A glance at a map and a little knowledge of the region suggest that the real reasons for Western military involvement may be largely hidden.
Afghanistan is adjacent to Middle Eastern countries that are rich in oil and natural gas. And though Afghanistan may have little petroleum itself, it borders both Iran and Turkmenistan, countries with the second and third largest natural gas reserves in the world. (Russia is first.)
Turkmenistan is the country nobody talks about. Its huge reserves of natural gas can only get to market through pipelines. Until 1991, it was part of the Soviet Union and its gas flowed only north through Soviet pipelines. Now the Russians plan a new pipeline north.
The Chinese are building a new pipeline east. The US is pushing for “multiple oil and gas export routes.” High-level Russian, Chinese and American delegations visit Turkmenistan frequently to discuss energy.The US even has a special envoy for Eurasian energy diplomacy.
Rivalry for pipeline routes and energy resources reflects competition for power and control in the region. Pipelines are important today in the same way that railway building was important in the 19th century. They connect trading partners and influence the regional balance of power. Afghanistan is a strategic piece of real estate in the geopolitical struggle for power and dominance in the region.