Such opinions highlight a contrast between American and Afghan perspectives on the longest foreign war in U.S. history, one that killed thousands of Afghans and, at the latest count, claimed the lives of 1,760 U.S. troops.

They also explain the Taliban’s ability to rally popular support—in part by seizing the narrative to portray the war not as one triggered by America’s need for self-defense, but as one of colonial aggression by infidels lusting for Afghanistan’s riches…

According to a survey of 15- to 30-year-old men in the two southern provinces where President Barack Obama sent the bulk of American surge troops, 92% of respondents said they didn’t know about “this event which the foreigners call 9/11” after being read a three-paragraph description of the attacks.

“Nobody explained to them the 9/11 story—and it’s hard to win the hearts and minds of the fighting-age males in Helmand if they don’t even know why the foreigners are here,” says Norine MacDonald, president of the International Council on Security and Development, the think tank that carried out the survey of 1,000 Afghan men in eight districts of Kandahar and Helmand. “There is a vacuum—and it’s being filled by al Qaeda and Taliban propaganda claiming that we are here to destroy Islam.”