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The War in Afghanistan began on 7 October 2001, as the armed forces of the United States, the United Kingdom, France, Australia, and the Afghan United Front (Northern Alliance) launched Operation Enduring Freedom. The primary driver of the invasion was the September 11 attacks on the U.S., with the stated goal of dismantling the al-Qaeda terrorist organization and ending its use of Afghanistan as a base. The U.S. also said that it would remove the Taliban regime from power and create a viable democratic state. More than a decade into the war, NATO forces continue to battle a widespread Taliban insurgency, and the war has expanded into the tribal area of neighboring Pakistan. The War in Afghanistan is also the United States’ longest running war.
The preludes to the war were the assassination of the Northern Alliance leader Ahmad Shah Massoud on 9 September 2001, and the September 11 attacks in the U.S., in which nearly 3,000 civilians were killed in New York City, Arlington, Virginia, and Shanksville, Pennsylvania. The U.S. identified members of al-Qaeda, an organization based in, operating out of, and allied with the Taliban’s Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan, as the perpetrators of the attacks.
In the first phase of Operation Enduring Freedom, ground forces of the Afghan United Front working with teams of U.S. and British Special Forces and with U.S. air support, ousted the Taliban regime from power in Kabul and most of Afghanistan in a matter of weeks. Most of the senior Taliban leadership fled to neighboring Pakistan, some being flown out in the Kunduz airlift. The democratic Islamic Republic of Afghanistan was established and an interim government under Hamid Karzai was created which was also democratically elected by the Afghan people in the 2004 general elections. The International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) was established by the U.N. Security Council at the end of December 2001 to secure Kabul and the surrounding areas. This was after the US sought to make sure that it would not interfere with its on going counterterrorism initiatives in the country, changing the originally titled “International Security Force” to ISAF. NATO assumed control of ISAF in 2003. ISAF includes troops from 42 countries, with NATO members providing the core of the force. The stated aim of the invasion was to find Osama bin Laden and other high-ranking al-Qaeda members to be put on trial, to destroy the organization of al-Qaeda, and to remove the Taliban regime which supported and gave safe harbor to it. In 2003, Taliban forces started an insurgency campaign against the democratic Islamic Republic and the presence of ISAF-troops in Afghanistan. Their headquarters are alleged to be in or near Quetta, Pakistan. Since 2006, Afghanistan has experienced a dramatic increase in Taliban-led insurgent activity. Since the coalition intervention in 2001, more than 5.7 million refugees have returned to Afghanistan.
On 21 May 2012 the leaders of the NATO-member countries endorsed an exit strategy during the 2012 NATO Summit in Chicago.
and 11 September 2001
Main article: September 11 attacks
Ground Zero in New York following the attacks of September 11, 2001
On 9 September 2001, Massoud, then aged 48, was the target of a suicide attack by two Arabs posing as journalists detonating a bomb hidden in their video camera during an interview in Khoja Bahauddin, in the Takhar Province of Afghanistan. Massoud died in a helicopter taking him to a hospital. The funeral, though in a rather rural area, was attended by hundreds of thousands of mourning Afghans. (see video). International experts and members of the United Front such as Amrullah Saleh feared that without Massoud the anti-Taliban resistance would be overrun by the Taliban.
On the morning of 11 September 2001, a series of coordinated attacks by al-Qaeda took place on U.S. soil. Four commercial passenger jet airliners were hijacked. The hijackers intentionally crashed two of the airliners into the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center in New York City, killing everyone on board and many others working in the buildings. Both buildings collapsed within two hours, 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. There were no survivors from any of the flights.
Nearly 3,000 people, including the 19 hijackers, died in the attacks. According to the New York State Health Department, 836 responders, including firefighters and police personnel, have died as of June 2009.
On 20 September 2001, U.S. president George W. Bush addressed the U.S. Congress and demanded that the Taliban deliver Osama bin Laden and destroy bases of al Qaeda. On 5 October 2001, 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, but the U.S. would not hand over its evidence to the Taliban. So on 7 October 2001, the U.S. government launched military operations in Afghanistan. Teams from the CIA’s Special Activities Division (SAD) were the first U.S. forces to enter Afghanistan and begin combat operations. They were soon joined by U.S. Army Special Forces from the 5th Special Forces Group and other units from USSOCOM.
On 7 October 2001, airstrikes were reported in the capital, Kabul (where electricity supplies were severed), at the airport, at Kandahar (home of the Taliban’s Supreme Leader Mullah Omar), and in the city of Jalalabad. CNN released exclusive footage of Kabul being bombed to all the American broadcasters at approximately 5:08 pm 7 October 2001.
U.S. Army Special Forces with Northern Alliance troops on horseback
At 17:00 UTC, President Bush confirmed the strikes on national television and Prime Minister of the United Kingdom Tony Blair also addressed the UK. Bush stated that Taliban military sites and terrorist training grounds would be targeted. In addition, food, medicine, and supplies would be dropped to “the starving and suffering men, women and children of Afghanistan”.
US officials rejected a new offer from the Taliban to hand over Osama bin Laden to a third country for trial if the Americans halted the bombing of Afghanistan. A prerecorded videotape of Osama bin Laden had been released before the attacks in which he condemned any attacks against Afghanistan. Al Jazeera, the Arabic satellite news channel, reported that these tapes were received shortly before the attack.
British and American special forces worked jointly to take Herat in November 2001. These forces worked with Afghan opposition groups on the ground, in particular the Northern Alliance. The United Kingdom, Canada and Australia also deployed forces and several other countries provided basing, access and overflight permission.
The U.S. was able to track al-Qaeda’s number three at the time Mohammed Atef who was one of the most wanted, when Atef was killed, along with his guard Abu Ali al-Yafi’i and six others, in a U.S. air-strike on his home near Kabul during the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan at some time between 14–16 November 2001. This was one of America’s first and largest victories during the early stages of the war.
Bombers operating at high altitudes well out of range of antiaircraft guns dropped bombs at Afghan training camps and Taliban air defenses. U.S. aircraft, including Apache helicopter gunships from the 101st Combat Aviation Brigade, operated with impunity throughout the campaign with no losses due to Taliban air defenses. Several Tomahawk Cruise Missiles were launched from U.S. Navy Cruisers and Destroyers.
The strikes initially focused on the area in and around the cities of Kabul, Jalalabad, and Kandahar. Within a few days, most Taliban training sites were severely damaged and the Taliban’s air defenses were destroyed. The campaign then focused on command, control, and communication targets which weakened the ability of the Taliban forces to communicate. However, the line facing the Afghan Northern Alliance held, and no tangible battlefield successes had yet occurred on that front. Two weeks into the campaign, the Northern Alliance demanded the air campaign focus more on the front lines.
Example of the U.S. propaganda pamphlets dropped over Mazari Sharif.
The next stage of the campaign began with carrier based F/A-18 Hornet fighter-bombers hitting Taliban vehicles in pinpoint strikes, while other U.S. planes began cluster bombing Taliban defenses. For the first time in years, Northern Alliance commanders finally began to see the substantive results that they had long hoped for on the front lines.
At the beginning of November, the Taliban front lines were attacked with daisy cutter bombs, and by AC-130 gunships. The Taliban fighters had no previous experience with American firepower, and often even stood on top of bare ridgelines where U.S. Army Special Forces could easily spot them and call in close air support. By 2 November, Taliban frontal positions were devastated, and a Northern Alliance march on Kabul seemed possible for the first time. However, 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.” Then-U.S. President George W. Bush went to New York City on 10 November 2001, “where the wreckage of the World Trade Center still smoldered with underground fires”, to address the United Nations and told the assembled nations that not only the U.S. are in danger of further attacks of the 9/11 terrorists, but also every other countries in the world. Tanner writes: “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.”