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.
Population: 34.6 million
Refugees: 2.5 million
Displaced people: 1.79 million
The Islamic Republic of Afghanistan 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 the Taliban insurgency.
The United States of America 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.
- Operation Enduring Freedom and Operation Freedom Sentinel refer to the US led missions to crackdown on the war on terror.
The United Kingdom, Canada, Germany and Australia 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.
The Northern Alliance 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.
The International Security Assistance Force 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.
The Taliban 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.
Al-Qaeda are a multi-national group of Sunni Islamist extremists. They have supported the Taliban in their insurgency in Afghanistan.
The Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant are a branch of ISIL operating in Afghanistan. Formed in January 2015, the Islamic fundamentalist group oppose both the Afghan state and the Taliban.
The United Nations 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
The United Nations Security Council implemented the Resolution 1267 in October 1999. This created the al-Qaeda and Taliban Sanctions Committee, that linked the two groups as terrorist entities. This also imposed sanctions on their funding, travel and arms shipments.
The commander of the Northern Alliance, Ahmad Shah Massoud, was assassinated by al-Qaeda. The Northern Alliance was an anti-Taliban coalition and experts believe this enabled Osama bin Laden’s protection post 9/11.
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.
President George W. Bush announced the reconstruction of Afghanistan in a speech at the Virginia Military Institute. He stated that “By helping to build an Afghanistan that is free from this evil and is a better place in which to live, we are working in the best traditions of George Marshall,” Bush believed that evoking the post-World War II Marshall Plan would revive Western Europe. But the United States and the international community did not come close to Marshall Plan-like reconstruction spending for Afghanistan. The U.S. Congress appropriates over $38 billion in humanitarian and reconstruction support between 2001 to 2009.
The U.S. military created a civil affairs framework to coordinate redevelopment with UN and nongovernmental organizations to expand the authority of the Kabul government. These so-called provincial reconstruction teams (PRTs) are stood up first in Gardez in November, followed by Bamiyan, Kunduz, Mazar-e-Sharif, Kandahar, and Herat. Command for individual PRTs is eventually handed over to NATO states. While credited with improving security for aid agencies, the model is not universally praised. Concern mounts that the PRT system lacks central controlling authority and is disorganized. Such criticism grows beyond the PRT program and becomes a common theme in the NATO war effort.
During a briefing with reporters in Kabul, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, declares an end to “major combat.” The announcement coincides with President George W. Bush’s “mission accomplished” declaration of an end to fighting in Iraq.
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.
Signalling the persistent challenges facing the U.S.-led coalition in Afghanistan, Osama bin Laden releases a videotaped message. This took place three weeks after the country’s presidential election with the goal of receiving worldwide media coverage. This was aired on Al Jazeera, showing bin Laden taunting the Bush administration. Bin Laden also takes responsibility for the attacks of September 11, 2001.
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.
A notorious Taliban military commander, Mullah Dadullah, is killed in a joint operation by Afghan, U.S., and NATO forces in south Afghanistan. Dadullah is believed to have been a leader of guerrilla forces in the war in Helmand Province, deploying suicide bombers and ordering the kidnapping of Westerners.
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.
The Chairman of Afghanistan’s interim administration, Hamid Karzai, was chosen to lead the national transitional government. Karzai served as Chairman since December 2001 and was selected during a time of great instability for the country.
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.
Senior U.S. military commanders, altered the course from the Bush administration by calling on NATO nations to supply non-military assets to Afghanistan. Officials stress the need for NATO members to step up in building Afghan civil society, such as providing resources for provincial reconstruction teams, or PRTs. A two-day NATO summit in early April ends with a promise by NATO nations to send an additional five thousand troops to train the Afghan army and police force, and to provide security for the country’s August presidential election.
Afghan and UN investigations find that errant fire from a U.S. gunship killed dozens of Afghan civilians in the Shindand District of western Herat Province. U.S. military officials dispute the death toll in this incident as well as claims that a separate incident in Farah Province left as many as 140 civilians dead. After being named top U.S. commander in Afghanistan in mid-2009, Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal orders an overhaul of U.S. air strike procedures. He stated “We must avoid the trap of winning tactical victories, but suffering strategic defeats, by causing civilian casualties or excessive damage and thus alienating the people,”
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.
U.S. Marines launch a major offensive in southern Afghanistan, representing a major test for the U.S. military’s new counterinsurgency strategy. The offensive, involving four thousand Marines, is launched in response to a growing Taliban insurgency in the country’s southern provinces, especially Helmand Province. The operation focuses on restoring government services, bolstering local police forces, and protecting civilians from Taliban incursion. By August 2009 U.S. forces make up between sixty thousand and sixty-eight thousand.
The U.S. war in Afghanistan marks its tenth anniversary, with about hundred thousand U.S. troops deployed in a counterinsurgency role, primarily in southern and eastern regions. President Barack Obama plans to withdraw all combat troops by 2014, but serious doubts remain about the Afghan government’s capacity to secure the country. Amid a resilient insurgency, U.S. goals in Afghanistan remain uncertain and terrorist safe havens in Pakistan continue to undermine U.S. efforts. A decade in, the war’s tolls include 1,800 U.S. troop casualties and $444 billion in spending. The costs have eroded U.S. public support, with a global economic downturn. This includes a 9.1 percent unemployment rate, and a $1.3 trillion annual budget deficit. While there are military gains, hopes for a deal with the Taliban to help wind down the conflict remain riddled with setbacks. President Karzai suspends the talks following the September 20 assassination of Burhanuddin Rabbani, the government’s chief negotiator.
Ten years after the first international conference that discussed Afghanistan’s political future, dozens of countries and organizations meet again in Bonn, Germany. The goal was to devise a roadmap of cooperation beyond the international troop withdrawal in 2014. Afghan President Hamid Karzai says the country will require $10 billion annually over the next decade to shore up security and reconstruction, and commits to tackling corruption in exchange for continued international assistance. The conference failed to achieve its objectives to create a blueprint for Afghanistan’s transition to a self-sustaining and secure government. Pakistan, a crucial player, refuses to attend.
The United States drops its most powerful non-nuclear bomb on suspected Islamic State militants at a cave complex in the eastern Nangarhar Province. The weapon, known colloquially as “the mother of all bombs,” comes as newly elected President Donald J. Trump delegates decision-making authorities to commanders, including the possibility of adding several thousand U.S. troops to the nearly nine thousand already deployed there. There are also approximately 9,000 U.S. contractors in Afghanistan. The bombing casts a spotlight on the emergence of the Islamic State in Afghanistan. At the same time, the Taliban appears to be as strong as ever, and the U.S. military describes the war as a stalemate. Kabul experiences suicide bombings on a scale never before seen, while the Taliban control or contest more than a third of the country. U.S. Marines are once again dispatched to the Helmand Province.
The Taliban carry out a series of bold terror attacks in Kabul that kill more than 115 people amid a broader upsurge in violence. The attacks come as the Trump administration implements its Afghanistan plan, deploying troops across rural Afghanistan to advise Afghan brigades and launching air strikes against opium labs to try to decimate the Taliban’s finances. The administration also cuts off security assistance worth billions of dollars to Pakistan for what President Trump called its “lies and deceit” in harboring Taliban militants. Critics of the National Unity Government say domestic politics—notably a showdown with a provincial governor—have distracted President Ghani from security.
Negotiations between America and the Taliban in Doha entered their highest level yet, building on momentum from 2018. The talks between U.S. special envoy Zalmay Khalilzad and top Taliban official Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar center on the United States withdrawing its troops from Afghanistan in exchange for the Taliban pledging to block international terrorist groups from operating on Afghan soil. The ramped-up diplomacy follows signals that President Trump plans to pull out seven thousand troops, about half the total U.S. deployment. Khalilzad says the United States will insist that the Taliban agree to participate in an intra-Afghan dialogue on the country’s political structure, as well as a cease-fire. It is unclear whether Trump will condition the troop withdrawal on those terms.