The War in Afghanistan began in 2001 after the September 11 attacks. United States and NATO coalition forces attacked Taliban and Al Qaeda forces. As of 2014, United States personnel are withdrawing from the country, ending over a decade of fighting.
The War in Afghanistan
For almost the entire first decade of the 21st century, the United States of America has been at war. Hundreds of thousands of United States armed forces personnel have been sent abroad to the Middle East to engage in what the administration of President George W. Bush referred to as the ‘War on Terror.’ In many ways, the central fight of the War on Terror has taken place in the isolated and mountainous nation of Afghanistan. Let’s learn more about the War in Afghanistan, the longest war in the history of the United States.
Causes of the War
For centuries, Afghanistan has been an unstable place, especially over the last century. In the early 1900s, Afghanistan was established as an independent country, no longer under the yoke of foreign powers.Starting in the 1970s, there were a series of coup d’états, where power changed from one group to another.
In 1978, a civil war began within Afghanistan’s borders between pro- and anti-communist forces. The Soviet Union sent in military forces to support the communists, and a bloody conflict began. During this fight, the United States provided money and military assistance to those fighting the Soviets. Some of these were known as the Mujahideen, composed of Islamists who were staunchly opposed to the Soviet invasion. Over one million Afghans died during this conflict, but the Soviets were repulsed.
After fighting the Soviets, Afghanistan saw various warlords and extremist groups vie for control of the country over the coming years. By the mid-1990s, a fundamentalist group called the Taliban took control of the country. The Taliban ruled according to Islamic Sharia law and instituted extremely harsh restrictions on the country.
The Taliban created an environment in Afghanistan that bred terrorists. Osama Bin Laden, a veteran of the fight against the Soviets, became a leading figure in the Al Qaeda terrorist organization, one of the largest and most sophisticated Islamic terror groups in the world. It was from within Afghanistan that Bin Laden and his followers plotted to strike against the United States.On September 11, 2001, Al Qaeda terrorists launched attacks against the United States.
Terrorists flew two planes full of innocents into buildings in New York City and one into the Pentagon in Washington, D.C. A fourth plane was brought down by brave passengers in Southern Pennsylvania. Almost 3,000 Americans were killed in these terrorist attacks.
Following the attacks of September 11, the United States government responded with military force.
It was clear that Al Qaeda was behind the attacks, and knowing that Al Qaeda and Osama Bin Laden were based in Afghanistan, President George W. Bush gave the Taliban an ultimatum: either hand over Bin Laden and his organization or the United States would strike with full force. Congress passed legislation authorizing the use of force in striking against terrorist targets, and when the Taliban did not cooperate in handing over Bin Laden, United States forces began a bombing campaign in Afghanistan in early October 2001, just weeks after the September 11 attacks.
With assistance from Coalition nations, such as the United Kingdom, NATO forces, and the Northern Alliance, American Air Force and Navy planes bombed significant Taliban and Al Qaeda targets across Afghanistan. Special Forces troops were sent in, and in November, the first ground base was established. Much of the Taliban had been destroyed or driven away by the end of 2001.While the initial offensives were successful, Coalition forces had to pivot from attacking to rebuilding.
While the Taliban was virtually destroyed, Al Qaeda still held on in parts of the country. The International Security Assistance Force was created in 2003 by the UN to help rebuild. Despite this, in 2003, an insurgency began against the American and NATO forces. Insurgent attacks and American counteroffensives continued on and off for several years, with many Afghan civilians being caught in-between, some ultimately losing their lives. During all this, a new, democratic government was established in Afghanistan. Coalition, NATO, UN, and American forces attempted to support it in the interest of preventing Afghanistan from returning to a state that supported terrorism.When President Barack Obama took office in 2009, he sent thousands more troops into Afghanistan.
Death tolls on both sides began to rise in 2009 and 2010. By the end of 2011, President Obama began withdrawing United States forces from Afghanistan, relinquishing control to the Afghan government and its newly trained security forces.In an attempt to end U.S. involvement, an agreement was reached in 2012 between Obama and Afghan President Hamid Karzai. The U.
S. Afghanistan Strategic Partnership Agreement set guidelines for how to continue forward after U.S. forces had left, including promises from the United States to continue helping Afghan security forces in training to fight insurgents throughout the country.
The War in Afghanistan was certainly not short on controversy. While initially it enjoyed widespread support from the American public in the aftermath of the September 11 attacks, over time, support began to erode.
With United States forces also engaged in a war in Iraq starting in 2003, the American public became increasingly war weary. Through 2011, the U.S. government spent over 500 billion dollars on the war. Many began to believe it impossible for democratic government to ever exist in Afghanistan and saw the death of Bin Laden in 2011 as a signal to end the U.S.
involvement in the region.
The War in Afghanistan was and is a messy and complex affair. It started as a result of terrorist groups residing within the country who struck the United States and killed thousands on September 11, 2001.
President George W. Bush responded by launching military strikes and destroying the Taliban in Afghanistan. After the fall of the Taliban, terrorist forces launched an insurgent war against the United States and coalition troops, which has lasted for over ten years.
Thousands of American lives, and tens of thousands of Afghan lives, have been lost during the conflict. While successfully driving the Taliban out of Afghanistan, the war has become the longest in U.S.
history, generating plenty of controversy along the way.
Once you’ve finished with this lesson, you will have the ability to:
- Explain how and when the War in Afghanistan began
- Discuss the background of Afghanistan leading up to the war
- Summarize the war’s timeline
- Recall when U.S. troops started to withdraw from the war
- Understand the purpose of the U.S.
Afghanistan Strategic Partnership Agreement
- Describe the positive outcomes of the war as well as its criticisms