Afghanistan War, a three-phase international battle in Afghanistan that began in 2001 in response to the September 11 attacks. The first stage was to depose the Taliban (the ultraconservative political and religious party that governed Afghanistan). Afghanistan and served as a safe haven for al-Qaeda, the perpetrators of the September 11 attacks)—was brief, lasting only two months.
The second phase, which lasted from 2002 to 2008, was defined by a US policy of militarily destroying the Taliban while reconstructing the basic institutions of the Afghan state. The third phase, a return to traditional counterinsurgency theory, began in 2008 and was expedited by US President Barack Obama’s 2009 decision to temporarily boost US military levels in Afghanistan.
Obama’s decision in 2009 to temporarily expand US troop presence in Afghanistan. The bigger force was deployed to carry out a policy of safeguarding the people from Taliban assaults and assisting rebels in their efforts to reintegrate into Afghan society. The policy was accompanied by a schedule for the withdrawal of foreign forces from Afghanistan; security duties would be gradually handed over to the Afghan military and police beginning in 2011.
The new strategy mostly failed to meet its objectives. Insurgent assaults and civilian fatalities were persistently high, while many of the Afghan military and police forces tasked with providing security seemed unprepared. to keep the Taliban at bay The 13-year Afghanistan War has been the longest war ever waged by the United States by the time the US and NATO combat operation formally concluded in December 2014.
Prelude to the September 11 attacks
The combined invasion of Afghanistan by the United States and the United Kingdom in late 2001 was preceded by more than two decades of conflict in Afghanistan (see Afghan War). On December 24, 1979, Soviet tanks rolled across the Amu Darya River and invaded Afghanistan, reportedly to restore stability following a coup that installed a pair of Marxist-Leninist political parties, the People’s (Khalq) Party and the Banner (Parcham) Party.
However, the Soviet presence sparked a countrywide revolt led by warriors known as mujahideen who saw Islam as a unifying source of motivation. These fighters received substantial clandestine support from Foreign volunteers who assisted Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, and the United States in their struggle (who soon formed a network, known as al-Qaeda, to coordinate their efforts). The Soviet soldiers were driven out of the country in 1989 as a result of the guerrilla struggle. In the absence of the Soviets, the mujahideen overthrew Afghanistan’s Soviet-backed government and installed a transitional administration
However, the mujahideen were politically divided, and the violent struggle increased in 1994. In 1996, the Taliban ascended to power and seized control of Kabul. It imposed a harsh interpretation of Islamic law, for example, forbidding female education and prescribing hand cutting or even execution as punishment for minor offenses.
That same year, after being exiled from Sudan, al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden was welcomed to Afghanistan and established his organization’s headquarters there. By the summer of 2001,
the Taliban had gained control of more than 90 percent of Afghan land with the assistance of al-Qaeda. On September 9, that year, al-Qaeda hitmen assassinated famed mujahideen leader Ahmad Shah Masoud, who was leading the Northern Alliance (a loose coalition of mujahideen militias that maintained control of a tiny area of northern Afghanistan at the time) in the war against the Taliban and had tried unsuccessfully to get more US backing for his efforts
The September 11 attacks
The hijacking and destruction of four US airliners on September 11th, 2001, attracted instant international attention to Afghanistan. The scheme was devised by al-Qaeda, and several of the 19 hijackers had trained in Afghanistan. After the attacks, President George W. Bush’s administration converged on a policy of first removing the Taliban from Afghanistan and destroying al-Qaeda,
while others considered measures in Iraq, including long-standing plans to depose President Saddam Hussein. Bush ordered that Taliban commander Mullah Mohammed Omar “deliver to [the] United States authorities all the leaders of al-Qaeda who are hiding in your land,” and when Omar refused, US officials began to investigate putting a battle strategy into action
The campaign in Afghanistan began surreptitiously on September 26, with a Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) unit known as Jawbreaker landing in the country and launching an overthrow plot with anti-Taliban partners. Officials in the United States thought that by collaborating with Afghans, they might be able to avoid committing a big force to Afghanistan. Pentagon leaders were especially worried that the United States not be dragged into a long-term occupation of Afghanistan.
Afghanistan, much like the Soviets had done more than two decades before. The US depended largely on the Northern Alliance, which had just lost Massoud but had reassembled under new leaders like Tajik leader Mohammed Fahim and Uzbek Abdul Rashid Dostum. The Americans also worked with anti-Taliban Pashtuns in southern Afghanistan, notably a little-known tribal leader called Hamid Karzai.
The CIA mission was quickly reinforced by special forces contingents from the United States and the United Kingdom, and together they provided guns, equipment, and advice to the Afghans. They also assisted in the coordination of targeting for the air campaign, which began on October 7, 2001, with U.S. and British warplanes hitting Taliban targets, thus launching Operation Enduring Freedom.
Northern Alliance forces began to seize control of a number of towns previously controlled by the Taliban in late October. The soldiers operated with US help, but they violated US wishes when, on November 13, they marched into Kabul as the Taliban fled without a fight.
Kandahar, the biggest city in southern Afghanistan and the Taliban’s spiritual heartland, surrendered on December 6, thus ending Taliban rule. It had been besieged by a force headed by Karzai that came in from the north and another led by Gul Agha Sherzai that pushed from the south, both with substantial help from the US.
As the Taliban leadership fled into rural Afghanistan and over the border into Pakistan, anti-Taliban officials gathered in Bonn, Germany, for a United Nations (UN)-sponsored meeting. Karzai was chosen to govern the country on an interim basis thanks to behind-the-scenes lobbying by the US.
An intense manhunt for Omar, bin Laden, and al-Qaeda deputy head Ayman al-Zawahiri was launched. Prior to bin Laden’s death by US troops in 2011 (see below), the Americans were said to have gotten closest to him in the December 2001 battle of Tora Bora (bin Laden’s mountain hideout).
However, bin Laden was suspected to have sneaked into Pakistan with the assistance of Afghan and Pakistani soldiers ostensibly assisting the Americans. Later, some questioned why the US military had permitted Afghan forces to spearhead the attack on the Tora Bora cave complex rather than doing so themselves. themselves. (In fact, during the 2004 general election campaign, Democratic presidential candidate Sen. John Kerry made this criticism repeatedly.) Following that, Al-Qaeda rebuilt its base of operations in the tribal territories that constitute Pakistan’s northwest border with Afghanistan.
Omar and his senior Taliban lieutenants established themselves in and around Quetta, Pakistan, in the remote southwestern province of Balochistan. One of the last important engagements of the First World War
The first phase of the conflict began in March 2002, with Operation Anaconda in the eastern region of Paktia, which featured US and Afghan forces battling 800 al-Qaeda and Taliban insurgents. The mission also heralded the entry of troops from other nations into the conflict, with special operations units from Australia, Canada, Denmark, France, Germany, and Norway taking part.
Iraq takes centre stage
With the demise of the Taliban and al-Qaeda, the world spotlight has moved to Afghanistan’s rebuilding and nation-building initiatives. In an April 2002 address at the Virginia Military Institute, Bush proposed a “Marshall Plan” for Afghanistan, offering considerable financial aid. However, development initiatives in Afghanistan were underfunded from the outset, since the focus in Washington had shifted to the oncoming conflict in Iraq.
Between 2001 and 2009, a little more than $38 billion was spent on humanitarian and rebuilding efforts. The United States Congress allocated funds for aid to Afghanistan. More than half of the funds were spent on training and equipping Afghan security personnel, with the balance representing a fraction of what experts said would be needed to improve a nation that has continuously placed near the bottom of global human development indexes.
The assistance program was also plagued by waste and misunderstanding over whether civilian or military officials were in charge of education, health, agriculture, and other development initiatives. Despite military pledges from dozens of US allies, the US originally opposed letting the other international soldiers, known as the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF), move beyond the Kabul region.
That decision was made by the Pentagon, which was concerned that Afghanistan would become a drain on US resources as emphasis turned to Iraq (see Iraq War). When ISAF did travel outside Kabul, its operations were impeded by the “caveats” of its component countries—restrictions that prevented all but a handful of the military from actively fighting the Taliban and al-Qaeda.
The force, which was led by the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) in the organization’s first deployment outside of Europe, was also hampered by a shortage of personnel as international pledges to Afghanistan waned.
The United States has continuously been the largest foreign force in Afghanistan, and it has suffered the greatest losses. By the spring of 2010, more than 1,000 US personnel had been killed in the Afghanistan war, while 300 British troops and 150 Canadians had died. Both the United Kingdom and Canada stationed soldiers in Afghanistan’s south, where the combat had been fierce.
More than 20 other nations lost troops throughout the conflict, while several, like Germany and Italy, decided to concentrate their forces in the north and west, where the resistance was weaker. As the battle carried on and deaths mounted, the war’s popularity waned in many Western countries. generating internal political pressure to keep soldiers out of harm’s way or to withdraw them entirely
At first glance, the battle looked to be won with relative ease. On May 1, 2003, United States Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld declared the end of “major fighting” in Afghanistan. On the same day, President Bush stated from the aircraft carrier USS Abraham Lincoln that “major combat operations in Iraq have ended.” At the time, the United States had 8,000 troops in Afghanistan. On October 9, 2004, the first democratic elections in Afghanistan following the Taliban’s collapse were held, with roughly 80% of registered voters voting.
Karzai will serve a full five-year term as president. A year later, parliamentary elections were held, with hundreds of women claiming seats made aside for them to guarantee gender diversity. The 2004 constitution established a dominant central government and weak regional and local governments in Afghanistan, a system that ran counter to the country’s long-standing traditions.
Despite the constitution’s broad powers, Karzai was largely viewed as a weak leader who became increasingly isolated as the war continued. He survived multiple assassination attempts, including a rocket strike on a helicopter he was traveling in September 2004, and security concerns kept him mainly restricted to Kabul’s presidential palace. Karzai’s government was plagued by corruption, and efforts to establish a national army and police force were hampered from the outset due to a lack of foreign backing and ethnic divisions among Afghans.
Beginning in 2005, violence increased as the Taliban reasserted its position with new methods inspired by Iraqi militants. Whereas the Taliban first focused on direct battle with US and NATO forces—a tactic that mostly failed to inflict substantial damage—their use of suicide bombers and buried explosives, known as IEDs (improvised explosive devices), began to cause severe losses. Between January 2005 and August 2006, Afghanistan was subjected to 64 suicide assaults, a strategy that had previously been almost unheard of in the country’s history.
At first, there were few casualties, but as training and the availability of high-powered explosives improved, the death toll began to rise: in one particularly vicious attack in November 2007, As a legislative delegation visited the northern town of Baghlan, at least 70 people were slain, many of them children. Less than a year later, a blast at the Indian embassy in Kabul killed more than 50 people; the Afghan government accused members of Pakistan’s intelligence service of participation in the attack, which Pakistan denied.
The emergence of the Taliban coincided with an increase in anti-American and anti-Western attitudes among Afghans. The slow pace of rebuilding, claims of prisoner mistreatment at US detention centers, rampant corruption in the Afghan government, and civilian fatalities as a result of US and NATO bombs fueled such views. In May 2006, a US military vehicle crashed and killed many Afghans, sparking the biggest anti-American protests in Kabul since the war began. Later that year, NATO seized leadership of the battle across the nation; American authorities stated that the US would play a smaller role and that the face of the conflict would be changed.
would become increasingly global. This change reflected the increased demand for US soldiers and resources in Iraq, where sectarianism was at an all-time high. In contrast, the war in Afghanistan was still seen as a relative success in Washington. For commanders on the ground in Afghanistan, however,
it was clear that the Taliban intended to expand its campaign, carrying out more regular assaults and increasing its funding from affluent individuals and organizations in the Persian Gulf. Afghanistan’s revived opium economy was another source of revenue. International pressure led the Taliban to restrict poppy planting during their final year in power, but after their departure in 2001,
the opium business resurfaced, with earnings supporting the insurgency in some regions of the country. Western-backed initiatives to discourage poppy-growing or urge farmers to plant other crops had no visible impact. impact; Afghanistan soon became the supplier of over 90 percent of the world’s opium.
Meanwhile, the US has only had little success in killing or apprehending Taliban commanders. Mullah Obaidullah Akhund, the Taliban’s number three leader, was kidnapped in Pakistan in early 2007, and months later, Mullah Dadullah, the Taliban’s senior military commander, was killed in battle with US forces. But those were the exceptions. Top rebel commanders remained at large, many of them in Pakistan’s tribal areas bordering Afghanistan. This fact spurred the US to begin targeting rebel leaders.
who resided in Pakistan and was armed with missiles launched by remotely controlled drones The CIA’s targeted killing operation was publicly denied by US authorities but widely known in private. Pakistani officials, for their part, publicly condemned the strikes but secretly approved of them as long as civilian fatalities were kept to a minimum. The US has regularly threatened to expand its drone operations beyond Pakistan’s tribal areas and into regions such as Balochistan if Pakistan does not show greater cooperation in combating the Taliban, a group it has long supported.
US troop surge and the conclusion of the US combat mission
US President Barack Obama arrived at the White House vowing to refocus attention and resources on Afghanistan’s failing military effort. On February 17, 2009, Obama authorized the deployment of an extra 17,000 US soldiers, in addition to the 36,000 US troops and 32,000 NATO military personnel currently stationed there.
Three months later, Obama took the unusual action of transferring a commanding general from a theater of war, appointing Gen. Stanley McChrystal in place of Gen. David McKiernan. While McKiernan was reshaping US policy in Afghanistan, Obama and other top officials realized that a more dramatic shift was required.
McChrystal was called in to conduct a new plan based after the surge approach in Iraq, in which US forces would focus on protecting civilians from insurgents rather than just killing huge numbers of terrorists. The plan also included attempts to convince enemy fighters to the desert, with the goal of eventually fostering reconciliation between the Karzai administration and Taliban commanders.
Soon after taking charge, McChrystal realized he didn’t have enough troops to carry out the new policy, and in September 2009, he expressed his worries in a secret memo that was later leaked to the press. McChrystal projected that if there was no substantial military increase, the war would be over in a year.
Following an extensive Afghan policy review—the second by the Obama administration in less than a year—the president made a speech at the United States Military Academy at West Point on December 1st, announcing a significant increase in the combat effort.30,000 more troops will be sent to Afghanistan by the summer of 2010. The new approach resulted in a rise in US combat casualties; specifically, during the first three months of 2010, US deaths were about double what they had been during the same period in 2009.
The increase in US soldiers was matched by a major increase in US drone attacks in Pakistan, one of which killed Pakistani Taliban commander Baitullah Mehsud. However, the CIA paid a price in late December 2009 when an al-Qaeda double agent detonated a suicide bomb at a Bagram airbase in the eastern province of Khost, killing seven CIA personnel.
The surge began in early 2010 with an attack on the insurgent-held town of Marja in Helmand’s southern region. Even though McChrystal planned a more ambitious attack in Kandahar, US Marines won a relatively fast success. On March 28, Obama made his first trip to Afghanistan as president, telling Karzai that he needed to clean up corruption in his administration. Karzai has won a second five-year term in an August 2009 election marred by numerous claims of fraud. In his inauguration address, Karzai pledged to root out corruption in his government, but there was few evidence that he had succeeded in the short term.
Meanwhile, Karzai said that he would try to reconcile with the Taliban; he repeatedly invited Mullah Omar to meet with him, but the Taliban leader refused. Under increasing US pressure, Karzai struck out in April 2010, threatening to join the Taliban if the international world did not cease intervening in Afghan affairs. Concerned over the statements, the White House attempted to rescind Karzai’s invitation to meet with Obama in Washington, D.C., but the visit went through as planned, with Karzai and Obama at least publicly attempting to repair their relationship.
Pakistan volunteered to facilitate Afghan peace negotiations, but Pakistan’s final position toward the Taliban remained a source of contention. Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, the Afghan Taliban’s second-in-command, was captured by Pakistani security forces in February 2010, an action that many US officials saw as an indication of Pakistan’s growing might. determination to collaborate with the US and Afghan governments to reduce the group’s power. Others, however, like former senior UN official in Kabul Kai Eide, said Baradar was a major Taliban supporter of
reconciliation, and that the arrest was meant to undermine efforts to end the conflict by a diplomatic, rather than a military, settlement.
In June 2010, Obama replaced McChrystal with General David Petraeus after McChrystal and several of his advisers made derogatory statements to a Rolling Stone magazine writer about Obama and other key government officials, including Vice President Joe Biden. Biden, National Security Advisor James L. Jones, and special representative to Afghanistan. The remarks highlighted simmering tensions between US military leaders in the region.
Afghanistan war, as well as certain members of the Obama administration’s civilian leadership. In announcing the change of command, Obama stated, “I encourage discussion among my staff, but I will not accept division.” Despite the move, Obama pledged that the US policy in Afghanistan would not alter. Petraeus, widely regarded as the primary creator of counterinsurgency theory in the United States military, was anticipated to maintain McChrystal’s emphasis on protecting the Afghan people from militants, strengthening Afghan government institutions, and limiting civilian fatalities.
Shortly after McChrystal’s resignation, the whistleblowing journalistic group Wikileaks published a collection of confidential documents pertaining to the Afghanistan War online and released them to numerous newspapers, including The New York Times, Der Spiegel, and The Guardian. The information was mostly raw intelligence acquired between 2004 and 2009, and Wikileaks dubbed it the “Afghan War Diary.” It highlighted previously unknown civilian casualties, disclosed that a US special forces unit was charged with capturing or murdering insurgent commanders on a list, and revealed that the Taliban used heat-seeking missiles against planes.
It indicated that, despite considerable US financing to Pakistan for its support in battling terrorists, the Pakistani intelligence service had been collaborating with Taliban troops. The US government denounced the leak as a security violation but claimed that the content of the release coincided with previous existing intelligence and did not contain any new material.
In 2011, developments with several of the war’s major objectives—apprehending top al-Qaeda leaders and dealing with the Taliban—were front and center. Bin Laden was killed by US forces on May 2, 2011, over ten years after escaping arrest at Tora Bora in Afghanistan, when US intelligence discovered him hiding in a fortified complex in Abbottabad, Pakistan. A gunfight ensued between the raiders and Osama bin Laden, who was killed in the operation. The next month, the U.S. For the first time, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates revealed that the US administration was having reconciliation discussions with the Taliban, albeit he underlined that the conversations were still ongoing.
Negotiations to settle the crisis were still in their early stages. Then, on June 22, Obama ordered an expedited departure of US soldiers from Afghanistan, claiming that the US had mostly achieved its objectives by disrupting al-Qaeda activities and killing many of its leaders. The plan aimed for a 30,000-strong reduction in US soldiers in Afghanistan within a year, with a full departure of combat forces by the end of 2014.
Hours after Obama’s separate announcement, French President Nicolas Sarkozy stated that France will begin withdrawing its 4,000 troops from Afghanistan. Burhanuddin Rabbani, a former Afghan president, and a major actor in peace discussions was murdered by a suicide bomber in September, putting an end to the long-running conflict.
In early 2012, a number of episodes heightened relations between the US and the Afghan government and sparked a popular outcry. A video depicting US Marines peeing on deceased Afghans surfaced in the media in mid-January, prompting apologies from US officials. Several weeks later, Afghans rioted and demonstrated in response to allegations that US soldiers had burned copies of the Quran at a military installation.
Then, on March 11, a US soldier allegedly stormed into numerous homes in Panjwai and shot dead 17 Afghans, mostly women, and children. The act sparked huge protests and drew harsh criticism from Karzai. After a few days, the Taliban decided to call it quits.
involvement in negotiations with the US and the Afghan government
NATO’s attempts to train and equip the Afghan army and police were hindered later that year by an upsurge in assaults in which Afghan troops and police turned their guns against NATO personnel. These assaults compelled NATO soldiers to implement stricter screening measures and to stop training for some units.
Meanwhile, in early 2012, US and Afghan officials achieved an agreement on two topics that had been a source of contention between the Obama and Karzai administrations. The first agreement, reached in March, established a six-month timeline for the transfer of Afghan detainees detained by the US troops to Afghan custody. The second agreement, inked in April, said that Afghan troops would oversee and conduct night raids to arrest or kill Taliban commanders. These attacks, formerly spearheaded by US special forces, had constituted a significant component of the fight against the Taliban since 2009. Afghan politicians, on the other hand, have long complained that the operations infringed Afghan sovereignty and that surprise invasion of private houses alienated the people and boosted sympathy for the insurgency.
The March and April agreements on prisoners and night raids paved the path for the US and Afghanistan to negotiate a further agreement in May defining a framework for economic and security cooperation between the two nations following the removal of NATO combat forces in 2014. the US agreed to provide military assistance to the Afghan government until 2014, but the deal left open the possibility that some NATO and US troops might remain in Afghanistan after that year forces would remain in Afghanistan as trainers and advisers 2014. That was to be established by a second agreement, the Bilateral Security Agreement.
Even while the presence of foreign forces in Afghanistan remained highly unpopular, many Afghans feared that a hasty exit would enable the nation to devolve into civil war or chaos.
The question of leaving foreign soldiers in the nation after NATO combat operations ended remained unresolved until the latter half of 2014. Karzai, who was nearing the end of his presidency, refused to sign the Bilateral Security Agreement before leaving office, and the election of his successor was delayed by a protracted recount. Ashraf Ghani was inaugurated as president in late September 2014 and promptly signed the Bilateral Security Agreement. On December 28, 2014, the United States and NATO formally concluded their combat operation in Afghanistan, but a reduced presence of around 13,000 troops remained to support and train Afghan troops until a drawdown was finalized in 2020. A full withdrawal of US soldiers, begun in 2020 and expected to last until 2021, anticipated the end of US commitment to Afghanistan, but the return of the Taliban during the drawdown left the nation in a similar state as when US forces entered 20 years earlier.