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War in Afghanistan (2001–14)

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This article is about the war in Afghanistan from 2001 to 2014. For the previous conflicts, see History of Afghanistan#Contemporary era (1973–present). For other phases of the conflict, see War in Afghanistan. For the phase of the same conflict following the end of ISAF in 2014, see War in Afghanistan (2015–present).
"Afghanistan invasion" redirects here. For other invasions of Afghanistan, see Invasions of Afghanistan.
War in Afghanistan
Part of the War in Afghanistan, the Global War on Terrorism
2001 War in Afghanistan collage 3.jpg
Clockwise from top-left: British Royal Marines take part in the clearance of Nad-e Ali District of Helmand Province; two F/A-18 strike fighters conduct combat missions over Afghanistan; an anti-Taliban fighter during an operation to secure a compound in Helmand Province; A French chasseur alpin patrols a valley in Kapisa Province; U.S. Marines prepare to board buses shortly after arriving in southern Afghanistan; Taliban fighters in a cave hideout; U.S. soldiers prepare to fire a mortar during a mission in the Paktika Province, US troops disembark from a helicopter, a MEDCAP centre in Khost Province.
Date 7 October 2001 (2001-10-07) – December 28, 2014
(13 years, 2 months and 3 weeks)
Location Afghanistan

Afghanistan Afghanistan Government

Afghanistan Taliban

Allied groups

Taliban splinter groups

2001 invasion:
Afghanistan Northern Alliance

 United States
 United Kingdom

2001 invasion:
Afghanistan Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan

Flag of Jihad.svg al-Qaeda

Commanders and leaders

Afghanistan Hamid Karzai
Afghanistan Ashraf Ghani Coalition:

United States George W. Bush
United States Barack Obama
United Kingdom Tony Blair
United Kingdom Gordon Brown
United Kingdom David Cameron
Canada Jean Chrétien
Canada Paul Martin
Canada Stephen Harper
Australia John Howard
John F. Campbell
List of former ISAF Commanders

Afghanistan Mohammed Omar 
Afghanistan Akhtar Mansoor
Afghanistan Abdul Ghani Baradar (POW)[4]
Afghanistan Haibatullah Akhunzada[2]
Afghanistan Jalaluddin Haqqani
Afghanistan Obaidullah Akhund [4]
Afghanistan Dadullah Akhund [4]
Gulbuddin Hekmatyar
Flag of Jihad.svg Osama bin Laden  
Flag of Jihad.svg Ayman al-Zawahiri

Haji Najibullah[5]

Afghanistan Afghan National Security Forces: 352,000[6]
ISAF: 18,000+[7]

Military Contractors: 20,000+[7]

Afghanistan Taliban: 60,000
(tentative estimate)[8]

HIG: 1,500 - 2,000+[12]
Flag of Jihad.svg al-Qaeda: 50–100[13][14]

Fidai Mahaz: 8,000[5]
Casualties and losses

Afghan security forces:
26,252 killed[15][16]
Northern Alliance:
200 killed[17][18][19][20]
Dead: 3,486 (all causes)
2,807 (hostile causes)
(United States: 2,356, United Kingdom: 454,[21] Canada: 158, France: 88, Germany: 57, Italy: 53, Others: 321)[22]
Wounded: 22,773 (United States: 19,950, United Kingdom: 2,188, Canada: 635)[23][24][25]
Dead: 1,582[26][27]
Wounded: 15,000+[26][27]

Total killed: 31,520
Total killed: 25,500–40,500[8][28]

Civilians killed: 26,270 (2001–2014)[15]

The War in Afghanistan (or the American war in Afghanistan)[29][30] is the period in which the United States invaded Afghanistan after the September 11 attacks.[31] Supported initially by close allies, they were later joined by NATO beginning in 2003. It followed the Afghan Civil War's 1996–2001 phase. Its public aims were to dismantle al-Qaeda and to deny it a safe base of operations in Afghanistan by removing the Taliban from power.[32] Key allies, including the United Kingdom, supported the U.S. from the start to the end of the phase. This phase of the War is the longest war in United States history.[33][34][35][36][37]

In 2001, U.S. President George W. Bush demanded that the Taliban hand over Osama bin Laden and expel al-Qaeda; bin Laden had already been wanted by the United Nations since 1999. The Taliban declined to extradite him unless given what they deemed convincing evidence of his involvement in the 9/11 attacks[38] and declined demands to extradite other terrorism suspects apart from bin Laden. The request was dismissed by the U.S. as a delaying tactic, and on 7 October 2001 it launched Operation Enduring Freedom with the United Kingdom. The two were later joined by other forces, including the Northern Alliance.[39][40] In December 2001, the United Nations Security Council established the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF), to assist the Afghan interim authorities with securing Kabul. At the Bonn Conference in December 2001, Hamid Karzai was selected to head the Afghan Interim Administration, which after a 2002 loya jirga in Kabul became the Afghan Transitional Administration. In the popular elections of 2004, Karzai was elected president of the country, now named the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan.[41]

NATO became involved as an alliance in August 2003, taking the helm of the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF), and later that year assumed leadership of ISAF with troops from 43 countries. NATO members provided the core of the force.[42] One portion of U.S. forces in Afghanistan operated under NATO command; the rest remained under direct U.S. command. Taliban leader Mullah Omar reorganized the movement, and in 2003, launched an insurgency against the government and ISAF.[43][44] Though outgunned and outnumbered, insurgents from the Taliban, Haqqani Network, Hezb-e-Islami Gulbuddin and other groups have waged asymmetric warfare with guerilla raids and ambushes in the countryside, suicide attacks against urban targets and turncoat killings against coalition forces. The Taliban exploited weaknesses in the Afghan government, among the most corrupt in the world, to reassert influence across rural areas of southern and eastern Afghanistan. ISAF responded in 2006 by increasing troops for counterinsurgency operations to "clear and hold" villages and "nation building" projects to "win hearts and minds".[45][46] While ISAF continued to battle the Taliban insurgency, fighting crossed into neighboring North-West Pakistan.[47]

On 2 May 2011, United States Navy SEALs killed Osama bin Laden in Abbotabad, Pakistan. In May 2012, NATO leaders endorsed an exit strategy for withdrawing their forces. UN-backed peace talks have since taken place between the Afghan government and the Taliban.[48] In May 2014, the United States announced that "[its] combat operations [would] end in 2014, [leaving] just a small residual force in the country until the end of 2016".[49] As of 2015, tens of thousands of people have been killed in the war. Over 4,000 ISAF soldiers and civilian contractors as well as over 15,000 Afghan national security forces members have been killed, as well as nearly 20 thousand civilians. In October 2014, British forces handed over the last bases in Helmand to the Afghan military, officially ending their combat operations in the war.[50] On 28 December 2014, NATO formally ended combat operations in Afghanistan and transferred full security responsibility to the Afghan government, via a ceremony in Kabul.[51][52]


Before the start of war

In late 2000, Ahmad Shah Massoud, a Tajik nationalist and leader of the Northern Alliance, invited several other prominent Afghan tribal leaders to a jirga in northern Afghanistan "to settle political turmoil in Afghanistan".[53] Among those in attendance were Pashtun nationalists, Abdul Haq and Hamid Karzai.[54][55]

In early 2001, Massoud and several other Afghan leaders addressed the European Parliament in Brussels, asking the international community to provide humanitarian help. The Afghan envoy asserted that the Taliban and al-Qaeda had introduced "a very wrong perception of Islam" and that without the support of Pakistan and Osama bin Laden, the Taliban would not be able to sustain their military campaign for another year. Massoud warned that his intelligence had gathered information about an imminent, large-scale attack on U.S. soil.[56]

On 9 September 2001, two French-speaking Algerians posing as journalists killed Massoud in a suicide attack in Takhar Province of Afghanistan. The two perpetrators were later alleged to be members of al-Qaeda. They were interviewing Massoud before detonating a bomb hidden in their video camera.[57][58] Both of the alleged al-Qaeda men were subsequently killed by Massoud's guards.

September 11, 2001 attacks

Main article: September 11 attacks
Ground Zero in New York following the attacks of 11 September 2001

On the morning of 11 September 2001, a total of 19 Arab men carried out four coordinated attacks in the United States. Four commercial passenger jet airliners were hijacked.[59][60] The hijackers – members of al-Qaeda's Hamburg cell[61] intentionally crashed two of the airliners into the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center in New York City, killing everyone on board and more than 2000 people in the buildings. Both buildings collapsed within two hours from fire damage related to the crashes, 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. No one aboard the flights survived. According to the New York State Health Department, the death toll among responders including firefighters and police was 836 as of June 2009.[62] Total deaths were 2996, including the 19 hijackers.[62]

U.S. invasion of Afghanistan

U.S. Army Special Forces and U.S. Air Force Combat Controllers with Northern Alliance troops on horseback

The United States invasion of Afghanistan occurred after the September 11 attacks in late 2001,[63] supported by allies including the United Kingdom.

U.S. President George W. Bush demanded that the Taliban hand over Osama bin Laden and expel al-Qaeda from Afghanistan. Bin Laden had been wanted by the U.N. since 1999 for the prior attack on the World Trade Center. The Taliban declined to extradite him unless the United States provided convincing evidence of his involvement in the 9/11 attacks.[38] They ignored U.S. demands to shut down terrorist bases and hand over other terrorist suspects. The request for proof of bin Laden's involvement was dismissed by the U.S. as a meaningless delaying tactic.

General Tommy Franks, then-commanding general of Central Command (CENTCOM), initially proposed immediately after the 9/11 attacks to President George W. Bush and Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld that the U.S. invade Afghanistan using a conventional force of 60,000 troops, preceded by six months of preparation. Rumsfield rejected this plan, saying "I want men on the ground now!" Franks returned the next day with a plan utilizing Special Forces.[64] On September 26, 2001, fifteen days after the 9/11 attack, the U.S. covertly inserted members of the CIA's Special Activities Division led by Gary Schroen into Afghanistan, forming the Northern Afghanistan Liaison Team.[65][66] They linked up with the Northern Alliance as part of Task Force Dagger.[67]

Two weeks later, Operational Detachment Alpha (ODA) 555 and 595, both 12-man Green Beret teams, plus Air Force combat controllers, were airlifted by helicopter from the Karshi-Khanabad Air Base in Uzbekistan[68] more than 300 kilometers (190 mi) across the 16,000 feet (4,900 m) Hindu Kush mountains in zero-visibility conditions by two SOAR MH-47E Chinook helicopters. The Chinooks were refueled in-flight three times during the 11 hour mission, establishing a new world record for combat rotorcraft missions at the time. They linked up with the CIA and Northern Alliance. Within a few weeks the Northern Alliance, with assistance from the U.S. ground and air forces, captured several key cities from the Taliban.[65][69]

The U.S. officially launched Operation Enduring Freedom on 7 October 2001 with the assistance of the United Kingdom. The two were later joined by other countries.[39][40] The U.S. and its allies drove the Taliban from power and built military bases near major cities across the country. Most al-Qaeda and Taliban were not captured, escaping to neighboring Pakistan or retreating to rural or remote mountainous regions.[citation needed]

On 20 December 2001, the United Nations authorized an International Security Assistance Force (ISAF), with a mandate to help the Afghans maintain security in Kabul and surrounding areas. It was initially established from the headquarters of the British 3rd Mechanised Division under Major General John McColl, and for its first years numbered no more that 5,000.[70] Its mandate did not extend beyond the Kabul area for the first few years.[71] Eighteen countries were contributing to the force in February 2002.

At the Bonn Conference in December 2001, Hamid Karzai was selected to head the Afghan Interim Administration, which after a 2002 loya jirga in Kabul became the Afghan Transitional Administration. In the popular elections of 2004, Karzai was elected president of the country, now named the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan.[41]

In August 2003, NATO became involved as an alliance, taking the helm of the International Security Assistance Force.[42] One portion of U.S. forces in Afghanistan operated under NATO command; the rest remained under direct U.S. command. Taliban leader Mullah Omar reorganized the movement, and in 2003, launched an insurgency against the government and ISAF.[43][44]

An insurgency gains strength

Map detailing the spread of the Neotaliban-Insurgency in Afghanistan 2002–2006
A U.S. Navy Corpsman searches for Taliban fighters in the spring of 2005.
A number of 1.25lb M112 Demolition Charges, consisting of a C-4 compound, sit atop degraded weaponry scheduled for destruction.

After evading coalition forces throughout mid-2002, Taliban remnants gradually regained confidence and prepared to launch the Taliban insurgency that Omar had promised.[72] During September, Taliban forces began a jihad recruitment drive in Pashtun areas in Afghanistan and Pakistan. Pamphlets distributed in secret appeared in many villages in southeastern Afghanistan called for jihad.[73]

Small mobile training camps were established along the border to train recruits in guerrilla warfare.[74] Most were drawn from tribal area madrassas in Pakistan. Bases, a few with as many as 200 fighters, emerged in the tribal areas by the summer of 2003. Pakistani will to prevent infiltration was uncertain, while Pakistani military operations proved of little use.[75]

US troops board a helicopter

The Taliban gathered into groups of around 50 to launch attacks on isolated outposts, and then breaking up into groups of 5–10 to evade counterattacks. Coalition forces were attacked indirectly, through rocket attacks on bases and improvised explosive devices.

To coordinate the strategy, Omar named a 10-man leadership council, with himself as its leader.[75] Five operational zones were assigned to Taliban commanders such as Dadullah, who took charge in Zabul province.[75] Al-Qaeda forces in the east had a bolder strategy of attacking Americans using elaborate ambushes. The first sign of the strategy came on 27 January 2003, during Operation Mongoose, when a band of fighters were assaulted by U.S. forces at the Adi Ghar cave complex 25 km (15 mi) north of Spin Boldak.[76] 18 rebels were reported killed with no U.S. casualties. The site was suspected to be a base for supplies and fighters coming from Pakistan. The first isolated attacks by relatively large Taliban bands on Afghan targets also appeared around that time.

An Apache helicopter provides protection from the air, October 2005

As the summer continued, Taliban attacks gradually increased in frequency. Dozens of Afghan government soldiers, NGO humanitarian workers, and several U.S. soldiers died in the raids, ambushes and rocket attacks. Besides guerrilla attacks, Taliban fighters began building up forces in the district of Dai Chopan in Zabul Province. The Taliban decided to make a stand there. Over the course of the summer, up to 1,000 guerrillas moved there. Over 220 people, including several dozen Afghan police, were killed in August 2003. In late August 2005, Afghan government forces attacked, backed by U.S. troops with air support. After a one-week battle, Taliban forces were routed with up to 124 fighters killed.

On 11 August 2003, NATO assumed control of ISAF.[71] On 31 July 2006, ISAF assumed command of the south of the country, and by 5 October 2006, of the east.[77] Once this transition had taken place, ISAF grew to a large coalition involving up to 46 countries, under a U.S. commander.

2006: Southern Afghanistan

Further information: 2006 in Afghanistan
A U.S. Army soldier from 10th Mountain Division, patrols Aranas, Afghanistan

From January 2006, a multinational ISAF contingent started to replace U.S. troops in southern Afghanistan. The British 16th Air Assault Brigade (later reinforced by Royal Marines) formed the core of the force, along with troops and helicopters from Australia, Canada and the Netherlands. The initial force consisted of roughly 3,300 British,[78] 2,300 Canadian,[79] 1,963 Dutch, 300 Australian,[80] 290 Danish[81] and 150 Estonian troops.[82] Air support was provided by U.S., British, Dutch, Norwegian and French combat aircraft and helicopters.

In January 2006, NATO's focus in southern Afghanistan was to form Provincial Reconstruction Teams with the British leading in Helmand while the Netherlands and Canada would lead similar deployments in Orūzgān and Kandahar, respectively. Local Taliban figures pledged to resist.[83]

Swedish Army medic in the Mazar-e Sharif region.

Southern Afghanistan faced in 2006 the deadliest violence since the Taliban's fall. NATO operations were led by British, Canadian and Dutch commanders. Operation Mountain Thrust was launched on 17 May 2006, with. In July, Canadian Forces, supported by U.S., British, Dutch and Danish forces, launched Operation Medusa.

A combined force of Dutch and Australians launched a successful offensive between late April to mid July 2006 to push the Taliban out of the Chora and Baluchi areas.

On 18 September 2006 Italian special forces of Task Force 45 and airborne troopers of the 'Trieste' infantry regiment of the Rapid Reaction Corps composed of Italian and Spanish forces, took part in 'Wyconda Pincer' operation in the districts of Bala Buluk and Pusht-i-Rod, in Farah province. Italian forces killed at least 70 Taliban. The situation in RC-W then deteriorated. Hotspots included Badghis in the very north and Farah in the southwest.

Further NATO operations included the Battle of Panjwaii, Operation Mountain Fury and Operation Falcon Summit. NATO achieved tactical victories and area denial, but the Taliban were not completely defeated. NATO operations continued into 2007.

2007: Coalition offensive

Further information: 2007 in Afghanistan
US and British troops during a patrol in Helmand Province

In January and February 2007, British Royal Marines mounted Operation Volcano to clear insurgents from firing-points in the village of Barikju, north of Kajaki.[84] Other major operations during this period included Operation Achilles (March–May) and Operation Lastay Kulang. The UK Ministry of Defence announced its intention to bring British troop levels in the country up to 7,700 (committed until 2009).[85] Further operations, such as Operation Silver and Operation Silicon, took place to keep up the pressure on the Taliban in the hope of blunting their expected spring offensive.[86][87]

A US Soldier conducts a mountain patrol in Nuristan Province.

In February 2007, Combined Forces Command-Afghanistan inactivated. Combined Joint Task Force 76, a two-star U.S. command headquartered on Bagram Airfield, assumed responsibility as the National Command Element for U.S. forces in Afghanistan.[88] Combined Security Transition Command-Afghanistan, or CSTC-A, the other two-star U.S. command, was charged with training and mentoring the Afghan National Security Forces.

On 4 March 2007, U.S. Marines killed at least 12 civilians and injured 33 in Shinwar district, Nangrahar,[89] in a response to a bomb ambush. The event became known as the "Shinwar massacre".[90] The 120 member Marine unit responsible for the attack were ordered to leave the country by Army Major General Frank Kearney, because the incident damaged the unit's relations with the local Afghan population.[91]

Chinooks transporting troops to Bagram

Later in March 2007, the US added more than 3,500 troops.

On 12 May 2007, ISAF forces killed Mullah Dadullah. Eleven other Taliban fighters died in the same firefight.

During the summer, NATO forces achieved tactical victories at the Battle of Chora in Orūzgān, where Dutch and Australian ISAF forces were deployed.

US Army paratroopers navigate to Observation Post Chuck Norris in Dangam.

On 16 August, eight civilians including a pregnant woman and a baby died when Polish soldiers shelled the village of Nangar Khel, Paktika Province. Seven soldiers have been charged with war crimes.

On 28 October about 80 Taliban fighters were killed in a 24-hour battle in Helmand.[92]

Western officials and analysts estimated the strength of Taliban forces at about 10,000 fighters fielded at any given time. Of that number, only 2,000 to 3,000 were highly motivated, full-time insurgents. The rest were part-timers, made up of alienated, young Afghans, angered by bombing raids or responding to payment. In 2007, more foreign fighters came than ever before, according to officials. Approximately 100 to 300 full-time combatants are foreigners, usually from Pakistan, Uzbekistan, Chechnya, various Arab countries and perhaps even Turkey and western China. They were reportedly more fanatical and violent, often bringing superior video-production or bombmaking expertise.[93]

On 2 November security forces killed a top-ranking militant, Mawlawi Abdul Manan, after he was caught crossing the border. The Taliban confirmed his death.[94] On 10 November the Taliban ambushed a patrol in eastern Afghanistan. This attack brought the U.S. death toll for 2007 to 100, making it the Americans' deadliest year in Afghanistan.[95]

The Battle of Musa Qala took place in December. Afghan units were the principal fighting force, supported by British forces.[96] Taliban forces were forced out of the town.

Reassessment and renewed commitment from 2008

Further information: 2008 in Afghanistan
Development of ISAF troop strength
A U.S. Army Special Forces medic in Kandahar Province in September 2008.

Admiral Mike Mullen, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said that while the situation in Afghanistan is "precarious and urgent", the 10,000 additional troops needed there would be unavailable "in any significant manner" unless withdrawals from Iraq are made. The priority was Iraq first, Afghanistan second.[97]

In the first five months of 2008, the number of U.S. troops in Afghanistan increased by over 80% with a surge of 21,643 more troops, bringing the total from 26,607 in January to 48,250 in June.[98] In September 2008, President Bush announced the withdrawal of over 8,000 from Iraq and a further increase of up to 4,500 in Afghanistan.[99]

In June 2008, British prime minister Gordon Brown announced the number of British troops serving in Afghanistan would increase to 8,030 – a rise of 230.[100] The same month, the UK lost its 100th serviceman.[101]

US troops burn a suspected Taliban safe house

On 13 June, Taliban fighters demonstrated their ongoing strength, liberating all prisoners in Kandahar jail. The operation freed 1200 prisoners, 400 of whom were Taliban, causing a major embarrassment for NATO.[102]

On 13 July 2008, a coordinated Taliban attack was launched on a remote NATO base at Wanat in Kunar province. On 19 August, French troops suffered their worst losses in Afghanistan in an ambush.[103] Later in the month, an airstrike targeted a Taliban commander in Herat province and killed 90 civilians.

Late August saw one of NATO's largest operations in Helmand, Operation Eagle's Summit, aiming to bring electricity to the region.[104]

On 3 September, commandos, believed to be U.S. Army Special Forces, landed by helicopter and attacked three houses close to a known enemy stronghold in Pakistan. The attack killed between seven and twenty people. Local residents claimed that most of the dead were civilians. Pakistan condemned the attack, calling the incursion "a gross violation of Pakistan's territory".[105][106]

Burning hashish seized in Operation Albatross, a combined operation of Afghan officials, NATO and the DEA.

On 6 September, in an apparent reaction, Pakistan announced an indefinite disconnection of supply lines.[107]

On 11 September, militants killed two U.S. troops in the east. This brought the total number of U.S. losses to 113, more than in any prior year.[108] Several European countries set their own records, particularly the UK, who suffered 108 casualties.[22]

Taliban attacks on supply lines

In November and December 2008, multiple incidents of major theft, robbery, and arson attacks afflicted NATO supply convoys in Pakistan.[109][110][111] Transport companies south of Kabul were extorted for money by the Taliban.[111][112] These incidents included the hijacking of a NATO convoy carrying supplies in Peshawar,[110] the torching of cargo trucks and Humvees east of the Khyber pass[113] and a half-dozen raids on NATO supply depots near Peshawar that destroyed 300 cargo trucks and Humvees in December 2008.[114]

Issues with Pakistan

Barack Obama with Hamid Karzai and Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari, 6 May 2009

An unnamed senior Pentagon official told the BBC that at some point between 12 July and 12 September 2008, President Bush issued a classified order authorizing raids against militants in Pakistan. Pakistan said it would not allow foreign forces onto its territory and that it would vigorously protect its sovereignty.[115] In September, the Pakistan military stated that it had issued orders to "open fire" on U.S. soldiers who crossed the border in pursuit of militant forces.[116]

On 25 September 2008, Pakistani troops fired on ISAF helicopters. This caused confusion and anger in the Pentagon, which asked for a full explanation into the incident and denied that U.S. helicopters were in Pakistani airspace.

A further split occurred when U.S. troops apparently landed on Pakistani soil to carry out an operation against militants in the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Province. 'Pakistan reacted angrily to the action, saying 20 innocent villagers had been killed by US troops'.[117] However, despite tensions, the U.S. increased the use of remotely piloted drone aircraft in Pakistan's border regions, in particular the Federally Administered Tribal Regions (FATA) and Balochistan; as of early 2009, drone attacks were up 183% since 2006.[118]

By the end of 2008, the Taliban apparently had severed remaining ties with al-Qaeda.[119] According to senior U.S. military intelligence officials, perhaps fewer than 100 members of al-Qaeda remained in Afghanistan.[120]

In a meeting with General Stanley McChrystal, Pakistani military officials urged international forces to remain on the Afghan side of the border and prevent militants from fleeing into Pakistan. Pakistan noted that it had deployed 140,000 soldiers on its side of the border to address militant activities, while the coalition had only 100,000 soldiers to police the Afghanistan side.[121]

2009: Southern Afghanistan

A U.S. Army soldier with 1st Battalion, 32nd Infantry Regiment, 10th Mountain Division, fires his weapon during a battle with insurgent forces in Barge Matal, during Operation Mountain Fire on 12 July 2009.

Northern Distribution Network

A US soldier and an Afghan interpreter in Zabul, 2009.

In response to the increased risk of sending supplies through Pakistan, work began on the establishment of a Northern Distribution Network (NDN) through Russia and Central Asian republics. Initial permission to move supplies through the region was given on 20 January 2009, after a visit to the region by General David Petraeus.[122] The first shipment along the NDN route left on 20 February from Riga, Latvia, then traveled 5,169 km (3,212 mi) to the Uzbek town of Termez on the Afghanistan border.[123] In addition to Riga, other European ports included Poti, Georgia and Vladivostok, Russia.[124] U.S. commanders hoped that 100 containers a day would be shipped along the NDN.[123] By comparison, 140 containers a day were typically shipped through the Khyber Pass.[125] By 2011, the NDN handled about 40% of Afghanistan-bound traffic, versus 30% through Pakistan.[124]

On 11 May 2009, Uzbekistan president Islam Karimov announced that the airport in Navoi (Uzbekistan) was being used to transport non-lethal cargo into Afghanistan. Due to the still unsettled relationship between Uzbekistan and the U.S. following the 2005 Andijon massacre and subsequent expulsion of U.S. forces from Karshi-Khanabad airbase, U.S. forces were not involved in the shipments. Instead, South Korea's Korean Air, which overhauled Navoi's airport, officially handled logistics.[126]

US soldiers fire mortars in Zabul.

Originally only non-lethal resources were allowed on the NDN. In July 2009, however, shortly before a visit by new President Barack Obama to Moscow, Russian authorities announced that U.S. troops and weapons could use the country's airspace to reach Afghanistan.[127]

Human rights advocates were (as of 2009) concerned that the U.S. was again working with the government of Uzbekistan, which is often accused of violating human rights.[128] U.S. officials promised increased cooperation with Uzbekistan, including further assistance to turn Navoi into a regional distribution center for both military and civilian ventures.[129][130]

Increase in U.S. troops

U.S. Army soldiers patrol the Korangal Valley in Kunar province.

In January, about 3,000 U.S. soldiers from the 3rd Brigade Combat Team of the 10th Mountain Division moved into the provinces of Logar and Wardak. Afghan Federal Guards fought alongside them. The troops were the first wave of an expected surge of reinforcements originally ordered by President Bush and increased by President Obama.[131]

U.S. Army soldiers fire mortar rounds at suspected Taliban fighting positions in Nuristan province.

In mid-February, it was announced that 17,000 additional troops would be deployed in two brigades and support troops; the 2nd Marine Expeditionary Brigade of about 3,500 and the 5th Brigade, 2nd Infantry Division, a Stryker Brigade with about 4,000.[132] ISAF commander General David McKiernan had called for as many as 30,000 additional troops, effectively doubling the number of troops.[133] On 23 September, a classified assessment by General McChrystal included his conclusion that a successful counterinsurgency strategy would require 500,000 troops and five years.[134]

In November, Ambassador Karl W. Eikenberry sent two classified cables to Washington expressing concerns about sending more troops before the Afghan government demonstrates that it is willing to tackle the corruption and mismanagement that has fueled the Taliban's rise. Eikenberry, a retired three-star general who in 2006–2007 commanded U.S. troops in Afghanistan, also expressed frustration with the relative paucity of funds set aside for development and reconstruction.[135] In subsequent cables, Eikenberry repeatedly cautioned that deploying sizable American reinforcements would result in "astronomical costs" – tens of billions of dollars – and would only deepen the Afghan government's dependence on the United States.

U.S. Army soldiers watch the surrounding hills for insurgents during a three-hour gun battle in Kunar province.

On 26 November, Karzai made a public plea for direct negotiations with the Taliban leadership. Karzai said there is an "urgent need" for negotiations and made it clear that the Obama administration had opposed such talks. There was no formal US response.[136][137]

On 1 December, Obama announced at the U.S. Military Academy in West Point that the U.S. would send 30,000 more troops.[138] Antiwar organizations in the U.S. responded quickly, and cities throughout the U.S. saw protests on 2 December.[139] Many protesters compared the decision to deploy more troops in Afghanistan to the expansion of the Vietnam War under the Johnson administration.[140]

Kunduz airstrike

Main article: 2009 Kunduz airstrike

On 4 September, during the Kunduz Province Campaign a devastating NATO air raid was conducted 7 kilometres southwest of Kunduz where Taliban fighters had hijacked civilian supply trucks, killing up to 179 people, including over 100 civilians.[141]

Operation Khanjar and Operation Panther's Claw

On 25 June US officials announced the launch of Operation Khanjar ("strike of the sword").[142] About 4000 U.S. Marines from the 2nd Marine Expeditionary Brigade[143] and 650 Afghan soldiers[144] participated. Khanjar followed a British-led operation named Operation Panther's Claw in the same region.[145] Officials called it the Marines' largest operation since the 2004 invasion of Fallujah, Iraq.[143] Operation Panther's Claw was aimed to secure various canal and river crossings to establish a long-term ISAF presence.[146]

US soldiers conduct an operation.

Initially, Afghan and American soldiers moved into towns and villages along the Helmand River[143] to protect the civilian population. The main objective was to push into insurgent strongholds along the river. A secondary aim was to bring security to the Helmand Valley in time for presidential elections, set to take place on 20 August.

A soldier on patrol.

Taliban gains

Former Taliban fighters return weapons as part of a reintegration program

According to a 22 December briefing by Major General Michael T. Flynn, the top U.S. intelligence officer in Afghanistan, "The Taliban retains [the] required partnerships to sustain support, fuel legitimacy and bolster capacity."[147] The 23-page briefing states that "Security incidents [are] projected to be higher in 2010." Those incidents were already up by 300 percent since 2007 and by 60 percent since 2008, according to the briefing.[148] NATO intelligence at the time indicated that the Taliban had as many as 25,000 dedicated soldiers, almost as many as before 9/11 and more than in 2005.[149]

On 10 August McChrystal, newly appointed as U.S. commander in Afghanistan, said that the Taliban had gained the upper hand. In a continuation of the Taliban's usual strategy of summer offensives,[150] the militants aggressively spread their influence into north and west Afghanistan and stepped up their attack in an attempt to disrupt presidential polls.[151] Calling the Taliban a "very aggressive enemy", he added that the U.S. strategy was to stop their momentum and focus on protecting and safeguarding Afghan civilians, calling it "hard work".[152]

The Taliban's claim that the over 135 violent incidents disrupting elections was largely disputed. However, the media was asked to not report on any violent incidents.[153] Some estimates reported voter turn out as much less than the expected 70 percent. In southern Afghanistan where the Taliban held the most power, voter turnout was low and sporadic violence was directed at voters and security personnel. The chief observer of the European Union election mission, General Philippe Morillon, said the election was "generally fair" but "not free".[154]

Western election observers had difficulty accessing southern regions, where at least 9 Afghan civilians and 14 security forces were killed in attacks intended to intimidate voters. The Taliban released a video days after the elections, filming on the road between Kabul and Kandahar, stopping vehicles and asking to see their fingers. The video went showed ten men who had voted, listening to a Taliban militant. The Taliban pardoned the voters because of Ramadan.[155] The Taliban attacked towns with rockets and other indirect fire. Amid claims of widespread fraud, both top contenders, Hamid Karzai and Abdullah Abdullah, claimed victory. Reports suggested that turnout was lower than in the prior election.[156]

After Karzai's alleged win of 54 per cent, which would prevent a runoff, over 400,000 Karzai votes had to be disallowed after accusations of fraud. Some nations criticized the elections as "free but not fair".[157]

In December, an attack on Forward Operating Base Chapman, used by the CIA to gather information and to coordinate drone attacks against Taliban leaders, killed at least six CIA officers.

2010: American–British offensive and Afghan peace initiative

A U.S. Marine Corps sergeant exits an Italian Army CH-47 Chinook helicopter, 30 November 2010
soldiers beside a mud wall
U.S. Marines with Bravo Company, 1st Battalion, 6th Marine Regiment return fire on Taliban forces in Marjeh in February 2010
Marines beside a mud wall as an explosion goes off behind it
U.S. Marines with Explosive Ordnance Disposal (EOD) destroy an Improvised Explosive Device (IED) cache in Southern Shorsurak, Helmand province in June 2010.
U.K. service members of the Royal Air Force Regiment stop on a road while conducting a combat mission near Kandahar Airfield, Afghanistan, 2 January 2010
Australian and Afghan soldiers patrol the poppy fields in the Baluchi Valley Region, April 2010
Main article: 2010 in Afghanistan

In public statements U.S. officials had previously praised Pakistan's military effort against militants during its offensive in South Waziristan in November 2009.[158] Karzai started peace talks with Haqqani network groups in March 2010,[159] and there were other peace initiatives including the Afghan Peace Jirga 2010. In July 2010, a U.S. Army report read: "It seems to always be this way when we go there [to meet civilians]. No one wants anything to do with us." A report on meeting up with school representatives mentioned students throwing rocks at soldiers and not welcoming their arrival, as had been reported on several occasions elsewhere.[160] President Zardari said that Pakistan had spent over 35 billion U.S. dollars during the previous eight years fighting against militancy.[161] According to the Afghan government, approximately 900 Taliban were killed in operations conducted during 2010.[162] Due to increased use of IEDs by insurgents the number of injured coalition soldiers, mainly Americans, significantly increased.[163] Beginning in May 2010 NATO special forces began to concentrate on operations to capture or kill specific Taliban leaders. As of March 2011, the U.S. military claimed that the effort had resulted in the capture or killing of more than 900 low- to mid-level Taliban commanders.[164][165] Overall, 2010 saw the most insurgent attacks of any year since the war began, peaking in September at more than 1,500. Insurgent operations increased "dramatically" in two-thirds of Afghan provinces.[166]

Troop surge

Deployment of additional U.S. troops continued in early 2010, with 9,000 of the planned 30,000 in place before the end of March and another 18,000 expected by June, with the 101st Airborne Division as the main source. U.S. troops in Afghanistan outnumbered those in Iraq for the first time since 2003.[167]

The CIA, following a request by General McChrystal, planned to increase teams of operatives, including elite SAD officers, with U.S. military special operations forces. This combination worked well in Iraq and was largely credited with the success of that surge.[168] The CIA also increased its campaign using Hellfire missile strikes on Al-Qaeda in Pakistan. The number of strikes in 2010, 115, more than doubled the 50 drone attacks that occurred in 2009.[169]

The surge in troops supported a sixfold increase in Special Forces operations.[170] 700 airstrikes occurred in September 2010 alone versus 257 in all of 2009. From July 2010 to October 2010, 300 Taliban commanders and 800-foot soldiers were killed.[171] Hundreds more insurgent leaders were killed or captured as 2010 ended.[170] Petraeus said, "We've got our teeth in the enemy's jugular now, and we're not going to let go."[172]

The CIA created Counter-terrorism Pursuit Teams (CTPT) staffed by Afghans at the war's beginning.[173][174] This force grew to over 3,000 by 2010 and was considered one of the "best Afghan fighting forces". Firebase Lilley was one of SAD's nerve centers.[174] These units were not only effective in operations against the Taliban and al-Qaeda forces in Afghanistan,[175] but have expanded their operations into Pakistan.[176] They were also important factors in both the "counterterrorism plus" and the full "counter-insurgency" options discussed by the Obama administration in the December 2010 review.[177]

WikiLeaks disclosure

On 25 July 2010, the release of 91,731 classified documents from the WikiLeaks organization was made public. The documents cover U.S. military incident and intelligence reports from January 2004 to December 2009.[178] Some of these documents included sanitised, and "covered up", accounts of civilian casualties caused by Coalition Forces. The reports included many references to other incidents involving civilian casualties like the Kunduz airstrike and Nangar Khel incident.[179] The leaked documents also contain reports of Pakistan collusion with the Taliban. According to Der Spiegel, "the documents clearly show that the Pakistani intelligence agency Inter-Services Intelligence (usually known as the ISI) is the most important accomplice the Taliban has outside of Afghanistan."[180]

Pakistan and U.S. tensions

Tensions between Pakistan and the U.S. were heightened in late September after several Pakistan Frontier Corps soldiers were killed and wounded. The troops were attacked by a U.S. piloted aircraft that was pursuing Taliban forces near the Afghan-Pakistan border, but for unknown reasons opened fire on two Pakistan border posts. In retaliation for the strike, Pakistan closed the Torkham ground border crossing to NATO supply convoys for an unspecified period. This incident followed the release of a video allegedly showing uniformed Pakistan soldiers executing unarmed civilians.[181] After the Torkham border closing, Pakistani Taliban attacked NATO convoys, killing several drivers and destroying around 100 tankers.[182]

2011: U.S. and NATO drawdown

Soldiers prepare for operation
U.S. Army soldiers return fire during a firefight with Taliban forces in Kunar Province, 31 March 2011
U.S. Army National Guard soldiers patrol the villages in the Bagram Security Zone, 23 March 2011
Soldiers from 34th Infantry Division, Task Force Red Bulls, discuss plans to maneuver into Pacha Khak village, Kabul Province, while conducting a dismounted patrol, 7 April 2011
An Australian service light armored vehicle drives through Tangi Valley, 29 March 2011

Battle of Kandahar

Main article: Battle of Kandahar

The Battle of Kandahar was part of an offensive named after the Battle of Bad'r that took place on 13 March 624, between Medina and Mecca. The Battle followed an 30 April announcement that the Taliban would launch their Spring offensive.[183]

On 7 May the Taliban launched a major offensive on government buildings in Kandahar. The Taliban said their goal was to take control of the city. At least eight locations were attacked: the governor's compound, the mayor's office, the NDS headquarters, three police stations and two high schools.[184] The battle continued onto a second day. The BBC's Bilal Sarwary called it "the worst attack in Kandahar province since the fall of the Taliban government in 2001, and a embarrassment for the Western-backed Afghan government."[185]

Death of Osama bin Laden

On 2 May U.S. officials announced that al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden had been killed in Operation Neptune Spear, conducted by the CIA and U.S. Navy SEALs, in Pakistan. Crowds gathered outside the White House chanting "USA, USA" after the news emerged.[186]


On 22 June President Obama announced that 10,000 troops would be withdrawn by the end of 2011 and an additional 23,000 troops would return by the summer of 2012. After the withdrawal of 10,000 U.S. troops, only 80,000 remained.[187] In July 2011 Canada withdrew its combat troops, transitioning to a training role.

Following suit, other NATO countries announced troop reductions. The United Kingdom stated that it would gradually withdraw its troops, however it did not specify numbers or dates.[188] France announced that it would withdraw roughly 1,000 soldiers by the end of 2012, with 3,000 soldiers remaining. Hundreds would come back at the end of 2011 and in the beginning of 2012, when the Afghan National Army took control of Surobi district. The remaining troops would continue to operate in Kapisa. Their complete withdrawal was expected by the end of 2014 or earlier given adequate security.[189]

Belgium announced that half of their force would withdraw starting in January 2012.[190] Norway announced it had started a withdrawal of its near 500 troops and would be completely out by 2014.[191] Equally, the Spanish Prime Minister announced the withdrawal of troops beginning in 2012, including up to 40 percent by the end of the first half of 2013, and complete withdrawal by 2014.[192]

2011 U.S.–NATO attack in Pakistan

After Neptune Spear, ISAF forces accidentally attacked Pakistan's armed forces on 26 November, killing 24 Pakistani soldiers. Pakistan blocked NATO supply lines and ordered Americans to leave Shamsi Airfield. NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen said the attack was 'tragic' and 'unintended'. "This (regret) is not good enough. We strongly condemn the attacks and reserve the right to take action," said DG ISPR Major General Athar Abbas. "This could have serious consequences in the level and extent of our cooperation.[193]

2012: Strategic Agreement

Main article: 2012 in Afghanistan

Taliban attacks continued at the same rate as they did in 2011, around 28,000 attacks.[194] In September 2012, the surge of American personnel that began in late 2009 ended.[195]

Reformation of the United Front (Northern Alliance)

Ahmad Zia Massoud (left), then as Vice President of Afghanistan, shaking hands with a U.S. Provincial Reconstruction Team at the ceremony for a new road. He is now the chairman of the National Front of Afghanistan

In late 2011 the National Front of Afghanistan (NFA) was created by Ahmad Zia Massoud, Abdul Rashid Dostum and Haji Mohammad Mohaqiq in what many analysts have described as a reformation of the military wing of the United Front (Northern Alliance) to oppose a return of the Taliban to power.[196] Meanwhile, much of the political wing reunited under the National Coalition of Afghanistan led by Abdullah Abdullah becoming the main democratic opposition movement in the Afghan parliament.[197][198] Former head of intelligence Amrullah Saleh has created a new movement, Basej-i Milli (Afghanistan Green Trend), with support among the youth mobilizing about 10,000 people in an anti-Taliban demonstration in Kabul in May 2011.[199][200][201]

In January 2012, the National Front of Afghanistan raised concerns about the possibility of a secret deal between the US, Pakistan and the Taliban during a widely publicized meeting in Berlin. U.S. Congressman Louie Gohmert wrote, "These leaders who fought with embedded Special Forces to initially defeat the Taliban represent over 60-percent of the Afghan people, yet are being entirely disregarded by the Obama and Karzai Administrations in negotiations."[202] After the meeting with US congressmen in Berlin the National Front signed a joint declaration stating among other things:

We firmly believe that any negotiation with the Taliban can only be acceptable, and therefore effective, if all parties to the conflict are involved in the process. The present form of discussions with the Taliban is flawed, as it excludes anti-Taliban Afghans. It must be recalled that the Taliban extremists and their Al-Qaeda supporters were defeated by Afghans resisting extremism with minimal human embedded support from the United States and International community. The present negotiations with the Taliban fail to take into account the risks, sacrifices and legitimate interests of the Afghans who ended the brutal oppression of all Afghans.[203]

— National Front Berlin Statement, January 2012

High-profile U.S. military incidents

U.S. Army soldiers prepare to conduct security checks near the Pakistan border, February 2012

Beginning in January 2012 incidents involving US troops[204][205][206][207][208][209] occurred which were described by The Sydney Morning Herald as "a series of damaging incidents and disclosures involving US troops in Afghanistan […]".[204] These incidents created fractures in the partnership between Afghanistan and ISAF,[210] raised the question whether discipline within U.S. troops was breaking down,[211] undermined "the image of foreign forces in a country where there is already deep resentment owing to civilian deaths and a perception among many Afghans that US troops lack respect for Afghan culture and people"[212] and strained the relations between Afghanistan and the United States.[205][206] Besides an incident involving US troops who posed with body parts of dead insurgents and an video apparently showing a US helicopter crew singing "Bye-bye Miss American Pie" before blasting a group of Afghan men with a Hellfire missile[212][213][214] these "high-profile U.S. military incidents in Afghanistan"[208] also included the 2012 Afghanistan Quran burning protests and the Panjwai shooting spree.

Enduring Strategic Partnership Agreement

Afghan Army units neutralizes an IED in Sangin, Helmand

On 2 May 2012, Presidents Karzai and Obama signed a strategic partnership agreement between the two countries, after the US president had arrived unanounced in Kabul on the first anniversary of Osama bin Laden's death.[215] The U.S.-Afghanistan Strategic Partnership Agreement, officially entitled the "Enduring Strategic Partnership Agreement between the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan and the United States of America",[216] provides the long-term framework for the two countries' relationship after the drawdown of U.S. forces.[217] The Strategic Partnership Agreement went into effect on 4 July 2012, according to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on 8 July 2012 at the Tokyo Conference on Afghanistan.[218] On 7 July 2012, as part of the agreement, the U.S. designated Afghanistan a major non-NATO ally after Karzai and Clinton met in Kabul.[219] On 11 November 2012, as part of the agreement, the two countries launched negotiations for a bilateral security agreement.[220]

NATO Chicago Summit: Troops withdrawal and long-term presence

On 21 May 2012 the leaders of NATO-member countries endorsed an exit strategy during the NATO Summit.[41] ISAF Forces would transfer command of all combat missions to Afghan forces by the middle of 2013,[221] while shifting from combat to advising, training and assisting Afghan security forces.[222][223] Most of the 130,000 ISAF troops would depart by the end of December 2014.[221] A new NATO mission would then assume the support role.[222][224]

2013: Withdrawal

Karzai–Obama meeting

Karzai visited the U.S. in January 2012. At the time the U.S. Government stated its openness to withdrawing all of its troops by the end of 2014.[225] On 11 January 2012 Karzai and Obama agreed to transfer combat operations from NATO to Afghan forces by spring 2013 rather than summer 2013.[226][227] "What's going to happen this spring is that Afghans will be in the lead throughout the country", Obama said. "They [ISAF forces] will still be fighting alongside Afghan troops...We will be in a training, assisting, advising role." Obama added[227] He also stated the reason of the withdrawals that "We achieved our central goal, or have come very close...which is to de-capacitate al-Qaeda, to dismantle them, to make sure that they can't attack us again."[228]

Soldiers from the Michigan Army National Guard and the Latvian army patrol through a village in Konar province.

Obama also stated that he would determine the pace of troop withdrawal after consultations with commanders.[229] He added that any U.S. mission beyond 2014 would focus solely on counterterrorism operations and training.[228][229] Obama insisted that a continuing presence must include an immunity agreement in which US troops are not subjected to Afghan law.[230] "I can go to the Afghan people and argue for immunity for U.S. troops in Afghanistan in a way that Afghan sovereignty will not be compromised, in a way that Afghan law will not be compromised," Karzai replied.[227]

Both leaders agreed that the United States would transfer Afghan prisoners and prisons to the Afghan government[227][231] and withdraw troops from Afghan villages in spring 2013.[231][232] "The international forces, the American forces, will be no longer present in the villages, that it will be the task of the Afghan forces to provide for the Afghan people in security and protection," the Afghan president said.[231]

Security transfer

On 18 June 2013 the transfer of security responsibilities was completed.[233][234][235][236] The last step was to transfer control of 95 remaining districts. Karzai said, "When people see security has been transferred to Afghans, they support the army and police more than before." NATO leader Rasmussen said that Afghan forces were completing a five-stage transition process that began in March 2011. "They are doing so with remarkable resolve," he said. "Ten years ago, there were no Afghan national security forces … now you have 350,000 Afghan troops and police."[233] ISAF remained slated to end its mission by the end of 2014.[236] Some 100,000 ISAF forces remained in the country.[234]

2014: Withdrawal continues and the insurgency increases

Resolute Support Colors presented at Kabul on 28 December, after the ISAF colors are encased.

After 2013, Afghanistan has been shaken hard with suicide bombings by the Taliban. A clear example of this is a bombing of a Lebanese restaurant in the Wazir Akbar Khan area of Kabul on 18 February 2014. Among the dead in this attack was UN staff and the owner of the restaurant, who died protecting his business. 21 people altogether were killed. Meanwhile, the withdrawal continues with 200 more US troops going home. The UK have halved their force and are slowing withdrawing with all but two bases being closed down. On 20 March 2014, more than 4 weeks after a bomb in a military bus by the Taliban rocked the city once again, a raid on the Serena hotel in Kabul by the Taliban resulted in the deaths of 9 people, including the 4 perpetrators. The attack came just 8 days after Swedish radio journalist Nils Horner was shot dead by the Taliban.

Despite the crisis in Crimea, by March 2014 Russia had not tried to exert pressure on the U.S. via the Northern Distribution Network supply line.[237] On 9 June 2014 a coalition air strike mistakenly killed five U.S. troops, an Afghan National Army member and an interpreter in Zabul Province.[238]

On 5 August 2014, a gunman in an Afghan military uniform opened fire on a number of U.S., foreign and Afghan soldiers, killing a U.S. general, Harold J. Greene[239] and wounding about 15 officers and soldiers including a German brigadier general and a large number of U.S. soldiers at Camp Qargha, a training base west of Kabul.[240]

Two longterm security pacts, the Bilaterial Security agreement between Afghanistan and the United States of America and the NATO Status of Forces Agreement between NATO and Afghanistan, were signed on September 30, 2014. Both pacts lay out the framework for the foreign troop involvement in Afghnistan after the year 2014.[241]

After 13 years Britain and the United States officially ended their combat operation in Afghanistan on October 26, 2014. On that day Britain handed over its last base in Afghanistan, Camp Bastion, while the United States handed over its last base, Camp Leatherneck, to Afghan forces.[242]

As early as November 2012, the U.S. and NATO were considering the precise configuration of their post-2014 presence in Afghanistan.[243][244] On 27 May 2014, President Barack Obama announced that U.S. combat operations in Afghanistan would end in December 2014 (see Withdrawal of U.S. troops from Afghanistan). 9,800 troops were to remain, training Afghan security forces and supporting counterterrorism operations against remnants of al-Qaeda. This force would be halved by the end of 2015, and consolidated at Bagram Air Base and in Kabul. All U.S. forces, with the exception of a "normal embassy presence," would be removed from Afghanistan by the end of 2016.[245] In 2014, 56 United States service members, and 101 contractors, died in Afghanistan.[246]

On 28 December 2014 NATO officially ended combat operations in a ceremony held in Kabul.[51] Continued operations by United States forces within Afghanistan will continue under the name Operation Freedom's Sentinel;[247] this was joined by a new NATO mission under the name of Operation Resolute Support.[248] Operation Resolute Support, will involve 28 NATO nations, 14 partner nations, eleven thousand American troops, and eight hundred fifty German troops.[249]

The UK officially commemorated the end of its role in the Afghan war in a ceremony held in St Paul's cathedral on 13 March 2015. [250]

2015: Secretive war

Although there was a formal end of combat operations, partially due to improved relations between the United States and the Ghani presidency, American forces increased raids against "Islamist militants", justified by a broad interpretation of protecting American forces.[251] A joint raid by American and Afghan forces arrested six Taliban connected to the 2014 Peshawar school massacre.[252]

American Secretary of Defense Ash Carter traveled to Afghanistan in February 2015;[253] during a period when it was discussed that the U.S. would slow down its withdrawal from Afghanistan.[254] In February 2015, the headquarters element of America's 7th Infantry Division began to deploy to Afghanistan.[255] It will be joined by 10th Mountain Division's 2nd Brigade Combat Team, and 101st Combat Aviation Brigade.[256] In March 2015, it was announced that the United States will maintain almost ten thousand servicemembers in Afghanistan until at least the end of 2015, a change from planned reduction.[257] As late as late-May 2015, US forces continued to conduct airstrikes and Special Operations raids, while Afghan forces were losing ground to Taliban forces in some regions.[258]

Impact on Afghan society

Civilian casualties

Victims of the Narang night raid that killed at least 10 Afghan civilians, December 2009

War casualty estimates vary. According to a UN report, the Taliban were responsible for 76% of civilian casualties in Afghanistan in 2009.[259] A UN report in June 2011 stated that 2,777 civilians were known to have been killed in 2010, (insurgents responsible for 75%).[260] A July 2011 UN report said "1,462 non-combatants died" in the first six months of 2011 (insurgents 80%).[261] In 2011 a record 3,021 civilians were killed, the fifth successive annual rise.[262] According to a UN report, in 2013 there were 2,959 civilian deaths with 74% being blamed on anti-government forces, 8% on Afghan security forces, 3% on ISAF forces, 10% to ground engagements between anti-Government forces and pro-Government forces and 5% of the deaths were unattributed.[263] 60% of Afghans have direct personal experience and most others report suffering a range of hardships. 96% have been affected either personally or from the wider consequences.[264]

A report titled Body Count put together by Physicians for Social Responsibility, Physicians for Global Survival and the Nobel Peace Prize-winning International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War (IPPNW) concluded that 106,000–170,000 civilians have been killed as a result of the fighting in Afghanistan at the hands of all parties to the conflict.[265]

According to the Watson Institute for International Studies Costs of War Project, 21,000 civilians have been killed as a result of the war.[266]


According to Nicholas Kristoff, improved healthcare resulting from the war has saved hundreds of thousands of lives.[267]


Since 2001, more than 5.7 million former refugees have returned to Afghanistan,[268][269][270] but 2.2 million others remained refugees in 2013.[271] In January 2013 the UN estimated that 547,550 were internally displaced persons, a 25% increase over the 447,547 IDPs estimated for January 2012[270][271][272]

Drug trade

Opium production levels for 2005–2007
Regional security risks and levels of opium poppy cultivation in 2007–2008.

From 1996–1999, the Taliban controlled 96% of Afghanistan's poppy fields and made opium its largest source of revenue. Taxes on opium exports became one of the mainstays of Taliban income. According to Rashid, "drug money funded the weapons, ammunition and fuel for the war." In The New York Times, the Finance Minister of the United Front, Wahidullah Sabawoon, declared the Taliban had no annual budget but that they "appeared to spend US$300 million a year, nearly all of it on war". He added that the Taliban had come to increasingly rely on three sources of money: "poppy, the Pakistanis and bin Laden".[273]

By 2000 Afghanistan accounted for an estimated 75% of the world's opium supply and in 2000 produced an estimated 3276 tonnes from 82,171 hectares (203,050 acres).[274] Omar then banned opium cultivation and production dropped to an estimated 74 metric tonnes from 1,685 hectares (4,160 acres).[275] Some observers say the ban – which came in a bid for international recognition at the United Nations – was issued only to raise opium prices and increase profit from the sale of large existing stockpiles. 1999 had yielded a record crop and had been followed by a lower but still large 2000 harvest. The trafficking of accumulated stocks continued in 2000 and 2001. In 2002, the UN mentioned the "existence of significant stocks of opiated accumulated during previous years of bumper harvests". In September 2001 – before 11 September attacks against the U.S. – the Taliban allegedly authorized Afghan peasants to sow opium again.[273]

Soon after the invasion opium production increased markedly.[276] By 2005, Afghanistan was producing 90% of the world's opium, most of which was processed into heroin and sold in Europe and Russia.[277] In 2009, the BBC reported that "UN findings say an opium market worth $65bn (£39bn) funds global terrorism, caters to 15 million addicts, and kills 100,000 people every year".[278]

Public education

As of 2013, 8.2 million Afghans attended school, including 3.2 million girls, up from 1.2 million in 2001, including fewer than 50,000 girls.[279][280]

War crimes

War crimes (a serious violation of the laws and customs of war giving rise to individual criminal responsibility)[281] have been committed by both sides, including civilian massacres, bombings of civilian targets, terrorism, use of torture and the murder of prisoners of war. Additional common crimes include theft, arson, and the destruction of property not warranted by military necessity.


In 2011 The New York Times reported that the Taliban was responsible for 34 of all civilian deaths in the war in Afghanistan.[282][283] In 2013 the UN stated that the Taliban had been placing bombs along transit routes.[284]

Northern Alliance

In December 2001 the Dasht-i-Leili massacre took place, where between 250 and 3,000 Taliban fighters who had surrendered, were shot and/or suffocated to death in metal truck containers during transportation by Northern Alliance forces. Reports place U.S. ground troops at the scene.[285][286][287] The Irish documentary Afghan Massacre: The Convoy of Death investigated these allegations and claimed that mass graves of thousands of victims were found by UN investigators[288] and that the US blocked investigations into the incident.[289]


Young Afghan farmer boy murdered on 15 January 2010 by a group of U.S. Army soldiers called the Kill Team.

On 21 June 2003, David Passaro, a CIA contractor and former United States Army Ranger, killed Abdul Wali, a prisoner at a U.S. base 16 km (10 mi) south of Asadabad, in Kunar Province. Passaro was found guilty of one count of felony assault with a dangerous weapon and three counts of misdemeanor assault. On 10 August 2009, he was sentenced to 8 years and 4 months in prison.[290][291]

In 2002, two unarmed civilian Afghan prisoners were tortured and later killed by U.S. armed forces personnel at the Bagram Theater Internment Facility (also Bagram Collection Point or B.C.P.) in Bagram, Afghanistan.[292] The prisoners, Habibullah and Dilawar, were chained to the ceiling and beaten, which caused their deaths.[293] Military coroners ruled that both the prisoners' deaths were homicides.[294] Autopsies revealed severe trauma to both prisoners' legs, describing the trauma as comparable to being run over by a bus. Fifteen soldiers were charged.

During the summer of 2010, ISAF charged five United States Army soldiers with the murder of three Afghan civilians in Kandahar province and collecting their body parts as trophies in what came to be known as the Maywand District murders. In addition, seven soldiers were charged with crimes such as hashish use, impeding an investigation and attacking the whistleblower, Specialist Justin Stoner.[295][296][297] Eleven of the twelve soldiers were convicted on various counts.[298]

A British Royal Marine Sergeant, identified as Sergeant Alexander Blackman from Taunton, Somerset,[299] was convicted at court martial in Wiltshire of having murdered an unarmed, reportedly wounded Afghan fighter in Helmand Province in September 2011.[300] In 2013, he received a life sentence from the court martial in Bulford, Wiltshire, and was dismissed with disgrace from the Royal Marines.[301][302]

On 11 March 2012, the Kandahar massacre occurred when sixteen civilians were killed and six wounded in the Panjwayi District of Kandahar Province, Afghanistan.[303][304] Nine of the victims were children,[304] and eleven of the dead were from the same family.[305] United States Army Staff Sergeant Robert Bales was taken into custody and charged with sixteen counts of premeditated murder. After pleading guilty to sixteen counts of premeditated murder, Bales was sentenced to life in prison without parole.[306]


The cost of the war reportedly was a major factor as U.S. officials considered drawing down troops in 2011.[307] A March 2011 Congressional Research Service report noted, 1) following the Afghanistan surge announcement in 2009, Defense Department spending on Afghanistan increased by 50%, going from $4.4 billion to $6.7 billion a month. During that time, troop strength increased from 44,000 to 84,000, and was expected to be at 102,000 for fiscal year 2011; 2) The total cost from inception to the fiscal year 2011 was expected to be $468 billion.[308] The estimate for the cost of deploying one U.S. soldier in Afghanistan is over US$1 million a year.[309]

Stability problems

A soldier fits shoes for Afghan children in the Zabul Province
An Afghan market teems with vendors and shoppers on 4 February 2009
U.S. Army soldiers unload humanitarian aid for distribution to the town of Rajan Kala, 5 December 2009

In a 2008 interview, the then-head U.S. Central Command General David H. Petraeus, insisted that the Taliban were gaining strength. He cited a recent increase in attacks in Afghanistan and in neighboring Pakistan. Petraeus insisted that the problems in Afghanistan were more complicated than the ones he had faced in Iraq during his tour and required removing widespread sanctuaries and strongholds.[310]

Observers have argued that the mission in Afghanistan is hampered by a lack of agreement on objectives, a lack of resources, lack of coordination, too much focus on the central government at the expense of local and provincial governments, and too much focus on the country instead of the region.[311]

In 2009, Afghanistan moved three places in Transparency International's annual index of corruption, becoming the world's second most-corrupt country just ahead of Somalia.[312] In the same month, Malalai Joya, a former member of the Afghan Parliament and the author of "Raising My Voice", expressed opposition to an expansion of the U.S. military presence and her concerns about the future. "Eight years ago, the U.S. and NATO – under the banner of women's rights, human rights, and democracy – occupied my country and pushed us from the frying pan into the fire. Eight years is enough to know better about the corrupt, mafia system of President Hamid Karzai. My people are crushed between two powerful enemies. From the sky, occupation forces bomb and kill civilians … and on the ground, the Taliban and warlords continue their crimes. It is better that they leave my country; my people are that fed up. Occupation will never bring liberation, and it is impossible to bring democracy by war."[313]

Pakistan plays a central role in the conflict. A 2010 report published by the London School of Economics says that Pakistan's ISI has an "official policy" of support to the Taliban.[314] "Pakistan appears to be playing a double-game of astonishing magnitude," the report states.[314] Amrullah Saleh, former director of Afghanistan's intelligence service, stated, "We talk about all these proxies [Taliban, Haqqanis] but not the master of proxies, which is the Pakistan army. The question is what does Pakistan's army want to achieve …? They want to gain influence in the region"[315] About the presence of foreign troops in Afghanistan he stated: "[T]hey fight for the U.S. national interest but … without them we will face massacre and disaster and God knows what type of a future Afghanistan will have."[315][316]

Afghan security forces

Afghan National Army

Afghan Commandos practice infiltration techniques, 1 April 2010 at Camp Morehead in the outer regions of Kabul.
Marines and Afghan National Army soldiers take cover in Marja on 13 February 2010

U.S. policy called for boosting the Afghan National Army to 134,000 soldiers by October 2010. By May 2010 the Afghan Army had accomplished this interim goal and was on track to reach its ultimate number of 171,000 by 2011.[317] This increase in Afghan troops allowed the U.S. to begin withdrawing its forces in July 2011.[318][319]

In 2010, the Afghan National Army had limited fighting capacity.[320] Even the best Afghan units lacked training, discipline and adequate reinforcements. In one new unit in Baghlan Province, soldiers had been found cowering in ditches rather than fighting.[321] Some were suspected of collaborating with the Taliban.[320] "They don't have the basics, so they lay down," said Capt. Michael Bell, who was one of a team of U.S. and Hungarian mentors tasked with training Afghan soldiers. "I ran around for an hour trying to get them to shoot, getting fired on. I couldn't get them to shoot their weapons."[320] In addition, 9 out of 10 soldiers in the Afghan National Army were illiterate.[322]

The Afghan Army was plagued by inefficiency and endemic corruption.[323] U.S. training efforts were drastically slowed by the problems.[324] U.S. trainers reported missing vehicles, weapons and other military equipment, and outright theft of fuel.[320] Death threats were leveled against U.S. officers who tried to stop Afghan soldiers from stealing. Afghan soldiers often snipped the command wires of IEDs instead of marking them and waiting for U.S. forces to come to detonate them. This allowed insurgents to return and reconnect them.[320] U.S. trainers frequently removed the cell phones of Afghan soldiers hours before a mission for fear that the operation would be compromised.[325] American trainers often spent large amounts of time verifying that Afghan rosters were accurate – that they are not padded with "ghosts" being "paid" by Afghan commanders who stole the wages.[326]

Desertion was a significant problem. One in every four combat soldiers quit the Afghan Army during the 12-month period ending in September 2009, according to data from the U.S. Defense Department and the Inspector General for Reconstruction in Afghanistan.[327]

Afghan National Police

The Afghan National Police provides support to the Afghan army. Police officers in Afghanistan are also largely illiterate. Approximately 17 percent of them tested positive for illegal drugs in 2010. They were widely accused of demanding bribes.[328] Attempts to build a credible Afghan police force were faltering badly, according to NATO officials.[329] A quarter of the officers quit every year, making the Afghan government's goals of substantially building up the police force even harder to achieve.[329]

A joint patrol through Laghman province, June 2011

Insider attacks

Beginning in 2011, insurgent forces in Afghanistan began using a tactic of insider attacks on ISAF and Afghan military forces. In the attacks, Taliban personnel or sympathizers belonging to, or pretending to belong to, the Afghan military or police forces attack ISAF personnel, often within the security of ISAF military bases and Afghan government facilities. In 2011, for example, 21 insider attacks killed 35 coalition personnel. Forty-six insider attacks killed 63 and wounded 85 coalition troops, mostly American, in the first 11 months of 2012.[330] The attacks continued but began diminishing towards the planned 31 December 2014 ending of combat operations in Afghanistan by ISAF. However, on 5 August 2014, a gunman in an Afghan military uniform opened fire on a number of international military personnel, killing a U.S. general and wounding about 15 officers and soldiers, including a German brigadier general and 8 U.S. troops, at a training base west of Kabul.[240]


Domestic reactions

Polls of Afghans displayed strong opposition to the Taliban and significant support of the U.S. military presence. However the idea of permanent U.S. military bases was not popular in 2005.[331]

Afghan women wait outside a USAID-supported health care clinic.

According to a May 2009 BBC poll, 69% of Afghans surveyed thought it was at least mostly good that the U.S. military came in to remove the Taliban – a decrease from 87% of Afghans surveyed in 2005. 24% thought it was mostly or very bad – up from 9% in 2005. The poll indicated that 63% of Afghans were at least somewhat supportive of a U.S. military presence in the country – down from 78% in 2005. Just 18% supported increasing the U.S. military's presence, while 44% favored reducing it. 90% of Afghans surveyed opposed the Taliban, including 70% who were strongly opposed. By an 82%–4% margin, people said they preferred the current government to Taliban rule.[332]

In a June 2009 Gallup survey, about half of Afghan respondents felt that additional U.S. forces would help stabilize the security situation in the southern provinces. But opinions varied widely; residents in the troubled South were mostly mixed or uncertain, while those in the West largely disagreed that more U.S. troops would help the situation.[333]

In December 2009, many Afghan tribal heads and local leaders from the south and east called for U.S. troop withdrawals. "I don't think we will be able to solve our problems with military force," said Muhammad Qasim, a Kandahar tribal elder. "We can solve them by providing jobs and development and by using local leaders to negotiate with the Taliban."[334] "If new troops come and are stationed in civilian areas, when they draw Taliban attacks civilians will end up being killed," said Gulbadshah Majidi, a lawmaker and close associate of Mr. Karzai. "This will only increase the distance between Afghans and their government."[335]

In late January 2010, Afghan protesters took to the streets for three straight days and blocked traffic on a highway that links Kabul and Kandahar. The Afghans were demonstrating in response to the deaths of four men in a NATO-Afghan raid in the village of Ghazni. Ghazni residents insisted that the dead were civilians.[336]

International reactions

Public opinion in 2001

Home-made sign (2015) in Devine, Texas, south of San Antonio, welcomes returning troops from the war in Afghanistan.

When the invasion began in October 2001, polls indicated that about 88% of Americans and about 65% of Britons backed military action.[337]

A large-scale 37-nation poll of world opinion carried out by Gallup International in late September 2001 found that large majorities in most countries favored a legal response, in the form of extradition and trial, over a military response to 9/11: only three countries out of the 37 surveyed – the U.S., Israel and India – did majorities favor military action. In the other 34 countries surveyed, the poll found many clear majorities that favored extradition and trial instead of military action: in the United Kingdom (75%), France (67%), Switzerland (87%), Czech Republic (64%), Lithuania (83%), Panama (80%) and Mexico (94%).[338][339]

An Ipsos-Reid poll conducted between November and December 2001 showed that majorities in Canada (66%), France (60%), Germany (60%), Italy (58%), and the U.K. (65%) approved of U.S. airstrikes while majorities in Argentina (77%), China (52%), South Korea (50%), Spain (52%), and Turkey (70%) opposed them.[340]

Development of public opinion

22 June 2007 demonstration in Québec City against the Canadian military involvement in Afghanistan.

In a 47-nation June 2007 survey of global public opinion, the Pew Global Attitudes Project found international opposition to the war. Out of the 47 countries surveyed, 4 had a majority that favoured keeping foreign troops: the U.S. (50%), Israel (59%), Ghana (50%), and Kenya (60%). In 41, pluralities wanted NATO troops out as soon as possible.[341] In 32 out of 47, clear majorities wanted war over as soon as possible. Majorities in 7 out of 12 NATO member countries said troops should be withdrawn as soon as possible.[341][342]

A 24-nation Pew Global Attitudes survey in June 2008 similarly found that majorities or pluralities in 21 of 24 countries want the U.S. and NATO to remove their troops from Afghanistan as soon as possible. Only in three out of the 24 countries – the U.S. (50%), Australia (60%), and Britain (48%) – did public opinion lean more toward keeping troops there until the situation has stabilized.[343][344]

Coalition fatalities per month since the start of the war.
Canadian Forces personnel carry the coffin of a fallen comrade onto an aircraft at Kandahar Air Field, 17 July 2009

Following that June 2008 global survey, however, public opinion in Australia and Britain diverged from that in the U.S. A majority of Australians and Britons now want their troops home. A September 2008 poll found that 56% of Australians opposed continuation of their country's military involvement.[345][346][347] A November 2008 poll found that 68% of Britons wanted their troops withdrawn within the next 12 months.[348][349][350]

In the U.S., a September 2008 Pew survey found that 61% of Americans wanted U.S. troops to stay until the situation has stabilized, while 33% wanted them removed as soon as possible.[351] Public opinion was divided over Afghan troop requests: a majority of Americans continued to see a rationale for the use of military force in Afghanistan.[352] A slight plurality of Americans favored troop increases, with 42%–47% favoring some troop increases, 39%–44% wanting reduction, and 7–9% wanting no changes. Just 29% of Democrats favored troop increases while 57% wanted to begin reducing troops. Only 36% of Americans approved of Obama's handling of Afghanistan, including 19% of Republicans, 31% of independents, and 54% of Democrats.[353]

In a December 2009 Pew Research Center poll, only 32 percent of Americans favored increasing U.S. troops in Afghanistan, while 40 percent favored decreasing them. Almost half of Americans, 49 percent, believed that the U.S. should "mind its own business" internationally and let other countries get along the best they can. That figure was an increase from 30 percent who said that in December 2002.[354]

An April 2011 Pew Research Center poll showed little change in American views, with about 50% saying that the effort was going very well or fairly well and only 44% supporting NATO troop presence in Afghanistan.[355]

Protests, demonstrations and rallies

The war has been the subject of large protests around the world starting with the large-scale demonstrations in the days leading up to the invasion and every year since. Many protesters consider the bombing and invasion of Afghanistan to be unjustified aggression.[356][357] The deaths of Afghan civilians caused directly and indirectly by the U.S. and NATO bombing campaigns is a major underlying focus of the protests.[358] In January 2009, Brave New Foundation launched Rethink Afghanistan, a national campaign for non-violent solutions in Afghanistan built around a documentary film by director and political activist Robert Greenwald.[359] Dozens of organizations planned (and eventually held) a national march for peace in Washington, D.C. on 20 March 2010.[360][361]

Human rights abuses

Multiple accounts document human rights violations in Afghanistan.[362]


According to a report by the United Nations, the Taliban were responsible for 76% of civilian casualties in Afghanistan in 2009.[259] The Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission (AIGRC) called the Taliban's terrorism against the Afghan civilian population a war crime.[45] According to Amnesty International, the Taliban commit war crimes by targeting civilians, including killing teachers, abducting aid workers and burning school buildings. Amnesty International said that up to 756 civilians were killed in 2006 by bombs, mostly on roads or carried by suicide attackers belonging to the Taliban.[363]

NATO has alleged that the Taliban have used civilians as human shields. As an example, NATO pointed to the victims of NATO air strikes in Farah province in May 2009, during which the Afghan government claims up to 150 civilians were killed. NATO stated it had evidence the Taliban forced civilians into buildings likely to be targeted by NATO aircraft involved in the battle. A spokesman for the ISAF commander said: "This was a deliberate plan by the Taliban to create a civilian casualty crisis. These were not human shields; these were human sacrifices. We have intelligence that points to this."[364] according to the U.S. State Department, the Taliban committed human rights violations against women in Afghanistan.[365]

White phosphorus use

White phosphorus has been condemned by human rights organizations as cruel and inhumane because it causes severe burns. White phosphorus burns on the bodies of civilians wounded in clashes near Bagram were confirmed. The U.S. claims at least 44 instances in which militants have used white phosphorus in weapons or attacks.[366] In May 2009, the U.S. confirmed that Western military forces in Afghanistan use white phosphorus to illuminate targets or as an incendiary to destroy bunkers and enemy equipment.[367][368] US forces used white phosphorus to screen a retreat in the Battle of Ganjgal when regular smoke munitions were not available.[369]

Environmental legacy

Since 1979 landmines, shells, bombs, and other unexploded ordnance has been left behind. In 2015 the NATO's International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) was replaced by the US-led "Resolute Support" The director of the Mine Action Coordination Centre for Afghanistan (MACCA). ISAF stressed it had never used landmines.

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Further reading

External links