The War in Afghanistan
The War in Afghanistan (2001–present) began on October 7, 2001, as a response to the September 11, 2001 attacks on the United States of America (U.S.). This marked the beginning of the U.S. War on Terrorism. The stated purpose of the invasion was to capture Osama bin Laden, destroy al-Qaeda, and remove the Taliban regime which had provided support and safe harbour to al-Qaeda.
The U.S. and Britain led the aerial bombing campaign, with ground forces supplied primarily by the Afghan Northern Alliance. In 2002, US and British infantry joined the attack. Later NATO troops were added. The U.S. military name of the conflict was Operation Enduring Freedom (OEF).
The war removed the Taliban from power for some time, but there has been a resurgence in Taliban forces. The war has been less successful in achieving the goal of restricting al-Qaeda's movement. Since the invasion, Afghanistan has become less stable due to increased warlord and Taliban activity, growing illegal drug production, and a fragile government with limited control outside of Kabul.
From May 1996, Osama bin Laden had been living in Afghanistan along with other members of al-Qaeda, operating terrorist training camps in a loose alliance with the Taliban. Following the 1998 US embassy bombings in Africa, the US military launched submarine-based cruise missiles at these camps with limited effect on their overall operations.
The UN Security Council had issued Resolutions 1267 and 1333 in 1999 and 2000 directed towards the Taliban which applied financial and military hardware sanctions to encourage them to turn over bin Laden to appropriate authorities for trial in the deadly bombings of two U.S. embassies in Africa in August 1998, and close terrorist training camps.
The 9-11 attacks
After the September 11, 2001, attacks, investigators rapidly accumulated evidence implicating bin Laden, who initially publicly denied any involvement in the attacks. However, shortly before the 2004 U.S. presidential election, in a taped statement, bin Laden publicly acknowledged his and al-Qaeda's direct involvement in the 9-11 attacks. In an audiotape posted on a website that the U.S. claims is "frequently used by al-Qaeda", on May 21, 2006, bin Laden said he had personally directed the 19 hijackers.
On 20 September 2001, in an address to a joint session of Congress, U.S. President George W. Bush delivered an ultimatum to the Taliban, to:
deliver al-Qaeda leaders located in Afghanistan to the United States
release all imprisoned foreign nationals, including American citizens
protect foreign journalists, diplomats, and aid workers in Afghanistan
close terrorist training camps in Afghanistan and "hand over every terrorist and every person and their support structure to appropriate authorities"
give the United States full access to terrorist training camps to verify their closure
The Taliban refused to directly speak to Bush, stating that talking with a non-Muslim political leader would be an insult to Islam. But they made statements through their embassy in Pakistan: the Taliban rejected the ultimatum on September 21, 2001, saying there was no evidence in their possession linking bin Laden to the September 11 attacks. On September 22, 2001 the United Arab Emirates, and on the following day, Saudi Arabia withdrew their recognition of the Taliban as the legal government of Afghanistan, leaving neighboring Pakistan as the only remaining country with diplomatic ties. On October 4, 2001, it is believed that the Taliban covertly offered to turn bin Laden over to Pakistan for trial in an international tribunal that operated according to Islamic Sharia law. Pakistan is believed to have rejected the offer.
Moderates within the Taliban allegedly met with American embassy officials in Pakistan in mid-October to work out a way to convince Mullah Muhammed Omar to turn bin Laden over to the U.S. and avoid its impending retaliation. President Bush rejected these offers made by the Taliban as insincere. On October 7, 2001, before the onset of military operations, the Taliban made an open offer to try bin Laden in Afghanistan in an Islamic court. This counteroffer was immediately rejected by the U.S. as insufficient. It was not until October 14, 2001, seven days after war had broken out, that the Taliban openly offered to hand bin Laden over to a third country for trial, but only if they were given evidence of bin Laden's involvement in 9/11.
The UN Security Council did not have to authorize the use of force in the NATO-led military operations in Afghanistan as it was an act of collective self-defense provided for under Article 51 of the UN Charter. The Security Council has, however, authorized the International Security Assistance Force to use force in its mission of securing the country.
Timeline of the War
2001: Initial attack
At approximately 16:15 UTC (12:15 p.m. EDT, 20:45 local time) on Sunday October 7, 2001, American and British forces began an aerial bombing campaign targeting Taliban forces and al-Qaeda . Strikes were reported in the capital, Kabul (where electricity supplies were severed), at the airport and military nerve-centre of Kandahar (home of the Taliban's Supreme Leader Mullah Omar), and also in the city of Jalalabad (training camps). The U.S. government justified these attacks as a response to the September 11, 2001, attacks and the failure of the Taliban to meet any U.S. demands. The Taliban condemned these attacks and called them an "attack on Islam."
At 17:00 UTC, President Bush confirmed the strikes on national television and British Prime Minister Tony Blair also addressed the UK. Bush stated that at the same time as Taliban military and terrorists' training grounds would be targeted, food, medicine, and supplies would be dropped to "the starving and suffering men, women and children of Afghanistan."
CNN released exclusive footage of Kabul being bombed to all the American broadcasters at approximately 5:08pm October 7th, 2001. A number of different technologies were employed in the strike. US Air Force general Richard Myers, chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, stated that approximately 50 Tomahawk cruise missiles, launched by British and U.S. submarines and ships, 15 strike aircraft from aircraft carriers and 25 bombers, such as B-1 Lancer, B-2 Spirit, B-52 Stratofortress and F-16 Fighting Falcon were involved in the first wave. Two C-17 Globemaster transport jets were to deliver 37,500 daily rations by airdrop to refugees inside Afghanistan on the first day of the attack.
A pre-recorded videotape of Osama bin Laden had been released before the attack in which he condemned any attacks against Afghanistan. Al Jazeera, the Arabic satellite news channel, reported that these tapes were received shortly before the attack. In this recording bin Laden claimed that the United States would fail in Afghanistan and then collapse, just as the Soviet Union did, and called for a war of Muslims, a jihad, against the U.S.
Initial air campaigns
A USAF Tactical Air Control Party JTAC sends coordinates for air strike (identities censored for security purposes).
Bombers operating at high altitudes well out of range of anti-aircraft fire began to bomb the al-Qaeda training camps and Taliban air defenses. During the initial build-up preceding the actual attack, there had been speculation in the media that the Taliban might try to use U.S.-built Stinger anti-aircraft missiles that were the bane of Soviet helicopters during the Soviet occupation in the 1980s. If any of these missiles existed at the time of the air campaign, they were never used and the U.S. didn't lose any aircraft to enemy fire. Beyond that, the Taliban had little to offer in the way of anti-aircraft weaponry, relying mostly on left-over arms and weapons from the Soviet invasion. U.S. aircraft, including Apache helicopter gunships, operated with impunity throughout the campaign, while cruise missiles pounded the country.
The strikes initially focused on the area in and around the cities of Kabul, Jalalabad, and Kandahar. Within a few days, most al-Qaeda training sites had been severely damaged and the Taliban's air defenses had been destroyed. The campaign then focused on command, control, and communication targets which weakened the ability of the Taliban forces to communicate. However, the line facing the Afghan Northern Alliance held, and no tangible battlefield successes had yet occurred on that front. Two weeks into the campaign, the Northern Alliance demanded the air campaign focus more on the front lines. As the war dragged on civilian casualties also began to mount in the affected areas. Meanwhile, thousands of Pashtun militiamen from Pakistan poured into the country, reinforcing the Taliban against the U.S. led forces.
The next stage of the campaign began with carrier based F/A-18 Hornet fighter-bombers hitting Taliban vehicles in pinpoint strikes, while other U.S. planes began cluster bombing Taliban defenses. For the first time in years, Northern Alliance commanders finally began to see the serious results that they had long hoped for on the front lines. The Taliban support structure began to erode under the pressure of the air-strikes. U.S. Special Forces then launched an audacious raid deep into the Taliban's heartland of Kandahar, even striking one of Mullah Omar's compounds. However, the campaign's progress seemed to remain very slow. The last week of October had ended, and it was now the beginning of November.
At this time, the next stage of the air campaign began to fulfill long-awaited Northern Alliance expectations. The Taliban front lines were bombed with 15,000-pound daisy cutter bombs, and by AC-130 gunships. Poor Taliban tactics increased the effects of the strikes. The fighters had no previous experience with American firepower, and often even stood on top of bare ridgelines where Special Forces could easily spot them and call in close air support. By November 2, Taliban frontal positions were decimated, and a Northern Alliance march on Kabul seemed possible for the first time. Foreign fighters from al-Qaeda took over security in the Afghan cities, demonstrating the instability of the Taliban regime. Meanwhile, the Northern Alliance and their CIA/Special Forces advisors planned the next stage of their offensive. Northern Alliance troops would seize Mazari Sharif, thereby cutting off Taliban supply lines and enabling the flow of equipment from the countries to the north, followed by an attack on Kabul itself.
Land advances: Mazari Sharif
On November 9, 2001, the battle for Mazari Sharif began. U.S. bombers carpet-bombed Taliban defenders concentrated in the Chesmay-e-Safa gorge that marks the entrance to the city. At 2 p.m., Northern Alliance forces then swept in from the south and west, seizing the city's main military base and airport. The forces then mopped up the remnants of the Taliban in the gorge in front of the city, meeting only light resistance. Within 4 hours, the battle was over. By sunset, what remained of the Taliban was retreating to the south and east. Mazari Sharif was taken. The next day, Northern Alliance forces seeking retribution combed the city, shooting suspected Taliban supporters in on-the-spot executions. Approximately 520 Taliban, demoralized and defeated, many of whom were fighters from Pakistan, were massacred when they were discovered hiding in a school. Looting was also widespread throughout Mazari Sharif.
The same day the massacres of former Taliban supporters were taking place in Mazari Sharif, November 10, Northern Alliance forces swept through five northern provinces in a rapid advance. The fall of Mazari Sharif had triggered a complete collapse of Taliban positions. Many local commanders switched sides rather than fight. The regime was beginning to unravel at the seams throughout the north. Many of the their front line troops were outflanked and then surrounded in the northern city of Kunduz as the Northern Alliance drove past them southwards. Even in the south, their hold on power seemed tenuous at best. The religious police stopped their regular patrols. A complete implosion of the Taliban regime seemed imminent.
The fall of Kabul
Finally, on the night of November 12, Taliban forces fled from the city of Kabul, leaving under cover of darkness. By the time Northern Alliance forces arrived in the afternoon of November 13, only bomb craters, burned foliage, and the burnt out shells of Taliban gun emplacements and positions were there to greet them. A group of about twenty hardline Arab fighters hiding in the city's park were the only remaining defenders. This Taliban group was killed in a brief 15-minute gun battle, being heavily outnumbered and having had little more than some shrub to shield them. After these forces were neutralized Kabul was in the hands of the US/NATO forces and the Northern Alliance.
The fall of Kabul marked the beginning of a collapse of Taliban positions across the map. Within 24 hours, all of the Afghan provinces along the Iranian border, including the key city of Herat, had fallen. Local Pashtun commanders and warlords had taken over throughout northeastern Afghanistan, including the key city of Jalalabad. Taliban holdouts in the north, comprised of mainly Pakistani volunteers, fell back to the northern city of Konduz to make a stand. By November 16, the Taliban's last stronghold in northern Afghanistan was besieged by the Northern Alliance. Nearly 10,000 Taliban fighters, led by foreign fighters, refused to surrender and continued to put up stubborn resistance. By then, the Taliban had been forced back to their heartland in southeastern Afghanistan around Kandahar.
By November 13, al-Qaeda and Taliban forces, with the possible inclusion of Osama bin Laden, had regrouped and were concentrating their forces in the Tora Bora cave complex, on the Pakistan border 50 kilometres (30 mi) southwest of Jalalabad, to prepare for a stand against the Northern Alliance and US/NATO forces. Nearly 2,000 al-Qaeda and Taliban fighters fortified themselves in positions within bunkers and caves, and by November 16, U.S. bombers began bombing the mountain fortress. Around the same time, CIA and Special Forces operatives were already at work in the area, enlisting and paying local warlords to join the fight and planning an attack on the Tora Bora complex.
The fall of Kunduz
Just as the bombardment at Tora Bora was stepped up, the siege of Kunduz that began on November 16 was continuing. Finally, after nine days of heavy fighting and American aerial bombardment, Taliban fighters surrendered to Northern Alliance forces on November 25-November 26. Shortly before the surrender, Pakistani aircraft arrived to evacuate a few hundred intelligence and military personnel who had been in Afghanistan previous to the U.S. invasion for the purpose of aiding the Taliban's ongoing fight against the Northern Alliance. It is believed that up to five thousand people in total were evacuated from the region, including Taliban and al-Qaeda troops allied to the Pakistanis in Afghanistan.
On November 25, the day that Taliban fighters holding out in Kunduz finally surrendered and were being herded into the Qala-i-Jangi fortress near Mazar-I-Sharif, a few Taliban attacked some Northern Alliance guards, taking their weapons and opening fire. This incident soon triggered a widespread revolt by 600 prisoners, who soon seized the southern half of the complex, once a medieval fortress, including an armory stocked with small arms and crew-served weapons. One American CIA operative who had been interrogating prisoners, Johnny Micheal Spann, was killed, marking the first American combat death in the war. The revolt was finally put down after seven days of heavy fighting between a SBS unit along with some Green berets and Northern Alliance, AC-130 gunships and other aircraft took part providing strafing fire on several occasions, as well as a bombing airstrikes. Fewer than 100 of the several hundred Taliban prisoners survived, and around 50 Northern Alliance soldiers were killed. The quashing of the revolt marked the end of the combat in northern Afghanistan, where local Northern Alliance warlords were now firmly in control.
Consolidation: the taking of Kandahar
By the end of November, Kandahar, the movement's birthplace, was the last remaining Taliban stronghold and was coming under increasing pressure. Nearly 3,000 tribal fighters, led by Hamid Karzai, a Westernized and polished loyalist of the former Afghan king, and Gul Agha Sherzai, the governor of Kandahar before the Taliban seized power, put pressure on Taliban forces from the east and cut off the northern Taliban supply lines to Kandahar. The threat of the Northern Alliance loomed in the north and northeast. Meanwhile, the first significant U.S. combat troops had arrived. Nearly 1,000 Marines, ferried in by CH-53E Super Stallion helicopters, set up a Forward Operating Base in the desert south of Kandahar on November 25. The first significant combat involving U.S. ground forces occurred a day later when 15 armored vehicles approached the base and were attacked by helicopter gunships, destroying many of them. Meanwhile, the airstrikes continued to pound Taliban positions inside the city, where Mullah Omar was holed up. Omar, the Taliban leader, remained defiant despite the fact that his movement only controlled 4 out of the 30 Afghan provinces by the end of November and called on his forces to fight to the death.
As the Taliban teetered on the brink of losing their last bastion, the U.S. focus increased on the Tora Bora. Local tribal militias, numbering over 2,000 strong and paid and organized by Special Forces and CIA paramilitaries, continued to mass for an attack as heavy bombing continued of suspected al-Qaeda positions. 100-200 civilians were reported killed when 25 bombs struck a village at the foot of the Tora Bora and White Mountains region. On December 2, a group of 20 U.S. commandos was inserted by helicopter to support the operation. On December 5, Afghan militia wrested control of the low ground below the mountain caves from al-Qaeda fighters and set up tank positions to blast enemy forces. The al-Qaeda fighters withdrew with mortars, rocket launchers, and assault rifles to higher fortified positions and dug in for the battle.
By December 6, Omar finally began to signal that he was ready to surrender Kandahar to tribal forces. His forces broken by heavy U.S. bombing and living constantly on the run within Kandahar to prevent himself from becoming a target, even Mullah Omar's morale lagged. Recognizing that he could not hold on to Kandahar much longer, he began signaling a willingness in negotiations to turn the city over to the tribal leaders, assuming that he and his top men received some protection. The U.S. government rejected any amnesty for Omar or any Taliban leaders. On December 7, Mullah Mohammad Omar slipped out of the city of Kandahar with a group of his hardcore loyalists and moved northwest into the mountains of Uruzgan Province, reneging on the Taliban's promise to surrender their fighters and their weapons. He was last reported seen driving off with a group of his fighters on a convoy of motorcycles. Other members of the Taliban leadership fled into Pakistan through the remote passes of Paktia and Paktika Provinces. However, Kandahar, the last Taliban-controlled city, had fallen, and the majority of the Taliban fighters had disbanded. The border town of Spin Boldak was surrendered on the same day, marking the end of Taliban control in Afghanistan. The Afghan tribal forces under Gul Agha seized the city of Kandahar while the Marines took control of the airport outside and established a U.S. base.
Battle of Tora Bora
Al-Qaeda fighters were still holding out there in the mountains of Tora Bora, however, Anti-Taliban tribal militia gave bin Laden a steady advance through the difficult terrain, backed by withering air strikes guided in by U.S. Special Forces. Facing defeat and reluctant to fight fellow Muslims, the al-Qaeda forces agreed to have a truce to give them time to surrender their weapons. In retrospect, however, many believe that the truce was a ruse to allow important al-Qaeda figures, including Osama bin Laden, to escape. On December 12, the fighting flared again, probably initiated by a rear guard buying time for the main force's escape through the White Mountains into the tribal areas of Pakistan. Once again, tribal forces backed by U.S. special operations troops and air support pressed ahead against fortified al-Qaeda positions in caves and bunkers scattered throughout the mountainous region. By December 17, the last cave complex had been taken and their defenders overrun. A search of the area by U.S. forces continued into January, but no sign of bin Laden or the al-Qaeda leadership emerged. It is almost unanimously believed that they had already slipped away into the tribal areas of Pakistan to the south and east. It is estimated that around 200 of the al-Qaeda fighters were killed during the battle, along with an unknown number of anti-Taliban tribal fighters. No U.S. deaths were reported.
2002: Operation Anaconda
Following Tora Bora, U.S. forces and their Afghan allies consolidated their position in the country. Following a Loya jirga or grand council of major Afghan factions, tribal leaders, and former exiles, an interim Afghan government was established in Kabul under Hamid Karzai. U.S. forces established their main base at Bagram airbase just north of Kabul. Kandahar airport also became an important U.S. base area. Several outposts were established in eastern provinces to hunt for Taliban and al-Qaeda fugitives. The number of U.S-led coalition troops operating in the country would eventually grow to over 10,000. Meanwhile, the Taliban and al-Qaeda had not given up. Al-Qaeda forces began regrouping in the Shahi-Kot mountains of Paktia province throughout January and February 2002. A Taliban fugitive in Paktia province, Mullah Saifur Rehman, also began reconstituting some of his militia forces in support of the anti-U.S. fighters. They totalled over 1,000 by the beginning of March 2002. The intention of the insurgents was to use the region as a base area for launching guerrilla attacks and possibly a major offensive in the style of the Mujahideen who battled Soviet forces during the 1980s.
U.S. and allied Afghan militia intelligence sources soon picked up on this buildup in Paktia province and prepared a massive push to counter it. On March 2, 2002, U.S. and Afghan forces launched an offensive on al-Qaeda and Taliban forces entrenched in the mountains of Shahi-Kot southeast of Gardez. The rebel forces, who used small arms, rocket-propelled grenades, and mortars, were entrenched into caves and bunkers in the hillsides at an altitude that was largely above 10,000 feet (3,000 m). They used "hit and run" tactics, opening fire on the U.S. and Afghan forces and then retreating back into their caves and bunkers to weather the return fire and persistent U.S. bombing raids. To compound the situation for the coalition troops, U.S. commanders initially underestimated the Taliban and al-Qaeda forces as a last isolated pocket numbering fewer than 200. It turned out that the guerrillas numbered between 1,000-5,000 according to some estimates and that they were receiving reinforcements.
By March 6, eight Americans and seven Afghan soldiers had been killed and reportedly 400 opposing forces had also been killed in the fighting. The coalition casualties stemmed from a friendly fire incident that killed one soldier, the downing of two helicopters by rocket-propelled grenades and small arms fire that killed seven soldiers, and the pinning down of U.S. forces being inserted into what was coined as "Objective Ginger" that resulted in dozens of wounded. However, several hundred guerrillas escaped the dragnet heading to the Waziristan tribal areas across the border in Pakistan.
Following the battle at Shahi-Kot, it is believed that the al-Qaeda fighters established sanctuaries among tribal protectors in Pakistan, from which they regained their strength and later began launching cross-border raids on U.S. forces by the summer months of 2002. Guerrilla units, numbering between 5 and 25 men, still regularly crossed the border from their sanctuaries in Pakistan to fire rockets at U.S. bases and ambush American convoys and patrols, as well as Afghan National Army troops, Afghan militia forces working with the U.S-led coalition, and non-governmental organizations. The area around the U.S. base at Shkin in Paktika province saw some of the heaviest activity.
Meanwhile, Taliban forces continued to remain in hiding in the rural regions of the four southern provinces that formed their heartland, Kandahar, Zabul, Helmand Province, and Uruzgan. In the wake of Operation Anaconda the Pentagon requested that British Royal Marines who are highly trained in mountain warfare, be deployed. They conducted a number of missions over several weeks with very limited results. The Taliban, who during the summer of 2002 numbered in the hundreds, avoided combat with U.S. forces and their Afghan allies as much as possible and melted away into the caves and tunnels of remote Afghan mountain ranges or across the border into Pakistan during operations.
2003-2005: Renewed Taliban insurgency
After managing to evade U.S. forces throughout the summer of 2002, the remnants of the Taliban gradually began to regain their confidence and started to begin preparations to launch the insurgency that Mullah Muhammad Omar had promised during the Taliban's last days in power. During September, Taliban forces began a recruitment drive in Pashtun areas in both Afghanistan and Pakistan to launch a renewed "jihad" or holy war against the Afghan government and the U.S-led coalition. Pamphlets distributed in secret during the night also began to appear in many villages in the former Taliban heartland in southeastern Afghanistan that called for jihad. Small mobile training camps were established along the border with Pakistan by al-Qaeda and Taliban fugitives to train new recruits in guerrilla warfare and terrorist tactics, according to Afghan sources and a United Nations report. Most of the new recruits were drawn from the madrassas or religious schools of the tribal areas of Pakistan, from which the Taliban had originally arisen. Major bases, a few with as many as 200 men, were created in the mountainous tribal areas of Pakistan by the summer of 2003. The will of the Pakistani paramilitaries stationed at border crossings to prevent such infiltration was called into question, and Pakistani military operations proved of little use.
The Taliban gradually reorganized and reconstituted their forces over the winter, preparing for a summer offensive. They established a new mode of operation: gather into groups of around 50 to launch attacks on isolated outposts and convoys of Afghan soldiers, police, or militia and then breaking up into groups of 5-10 men to evade subsequent offensives. U.S. forces in the strategy were attacked indirectly, through rocket attacks on bases and improvised explosive devices. To coordinate the strategy, Mullah Omar named a 10-man leadership council for the resistance, with himself at the head. Five operational zones were created, assigned to various Taliban commanders such as the key Taliban leader Mullah Dadullah, in charge of Zabul province operations. Al-Qaeda forces in the east had a bolder strategy of concentrating on the Americans and catching them when they could with elaborate ambushes.
The first sign that Taliban forces were regrouping came on January 27, 2003, during Operation Mongoose, when a band of fighters allied with the Taliban and Hezb-i-Islami were discovered and assaulted by U.S. forces at the Adi Ghar cave complex 15 miles (24 km) north of Spin Boldak. 18 rebels were reported killed and no U.S. casualties reported. The site was suspected to be a base to funnel supplies and fighters from Pakistan. The first isolated attacks by relatively large Taliban bands on Afghan targets also appeared around that time.
As the summer continued, the attacks gradually increased in frequency in the "Taliban heartland." Dozens of Afghan government soldiers, non-governmental organization and humanitarian workers, and several U.S. soldiers died in the raids, ambushes, and rocket attacks. In addition to the guerrilla attacks, Taliban fighters began building up their forces in the district of Dai Chopan, a district in Zabul Province that also straddles Kandahar and Uruzgan and is at the very center of the Taliban heartland. Dai Chopan district is a remote and sparsely populated corner of southeastern Afghanistan composed of towering, rocky mountains interspersed with narrow gorges. Taliban fighters decided it would be the perfect area to make a stand against the Afghan government and the coalition forces. Over the course of the summer, perhaps the largest concentration of Taliban militants gathered in the area since the fall of the regime, with up to 1,000 guerrillas regrouping. Over 220 people, including several dozen Afghan police, were killed in August 2003 as Taliban fighters gained strength.
As a result, coalition forces began preparing offensives to root out the rebel forces. In late August 2005, Afghan government forces backed by U.S troops and heavy American aerial bombardment advanced upon Taliban positions within the mountain fortress. After a one-week battle, Taliban forces were routed with up to 124 fighters (according to Afghan government estimates) killed. Taliban spokesmen, however, denied the high casualty figure and U.S estimates were somewhat lower.
2006: NATO in southern Afghanistan
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Representing the international nature of the conflict, Dutch Cougar and British Chinook helicopters at Kandahar airfield, part of NATO’s ISAF force in southern Afghanistan, 2006.
From January 2006, a NATO International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) force started to replace U.S troops in southern Afghanistan as part of Operation Enduring Freedom. The British 16th Air Assault Brigade (later reinforced by Royal Marines) formed the core of the force in Southern Afghanistan, along with troops and helicopters from Australia, Canada and the Netherlands. The initial force consisted of roughly 3,300 British, 2,300 Canadian, 1,963 from the Netherlands, 280 from Denmark, 300 from Australia, and 150 from Estonia. Air support was provided by US, British, Dutch, Norwegian and French combat aircraft and helicopters.
In January 2006, NATO’s focus in southern Afghanistan was to form Provincial Reconstruction Teams with the British leading in Helmand Province and the Netherlands and Canada would lead similar deployments in Orūzgān Province and Kandahar Province respectively. Local Taliban figures voiced opposition to the incoming force and pledged to resist it.
Southern Afghanistan faced in 2006 the deadliest spate of violence in the country since the ousting of the Taliban regime by U.S.-led forces in 2001, as the newly deployed NATO troops battled resurgent militants. NATO operations have been led by British, Canadian and Dutch commanders. Operation Mountain Thrust was launched on May 17, 2006 with the purpose of rooting out Taliban forces. In July, Canadian Forces launched Operation Medusa in an attempt to clear the areas of Taliban fighters once and for all, supported by US, British, Dutch and Danish forces. Further NATO operations included Operation Mountain Fury and Operation Falcon Summit. The fighting for NATO forces was intense throughout the second half of 2006. NATO was been successful in achieving tactical victories over the Taliban and denied areas to them, but the Taliban were not completely defeated, and NATO had to continue operations into 2007.
The Battle of Panjwaii
The Battle of Panjwaii was a battle fought during two periods in the summer of 2006, primarily involving Canadian and Afghan soldiers being supported with some small elements of the Dutch, American, and British forces. There were two separate times in which the forces were involved in heavy fighting in the region. The first phase was fought in July of 2006, and the second encounter lasted from September to October 2006.
Operation Falcon Summit
Operation Falcon Summit was launched on December 15 when British, Canadian, Danish, and Estonian troops began massing in the Panjwaii district the morning after NATO airstrikes hit a Taliban command post. The operation is aimed to keep up the momentum that was gathered during Operation Medusa in September.
The first operation related casualty was a Canadian soldier whom while on route to a meeting with tribal elders to discuss reconstruction that would be happening during and after the operation, stepped on a landmine. The soldier, Private Frederic Couture of le Royal vingt-deuxième régiment (The Royal 22nd Regiment) the "Vandoos" suffered severe but not life threatening injuries as a result of the blast. The landmine had been planted the night before, by Taliban troops that were shot and killed by Canadian soldiers who then attempted to clear away all the landmines in the area.
On December 19, the Canadian forces in the area began a massive artillery and tank barrage on Taliban positions in the area of operations. Backed by heavy machinegun fire, the Canadian Leopard tanks and M777 howitzers assaulted the positions for forty-five minutes before the barrage ended and Canadian ground forces advanced and secured a perimeter around the town of Howz-e Madad without firing a single shot.
2007: Coalition offensive
In January and February 2007, British Royal Marines mounted Operation Volcano to clear insurgents from firing points in the village of Barikju, north of Kajaki. This was followed by Operation Achilles, a major sweeping offensive that started in March and ended in late May. The UK ministry of defence announced its intention to bring British troop levels in the country up to 7,700 (committed until 2009). Further operations, such as Operation Silver and Operation Silicon, were conducted to keep up the pressure on the Taliban in the hopes of blunting their expected spring offensive.
On March 4, 2007, at least 12 civilians were killed and 33 were injured by U.S. Marines in the Shinwar district of the Nangrahar province of Afghanistan as the Americans reacted to a bomb ambush with excessive force, hitting groups of bystanders along 10 miles of highway with machine gun fire. The event has become known as the Shinwar Massacre. The 120 member Marine unit responsible for the attack was asked to leave the country because the incident damaged the unit's relations with the local Afghan population.
On May 12, 2007, ISAF forces killed Mullah Dadullah, a notorious Taliban commander in charge of leading operations in the south of the country; 11 other Taliban fighters were killed in the same gunbattle.
Operation Achilles ended on May 30, 2007 and was immediately followed by Operation Lastay Kulang that night.
Risk of a failed state
In November of 2006 , the U.N. Security Council warned that Afghanistan may become a failed state due to increased Taliban violence, growing illegal drug production, and fragile State institutions. In 2006, Afghanistan was rated 10th on the failed states index, up from 11th in 2005. From 2005 to 2006, the number of suicide attacks, direct fire attacks, and improvised explosive devices all increased. Declassified intelligence documents show that Al Qaeda, Taiban, Haqqani Network and Hezb-i-Islami sanctuaries have increased fourfold over the last year in Afghanistan. The campaign in Afghanistan successfully unseated the Taliban from power, but has been significantly less successful at achieving the primary policy goal of ensuring that Al-Qaeda can no longer operate in Afghanistan.
The first wave of attacks were carried out solely by American and British forces. Since the initial invasion period, these forces were augmented by troops and aircraft from Australia, Canada, Denmark, France, Germany, Italy, Netherlands, New Zealand and Norway amongst others. In 2006, there were about 33,000 troops in Afghanistan.
The International Security Assistance Force
The International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) is an international stabilization force Afghanistan authorized by the United Nations Security Council on December 20, 2001. As of 5 October 2006, ISAF was consisting of about 32,000 personnel of 34 nations.
On July 31, 2006, the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force assumed command of the south of the country, and by October 5, 2006, also of the east Afghanistan.
Meetings of various Afghan leaders were organized by the United Nations and took place in Germany. The Taliban was not included. These meetings produced an interim government and an agreement to allow a United Nations peacekeeping force to enter Afghanistan. The UN resolutions of 14 November 2001, included "Condemning the Taliban for allowing Afghanistan to be used as a base for the export of terrorism by the Al-Qaida network and other terrorist groups and for providing safe haven to Osama bin Laden, Al-Qaida and others associated with them, and in this context supporting the efforts of the Afghan people to replace the Taliban regime"
The UN resolution 20 December 2001, "Supporting international efforts to root out terrorism, in keeping with the Charter of the United Nations, and reaffirming also its resolutions 1368 (2001) of 12 September 2001 and 1373 (2001) of 28 September 2001."
The UN not only condemn the Taliban regime, but ensures that still today there is a peacekeeping mission, under the UN.
Before the U.S.-led invasion, there were fears that the invasion and resultant disruption of services would cause widespread starvation and refugees. However most of these fears have not come to pass.
The United Nations World Food Programme temporarily suspended activities within Afghanistan at the beginning of the bombing attacks but resumed them after the fall of the Taliban.
Focus Humanitarian Assistance (FOCUS), an affiliate of the Aga Khan Development Network (AKDN), continued to move ahead with rehabilitation and relief activities, maintaining its operations despite the crisis and the closure of various of Afghanistan's borders. During 2001 , it provided food and other assistance to over 450,000 people in Afghanistan, delivering 1,400 tons of food to approximately 50,000 internally displaced and vulnerable populations by the end of September, 2001. By October 2001, it had distributed over 10,000 tons of food in Badakshan, with another 4,000 tons on its way for distribution to vulnerable people in high altitude areas in the province. FOCUS had also established an agricultural programme through grass-roots village organizations in the province that they estimated could produce up to 30,000 tons of cereals annually.
By November 1, U.S. C-17s flying at 30,000 feet (10,000 m) had dropped 1,000,000 food and medicine packets marked with an American flag.
Protests, demonstrations and rallies
Several small protests occurred in various cities and college campuses across the United States and in other countries in the first days after the start of the bombing campaign. These were mainly peaceful but larger protests and general strikes occurred in Pakistan, a previous Taliban ally. Some of these were suppressed by police with casualties among the protesters. In both Islamic and non-Islamic nations, protests and rallies of various sizes against the attack on Afghanistan took place. Many protesters felt that the attack on Afghanistan was unjustified aggression. Some believed it would lead to the deaths of many innocent people by preventing humanitarian aid workers from bringing food into the country.
In October 2001, polls indicated that about 88% of Americans backed the war in Afghanistan versus 10% who disapproved. In the UK, 65% also backed military action. In December 2006, 61% of Americans believed that the U.S. made the right decision with regards to using military force against 29% who were opposed. In a poll conducted in April 2007, 57% of Canadians were opposed to the decision to send troops to Afghanistan, and 36% of Canadians support the decision.
Civilian casualties of the war
According to Marc W. Herold's Dossier on Civilian Victims of United States' Aerial Bombing at least 3,700 and probably closer to 5,000 civilians were killed as a result of U.S. bombing. Herold's study omitted those killed indirectly, when air strikes cut off their access to hospitals, food or electricity. Also exempt were bomb victims who later died of their injuries. When there were different casualty figures from the same incident, in 90% of cases Professor Herold chose a lower figure.
Some people, however, dispute Herold's estimates. Joshua Muravchik of the American Enterprise Institute and Carl Conetta of the Project on Defense Alternatives question Herold's heavy use of the Afghan Islamic Press (the Taliban's official mouthpiece) and claim tallies provided them were suspicious. Conetta also claims statistical errors in Herold's study. Conetta's study puts total civilian casualties between 1,000 and 1,300. A Los Angeles Times study put the number of collateral dead between 1,067 and 1,201.
In 2000, the Taliban had issued a ban on opium production, which led to reductions in Pashtun Mafia opium production by as much as 90%. Soon after the 2001 US led invasion of Afghanistan, however, opium production increased markedly. By 2005, Afghanistan had regained its position as the world’s #1 opium producer and was producing 90% of the world’s opium, most of which is processed into heroin and sold in Europe and Russia. While US and allied efforts to combat the drug trade have been stepped up, the effort is hampered by the fact that many suspected drug traffickers are now top officials in the Karzai government. In fact, recent estimates by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) estimate that 52% of the nation's GDP, amounting to $2.7 billion annually, is generated by the drug trade. The rise in production has been linked to the deteriorating security situation, as production is markedly lower in areas with stable security. The poppy eradication policy propogated by the international community and in particular the United States, as part of their War on Drugs, has been a failure, exacerbated by the lack of alternative development projects to replace livelihoods lost as a result of poppy eradication. Rather than stemming poppy cultivation, poppy eradication has succeeded only in adding to the extreme poverty in rural areas and general discontent, especially in the south of Afghanistan. Several alternatives to poppy eradication have been proposed, including controlled opium licensing for poppy for medicine projects.