War in Afghanistan


Although Afghanistan has been in a state of conflict since 1978, this page will examine the ‘War in Afghanistan’ that began in September 2001, after the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan. Whilst the conflict has a significant combatant death toll, Afghan civilians are among those primarily affected, with many attacks targeting citizens. The conflict has also limited access to services such as healthcare and education, and left many in fear of persecution. After almost seventeen years, there is no clear end in sight for the ‘War in Afghanistan’. The resurgence of the Taliban in 2015 has necessitated continued military involvement.


Where: Afghanistan

Population: 34.6 million

Deaths: 173,000

Refugees: 2.5 million

Displaced people: 1.79 million

Injured: 183,000

Key actors

was formed in December 2001, after the Taliban government was overthrown. It has worked in tandem with the United States of America and other states against Taliban insurgency.

invaded Afghanistan on October 7, 2001, in the wake of the 9/11 terrorist attacks. The invasion was justified as a means of retaliation against those responsible for the attacks – specifically al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden. They have recently promised a more aggressive strategy in Afghanistan in the Trump-era. Decisions regarding a US withdrawal from the war will be based on “conditions on the ground” rather than arbitrary timelines, according to President Trump.

Provided initial support for US invasion. These countries continued to provide support and troops throughout the war. Canada and the United Kingdom troops left Afghanistan in 2014.

was a military group that was established when the Taliban-led Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan government gained power in 1996. The alliance opposed the Taliban and was supported by the U.S.A. It disbanded in December 2001 when the Taliban government collapsed.

was a force purposed with training Afghan security forces and aiding in rebuilding Afghanistan’s government institutions and services. It was also involved in the war against the Taliban. ISAF was established in 2001, after UN Security Council Resolution 1386. The North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) later assumed control in 2003 and ended the force in December 2014.

  • Operation Resolute Support was established on January 1, 2015 and acted as a successor to ISAF. Led by NATO, the operation entitles having 13,000 troops in Afghanistan, acting predominantly in non-combative roles.

also known as the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan (IEA) between 1996 and 2001, are a Sunni Islamic fundamentalist group from areas of eastern and southern Afghanistan. After the collapse of the IEA in 2001, the Taliban launched an insurgency against the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan.

are a multi-national group of Sunni Islamist extremists. They have supported the Taliban in their insurgency in Afghanistan.

are a branch of ISIL operating in Afghanistan. Formed in January 2015, the Islamic fundamentalist group oppose both the Afghan state and the Taliban.

has been pivotal in the provision of aid and intervention, and has acted in many capacities. The organisation of the 2001 Bonn Conference and establishment of UN Security Council Resolutions 1378 and 1386 in 2001 were intervention measures that aimed to promote stability. Likewise, the establishment of the political mission, United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) in 2002, by request of the Afghan government, aimed to promote sustainable peace and development. UN subsidiaries such as The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR)and The United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) have also provided aid to Afghan citizens.

Timeline of the crisis

Al-Qaeda terrorists hijack four planes in the United States of America. Two crash into the World Trade Centers, one into the Pentagon, and one in a field, resulting in 2996 deaths. In response, President George Bush declares America will ‘win the war against terrorism’ and calls for the Taliban to extradite Al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden who resides in Afghanistan. The Taliban refuse, demanding evidence of wrongdoing. This is perceived by the U.S. as a delaying tactic.

President Bush signs the Authorization for Use of Military Force. The resolution permits the use of military force against those responsible for carrying out the 9/11 attacks, and will come to be a legal justification for an imminent U.S. invasion of Afghanistan.

The U.S. military, with British support, officially begin Operation Enduring Freedom with the bombing of Taliban forces. Canada, Germany and Australia promise future support.

Several significant Taliban occupancies fall to U.S. and Northern Alliance coalition, including Taloqan, Bamiyan, Herat, Kabul and Jalalabad.

The United Nations invites prominent Afghan factions, including the Northern Alliance and groups led by the former king, to convene in Bonn, Germany. The Taliban are not invited. The Bonn Agreement is signed, appointing Hamid Karzai as interim administrative head of Afghanistan.

The Islamic Emirates of Afghanistan officially ends. The Taliban surrender Kandahar – the second largest Afghan city – and leader Mullah Omar flees. Despite this, Al-Qaeda leaders remain in the mountains.

After a two-week battle between Afghan forces and Al-Qaeda, Osama Bin Laden escapes.

UN Security Council Resolution 1386 adopted. This establishes the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF), to promote safety and security in Kabul.

U.S., Canadian and Afghan forces begin ‘Operation Anaconda’. The operation targets remaining Al-Qaeda and Taliban fighters in the eastern Paktia province. The assault includes approximately 2000 U.S. forces fighting 1000 Taliban fighters.

NATO takes control of the ISAF. Although ISAF was initially purposed with securing Kabul, it expands in the coming years.

British soldier killed in suspected suicide attack. The attack marks a distinct rise in suicide bombings by Taliban fighters; in 2005 there would be 21 and in 2006, 141. The use of improvised explosive devices also significantly increases.

Hamid Karzai is democratically elected as the President of Afghanistan.  

Presidents Karzai and Bush announce each other as strategic partners. The U.S. is given access to Afghan military facilities, and Afghan troops are to be trained and equipped by the U.S. The announcement solidifies U.S. presence in Afghanistan.

Operation Mountain Thrust begins, led by a force of approximately 11,000 troops from the Afghan National Army and NATO members. The operation aims to target Taliban insurgency in southern Afghanistan. The assault concluded July 31 2006, where the Coalition claimed victory and the Taliban retreated. Combined causalities from the assault exceeded 1,200.

ISAF assumes command of South Afghanistan in response to increasingly frequent and violent attacks by the Taliban.

ISAF assumes command of East Afghanistan, resulting in a number of greater troops in Afghanistan, and a greater number involved in combat.

The Shinwar massacre occurs. U.S. Marines, fleeing a car bomb and ambush attack, fire upon local people in the Shinwar District of Nangarhar Province in eastern Afghanistan, killing at least 12 and injuring a further 33. All 120 members of the unit leave the country soon after.

NATO-led Operation Achilles begins; the largest of its kind to date. The assault aims to target Taliban fighters in the Helmand province of Southern Afghanistan. Whilst the Taliban claimed they had a force of 10,000, NATO reports stated that they had 4,000. NATO troops totalled approximately 7,000. The operation concluded May 30, 2006, with a NATO victory. Thirty five NATO troops were killed, and an estimated 750 – 1000 Taliban causalities.

 Polish troops shell the village of Nangar Khel in the Paktika Province of southeastern Afghanistan after a targeted ambush by insurgents damages their vehicle. The attack results in the deaths of eight civilians, including an infant and pregnant woman. Seven soldiers are initially charged with war crimes due to accounts stating that they fired without provocation. The charges are later cleared in 2011.

Taliban insurgents attack Kandahar prison with cars filled with explosives and suicide bombers. The attack frees many prisoners, including Taliban fighters. Whilst some reports stated that approximately 150 to 200 prisoners remained incarcerated, other accounts noted that all 1,170 prisoners escaped.

Approximately 200 Taliban fighters attack U.S. soldiers in the Waygal district of eastern Afghanistan’s Nuristan Province in the Battle of Wanat. The offensive, led by the Taliban, surrounded the U.S. base near Quam, destroyed heavy munitions and entered the main base. As a result, 9 U.S. soldiers were killed, and a further 27 wounded. According to U.S. reports, between 25 and 65 Taliban fighters were killed, and 45 wounded. Whilst the battle is considered a U.S. victory for their ability to repel insurgents, it is considered a tactical victory for the Taliban.

Operation Eagle’s Summit begins, aiming to transport a turbine through Taliban-controlled territory to the Kajaki Dam in the Helmand Province of southern Afghanistan. The turbine would provide electricity and irrigation to the Helmand and Kandahar provinces. The operation concluded on September 5 2008 with the Coalition victory. One Canadian solider died during the operation, whilst NATO reports 200 Taliban troops were killed.

Helicopters, believed to be manned by U.S. forces, attack houses near a militant stronghold in Pakistan. Reports state that many of those killed were civilians. In retaliation, Pakistan declares a disconnection of supply lines for NATO.

Newly elected U.S. President Barack Obama establishes his strong support for involvement in Afghanistan, declaring 17,000 more troops are to be sent to Afghanistan. Currently, the U.S. has 37,000 troops stationed there.

President Obama announces new policy which aims to stabilise Pakistan and provide 4000 more troops to train Afghan security forces.

As part of the Kunduz Province Campaign, NATO forces launch an air-raid on Taliban fighters who had hijacked civilian supply trucks. The raids killed approximately 179 people, of which 100 were civilians.

President Karzai wins second term as President amid controversy. Issues of legitimacy and corruption cast doubt upon the ability of Afghan government institutions and security forces to work independently.

President Obama commits a further 30,000 troops to Afghanistan.

President Karzai organised Afghanistan’s National Consultative Peace Jirga (NCPJ). The three-day meeting aimed to discuss plans to end the Afghan civil-war and current conflict. Whilst the NCPJ was undermined by the Taliban’s rejection of the event, it marked a step in a positive direction.

NATO summit in Lisbon decides to relinquish control of security and hand over to Afghan forces by the end of 2014. The decision emphasises NATO’s shifted agenda that aims to slowly distance itself from the conflict.

Al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden is killed in Abbottabad, Pakistan, by U.S. forces in Operation Neptune Spear. As the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan was provoked by the Taliban’s refusal to extradite Osama Bin Laden (considered the mastermind behind the 9/11 attacks) over his responsibility for the 9/11 terrorist attacks, his death is highly significant for U.S. forces, and marks the culmination of a ten-year search.

President Obama announces plans to withdraw 30,000 troops. Other NATO members would follow suit.

The Kandahar massacre, or Panjwai massacre, occurs, when U.S. Army Sergeant Robert Bales murders sixteen civilians and injures a further six. Nine of his victims were children. The massacre further damages relations between U.S. troops and Afghan civilians which were already strained by the burning of the Quran by U.S. soldiers in February, and resentment owing to civilian deaths.

Afghan security forces assume control of all security responsibilities.

Pakistan Armed Forces launch Operation Zarb-e-Azb in North Waziristan, Pakistan, along the Pakistan-Afghanistan Border. The offensive targeted Islamic militant groups, and resulted in their movement to Afghanistan. This subsequently boosted Taliban ranks, and enabled a Taliban resurgence that would begin in earnest in 2015.

President Obama announces the withdrawal of the majority of U.S. troops by 2016.

NATO officially ended all combat operations in Afghanistan. Whilst some troops would remain in support of Afghanistan’s security and stability, they would not act in non-combat roles.

NATO launches ‘Resolute Support’, in which troops act in an advisory capacity to Afghan security forces.

ISIL forms ISIL-KP, appointing former Taliban militants Hafiz Saeed Khan and Abdul Rauf Aliza as leader and deputy leader respectively.

A Taliban car bomb is detonated outside the National Assembly in Kabul. The Kabul Parliament is subsequently attacked, with Taliban fighters entering the building. A car is also exploded in front of parliament gates. Whilst no MPs were wounded and the Taliban fighters killed, it is reported that women and children were killed in the attack.

Pakistan hosts informal peace talks between Afghan officials and the Taliban. Although no agreement comes to fruition, both parties agree to continue talks later.

U.S. air raid bombs a Medecins Sans Frontiers (MSF) hospital in North Afghanistan, killing 42 people. Among the causalities are 14 MSF (Doctors Without Borders) members, and 24 patients.

President Obama declares that some 9,000 troops will remain in Afghanistan, despite earlier statements that only 1,000 would remain.

A draft peace agreement is signed between the Afghan government and Hezb-e-Islami, a former ally of the Taliban and Al-Qaeda.

U.S. military deploys largest non-nuclear bomb ever used in combat. The bomb targets ISIL fighters in eastern Afghanistan, and a system of tunnels and caves. 96 ISIL fighters are killed.

Taliban fighters attack Camp Shaheen, a base for the Afghan National Army, near Mazar-i-Sharif in the Balkh Province. Whilst the Afghan government stated that 140 people were killed, and 160 injured, some media reports suggested that this number could have been as high as 250.

Taliban announce the beginning of ‘Operation Mansouri’. Following this, the Taliban secure the Waghaz District in May. Attacks on the Shah Wali Kot district of the Kandahar province, Shorabak district and Maiwand district also occur, resulting in heavy losses for the Afghan army.

The German embassy in Kabul is attacked by a suicide truck. The attack kills 90 people, and injures a further 350.

U.S. President Donald Trump announces his support for the Afghan war, and indicated he would expand U.S. presence in Afghanistan.

800 US soldiers arrive in Afghanistan as part of an Army training brigade to advise Afghan forces.

An ISIL-claimed attack kills nine civilians and injures eighteen in Kabul. Elsewhere, in the Takhar province of north-eastern Afghanistan, Taliban fighters kill ten Afghan army soldiers and six police.

Afghan Air Force said to have conducted airstrike on a religious school in the Kunduz province, leaving 59 dead. Most of the victims were children, according to security forces.

63 people were killed in bomb attack on voter registration centres in
Kabul and Baghan province. The Islamic state of Iraq and the Levant claims responsibility for the Kabul attack (no group has claimed responsibility for the Baghan attack).

Twin blasts in Kabul kill at least 36 people. Including nine journalists
who had arrived to report on the first explosion and were apparently targeted by a suicide bomber.

A three-day ceasefire between the Taliban and government forces is successfully observed in Kabul, coinciding with the end of Ramadan. This is the first ceasefire of the conflict and is recognized as a great step towards peace.

Taliban attacks on Takhar checkpoints leave 14 border police officers dead, and 6 others missing. In the eastern Logar province, 11 people were killed in two Taliban attacks.

Taliban soldiers take over two districts in the southeastern province of Paktika, forcing Afghan security forces to leave behind large quantities of arms and equipment.

Afghanistan’s national security adviser resigns. He is replaced by Hamdullah Mohib, the Afghan Ambassador to the US.

Two suicide bombs detonate in a Shi’ite neighborhood of Kabul, killing at least 20 people and wounding 70 more. The attack is claimed the next day by the Islamic State.

UN reports that civilian deaths in Afghanistan remain at extreme levels, the highest since 2014.

How can you help?

For further information regarding the implications of the War in Afghanistan, refer to the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) – https://unama.unmissions.org/ 

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