Invasions of Afghanistan

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Afghanistan is a mountainous landlocked country in Central Asia and South Asia.[1][2] The Afghanistan area has been invaded many times in recorded history. Some of these invaders in the history of Afghanistan include Indians, Alexander the Great, Caliphate, Genghis Khan, Timur, Mughal Empire, various Persian Empires, British Empire, Sikh Empire, Soviet Union, and currently a coalition force of NATO troops, the majority of which are from the United States, following the US-led invasion which began on October 7, 2001, Operation Enduring Freedom.


From a geopolitical sense, controlling Afghanistan is vital in controlling the rest of Southern Asia, or getting a passage through Central Asia, reflecting its geographic position in the region. Afghanistan played an important part in the Great Game power struggles. Historically, the conquest of Afghanistan has also played an important role in the invasion of India from the west through the Khyber Pass.


Greek and Kushan Invasions[edit]

Alexander the Great invaded what is today Afghanistan in 330 BC as part of war against Persia. Comprising the easternmost satrapies of Persia, Afghanistan provided some challenging battles in his conquest of the remaining lands of Persia. Renamed Bactria, and settled with his Ionian veterans, Alexander began his invasion of India from what is now Jalalabad, attacking the Indus River basin through the Khyber Pass. Following the death of Alexander and the partition of his kingdom, the Province of Bactria was under the rule of Alexander's former general, Seleucus, who now formed the Seleucid Dynasty, with its capital in Babylon. But the Greek Soldiers in Bactria, based on the remoteness of their territory, declared independence, defeated Seleucid armies sent to reconquer them, and founded the Greco-Bactrian Kingdom, which lasted for more than three centuries in Afghanistan, and western India. This Greek Kingdom called Bactria carried on Greek culture while completely cut off from Europe for three centuries. One of the cities, Ain Khanum was excavated in 1970s, showing a complete Greek city with an acropolis, amphitheater, temples, and numerous statues. Greeks of Bactria transmitted the art of sculpting human likeness to India and the Far East. Bactrian King Menander I converted to Buddhism after staging multiple theological and philosophical debates between his Greek priests and Indian Buddhist monks. Menander I is remembered in Buddhist Sutras as "King Milinda of the Yunani." The Ionian origin of the Greek veterans who settled Bactria is remembered to this day by the Afghan word for Greeks, which is "Ionani." Bactrian Greeks left a legacy of coinage, architecture, and Buddhist art, which comprised the Ghandara culture, especially the Greco-Buddhist Art affecting all of East Asia to this day. Bactrian statues of Buddha, dressed in Greek toga with curly Greek hair is still the dominant image of Buddha to this day in China, Korea, and Japan. The last Greek Kingdom in Afghanistan was conquered by the Kushan invaders in the first century AD, a full three centuries after Alexander. But Greek language continued to be used by the Kushans in their coinage for the next several centuries.

Conquest by Arab Caliphate[edit]

In the seventh to ninth centuries, following the disintegration of the Sassanid Persian and Roman Empire, leaders in the world theatre for the last four centuries and arch rivals, the area was again invaded from the west in the Islamic conquest of Afghanistan, resulting in the conversion of most of its inhabitants to Islam. This was one of many Muslim conquests following the establishment of a unified state in the Arabian Peninsula by the prophet Muhammad. At its height, Muslim control - during the period of the Arab Caliphate - extended from the borders of China to the Iberian Peninsula (modern day Spain and Portugal), the Middle East, North Africa, parts of southern Europe, parts of south East Europe, parts of central Asia, and parts of South Asia.

Mongol Empire[edit]

In the Mongol invasion of Khwarezmia (1219—1221), Genghis Khan invaded the region from the northeast in one of his many conquests to create the huge Mongol Empire. Unlike earlier campaigns in Mongolia and China, Genghis Khan's armies completely destroyed Khwarazmia and brutally killed vast numbers of its civilians.

Conquest by Tamerlane (Timur) and Mughal Empire[edit]

From 1383 to 1385, the Afghanistan area was conquered from the north by Timur, leader of neighboring Transoxiana (roughly modern-day Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, and adjacent areas), and became a part of the Timurid Empire. Timur was from a Turko-Mongol tribe and although a Muslim, saw himself more as an heir of Genghis Khan. Timur's armies caused great devastation and are estimated to have caused the deaths of 17 million people. In the next period, many of the Eastern and Southern parts of Afghanistan came under rule of various dynasties based in other parts of South Asia, such as by the Delhi Sultanate. After the slow disintegration of the Timurid Empire in 1506, the Mughal Empire was later established in Afghanistan, Pakistan, and India by Babur in 1526, who was a descendant of Timur through his father and possibly a descendant of Genghis Khan through his mother. By the 17th century, the Mughal Empire ruled most of India, but later declined during the 18th century. The enduring legacy of the Mongols is the presence of Hazara people, who are the descendants of Mongol Soldiers of the Ilkhan Empire of Persia. As Mongols in the Middle East were centered around Persia and intermarried with Persian Shia women, their descendants to this day remain Shia and Persian speaking. The Hazara constitute the majority of Shia adherents in Afghanistan today. Additionally many areas of Afghanistan are named after Mongol leaders, to include "Band-e-Timur (meaning Timur's block)" in Maiwand, Kandahar, the only district never conquered from Taliban throughout the western invasion of 21st century, and Jhagato (from Chagatai) district of Wardak, as well and Baghtu in Shah Wali Kot, named after Batu.

British invasions[edit]

During the nineteenth century, Afghanistan was invaded twice from British India, during the First Anglo-Afghan War of 1838–1842 and again in the Second Anglo-Afghan War of 1878–1880, both times with the intention of limiting Russian influence in the country and quelling local tribal leaders. For the entire period, tribal cross-border warfare was constant, and parts of the Pashtun homeland were annexed to British India and referred to as the North-West Frontier Province. The country was also invaded by the United Kingdom in 1919, in the Third Anglo-Afghan War. Unlike previous invasions of Afghanistan, the British invasion failed, and the only legacy of their invasions are the Durand Line, and many captured British cannons on display as trophy in Afghan Army posts throughout the country.

Soviet intervention[edit]

Soviet troops withdrawing from Afghanistan in 1988.

The Soviet Union, along with other countries, was a direct supporter of the new Afghan government after the Saur Revolution in 1978. However, Soviet-style reforms introduced by the government such as changes in marriage customs and land reform were not received well by a population deeply immersed in tradition and Islam. By 1979, fighting between the Afghan government and various other factions within the country, some of which were supported by the United States and other countries, led to a virtual civil war. The Afghan government requested increasing Soviet military support and eventually direct military involvement. Soviet General Secretary Leonid Brezhnev sent the 40th Army into Afghanistan on December 24, 1979. This event led to the boycott of the 1980 Summer Olympics in Moscow by the United States and other countries, and kick-started U.S. funding for Islamic Mujahideen groups who opposed the Afghan government and the Soviet military presence. The local Mujahideen, along with fighters from several different Arab nations (Pathan tribes from Pakistan also participated in the war; they were supported by ISI), eventually succeeded in forcing the Soviet Union out. This was a factor in the dissolution of Soviet communism, because it led to protests (similar to American Vietnam War protests) in the Soviet Union.[3] Eventually, in-fighting within the Mujahideen led to the rise of warlords in Afghanistan, and from them emerged the Taliban.[4] Russians left behind the only highway in the country as well as many concrete structures built in main cities, as well as still used air fields.

Invasion by the United States and NATO[edit]

U.S. Army soldiers prepare a Humvee to be sling-loaded by a CH-47 Chinook helicopter in Bagram on July 24, 2004.

On October 7, 2001 the United States, supported by some NATO countries including the United Kingdom and Australia, as well as other allies, began an invasion of Afghanistan under Operation Enduring Freedom. The invasion was launched to capture Osama bin Laden, who was accused of the September 11, 2001 attacks. The US military forces did not capture him, though they toppled the Taliban government and disrupted bin Laden's Al-Qaeda network. The Taliban government had given shelter to Bin Laden. On May 2, 2011, bin Laden was shot and killed by United States Armed Forces in Pakistan. The Taliban leadership survives in hiding throughout Afghanistan, largely in the southeast, and continues to launch guerrilla attacks against forces of the United States, its allies, and the current government of President Hamid Karzai.

In 2006, the US forces turned over security of the country to NATO-deployed forces in the region, integrating 12,000 of their 20,000 soldiers with NATO's 20,000. The remainder of the US forces continued to search for Al-Qaeda militants. The Canadian military assumed leadership and almost immediately began an offensive against areas where the Taliban guerrillas had encroached. At the cost of a few dozen of their own soldiers, the British, American, and Canadian Forces managed to kill over 1,000 alleged Taliban insurgents and sent thousands more into retreat. Many of the surviving insurgents, however, began to regroup and further clashes are expected by both NATO and Afghan National Army commanders.

See also[edit]