highest scoring articles in 2021 about Afghanistan. To do so, we first constructed a dataset 990 articles by searching through all articles analyzed by The Factual in 2021 for just those with “Afghanistan,” “Kabul,” or “Taliban” in the title. Then we can see which authors and publishers scored the very highest on individual articles. According to our algorithm, these articles should be among the most well-researched and informative of any out there.

However, there are some shortcomings to our data. While The Factual looks at 10,000+ articles every day, we cannot verifiably analyze everything published in the U.S. media. Likewise, our selected keywords may miss some stories. However, we have strong reasons to believe our data captures key elements of quality news.

The Top 5 Articles on the War in Afghanistan in 2021

  1. Taliban Boycotts Key Peace Talks After U.S. Pull-Out DelaySpencer Ackerman, Sami Yousafzai, and Noor Ibrahim
    Daily Beast  |  Factual Grade: 86%  |  Publisher Bias: LeftAckerman, Yousafzai, and Ibrahim look at how the prolonged timeline for U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan, once slated to happen by May 1, has impacted relations with the Taliban and how peace talks are essential to a sustainable post-U.S. future in Afghanistan.

    Key Quote: “…while Afghanistan may soon no longer be a theater of the Forever War, Biden accepts that some version of the Forever War will continue.”

  2. Candid reflections on Afghanistan from those whose lives were changed forever by the warHoward Altman
    Military Times  |  Factual Grade: 85%  |  Publisher Bias: Moderate RightAltman goes straight to the source by interviewing retired veterans who have spent multiple tours of duty in Afghanistan. His interviews extract poignant reflections on decades of sacrifice and conflict and capture well the complex mix of incentives for and against a continued U.S. presence in Afghanistan.

    Key Quote: “‘I was always in favor of a conditions-based approach in Afghanistan — but those conditions cannot be achieved solely by military force. We were unfortunately never able to get the Taliban, and the Afghan government to an extent, to constructively and seriously enter into a diplomatic process. I believe our withdrawal will certainly have an impact on the Afghan people — they deserve an opportunity for peace and stability and I fear that they may not see it soon.’”

  3. Americans are not unanimously war-weary on AfghanistanMadiha Afzal and Israa Saber
    Brookings Institution |  Factual Grade: 84%  |  Publisher Bias: Moderate LeftAfzal and Saber delve into American opinion polls about the future of U.S. forces in Afghanistan. They reveal a more complicated picture than just one of overall preference for withdrawal, with variation in the preferred timeline as well as differences between civilian and veteran opinions.

    Key Quote: “The American public is unsure about the next steps to take in Afghanistan, and for good reason: The decision is a very difficult one, with downsides to both staying and leaving.”

  4. Women in Afghanistan worry peace accord with Taliban extremists could cost them hard-won rightsMona Tajali and Homa Hoodfar
    The Conversation |  Factual Grade: 83%  |  Publisher Bias: CenterProfessors Tajali and Hoodfar take a skeptical eye to the ongoing peace process with the Taliban and the potential impacts on Afghan women. In particular, they discuss the treatment of women by the Taliban, the targeting of women in violent attacks, and the tenuous future for Afghan women, who crave safety, access to education, and a brighter future.

    Key Quote: “Today women compose around 27% of the Afghan Parliament, one of the highest rates of women’s political representation in the region.”

  5. Afghanistan: Biden Picks Up A Million Dollar Bill Trump Left On The GroundCurt Mills
    The American Conservative  |  Factual Grade: 83%  |  Publisher Bias: Moderate Right

Mills explores how interest in withdrawing from Afghanistan waxed and waned through the Trump era and, in some ways, led to Biden’s ability to withdraw now.

Key Quote: “Simply, Trump neutered conservative critiques of leaving the country. That’s not small stuff. Putting aside true belief at the outset, he clearly too long demurred, leaving a political million dollar bill on the ground for his successor to pick up if he lost re-election, which is what happened.”


Check out our companion articles:

The Best Journalists on the War in Afghanistan

The Best News Sources on the War in Afghanistan


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Published by Phillip Meylan

Phillip is a writer, researcher, and editor. He is a contributor to FP Analytics, Foreign Policy's research and advisory division, and an adjuct fellow with the Center for Strategic and International Studies. During Covid-19, he has spent time enjoying the great outdoors, reading, and watching soccer.