Conflict in Afghanistan began in 2001 as a three-phase attack and got worsened after the 9/11 hijack. The first phase was the overthrow of the Taliban (a fundamentalist group in Afghanistan then led by Osama Bin Laden), which lasted for just two months. The second phase began in 2002 and lasted till 2008; the US strategised to defeat the Taliban military and rebuild vital institutions of Afghanistan. The third phase began in 2008 and was forwarded with US President Barack Obama’s 2009 decision to increase US troop presence in Afghanistan.
The increased US force executed a strategy to protect native Afghanis from Taliban attacks and rebuild mutineers from within Afghan society. This strategy was soon integrated at the beginning of 2011 with the withdrawal strategy of the foreign forces from Afghanistan. Security responsibilities were handed over to the Afghan military and police. However, this move didn’t work and the aim was not achieved.
As the news of the withdrawal spread across the country, rebel attacks and incidents of casualty increased. The Afghan military and police units started taking up the responsibility of security to prepare against these attacks by the Taliban. The US and Nato combat missions ended in late 2014, bringing an end to the 13-year-long by the US, its longest.
Mujahideen groups, particularly the Islamic party led by Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, surrounded Kabul and began to bombard the city with artillery and rockets. These attacks continued for several years and Kabul’s countryside slipped into disruption. In response, the Taliban, another Islamic group that was being led by Mohammad Omar, emerged in the fall of 1994 and seized power by occupying Kabul in 1996.
Soon, the Afghan Arab started controlling the northern portion of Afghanistan that was held by an insecure coalition of mujahideen forces known as the Northern Alliance. The fight continued till 2001 when the Taliban refused the demands of the US government to deport Saudi Arabia exile Osma Bin Laden, leader of Islamic extremist group Al-Qaeda, which had a good friendship with the Taliban. Osama was accused of launching terrorist attacks against the United States.
On September 11, 2001, four US planes were hijacked and crashed, This drew the world’s attention to Afghanistan. It was said that the Al-Qaeda and 19 hijackers were trained in Afghanistan for this attack. After the hijack, the administration of US President George W Bush mingled around a strategy of first overthrowing the Taliban from Afghanistan, and then disassembling Al-Qaeda, though others were examining actions in Iraq such as capsizing its President Saddam Hussien. The US officials began executing the war when Omar refused to deliver the power to the US authorities and all the leaders of Al-Qaeda went to hide on Taliban’s land.
A few days after the attack on September 26, campaigning with the CIA (Central Intelligence Agency), also known as Jawbreaker, arrived in Afghanistan and started working with anti-Taliban allies to strategise an overthrow by the US officials so that they could avoid redistributing a large force to Afghanistan. The Pentagon officials were concerned that the US would not drive an extended occupation of Afghanistan, as it happened with the Soviet Union. The US relied on the Northern Alliance, which included Tajik leader Mohammed Fahim and Abdul Rashid Dostum. The US also teamed with anti-Taliban Pashtuns, including tribal leader Hamid Karzai.
The CIA team soon comprised the US and British special forces and provided equipment and advice to the Afghans. In October 2001, the US was helped by the CIA and the British in coordinating and targeting its air campaign. In late October, the Northern Alliance forces began to capture the few towns that were previously held by Taliban. These forces worked with the help of the US. On November 13, the Northern forces trudged into Kabul when the Taliban retreated without fighting.
On December 6, Kandahar (the largest city in southern Afghanistan), the Taliban’s spiritual home, fell and eventually marked the end of the Taliban. As the Taliban leadership retreated into rural areas and across the border to Pakistan, anti-Talibans were summoned at the UN-sponsored conference in Bonn, Germany. Karzai (who served from 2001 to 2014 as the President of Afghanistan) was selected to lead the country on a temporary basis.
There was a manhunt for Omar bin Laden and his Deputy Chief Ayman al Zawahri. In 2011, before the killing of Omar, Americans used to believe that they were closer to catching bin Laden. And when the battle of Tora Bora was fought, they believed they were very close to catching him.
But Omar was thought to have tumbled into Pakistan with the help of Afghan and Pakistani forces who were helping the Americans. Later, critics questioned why the US military allowed Afghan forces to lead the strike on the cave complex at Tora Bora instead of doing it by themselves. It was John Kerry (democratic presidential candidate) who had pointed out this criticism.
Meanwhile, Al-Qaeda decided to reestablish its operations in the tribal areas. Omar and his highest-ranked lieutenants settled around the Pakistani city of Quetta, a remote area in Balochistan. In March 2002, major battles of the first phase came in. Operation Anaconda in the eastern province of Patkai, US and Afghans was fighting with some 800 Al-Qaeda and Taliban militants. This marked the entrance of other countries’ troops including that of Canada, Germany, Norway and special forces from Australia.
In April 2002, Bush announced a Marshall Plan for Afghanistan and promised significant financial aid. But from the beginning, there wasn’t adequate funding for development. Between 2001 and 2009, over $38 billion were aided to Afghanistan for humanitarian and redevelopment. More than half of this money was invested in training and equipping Afghan security forces.
This aid programme was also pestered by confusion whether civilian or military had responsibilities for health, education and other developments. When the ISAF (International Security Assistance Force) did begin to proceed beyond Kabul, its efforts were obstructed by the warning from its component countries, restrictions of keeping all but a few of the militaries from laboriously engaging in the fight against the Taliban and al-Qaeda.
NATO’s first mission outside Europe was also disabled by the lack of troops as international allegiance with Afghanistan was marked. By 2010, more than 1,000 US troops were killed in Afghanistan. Both Britain and Canada established their troops in Afghanistan’s south, where fighting had been intense. Germany and Italy focused their forces in the north and the west region, where the outbreak was less intense.
The war lost popularity in many Western countries due to various casualties, which created the pressure of pulling out of all troops. On May 1, 2003, US Secretary of Defence Donald Rumsfeld announced the end of the major combat in Afghanistan. On this day, the aircraft carrier of President Bush announced that major combat operations in Iraq have ended.
The first democratic Afghan election was held on October 9, 2004, and Karzai was elected as the President for a term of five years. The Constitution framed in 2004 provided Afghanistan with a powerful Central government and weak local authorities. Karzai was considered a weak leader who went out of the way as the war proceeded. He survived several slaughter attacks, including a 2004 rocket attack.
His government was anxious about corruption and his effort of building a national army and police force was not supported from the start due to inadequate international support and differences among Afghanis. In 2005, the Taliban sustained its presence with new tactics portrayed on those used by rebels in Iraq.
Taliban was focused on battling against US and NATO forces with the use of bombardier and buried bombs known as IEDs but this strategy failed. Between January 2005 and August 2006, Afghanistan faced 64 suicide attacks. At first, the casualties were less but then the explosives increased and the number of deaths increased. In November 2007, around 70 people were killed as a parliamentary representative visited the northern town of Baghlan. Also, bombing at the Indian embassy in Kabul led to the death of 50 people.
As the Taliban grew, it led to a rise of anti-Western and anti-American grounds in Afghanistan. In May 2006, a US-military vehicle banged and killed several Afghans, leading to anti-American riots in Kabul. Later, NATO commanders took command of the war and American officials announced that the US would not participate much in the war as otherwise, the war would become increasingly international and reflect a greater need for US troops and resources in Iraq.
It was clear that the Taliban would launch more attacks. International forces forced the Taliban to restrict drug cultivation during their final year of power. Soon after, Afghanistan became the supplier of over 90% of the world’s opium.
As Taliban leaders hid in Pakistan, the US started targetting rebel leaders by firing missiles using remotely piloted drones. In 2007, Mullah Obaidullah, the Taliban leader was captured in Pakistan and killed later while fighting against the US forces. The US threatened to strike beyond Pakistani tribal areas and into regions of Balochistan in Pakistan if it did not agree to greater cooperation in battling with the Taliban.
On February 17, 2009, US President Barack Obama approved an addition of 17,000 US troops to the 36,000 US troops and 32,000 NATO members were already present there. McChrystal bought into implementing a new strategy in Iraq, in which US forces would give attention to protecting the population from rebels rather than killing the rebels. It encouraged conciliation between Karzai and Taliban leaders.
Soon after, McChrystal said that he did not have enough troops for executing the new strategy and predicted that the war would be lost in a year if there wasn’t an important troop rush. On December 1, President Barack Obama announced the sending of 30,000 additional troops to be deployed in Afghanistan by 2010; this led to an increase in the death number of US fighters.
Due to one of the US drone strikes in Pakistan, a major Taliban leader, Baitullah, was killed. Karzai won a five-year term in August 2009, although he had allegations of fraud and corruption had increased under his reign. In April 2010, he threatened to join the Taliban if the international community did not stop interfering in the Afghanistan administration, after which Barack Obama and Karzai worked together to improve their relationship.
In June 2010, Barack Obama replaced McChrystal with Gen David Petraeus because of McChrystal’s deprecating remarks to a Rolling Stone magazine reporter about Obama and other top administration officials. This created tension among the US and military commanders in Afghanistan. Obama still didn’t change the strategy. The information gathered between 2004 to 2009 was released in several newspapers, which indicated that the US Special Forces was tasked with the killing of a list of rebel leaders and Taliban and Pakistani intelligence service who had been working together in spite of US’ aid to Pakistan for helping in combating militants.
On May 2, 2011, the US forces killed Osama bin Laden. On June 22, Obama ordered the withdrawal of the US forces from Afghanistan and the plan called for the number of US troops in Afghanistan to be reduced by 30,000 within a year. A complete withdrawal of the fighting was planned forces by the end of 2014.
Seeing this, the French also withdrew its 4,000 soldiers from Afghanistan. In early 2012, there was a series of events that led to tensions between the US and the Afghan government. Afghans rioted and protested over reports of the US soldiers burning copies of the Qurʾān. On March 11, a US soldier allegedly left an American base near Panjwai and broke into several homes, shooting dead 17 Afghans.
In early 2012, US and Afghan arbitrators reached an agreement regarding some issues. The first agreement was signed in March — it set a six-month timetable to transfer Afghans obstructed by the US military to Afghan custody. The second agreement was signed next month, stating that the US forces would oversee and lead night raids to kill Taliban leaders.
In May, another agreement outlined the framework for economic and social security between the two countries and a withdrawal of NATO forces till 2014. The agreement also mentioned the continual support of the US military. Many Afghanis were afraid that the sudden removal of these forces would lead to civil wars. In December 2014, the US troops were reduced to 13,000. They were assigned the task of supporting and training Afghan troops.
In February 2020, Donald Trump started peace talks with the Taliban. He proposed that if the Taliban cuts off its relation with Al Qaeda and other terrorist groups, America would withdraw its forces. On March 9, 2020, some US troops withdrew from Afghanistan.
In early August 2021, around 650 US troops were withdrawn. US President Joe Biden stated that he doesn’t trust the Taliban, but was sure that the 3,00,000 soldiers of the Afghanistan army would easily be able to counter 85,000 Talibani fighters after their training. Afghanistan President Ashraf Ghani fled from Afghanistan when the Taliban captured Kabul, stating that he didn’t want bloodshed.
Finally, on August 15 this year, the Taliban entered Kabul, captured the presidential palace and within a few weeks, captured the whole of Afghanistan, overthrowing the previous government. Only Kabul airport was a place where people felt safe and tried boarding flights to different countries in order to save their lives.
Currently, the situation in the country is worse as girls are being kidnapped to marry Taliban fighters and ex-government officials are being assassinated.