United States invasion of Afghanistan

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The United States invasion of Afghanistan occurred after the September 11 attacks in late 2001,[1] supported by close allies. The conflict is also known as the U.S. war in Afghanistan.[2] It followed the Afghan Civil War's 1996–2001 phase. Its public aims were to dismantle al-Qaeda, and to deny it a safe base of operations in Afghanistan by removing the Taliban from power.[3] The United Kingdom was the key ally of the United States, offering support for military action from the start of preparations for the invasion. In August 2003, NATO became involved as an alliance, taking the helm of the International Security Assistance Force.

U.S. President George W. Bush demanded that the Taliban hand over Osama bin Laden and expel al-Qaeda, bin Laden had already been wanted by the U.N. since 1999. The Taliban declined to extradite him unless given what they deemed convincing evidence of his involvement in the 9/11 attacks[4] and ignored demands to shut down terrorist bases and hand over other terrorist suspects apart from bin Laden. The request was dismissed by the U.S. as a meaningless delaying tactic and it launched Operation Enduring Freedom on 7 October 2001 with the United Kingdom. The two were later joined by other forces, including the Northern Alliance.[5][6] The U.S. and its allies drove the Taliban from power and built military bases near major cities across the country. Most al-Qaeda and Taliban were not captured, escaping to neighboring Pakistan or retreating to rural or remote mountainous regions.[citation needed]

In December 2001, the United Nations Security Council established the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF), to oversee military operations in the country and train Afghan National Security Forces. At the Bonn Conference in December 2001, Hamid Karzai was selected to head the Afghan Interim Administration, which after a 2002 loya jirga in Kabul became the Afghan Transitional Administration. In the popular elections of 2004, Karzai was elected president of the country, now named the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan.[7] In 2003, NATO assumed leadership of ISAF.[8] One portion of U.S. forces in Afghanistan operated under NATO command; the rest remained under direct U.S. command. Taliban leader Mullah Omar reorganized the movement, and in 2003, launched an insurgency against the government and ISAF.[9][10]

Origins of Afghanistan's civil war

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Soviet troops in 1986, during the Soviet war in Afghanistan

Afghanistan's political order began to break down with the overthrow of King Zahir Shah by his cousin Mohammed Daoud Khan in a bloodless 1973 coup. Daoud Khan had served as prime minister since 1953 and promoted economic modernization, emancipation of women, and Pashtun nationalism. This was threatening to neighboring Pakistan, faced with its own restive Pashtun population. In the mid-1970s, Pakistani Prime Minister Zulfikar Ali Bhutto began to encourage Afghan Islamic leaders such as Burhanuddin Rabbani and Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, to fight against the regime. In 1978, Daoud Khan was killed in a coup by Afghan's Communist Party, his former partner in government, known as the People's Democratic Party of Afghanistan (PDPA). PDPA pushed for a socialist transformation by abolishing arranged marriages, promoting mass literacy and reforming land ownership. This undermined the traditional tribal order and provoked opposition from Islamic leaders across rural areas. The PDPA's crackdown was met with open rebellion, including Ismail Khan's Herat Uprising. The PDPA was beset by internal leadership differences and was weakened by an internal coup on 11 September 1979 when Hafizullah Amin ousted Nur Muhammad Taraki. The Soviet Union, sensing PDPA weakness, intervened militarily three months later, to depose Amin and install another PDA faction led by Babrak Karmal.

The entry of the Soviet Union into Afghanistan in December 1979 prompted its Cold War rivals, the United States, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and China to support rebels fighting against the Soviet-backed Democratic Republic of Afghanistan. In contrast to the secular and socialist government, which controlled the cities, religiously-motivated mujahideen held sway in much of the countryside. Beside Rabbani, Hekmatyar, and Khan, other mujahideen commanders included Jalaluddin Haqqani. The CIA worked closely with Pakistan's Inter-Service Intelligence to funnel foreign support for the mujahideen. The war also attracted Arab volunteers, known as "Afghan Arabs", including Osama bin Laden.

After the withdrawal of the Soviet military from Afghanistan in May 1989, the PDPA regime under Najibullah held on until 1992, when the collapse of the Soviet Union deprived the regime of aid, and the defection of Uzbek general Abdul Rashid Dostum cleared the approach to Kabul. With the political stage cleared of Afghan socialists, the remaining Islamic warlords vied for power. By then, Bin Laden had left the country. The United States' interest in Afghanistan also diminished.

Warlord rule (1992–1996)

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Ahmad Shah Massoud (right) with Pashtun anti-Taliban leader and later Vice-President of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan Haji Abdul Qadir

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In 1992, Rabbani officially became president of the Islamic State of Afghanistan, but had to battle other warlords for control of Kabul. In late 1994, Rabbani's defense minister, Ahmad Shah Massoud defeated Hekmatyr in Kabul and ended ongoing bombardment of the capital.[11][12][13] Massoud tried to initiate a nationwide political process with the goal of national consolidation. Other warlords, including Ismail Khan in the west and Dostum in the north maintained their fiefdoms.

In 1994, Mullah Omar, a Pashtun, a mujahideen who taught at a Pakistani madrassa, returned to Kandahar and founded the Taliban. His followers were religious students, known as the Talib and they sought to end warlordism through strict adherence to Islamic law. By November 1994, the Taliban had captured all of Kandahar Province. They declined the government's offer to join in a coalition government and marched on Kabul in 1995.[14]

Taliban Emirate vs. Northern Alliance

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The Taliban's early victories in 1994 were followed by a series of costly defeats.[15] Pakistan provided strong support to the Taliban.[16][17] Analysts such as Amin Saikal described the group as developing into a proxy force for Pakistan's regional interests, which the Taliban denied.[16] The Taliban started shelling Kabul in early 1995, but were driven back by Massoud.[12][18]

On 27 September 1996, the Taliban, with military support by Pakistan and financial support from Saudi Arabia, seized Kabul and founded the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan.[19] They imposed their fundamentalist interpretation of Islam in areas under their control, issuing edicts forbidding women to work outside the home, attend school, or to leave their homes unless accompanied by a male relative.[20] According to the Pakistani expert Ahmed Rashid, "between 1994 and 1999, an estimated 80,000 to 100,000 Pakistanis trained and fought in Afghanistan" on the side of the Taliban.[21][22]

Massoud and Dostum, former arch-enemies, created a United Front against the Taliban, commonly known as the Northern Alliance.[23] In addition to Massoud's Tajik force and Dostum's Uzbeks, the United Front included Hazara factions and Pashtun forces under the leadership of commanders such as Abdul Haq and Haji Abdul Qadir. Abdul Haq also gathered a limited number of defecting Pashtun Taliban.[24] Both agreed to work together with the exiled Afghan king Zahir Shah.[22] International officials who met with representatives of the new alliance, which the journalist Steve Coll referred to as the "grand Pashtun-Tajik alliance", said, "It's crazy that you have this today … Pashtuns, Tajiks, Uzbeks, Hazara … They were all ready to buy in to the process … to work under the king's banner for an ethnically balanced Afghanistan."[25][26] The Northern Alliance received varying degrees of support from Russia, Iran, Tajikistan and India.

The Taliban captured Mazar-i-Sharif in 1998 and drove Dostum into exile.

The conflict was brutal. According to the United Nations (UN), the Taliban, while trying to consolidate control over northern and western Afghanistan, committed systematic massacres against civilians. UN officials stated that there had been "15 massacres" between 1996 and 2001. The Taliban especially targeted the Shiite Hazaras.[27][28] In retaliation for the execution of 3,000 Taliban prisoners by Uzbek general Abdul Malik Pahlawan in 1997, the Taliban executed about 4,000 civilians after taking Mazar-i-Sharif in 1998.[29][30]

Bin Laden's so-called 055 Brigade was responsible for mass-killings of Afghan civilians.[31] The report by the United Nations quotes eyewitnesses in many villages describing "Arab fighters carrying long knives used for slitting throats and skinning people".[27][28]

By 2001, the Taliban controlled as much as 90% of the country, with the Northern Alliance confined to the country's northeast corner. Fighting alongside Taliban forces were some 28,000–30,000 Pakistanis and 2,000–3,000 Al Qaeda militants.[14][31][32][33] Many of the Pakistanis were recruited from madrassas.[31] A 1998 document by the U.S. State Department confirmed that "20–40 percent of [regular] Taliban soldiers are Pakistani." The document said that many of the parents of those Pakistani nationals "know nothing regarding their child's military involvement with the Taliban until their bodies are brought back to Pakistan". According to the U.S. State Department report and reports by Human Rights Watch, other Pakistani nationals fighting in Afghanistan were regular soldiers, especially from the Frontier Corps, but also from the army providing direct combat support.[17][34]


In August 1996, Bin Laden was forced to leave Sudan and arrived in Jalabad, Afghanistan. He had founded Al-Qaeda in the late 1980s to support the mujahideen's war against the Soviets, but became disillusioned by infighting among warlords. He grew close to Mullah Omar and moved Al Qaeda's operations to eastern Afghanistan.

The 9/11 Commission in the U.S. reported found that under the Taliban, al-Qaeda was able to use Afghanistan as a place to train and indoctrinate fighters, import weapons, coordinate with other jihadists, and plot terrorist actions.[35] While al-Qaeda maintained its own camps in Afghanistan, it also supported training camps of other organizations. An estimated 10,000 and 20,000 men passed through these facilities before 9/11, most of whom were sent to fight for the Taliban against the United Front. A smaller number were inducted into al-Qaeda.[36]

After the August 1998 U.S. Embassy bombings were linked to bin Laden, President Bill Clinton ordered missile strikes on militant training camps in Afghanistan. U.S. officials pressed the Taliban to surrender bin Laden. In 1999, the international community imposed sanctions on the Taliban, calling for bin Laden to be surrendered. The Taliban repeatedly rebuffed these demands.

Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) Special Activities Division paramilitary teams were active in Afghanistan in the 1990s in clandestine operations to locate and kill or capture Osama bin Laden. These teams planned several operations, but did not receive the order to proceed from President Clinton. Their efforts built relationships with Afghan leaders that proved essential in the 2001 invasion.[37]

Change in U.S. policy toward Afghanistan

During the Clinton administration, the U.S. tended to favor Pakistan and until 1998–1999 had no clear policy toward Afghanistan. In 1997, for example, the U.S. State Department's Robin Raphel told Massoud to surrender to the Taliban. Massoud responded that, as long as he controlled an area the size of his hat, he would continue to defend it from the Taliban.[14] Around the same time, top foreign policy officials in the Clinton administration flew to northern Afghanistan to try to persuade the United Front not to take advantage of a chance to make crucial gains against the Taliban. They insisted it was the time for a cease-fire and an arms embargo. At the time, Pakistan began a "Berlin-like airlift to resupply and re-equip the Taliban", financed with Saudi money.[38]

U.S. policy toward Afghanistan changed after the 1998 U.S. embassy bombings. Subsequently, Osama bin Laden was indicted for his involvement in the embassy bombings. In 1999 both the U.S. and the United Nations enacted sanctions against the Taliban via United Nations Security Council Resolution 1267, which demanded the Taliban surrender Osama bin Laden for trial in the U.S. and close all terrorist bases in Afghanistan.[39] The only collaboration between Massoud and the US at the time was an effort with the CIA to trace bin Laden following the 1998 bombings.[40] The U.S. and the European Union provided no support to Massoud for the fight against the Taliban.

By 2001 the change of policy sought by CIA officers who knew Massoud was underway.[41] CIA lawyers, working with officers in the Near East Division and Counter-terrorist Center, began to draft a formal finding for President George W. Bush's signature, authorizing a covert action program in Afghanistan. It would be the first in a decade to seek to influence the course of the Afghan war in favor of Massoud.[19] Richard A. Clarke, chair of the Counter-Terrorism Security Group under the Clinton administration, and later an official in the Bush administration, allegedly presented a plan to incoming Bush National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice in January 2001.

A change in US policy was effected in August 2001.[19] The Bush administration agreed on a plan to start supporting Massoud. A meeting of top national security officials agreed that the Taliban would be presented with an ultimatum to hand over bin Laden and other al-Qaeda operatives. If the Taliban refused, the US would provide covert military aid to anti-Taliban groups. If both those options failed, "the deputies agreed that the United States would seek to overthrow the Taliban regime through more direct action."[42]

Northern Alliance on the eve of 9/11

Ahmad Shah Massoud was the only leader of the United Front in Afghanistan. In the areas under his control, Massoud set up democratic institutions and signed the Women's Rights Declaration.[43] As a consequence, many civilians had fled to areas under his control.[44][45] In total, estimates range up to one million people fleeing the Taliban.[46]

In late 2000, Massoud officially brought together this new alliance in a meeting in Northern Afghanistan to discuss "a Loya Jirga, or a traditional council of elders, to settle political turmoil in Afghanistan".[47] That part of the Pashtun-Tajik-Hazara-Uzbek peace plan did eventually develop. Among those in attendance was Hamid Karzai.[48][49]

In early 2001, Massoud, with other ethnic leaders, addressed the European Parliament in Brussels, asking the international community to provide humanitarian help to the people of Afghanistan.[46] He said that the Taliban and al-Qaeda had introduced "a very wrong perception of Islam" and that without the support of Pakistan and Osama bin Laden, the Taliban would not be able to sustain their military campaign for another year.[46] On this visit to Europe, he warned that his intelligence had gathered information about an imminent, large-scale attack on U.S. soil.[50]

On 9 September 2001, Massoud was critically wounded in a suicide attack by two Arabs posing as journalists, who detonated a bomb hidden in their video camera during an interview in Khoja Bahauddin, in the Takhar Province of Afghanistan.[51][52] Massoud died in the helicopter taking him to a hospital. The funeral, held in a rural area, was attended by hundreds of thousands of mourning Afghans.

September 11, 2001 attacks

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Ground Zero in New York following the attacks of 11 September 2001

On the morning of 11 September 2001, al-Qaeda carried out four coordinated attacks on U.S. soil. Four commercial passenger jet airliners were hijacked.[53][54] The hijackers – members of al-Qaeda's Hamburg cell[55] intentionally crashed two of the airliners into the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center in New York City, killing everyone on board and thousands working in the buildings. Both buildings collapsed within two hours from fire damage related to the crashes, destroying nearby buildings and damaging others. The hijackers crashed a third airliner into the Pentagon in Arlington, Virginia, just outside Washington, D.C.. The fourth plane crashed into a field near Shanksville, in rural Pennsylvania, after some of its passengers and flight crew attempted to retake control of the plane, which the hijackers had redirected toward Washington, D.C., to target the White House, or the U.S. Capitol. No flights had survivors.

In total, 2,996 people, including the 19 hijackers, died in the attacks.[56] According to the New York State Health Department, 836 responders, including firefighters and police personnel, had died as of June 2009.[56]

On 11 September, Taliban foreign minister Wakil Ahmed Muttawakil "denounce[d] the terrorist attack, whoever is behind it"[57] but Mullah Omar immediately issued a statement saying bin Laden was not responsible.[58] The following day, President Bush called the attacks more than just "acts of terror" but "acts of war" and resolved to pursue and conquer an "enemy" that would no longer be safe in "its harbors".[59] The Taliban ambassador to Pakistan, Abdul Salam Zaeef said on 13 September 2001, that the Taliban would consider extraditing bin Laden if there was solid evidence linking him to the attacks.[60] Though Osama bin Laden eventually took responsibility for the 9/11 attacks in 2004, he denied having any involvement in a statement issued on 17 September 2001, and by interview on 29 September 2001.[61][62]

In an address to a joint-session of the U.S. Congress on 20 September 2001, U.S. President George W. Bush demanded that the Taliban deliver Osama bin Laden and destroy bases of al-Qaeda.

The State Department, in a memo dated 14 September, demanded that the Taliban surrender all known al-Qaeda associates in Afghanistan, provide intelligence on bin Laden and his affiliates and expel all terrorists from Afghanistan.[63] On 18 September, the director of Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence, Mahmud Ahmed conveyed these demands to Mullah Omar and the senior Taliban leadership, whose response was "not negative on all points".[64] Mahmud reported that the Taliban leadership was in "deep introspection" and waiting for the recommendation of a grand council of religious clerics that was assembling to decide the matter.[64] On 20 September, President Bush, in an address to Congress, demanded the Taliban deliver bin Laden and other suspected terrorists and destroy the al-Qaeda bases.[65]"These demands are not open to negotiation or discussion. The Taliban must act and act immediately. They will hand over the terrorists, or they will share in their fate."[66]

In the days and weeks immediately following 9/11, when the Taliban sought evidence of his involvement in the attacks, Osama bin Laden repeatedly denied having any role.

On the same day, a grand council of over 1,000 Muslim clerics from across Afghanistan that had convened to decide bin Laden's fate, issued a fatwa, expressing sadness for the deaths in the 9/11 attacks, recommending that the Islamic Emirate "persuade" bin Laden to leave their country, and calling on the United Nations and the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation to conduct an independent investigation of "recent events to clarify the reality and prevent harassment of innocent people".[67] The fatwa went on to warn that should the United States not agree with its decision and invade Afghanistan, "jihad becomes an order for all Muslims."[67] However, that very same day the Taliban ambassador to Pakistan said: "We will neither surrender Osama bin Laden nor ask him to leave Afghanistan." These maneuvers were dismissed by the U.S. as insufficient.[68]

On 21 September, Taliban representatives in Pakistan reacted to the U.S. demands with defiance. Zaeef said the Taliban were ready, if necessary, for war with the United States. His deputy Suhail Shaheen, warned that a U.S. invasion would share in the same fate that befell Great Britain and the Soviet Union in previous centuries. He confirmed that the clerics' decision "was only a recommendation" and bin Laden would not be asked to leave Afghanistan. But he suggested "If the Americans provide evidence, we will cooperate with them... In America, if I think you are a terrorist, is it properly justified that you should be punished without evidence?" he asked. "This is an international principle. If you use the principle, why do you not apply it to Afghanistan?" As formulated earlier by Mullah Omar, the demand for evidence was attached to a suggestion that bin Laden be handed over for trial before an Islamic court in another Muslim country.[69] He did not address the demands to hand over other suspected terrorists or shut down training camps.

On 28 September Bush commented "First, there is no negotiations with the Taliban. They heard what I said. And now they can act. And it's not just Mr. bin Laden that we expect to see and brought to justice; it's everybody associated with his organization that's in Afghanistan. And not only those directly associated with Mr. bin Laden, any terrorist that is housed and fed in Afghanistan needs to be handed over. And finally, we expect there to be complete destruction of terrorist camps. That's what I told them; that's what I mean. And we expect them— we expect them to not only hear what I say but to do something about it."[70]

On 24 September, Mahmoud told the U.S. Ambassador to Pakistan that while the Taliban was "weak and ill-prepared to face the American onslaught", "real victory will come through negotiations" for if the Taliban were eliminated, Afghanistan would revert to warlordism.[71] On 28 September, he led a delegation of eight Pakistani religious leaders to persuade Mullah Omar to accept having religious leaders from Islamic countries examine the evidence and decide bin Laden's fate but Mullah Omar refused.[72][73]

On 1 October, Mullah Omar agreed to a proposal by Qazi Hussain Ahmad, the head of Pakistan's most important Islamic party, the Jamaat-i-Islami, to have bin Laden taken to Pakistan where he would be held under house arrest in Peshawar by that party and tried by an international tribunal within the framework of sharia law. The proposal was said to have bin Laden's approval. Pakistan's president Pervez Musharraf blocked the plan because he could not guarantee bin Laden's safety.[74] On 2 October, Zaeef appealed to the United States to negotiate, "We do not want to compound the problems of the people, the country or the region." He pleaded, "the Afghan people need food, need aid, need shelter, not war." However he reiterated that bin Laden would not be turned over to anyone unless evidence was presented.[75]

A U.S. State Department spokesman in response to a question about sharing evidence with the Taliban stated "My response, first of all, is that strikes me as a request for delay and prevarication rather than any serious request. And second of all, they're already overdue. They are already required by the United Nations resolutions that relate to the bombings in East Africa to turn over al-Qaida, to turn over their leadership, and to shut down the network of operations in their country. There should be no further delay. There is no cause to ask for anything else. They are already under this international obligation, and they have to meet it."[76] The British Prime Minister Tony Blair called on the Taliban to "surrender the terrorists or surrender power".[77]

Nonetheless, some evidence of bin Laden's involvement in the 9/11 attacks was shown to Pakistan's government whose leaders later stated that the materials they had seen "provide[d] sufficient basis for indictment in a court of law".[78] Pakistan ISI chief Lieutenant General Mahmud Ahmed shared information provided to him by the U.S. with Taliban leaders.[79] On 4 October the British government publicly released a document summarizing the evidence linking bin Laden to the attacks.[80] The document stated that the Taliban had been repeatedly warned in the past about harboring bin Laden but refused to turn him over as demanded by the international community. Evidence had been supplied to the Taliban about bin Laden's involvement in the 1998 Embassy bombings, yet they did nothing.[81]

On 5 October, the Taliban offered to try bin Laden in an Afghan court, so long as the U.S. provided what it called "solid evidence" of his guilt.[82] The U.S. Government dismissed the request for proof as "request for delay or prevarication"; NATO commander George Robertson said the evidence was "clear and compelling".[77] On 7 October, as the U.S. aerial bombing campaign began, President Bush ignored questions about the Taliban's offer and said instead, "Full warning had been given, and time is running out."[83] The same day, the State Department gave the Pakistani Government one last message to the Taliban: Hand over all al-Qaeda leaders or "every pillar of the Taliban regime will be destroyed."[84]

On 11 October Bush told the Taliban "You still have a second chance. Just bring him in, and bring his leaders and lieutenants and other thugs and criminals with him."[85] On 14 October, Abdul Kabir, the Taliban's third ranking leader, offered to hand over bin Laden to a neutral third country if the U.S. government provided evidence of his guilt and halted the bombing campaign. He apparently did not respond to the demand to hand over other suspected terrorists apart from bin Laden. President Bush rejected the offer as non-negotiable.[86] On 16 October, Muttawakil, the Taliban foreign minister floated a compromise offer that dropped the demand for evidence.[87] However, Muttawakil was not part of the Taliban's inner circle, he wanted the bombing to stop so that he could try to persuade Mullah Omar to adopt a compromise.[88]

Legal basis for war

On 14 September 2001, Congress passed legislation titled Authorization for Use of Military Force Against Terrorists, which was signed on 18 September 2001 by President Bush. It authorized the use of U.S. Armed Forces against those responsible for the 9/11 attacks and those who harbored them.

Article 2(4) of the United Nations Charter, to which all Coalition countries are signatories and for which its ratification by the U.S. makes it the "law of the land".,[89] prohibits the 'threat or use of force against the territorial integrity or political independence of any state' except in circumstances where a competent organ of the UN (e.g. the Security Council) has authorized it, or where it is in self-defence under article 51 of the Charter.[90] Although the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) did not authorize the U.S.-led military campaign, it was widely (although not universally) perceived to be a legitimate form of self-defence under the UN Charter.[90][91]

Defenders of the invasion argued that UNSC authorization was not required, since the invasion was an act of collective self-defense provided for under Article 51 of the UN Charter.[90][92] Specifically, it is argued that a series of UN Security Council Resolutions concerning Afghanistan provided for the possibility of establishing that the Taliban were indirectly responsibility for al-Qaeda's attacks[90] and although the initial invasion of Afghanistan was not mandated by a specific UN Security Council Resolution, the Security Council moved quickly to authorize a military operation to stabilize the country.[90] Critics claimed that the invasion was illegitimate under Article 51 because the 9/11 attacks were not "armed attacks" by another state, but were perpetrated by non-state actors. They alleged that the attackers had no proven connection to Afghanistan or the Taliban. Critics claimed that even if a state had made the 9/11 attacks, no bombing campaign would constitute self-defense. They interpreted self-defense to cover actions that were "instant, overwhelming, leaving no choice of means, and no moment for deliberation."[89][93]

On 20 December 2001, more than two months after the attack began, the UNSC authorized the creation of International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) to assist the Afghan Interim Authority in maintaining security.[94] Command of ISAF passed to NATO on 11 August 2003, following the US invasion of Iraq in March of that year.[95]

2001: Overthrow of the Taliban

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U.S. Army Special Forces and U.S. Air Force Combat Controllers with Northern Alliance troops on horseback

On September 26, 2001, nine days after the 9/11 attack, the U.S. covertly inserted members of the CIA's Special Activities Division led by Gary Schroen into Afghanistan, forming the Northern Afghanistan Liaison Team.[96][97] They linked up with the Northern Alliance as part of Task Force Dagger.[98]

Two weeks later, Operational Detachment Alpha (ODA) 555 and 595, both 12-man Green Beret teams, plus Air Force combat controllers, were airlifted by helicopter from the Karshi-Khanabad Air Base in Uzbekistan[99] more than 300 kilometers (190 mi) across the 16,000 feet (4,900 m) Hindu Kush mountains in zero-visibility conditions by two SOAR MH-47E Chinook helicopters. The Chinooks were refueled in-flight three times during the 11 hour mission, establishing a new world record for combat rotorcraft missions at the time. They linked up with the CIA and Northern Alliance. Within a few weeks the Northern Alliance, with assistance from the U.S. ground and air forces, captured several key cities from the Taliban.[96][100][101][37][pages needed]

On 7 October 2001, the U.S. officially launched military operations in Afghanistan. Airstrikes were reported in Kabul, at the airport, at Kandahar (home of Mullah Omar), and in the city of Jalalabad.[102] The day before the bombing commenced, Human Rights Watch issued a report in which they urged that no military support be given to the Northern Alliance due to their human rights record.[103]

At 17:00 UTC, President Bush confirmed the strikes and Prime Minister Blair addressed his nation. Bush stated that Taliban military sites and terrorist training grounds would be targeted. Food, medicine and supplies would be dropped to "the starving and suffering men, women and children of Afghanistan".[104]

Earlier Bin Laden had released a video in which he condemned all attacks in Afghanistan.

UK and US special forces joined the Northern Alliance and other Afghan opposition groups to take Herat in November 2001. Canada and Australia also deployed forces. Other countries provided basing, access and overflight permission.

The U.S. was able to track and kill al-Qaeda's number three, Mohammed Atef with a bomb at his Kabul home between 14–16 November 2001, along with his guard Abu Ali al-Yafi'i and six others.[105][106]

Initial air strikes

Training camps and Taliban air defenses were bombarded by U.S. aircraft, including Apache helicopter gunships from the 101st Combat Aviation Brigade. U.S. Navy cruisers, destroyers and Royal Navy submarines launched several Tomahawk Cruise Missiles.

The strikes initially focused on Kabul, Jalalabad and Kandahar. Within a few days, most Taliban training sites were severely damaged and air defenses were destroyed. The campaign focused on command, control, and communications targets. The front facing the Northern Alliance held, and no battlefield successes were achieved there. Two weeks into the campaign, the Northern Alliance demanded the air campaign focus more on the front lines.

Examples of the U.S. propaganda pamphlets dropped over Afghanistan.

The next stage 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. At the beginning of November, allied forces attacked front lines with daisy cutter bombs and AC-130 gunships.

By 2 November, Taliban frontal positions were devastated and a march on Kabul seemed possible. According to author Stephen Tanner,

After a month of the U.S. bombing campaign rumblings began to reach Washington from Europe, the Mideast, and Pakistan where Musharraf had requested the bombing to cease. Having begun the war with the greatest imaginable reservoir of moral authority, the U.S. was on the verge of letting it slip away through high-level attacks using the most ghastly inventions its scientists could come up with.[107]

Bush went to New York City on 10 November 2001 to address the United Nations. He said that not only was the U.S. in danger of further attacks, but so were all other countries in the world. Tanner observed, "His words had impact. Most of the world renewed its support for the American effort, including commitments of material help from Germany, France, Italy, Japan and other countries."[107]

Al-Qaeda fighters took over security in Afghan cities. The Northern Alliance troops planned to seize Mazar-i-Sharif, cutting off Taliban supply lines and enabling equipment to arrive from the north and then attack Kabul.

During the early months, the U.S. military had a limited presence on the ground. Special Forces and intelligence officers with a military background liaised with Afghan militias and advanced after the Taliban was disrupted by air power.[108][109][110]

The Tora Bora Mountains lie roughly east of Kabul, on the Pakistan border. American analysts believed that the Taliban and al-Qaeda had dug in behind fortified networks of caves and underground bunkers. The area was subjected to a heavy B-52 bombardment.[108][109][110][111]

U.S. and Northern Alliance objectives began to diverge. While the U.S. was continuing the search for Osama bin Laden, the Northern Alliance wanted to finish off the Taliban.

Battle of Mazar-i Sharif

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U.S. Army Special Forces on 10 November, upon arriving into the city with Northern Alliance fighters

Mazari-i Sharif was important because it is the home of the Shrine of Hazrat Ali or "Blue Mosque", a sacred Muslim site and because it is a significant transportation hub with two major airports and a major supply route leading into Uzbekistan.[112] Taking the city would enable humanitarian aid to alleviate a looming food crisis, which threatened more than six million people with starvation. Many of those in most urgent need lived in rural areas to the south and west of Mazar-i-Sharif.[112][113] On 9 November 2001, Northern Alliance forces, under the command of Dostum and Ustad Atta Mohammed Noor, overcame resistance crossing the Pul-i-Imam Bukhri bridge,[114][115] and seized the city's main military base and airport.

The 12-man U.S. Special Forces Operational Detachment Alpha (ODA) team, the seven members of the CIA's Special Activities Division,.[99][116][117] and about 2000 members of the Northern Alliance attacked Mazari Sharif on horseback and foot. The U.S. forces utilized close air support which they used to destroy armor and vehicles. After a brief but bloody 90-minute battle, the Taliban withdrew, triggering celebrations.[113][118]

The fall of the city was a "body blow"[118] to the Taliban and ultimately proved to be a "major shock",[119] since the U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM) had originally believed that the city would remain in Taliban hands well into the following year[120] and any potential battle would require "a very slow advance".[121]

Following rumors that Mullah Dadullah was headed to recapture the city with as many as 8,000 fighters, a thousand U.S. troops of the 10th Mountain Division were airlifted into the city, providing the first solid position from which Kabul and Kandahar could be reached.[122] The U.S. Air Force now had an airport to allow them to fly more sorties for resupply missions and humanitarian aid.[118][123]

U.S.-backed forces began immediately broadcasting from Radio Mazar-i-Sharif, the former Taliban Voice of Sharia channel,[124] including an address from former President Rabbani.[125]

Fall of Kabul

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On the night of 12 November, Taliban forces fled Kabul under cover of darkness. Northern Alliance forces arrived the following afternoon, encountering a group of about twenty fighters hiding in the city's park. This group was killed in a 15-minute gun battle. After these forces were neutralized, Kabul was in the hands of coalition forces.[126]

The fall of Kabul started a cascading collapse of Taliban positions. Within 24 hours, all Afghan provinces along the Iranian border had fallen, including Herat. Local Pashtun commanders and warlords had taken over throughout northeastern Afghanistan, including Jalalabad. Taliban holdouts in the north, mainly Pakistani volunteers, fell back to the northern city of Kunduz. By 16 November, the Taliban's last stronghold in northern Afghanistan was under siege. Nearly 10,000 Taliban fighters, led by foreign fighters, continued to resist. By then, the Taliban had been forced back to their heartland in southeastern Afghanistan around Kandahar.[127]

By 13 November, al-Qaeda and Taliban forces, possibly including bin Laden, were concentrating in Tora Bora, 50 kilometres (31 mi) southwest of Jalalabad. Nearly 2,000 al-Qaeda and Taliban fighters fortified themselves in positions within bunkers and caves. On 16 November the U.S. began bombing the mountain redoubt. Around the same time, CIA and Special Forces operatives were at work in the area, enlisting local warlords and planning an attack.[128]

Fall of Kunduz

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As the bombardment at Tora Bora grew, the siege of Kunduz was continuing. After nine days of fighting and bombardment, Taliban fighters surrendered to Northern Alliance forces on 25–26 November. Shortly before the surrender, Pakistani aircraft arrived to evacuate intelligence and military personnel who had been aiding the Taliban's fight against the Northern Alliance. The airlift is alleged to have evacuated up to five thousand people, including Taliban and al-Qaeda troops.[129][130][131]

Battle of Qala-i-Jangi

A U.S. Marine with the 15th Marine Expeditionary Unit leads others to a security position after seizing a Taliban forward-operating base 25 November 2001

On 25 November, as Taliban prisoners were moved into Qala-I-Janghi fortress near Mazar-I-Sharif, a few Taliban attacked their Northern Alliance guards. This incident triggered a revolt by 600 prisoners, who soon seized the southern half of the medieval fortress, including an armory stocked with small arms and crew-served weapons. Johnny Micheal Spann, a CIA operative who had been interrogating prisoners, was killed, marking America's first combat death.

The revolt was crushed after seven days of fighting involving a Special Boat Service unit, Army Special Forces, and Northern Alliance forces. AC-130 gunships and other aircraft provided strafing fire and launched bombs.[132] 86 Taliban survived, and around 50 Northern Alliance soldiers were killed. The revolt was the final combat in northern Afghanistan.

Consolidation: the taking of Kandahar

U.S. Army Special Forces with Hamid Karzai in Kandahar province

By the end of November, Kandahar was the Taliban's last stronghold, and was coming under increasing pressure. Nearly 3,000 tribal fighters, led by Karzai and Gul Agha Sherzai, the governor of Kandahar before the Taliban seized power, pressured Taliban forces from the east and cut off northern supply lines to Kandahar. The Northern Alliance loomed in the north and northeast.

Meanwhile, nearly 1,000 U.S. Marines, ferried in by CH-53E Super Stallion helicopters and C-130s, set up a Forward Operating Base known as Camp Rhino in the desert south of Kandahar on 25 November. This was the coalition's first base, and enabled other operating bases to form. The first significant combat involving U.S. ground forces occurred a day after Rhino was captured, when 15 Taleban armored vehicles approached the base and were attacked by helicopter gunships, destroying many of them. Meanwhile, airstrikes continued to pound Taliban positions inside the city, where Mullah Omar remained. Omar remained defiant although his movement controlled only 4 out of 30 Afghan provinces by the end of November. He called on his forces to fight to the death.

On 6 December, the U.S. government rejected amnesty for Omar or any Taliban leaders. On 7 December, Omar slipped out of Kandahar with a group of loyalists and moved northwest into the mountains of Uruzgan Province, thus reneging on the Taliban's promise to surrender their fighters and their weapons. He was last reported seen leaving in a convoy of motorcycles.

Other Taliban leaders fled to Pakistan through the remote passes of Paktia and Paktika Provinces. The border town of Spin Boldak surrendered on the same day, marking the end of Taliban control in Afghanistan. Afghan forces under Gul Agha seized Kandahar, while the U.S. Marines took control of the airport and established a U.S. base.

Battle of Tora Bora

Air strikes on Tora Bora

Al-Qaeda fighters fought on at the Battle of Tora Bora. A tribal militia steadily pushed bin Laden back across the difficult terrain, backed by Delta Force, UK Special Forces, and U.S. air strikes.[citation needed] The al-Qaeda forces agreed to a truce ostensibly to give them time to surrender their weapons. The truce was apparently a ruse to allow bin Laden and others to escape into Pakistan. On 12 December, fighting resumed, probably initiated by a rear guard buying time for the main force's escape through the White Mountains.

By 17 December, the last cave complex had been taken and its defenders overrun. U.S. and U.K. forces continued searching into January, but no sign of al-Qaeda leadership emerged. An estimated 200 al-Qaeda fighters were killed during the battle, along with an unknown number of tribal fighters. No American or British deaths were reported.

Diplomatic and humanitarian efforts

In December 2001 the United Nations hosted the Bonn Conference. The Taliban were excluded. Four Afghan opposition groups participated. Observers included representatives of neighbouring and other involved major countries.

The resulting Bonn Agreement created the Afghan Interim Authority that would serve as the "repository of Afghan sovereignty" and outlined the so-called Petersberg Process that would lead towards a new constitution and a new Afghan government.

United Nations Security Council Resolution 1378 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-Qaeda network and other terrorist groups and for providing safe haven to Osama bin Laden, al-Qaeda and others associated with them, and in this context supporting the efforts of the Afghan people to replace the Taliban regime".[133]

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.

Insignia of ISAF.

Security force for Kabul

On 20 December 2001, the United Nations authorized an International Security Assistance Force (ISAF), with a mandate to help the Afghans maintain security in Kabul and surrounding areas. It was initially established from the headquarters of the British 3rd Mechanised Division under Major General John McColl, and for its first years numbered no more that 5,000.[134] Its mandate did not extend beyond the Kabul area for the first few years.[135] Eighteen countries were contributing to the force in February 2002.

2002: Operation Anaconda

Canadian soldiers from 3PPCLI move into the hills to search for al-Qaeda and Taliban fighters after an air assault onto an objective north of Qualat, Afghanistan.
An anti-Taliban fighter wraps a bandolier of ammunition for his 7.62 mm PK machine gun around his body while he helps to secure a compound in Helmand Province in Afghanistan, January 2002.

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Following the Loya jirga, tribal leaders and former exiles established an interim government 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. Outposts were established in eastern provinces to hunt for Taliban and al-Qaeda fugitives.

Al-Qaeda forces regrouped in the Shah-i-Kot Valley area, Paktia province, in January and February 2002. A Taliban fugitive in Paktia province, Mullah Saifur Rehman began reconstituting some of his militia forces. They totalled over 1,000 by the beginning of March 2002. The insurgents wanted to launch guerrilla attacks and possibly a major offensive, copying 1980s anti-Soviet fighters.

The U.S. detected the buildup, and on 2 March 2002, U.S., Canadian, and Afghan forces began "Operation Anaconda" against them. Mujahideen forces, using small arms, rocket-propelled grenades, and mortars, were entrenched into caves and bunkers in the hillsides largely above 3,000 m (10,000 ft). They used "hit and run" tactics, opening fire and then retreating to their caves and bunkers to weather the return fire and bombing. U.S. commanders initially estimated their opponents as an isolated pocket numbering fewer than 200. Instead the guerrillas numbered between 1,000–5,000, according to some estimates.[136] By 6 March, eight American, seven Afghan allied, and up to 400 Al Qaida opposing fighters had been killed.[137] Sub-engagements included the Battle of Takur Ghar on 'Roberts Ridge,' and follow-up Operations Glock and Polar Harpoon.[138]

Several hundred guerrillas escaped to the tribal areas in Waziristan. During Operation Anaconda and other missions during 2002 and 2003, the New Zealand Special Air Service[139] and other special forces from Australia, Germany, and Norway were also involved in operations.[140]

In February 2002, the National Security Council met to decide whether to expand ISAF beyond Kabul. In a dispute between Powell and Rumsfeld (a pattern repeated often through the Bush Administration) Rumsfeld's view that the force should not be expanded prevailed.[141] Historians later wrote that the failure of ISAF to be deployed beyond Kabul drove Karzai to offer positions within the state to potential spoilers whose activities did great harm to the state's reputation.[142] Because the rise of the insurgency was linked to grievances over governance,[143] this became a serious problem.

U.S. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld's aimed to carry out operations in Afghanistan as quickly as possible, and leave as fast as possible. He thus wished to focus on kinetic counter-terrorism operations and building up a new Afghan Army.[144]

Operation Harpoon started in the early hours of March 13, aiming to eliminate pockets of Taliban and Al-Qaeda resistance in the Arma Mountains in eastern Afghanistan. The land component was under the command of Lieutenant-Colonel Pat Stogran, the commanding officer of 3rd Battalion, the Princess Patricia's Canadian Light Infantry (3 PPCLI). It consisted of a battalion-sized Canadian and an American force from the 187th Infantry Regiment, of the 101st Airborne Division.[145]

Post-Anaconda operations

Following the battle at Shahi-Kot, al-Qaeda fighters established sanctuaries on the Pakistani border, where they launched cross-border raids beginning in the summer of 2002. Guerrilla units, numbering between 5 and 25 men, regularly crossed the border to fire rockets at coalition bases, ambush convoys and patrols and assault non-governmental organizations. The area around the Shkin base in Paktika province saw some of the heaviest activity.

Taliban fighters remained in hiding in the rural regions of four southern provinces: Kandahar, Zabul, Helmand and Uruzgan. After Anaconda the Department of Defense requested British Royal Marines, highly trained in mountain warfare, to be deployed. In response, 45 Commando deployed under the operational codename Operation Jacana in April 2002. They conducted missions (including Operation Snipe, Operation Condor, and Operation Buzzard) over several weeks with varying results. The Taliban avoided combat.[146]

In May 2002 Combined Joint Task Force 180 became the senior U.S. military headquarters in the country, under Lieutenant General Dan K. McNeill.


Several events, taken together, in early 2002 can be seen as the ending of the first phase of the U.S. led war in the country. The first was the dispersal of the major groups of the Taliban and Al Qaeda after the end of Anaconda. In the United States, in February 2002 the decision was taken not to expand international security forces beyond Kabul. Finally President Bush made his speech at the Virginia Military Institute on April 17, 2002, invoking the memory of General George Marshall whilst talking of Afghan reconstruction, which resulted in discussion of a ‘Marshall Plan’ for Afghanistan.[147] The decision against a significant expansion of international presence and development assistance was later seen by historians as a major error.[148] Avoiding large forces which might rouse the Afghans against the United States was later seen as a fallacy. However, the growing commitment to Iraq was absorbing more and more resources, which in hindsight would have made committing such resources to Afghanistan impossible.[149]

The U.S. invasion of Afghanistan became the first phase of the War in Afghanistan (2001–14).


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  138. Donald P. Wright & al., A Different Kind of War : The United States Army in Operation ENDURING FREEDOM (OEF) October 2001-September 2005, Fort Leavenworth, Kan. : Combat Studies Institute Press, 2009 http://documents.nytimes.com/a-different-kind-of-war#p=1 p.171, 173, 177
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  141. Seth Jones, 'In the Graveyard of Empires,' Norton & Company, 2009, 114-115. See also Maley in Maley & Schmeidl, 'Reconstructing Afghanistan,' 2015, 104, and reference in B. Greener, 'The New International Policing'
  142. Maley in Hynek and Martin, 'Statebuilding in Afghanistan,' 2012, 130.
  143. Seth G. Jones, The Rise of Afghanistan's Insurgency, International Security, 2008.
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  147. Jones, Graveyard of Empires, 116-117.
  148. Jones, Graveyard of Empires, 132-33.
  149. Jones, Graveyard of Empires, 124-129.


  • Seth Jones, 'In the Graveyard of Empires,' Norton & Company, 2009
  • Donald P. Wright & al., A Different Kind of War : The United States Army in Operation ENDURING FREEDOM (OEF) October 2001-September 2005, Fort Leavenworth, Kan. : Combat Studies Institute Press, 2009

Further reading

  • Jack Fairweather, The Good War: Why We Couldn’t Win the War or the Peace in Afghanistan, Random House, 2014, ISBN 1448139724, 9781448139729
  • Leigh Neville, Special Operations Forces in Afghanistan, Osprey Publishing, Elite 163, Osprey, 2008. ISBN 9781846033100. Interesting account of early war operations, mostly before Operation Anaconda.