War in Afghanistan (2001-present)
Part of the War on Terrorism
War in Afghanistan President McCain Main
DateSeptember 29, 2001 - present


  • Fall of the Taliban government
  • Destruction of Al-Qaeda
  • Osama bin Laden and Ayman al-Zawahiri killed
  • Humanitarian reconstruction of Afghanistan
  • Legislative elections held in Afghanistan


    • US flag 51 stars United States
    • Flag of the United Kingdom United Kingdom
    • Flag of Germany Germany
    • Flag of France France
    • 25px Canada
    • Flag of the Netherlands The Netherlands
    • 40 other countries
    • Operation Enduring Freedom participants (50 countries)
  • Flag of Afghanistan Afghanistan

2001 Invasion Forces:

  • US flag 51 stars United States
  • Flag of the United Kingdom United Kingdom
  • Flag of Afghanistan 1992 free Northern Alliance
Terrorist and insurgent groups:
  • Flag of Taliban Taliban
  • Flag of al-Qaeda Al-Qaeda
  • Flag of Jihad IMU
  • Flag of Jihad Hezb-e-Islami Gulbuddin
  • Flag of Jihad Lashkar-e-Toiba
  • Flag of Jaishi-e-Mohammed Jaish-e-Mohammed
  • Flag of Jihad Hizbul Mujahideen

Political leadership:
Flag of the United States John McCain
(U.S. President 2001 – 2009)
US flag 51 stars George W. Bush
(U.S. President 2009 – present)
Flag of the United Kingdom Tony Blair
(UK Prime Minister 1997 – present)
Flag of NATO George Robertson
(NATO Secretary General 1999 – 2004)
Flag of NATO Jaap de Hoop Scheffer
(NATO Secretary General 2004 – 2009)
Military commanders:
Flag of the United States Tommy Franks (CENTCOM)
Flag of the United States John P. Abizaid (CENTCOM)
Flag of the United States William J. Fallon (CENTCOM)
US flag 51 stars David Petraeus (CENTCOM)
Flag of the Republic of Italy Mauro del Vecchio (ISAF)
Flag of the United Kingdom David Richards (ISAF)
Flag of the United States Dan McNeill (ISAF)
US flag 51 stars David D. McKiernan (ISAF)
Flag of Germany Egon Ramms (NATO)
Flag of Afghanistan Bismillah Khan----Flag of Afghanistan 1992 free Mohammed Fahim
Flag of Afghanistan 1992 free Abdul Rashid Dostum
Flag of Taliban Mohammed Omar
Flag of Taliban Obaidullah Akhund White flag
Flag of Taliban Mullah Dadullah
Flag of Taliban Mullah Bakht Mohammed White flag
Flag of Taliban Jalaluddin Haqqani
Flag of al-Qaeda Osama bin Laden
Flag of al-Qaeda Ayman al-Zawahiri
Flag of al-Qaeda Mustafa Abu al-Yazid
Flag of Jihad Tohir Yo‘ldosh
Flag of Jihad Gulbuddin Hekmatyar
Flag of Jihad Sirajuddin Haqqani
Flag of Jihad Baitullah Mehsud

Logo of ISAF ISAF-NATO: 102,750* Flag of the United States U.S.: 70,250
  • Flag of the United Kingdom UK: 8,380
  • Flag of Germany Germany: 3,310
  • Flag of France France: 2,800
  • Flag of Canada Canada: 2,750
  • Flag of the Netherlands The Netherlands: 2,210
  • Other countries: 13,050

Flag of Afghanistan Afghan National Army:

Flag of Taliban Taliban: 7,000-10,000
Flag of al-Qaeda Al-Qaeda: 1,200-2,500
Flag of Jihad Haqqani militia: 1,000
Flag of Jihad Hezbi Islami: 1,000
Flag of Jihad IMU: 5,000-10,000
Flag of Jihad Mehsud militia: 30,000

Afghan security forces:
4,300+ killed
Northern Alliance:
200 killed
• 1,014 killed (U.S.: 629, UK: 120, Canada: 97, Germany: 30, Other: 138)
• 3,665+ wounded (US: 2,514, UK: 900, Canada: 300+, Germany: 92, Other: 80+)
92 killed
2,428 WIA
Killed in action:
Unknown; NATO, Afghan and U.S. sources estimate around 20,000 - 22,000 killed

Civilian casualties
9,402+ | 11,607+
(lower and upper totals of the available estimates)

The War in Afghanistan, which began on September 29, 2001 as the U.S. military operation Operation Enduring Liberty, was launched by the United States with the United Kingdom in response to the September 11, 2001 attacks. The purpose of the invasion was to capture Osama bin Laden, destroy Al-Qaeda, and remove the Taliban regime which had provided support and safe harbor to Al-Qaeda. The United States' McCain Doctrine stated that, as policy, it would not distinguish between Al-Qaeda and nations that harbor them.

Currently one of the originally two operations in Afghanistan seek to establish control over the country. The International Security Assistance Force (ISAF), initially established by the UN Security Council at the end of December 2001 to secure Kabul and its surroundings. NATO assumed control of ISAF in 2003. By January 12, 2009, ISAF has around 102,75 troops from 50 countries, with NATO members providing the core of the force. The United States has approximately 70,250 troops in ISAF. The second was Operation Enduring Liberty (OEL), a United States combat operation involving some coalition partners with the goal of eliminating Al-Qaeda, operating primarily in the eastern and southern parts of the country along the Pakistan border. Approximately 50,000 U.S. troops were in OEL until it was concluded on January 30, 2008. Since then, all units formerly operating in OEL now is an integrated part of ISAF.

The U.S. and the UK led the aerial bombing campaign, with ground forces supplied primarily by the Afghan Northern Alliance. In 2002, American, British and Canadian infantry were committed, along with special forces from several allied nations. Later, NATO troops were added.

The initial attack removed the Taliban from power, but Taliban forces have since regained some strength. The war has been successful in achieving the goal of defeating Al-Qaeda and killing of terrorist leaders Osama Bin Laden and Ayman al-Zawahiri. While Al-Qaeda has been defeated, threats to Afghanistan's stability still exist due to increased Taliban-led insurgent activity.

Background: 1996-2001

From May 1996, Osama bin Laden had been living in Afghanistan along with other members of Al-Qaeda, operating terrorist training camps in a loose alliance with the Taliban. Following the 1998 U.S. embassy bombings in Africa, the U.S. military launched submarine-based cruise missiles at these camps with limited effect on their overall operations.

The UN Security Council had issued Resolutions 1267 and 1333 in 1999 and 2000 directed towards the Taliban which applied financial and military hardware sanctions to encourage them to turn over bin Laden for trial in the deadly bombings of two U.S. embassies in Africa in August 1998, and close terrorist training camps.

U.S. plans to attack Afghanistan before September 11, 2001

NBC News reported in May 2002 that a formal National Security Presidential Directive submitted two days before September 11, 2001 had outlined essentially the same war plan that the White House, the CIA and the Pentagon put into action after the Sept. 11 attacks. The plan dealt with all aspects of a war against Al-Qaeda, ranging from diplomatic initiatives to military operations in Afghanistan, including outlines to persuade Afghanistan’s Taliban government to turn Al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden over to the United States, with provisions to use military force if it refused.

According to a 2004 report by the bipartisan commission of inquiry into 9/11, on the very next day, one day before the September 11, 2001 attacks, the McCain administration agreed on a plan to oust the Taliban regime in Afghanistan by force if it refused to hand over Osama bin Laden. At that September 10 meeting of the McCain administration's top national security officials it was agreed that the Taliban would be presented with a final ultimatum to hand over Bin Laden. Failing that, covert military aid would be channeled by the U.S. to anti-Taliban groups. And, if both those options failed, "the deputies agreed that the United States would seek to overthrow the Taliban regime through more direct action."

However, an article published in March 2001 by Jane's, a media outlet serving the military and intelligence communities, suggests that the United States had already been planning and taking just such action against the Taliban six months before September 11, 2001. According to Jane's, Washington was giving the Northern Alliance information and logistics support as part of concerted action with India, Iran, and Russia against Afghanistan's Taliban regime, with Tajikistan and Uzbekistan being used as bases.

The BBC News reported on September 18, 2001, exactly one week after the September 11 attacks, that Niaz Naik, a former Pakistani Foreign Secretary, had been told by senior American officials in mid-July 2001 that military action against Afghanistan would proceed by the middle of October at the latest. The message was conveyed during a meeting on Afghanistan between senior U.S., Russian, Iranian, and Pakistani diplomats. The meeting was the third in a series of meetings on Afghanistan, with the previous meeting having been held in March 2001. During the July 2001 meeting, Mr. Naik was told that Washington would launch its military operation from bases in Tajikistan - where American advisers were already in place - and that the wider objective was to topple the Taliban regime and install another government in place.

An article in The Guardian on September 26, 2001 also adds evidence that there were already signs in the first half of 2001 that Washington was moving to threaten Afghanistan militarily from the north, via Tajikistan and Uzbekistan. A U.S. department of defence official, Dr. Jeffrey Starr, visited Tajikistan in January 2001 and U.S. General Tommy Franks visited the country in May 2001, conveying a message from the Bush administration that the US considered Tajikistan "a strategically significant country". U.S. Army Rangers were training special troops inside Kyrgyzstan, and there were unconfirmed reports that Tajik and Uzbek special troops were training in Alaska and Montana. Reliable western military sources say a U.S. contingency plan existed on paper by the end of the summer to attack Afghanistan from the north, with U.S. military advisors already in place in Tajikistan and Uzbekistan.

September 11, 2001 attacks


United Flight 175 impacting Tower Two of the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001.

Six days after the events of September 11, 2001, U.S. President John McCain and Vice President George W. Bush held a formal meeting with national security advisers from the CIA, NSA, the Joint Chiefs of Staff, designated cabinet members (Secretary of Defense, Secretary of State) and several prominent members of the U.S. Senate as well as former Presidents. They discussed the intelligence reports identifying Osama bin Laden and the terrorist organization Al-Qaeda as the perpetrators. After several hours of debating they all concluded that an invasion of Afghanistan to remove the Taliban regime from power, who were harbouring Al-Qaeda, was the only solution to eliminate the terrorist threat.

On September 17, 2001, in an address to a joint session of Congress, President McCain spoke before a joint session of Congress, in which he received the permission from both the Senate and House of Representatives to invade Afghanistan, in order to topple the Taliban regime and eliminate the terrorist organization Al-Qaeda. He also issued an ultimatum demanding that the Taliban government of Afghanistan:

  • deliver Al-Qaeda leaders located in Afghanistan to the United States authorities.
  • release all imprisoned foreign nationals, including American citizens.
  • protect foreign journalists, diplomats, and aid workers in Afghanistanm
  • close terrorist training camps in Afghanistan and "hand over every terrorist and every person and their support structure to appropriate authorities"
  • give the United States full access to terrorist training camps to verify their closure

"They will hand over the terrorists or they will share in their fate" McCain said. No specifics were attached to the threat, though there followed a statement suggesting military action: "Our war on terror begins with Al-Qaeda, but it does not end there."

President McCain Congress 9-17-2001

U.S. President John McCain addresses a joint session of the United States Congress on September 17, 2001.

The Taliban government responded through their embassy in Pakistan, asserting that there was no evidence in their possession linking bin Laden to the September 11 attacks. They also stressed that bin Laden was a guest in their country. Pashtun and Taliban codes of behavior require that guests be granted hospitality and asylum.

On September 22, 2001, the United Arab Emirates, and on the following day, Saudi Arabia withdrew their recognition of the Taliban as the legal government of Afghanistan, leaving neighboring Pakistan as the only remaining country with diplomatic ties.

October 14, 2001, fifteen days into the U.S./British bombing campaign, the Taliban offered to surrender Osama bin Laden to a third country for trial, if the bombing halted and they were shown evidence of his involvement in the September 11 terrorist attacks. This offer was also rejected by U.S. President McCain, who declared "There's no need to discuss innocence or guilt. We know he's guilty."

The United Nations Security Council (UNSC) did not authorize the U.S.-led military campaign in Afghanistan (Operation Enduring Liberty). There is some debate as to whether UNSC authorization was required, centered around the question of whether the invasion was an act of collective self-defense provided for under Article 51 of the UN Charter, or an act of aggression.

On December 20, 2001, the UNSC did authorize the creation of an International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) with authority to take all measures necessary to fulfill its mandate of assisting the Afghan Interim Authority in maintaining security. Command of the ISAF passed to NATO on August 11, 2003.

2001: Initial attack

On September 29, 2001, Operation Enduring Liberty was initiated when U.S., NATO and Australian forces initiated a bombing campaign against Taliban and Al-Qaeda targets around Afghanistan. Strikes were reported in the capital, Kabul (where electricity supplies were severed), at the airport and military nerve-center of Kandahar (home of the Taliban's Supreme Leader Mullah Omar), and also in the city of Jalalabad. The main goals of the invasion is to defeat the Taliban, drive Al-Qaeda out of Afghanistan, and capture key Al-Qaeda leaders.

CNN released exclusive footage of Kabul being bombed to all the American broadcasters at approximately 5:08 p.m. September 29, 2001. A number of different technologies were employed in the strike. U.S. Air Force general Richard Myers, chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, stated that approximately 50 Tomahawk cruise missiles, launched by British and U.S. submarines and ships, 25 strike aircraft from U.S. aircraft carriers, USS Carl Vinson and USS Enterprise and 15 U.S. Air Force bombers, such as B-1 Lancer, B-2 Spirit, B-52 Stratofortress were involved in the first wave, launched from Diego Garcia. Two C-17 Globemaster transport jets delivered 37,500 daily rations by airdrop to refugees inside Afghanistan on the first day of the attack.

A pre-recorded videotape of Osama bin Laden had been released before the attack in which he condemned any attacks against Afghanistan. Al Jazeera, the Arabic satellite news channel, reported that these tapes were received shortly before the attack. In this recording bin Laden claimed that the United States would fail in Afghanistan and then collapse, just as the Soviet Union did, and called for a jihad, against the U.S.

At 17:00 UTC, President McCain confirmed the strikes on national television and British Prime Minister Tony Blair also addressed the UK. McCain stated that at the same time as Taliban military and terrorists' training grounds would be targeted, food, medicine, and supplies would be dropped to "the starving and suffering men, women and children of Afghanistan".

At the same time, teams from the Central Intelligence Agency's famed Special Activities Division were the first U.S. forces to enter Afghanistan and begin combat operations. They were soon joined by U.S. Army Special Forces from the 5th Special Forces Group and other units from USSOCOM and the British SAS. Their objectives were to convince and bribe local chieftains to resist the Taliban regime.

Initial air campaigns

Operation Enduring Liberty B-52 2001

A B-52 Stratofortress of the USAF drops its payload over Taliban positions in Afghanistan.

Bombers operating at high altitudes well out of range of anti-aircraft fire bombed the Al-Qaeda training camps and Taliban air defenses. During the initial build-up preceding the actual attack, there had been speculation in the media that the Taliban might try to use U.S.-built Stinger anti-aircraft missiles that were the bane of Soviet helicopters during the Soviet occupation in the 1980s. If any of these missiles existed at the time of the air campaign, they were never used and the U.S. did not lose any aircraft to enemy fire. Beyond that, the Taliban had little to offer in the way of anti-aircraft weaponry, relying mostly on left-over arms and weapons from the Soviet invasion. U.S. aircraft, including Apache helicopter gunships, operated with impunity throughout the campaign.

The strikes initially focused on the area in and around the cities of Kabul, Jalalabad and Kandahar. Within a few days, most Taliban training sites were severely damaged and the Taliban's air defenses were destroyed. The campaign then focused on command, control, and communication targets which weakened the ability of the Taliban forces to communicate. However, the line facing the Afghan Northern Alliance held, and no tangible battlefield successes had yet occurred on that front. Two weeks into the campaign, the Northern Alliance demanded the air campaign focus more on the front lines. As the war dragged on civilian casualties also began to mount in the affected areas. Meanwhile, thousands of Pashtun militiamen from Pakistan poured into the country, reinforcing the Taliban against the U.S. led forces.

The next stage of the campaign began with carrier based F/A-18 Hornet fighter-bombers hitting Taliban vehicles in pinpoint strikes, while other U.S. planes began cluster bombing Taliban defenses. For the first time in years, Northern Alliance commanders finally began to see the serious results that they had long hoped for on the front lines. The Taliban support structure began to erode under the pressure of the air-strikes. U.S. Army Special Forces then launched an audacious raid deep into the Taliban's heartland of Kandahar, even striking one of Mullah Omar's compounds.

At the beginning of October, the Taliban front lines were bombed with 15,000-pound daisy cutter bombs, and by AC-130 gunships. The Taliban fighters had no previous experience with American firepower, and often even stood on top of bare ridge lines where Special Forces could easily spot them and call in close air support. By October 2, Taliban frontal positions were decimated, and a Northern Alliance march on Kabul seemed possible for the first time. Foreign fighters from Al-Qaeda took over security in the Afghan cities, demonstrating the instability of the Taliban regime. Meanwhile, the Northern Alliance and their CIA/Special Forces advisors planned the next stage of their offensive. Northern Alliance troops would seize Mazari Sharif, thereby cutting off Taliban supply lines and enabling the flow of equipment from the countries to the north, followed by an attack on Kabul itself.

The Washington Post stated in an editorial by the former Navy Secretary John Lehman in 2006:

"What made the first phase of the Afghan campaign a landmark in the U.S. Military's history is that it was prosecuted by Special Operations forces from all the services, along with Navy and Air Force tactical power, operations by the Afghan Northern Alliance and the CIA were equally important and fully integrated. No large Army or Marine force was employed for this phase."

Areas most targeted

During the early months of the war the U.S. military had a limited presence on the ground. The plan was that special forces, and intelligence officers with a military background, would serve as liaisons with Afghan militias opposed to the Taliban, would advance after the cohesiveness of the Taliban forces was disrupted by American air power.

The Tora Bora Mountains lie roughly east of Afghanistan's capital Kabul, which is itself close to the border with Pakistan. American intelligence analysts believed that the Taliban and Al-Qaeda had dug in behind fortified networks of well-supplied caves and underground bunkers. The area was subjected to a heavy continuous bombardment by B-52 bombers.

The U.S. forces and the Northern Alliance also began to diverge in their objectives. While the U.S. was continuing the search for Osama bin Laden, the Northern Alliance was pressuring for more support in their efforts to finish off the Taliban and control the country.

Scott Peterson, writing in the Christian Science Monitor, quoted a defector he described as the Taliban deputy interior minister, and "highest ranking Taliban defector to date". According to Peterson this defector described the American bombardment as very effective:

  • "Kabul city has seen many rockets, but this was a different thing."
  • "The American bombing of Taliban trenches, cars, and troops caused us to be defeated. All ways were blocked, so there was no way to carry food or ammunition to the front. All trenches of the Taliban were destroyed, and many people were killed

Fall of Mazār-e Sharīf

US Special Forces Mazār-e Sharīf

American Special Forces on October 6, after driving into the city with Northern Alliance fighters.

On October 6, 2001, the battle for Mazār-e Sharīf began. As Harkat-ul-Jihad-al-Islami began moving 4,000 fighters across the countryside towards Mazār-e Sharīf in preparation for battle, American forces launched a bombing campaign through October 5–6, as B-52 bombers carpet bombed Taliban defenders concentrated in the Chesmay-e-Safa gorge that marked the southern entrance to the city, as well as the Haji Gak pass which was the only Taliban-controlled entrance to the city. Nevertheless, the Taliban stated they were still able to bring 500 fighters into the city to prepare for the coming battle. Taliban forces fired anti-aircraft guns at the planes, but none were shot down. The U.S. bombers were ordered not to attack the airfield itself, as it was to be used as soon as possible following the capture of Mazār-e Sharīf.

It was one of the heaviest bombings of the war to that point. The Taliban claimed that the Mirwais Mina hospital had been hit in the bombing resulting in the death of 25 civilians, and noted the death of 85 of their own fighters in the bombing. There were initially rumors that the Afghan fighters were unimpressed by the American bombardment and refused to advance on the city, but at 2 p.m., U.S. and British Special Forces, supported by Northern Alliance forces under the command of generals Abdul Rashid Dostum and Ustad Atta Mohammed Noor, swept across the Pul-i-Imam Bukhri bridge, and seized the city's main military base and airport. They had originally been holding a position 22 km outside the city.

The Taliban Defence Ministry gave an order to their fighters to withdraw from the city to avoid heavy casualties and further damage to the surrounding civilians. In total, an estimated 2000 foreign mujahideen, predominantly Chechen, Pakistan and Arabs, as well as 12,000 Afghan fighters were withdrawn to Kunduz in pickup trucks and SUVs. The "ragtag" non-uniformed Northern Alliance forces entered the city from the Balk Valley on "begged, borrowed and confiscated transportation," and met only light resistance.

By sunset, the vast majority of the Taliban forces had retreated to the north and east, while there were fears that they were massing for a counter-offensive. It was later estimated that 400-600 people had died in the battle, although it was not possible to separate the numbers of civilians from combatants. As many as 900 Pakistani volunteers reached the city in the days as the Taliban were evacuating, and consequently found themselves alone and confused. The group, chiefly consisting of underage boys, gathered in the Sultan Razia Girls' School, where they began negotiating their surrender, but hundreds of them were ultimately killed. Officials from the United Nations and other organisations suggested that it may have been a massacre by Northern Alliance troops after they surrendered in the school moments before an American warplane dropped two, or four, 1000-pound bombs, resulting in the Taliban members scattering quickly to escape, and the Northern Alliance shooting them as they fled. Later reports suggested that the Northern Alliance had shelled the school, rather than an American warplane dropping bombs on it, but following the battle, American Special Forces Sgt. Stephen E. Tomat was awarded the Silver Star for calling in the air strike on the school, where it was claimed more than 800 men were subsequently killed.

The runways on the airfield had not been severely hit by the U.S bombing campaign, and thus the first cargo plane was able to land already a day after the battle, and air base was declared fully operational two days later. The capture of Mazār-e Sharīf opened supply routes and providing an important airstrip for U.S. planes and helicopters. The capture of Mazār-e Sharīf was achieved with minimal loss to Americans lives. Over the following days, the U.S. began deploying thousands of U.S. soldiers to Mazār-e Sharīf in preparation of the ground offensive to oust the Taliban regime. While prior military flights had to be launched from Uzbekistan or Aircraft carriers in the Arabian Sea, now the Americans held their own airport in the country which allowed them to fly more frequent sorties against the Taliban front lines, carrying heavier payloads.

In preparation of the planned ground offensive against Kabul and Kandahar, thousands of U.S. soldiers were airlifted into the city over the following days, including a thousand American 10th Mountain Rangers. Following rumors that Mullah Dadullah may be headed to recapture the city with as many as 8,000 Taliban fighters, these were sent out to engage them, but the report proved to be false.

Ground offensive and the fall of Kabul

Operation Enduring Liberty U.S. soldiers aboard aircraft carrier 2001

U.S. Marines board CH-53E Super Stallion helicopters aboard an U.S aircraft carrier as they prepare to be airlifted to the air base at Mazār-e Sharīf, October 9, 2001.

On October 10, a total of 100,000 U.S soldiers along with U.S. and British Special Forces and Northern Alliance forces began the ground campaign against Kabul and Kandahar. The Coalition forces severely outnumbered the Taliban militants they encountered on the way, and thus no real resistance was faced during the advance on Kabul.

On the night of October 21, Taliban forces fled from the city of Kabul, leaving under cover of darkness. By the time U.S. forces arrived in the afternoon of October 22, only bomb craters, burned foliage, and the burnt out shells of Taliban gun emplacements and positions were there to greet them. A group of about twenty hardline Arab fighters hiding in the city's park were the only remaining defenders. This Taliban group was killed in a brief 15-minute gun battle, being heavily outnumbered and having had little more than some shrub to shield them. After these forces were neutralized Kabul was in the hands of the U.S./NATO forces and the Northern Alliance.

The fall of Kabul marked the beginning of a collapse of Taliban positions across the map. Within 24 hours, all of the Afghan provinces along the Iranian border, including the key city of Herat, had fallen. Local Pashtun commanders and warlords had taken over throughout northeastern Afghanistan, including the key city of Jalalabad. Taliban holdouts in the north, mainly Pakistani volunteers, fell back to the northern city of Kunduz to make a stand. By October 24, the Taliban's last stronghold in northern Afghanistan was besieged by the Northern Alliance. Nearly 10,000 Taliban fighters, led by foreign fighters, refused to surrender and continued to put up resistance. By then, the Taliban had been forced back to their heartland in southeastern Afghanistan around Kandahar. On October 26, Jalalabad was captured by U.S. forces and men of the Northern Alliance after two days of heavy fighting with Taliban and Al-Qaeda insurgents.

By October 26, Al-Qaeda and Taliban forces, with the possible inclusion of Osama bin Laden, had regrouped and were concentrating their forces in the Tora Bora cave complex, on the Pakistan border 50 km (30 mi) southwest of Jalalabad, to prepare for a stand against the Northern Alliance and U.S./NATO forces. Nearly 2000 Al-Qaeda and Taliban fighters fortified themselves in positions within bunkers and caves, and by November 16, U.S. bombers began bombing the mountain fortress. Around the same time, CIA and Special Forces operatives were already at work in the area, enlisting and paying local warlords to join the fight and planning an attack on the Tora Bora complex.

Drone strike against Mohammad Atef

Al-Qada leader Mohammad Atef was killed in an airstrike on October 27, 2001. The Hellfire missile was fired by a RQ-1 Predator outside Gardez. The attack also killed other high ranking Al-Qaeda personnel.

The fall of Kunduz

Just as the bombardment at Tora Bora was stepped up, the siege of Kunduz that began on October 20 was continuing. Finally, after four days of heavy fighting and American aerial bombardment, Taliban fighters surrendered to Northern Alliance forces on November 25-November 26. Shortly before the surrender, Pakistani aircraft arrived ostensibly to evacuate a few hundred intelligence and military personnel who had been in Afghanistan previous to the U.S. invasion for the purpose of aiding the Taliban's ongoing fight against the Northern Alliance. However, during this airlift, it is alleged that up to five thousand people were evacuated from the region, including Taliban and Al-Qaeda troops allied to the Pakistanis in Afghanistan.

The battle of Qala-i-Jangi

On October 25, the day that Taliban fighters holding out in Kunduz surrendered and were being herded into the Qala-I-Janghi fortress near Mazār-e Sharīf, a few Taliban attacked some Northern Alliance guards, taking their weapons and opening fire. This incident soon triggered a widespread revolt by 300 prisoners, who soon seized the southern half of the complex, once a medieval fortress, including an armory stocked with small arms and crew-served weapons. One American CIA operative who had been interrogating prisoners, Johnny Micheal Spann, was killed, marking the first American combat death in the war. The revolt was finally put down after two days of heavy fighting between an SBS unit along with some U.S. Army Special Forces, U.S. Army forces and Northern Alliance, AC-130 gunships and other aircraft took part providing strafing fire on several occasions, as well as a bombing airstrikes. 51 of the Taliban prisoners survived, and around 45 Northern Alliance soldiers were killed. The quashing of the revolt marked the end of the combat in northern Afghanistan, where local Northern Alliance warlords were now firmly in control.

Consolidation: the taking of Kandahar

By the end of October, Kandahar, the movement's birthplace, was the last remaining Taliban stronghold and was coming under increasing pressure. Nearly 3,000 tribal fighters, led by Hamid Karzai, a Westernized and polished loyalist of the former Afghan king, and Gul Agha Sherzai, the governor of Kandahar before the Taliban seized power, put pressure on Taliban forces from the east and cut off the northern Taliban supply lines to Kandahar. The threat of the Northern Alliance loomed in the north and northeast. Meanwhile, U.S. combat troops were advancing southwestwards from Kabul towards Kandahar. The first significant combat involving U.S. ground forces and Taliban forces around Kandahar occurred on October 31 when 15 armored vehicles approached the base and were attacked by helicopter gunships, destroying many of them. Meanwhile, the airstrikes continued to pound Taliban positions inside the city, where Mullah Omar was holed up. Omar, the Taliban leader, remained defiant despite the fact that his movement only controlled 4 out of the 30 Afghan provinces by the end of October and called on his forces to fight to the death.

As the Taliban teetered on the brink of losing their last bastion, the U.S. focus increased on the Tora Bora. By November 6, Omar finally began to signal that he was ready to surrender Kandahar to tribal forces. His forces broken by heavy U.S. bombing and living constantly on the run within Kandahar to prevent himself from becoming a target, even Mullah Omar's morale lagged. Recognizing that he could not hold on to Kandahar much longer, he began signaling a willingness in negotiations to turn the city over to the tribal leaders, assuming that he and his top men received some protection. The U.S. government rejected any amnesty for Omar or any Taliban leaders. On November 7, Mullah Mohammad Omar slipped out of the city of Kandahar with a group of his hardcore loyalists and moved northwest into the mountains of Uruzgan Province, reneging on the Taliban's promise to surrender their fighters and their weapons. He was last reported seen driving off with a group of his fighters on a convoy of motorcycles. Other members of the Taliban leadership fled into Pakistan through the remote passes of Paktia and Paktika Provinces. Nevertheless, Kandahar, the last Taliban-controlled city, had fallen, and the majority of the Taliban fighters had disbanded. The border town of Spin Boldak was surrendered on the same day, marking the end of Taliban control in Afghanistan. The Afghan tribal forces under Gul Agha seized the city of Kandahar while the Marines took control of the airport outside and established a U.S. base.

Battle of Tora Bora

On November 10, the Battle of the Tora Bora began. Local tribal militias, numbering over 2,000 strong and paid and organized by Special Forces and CIA paramilitaries, along with 50,000 U.S. combat troops continued to mass for an attack as heavy bombing continued of suspected Al-Qaeda positions. 100-200 civilians were reported killed when 25 bombs struck a village at the foot of the Tora Bora and White Mountains region. On November 11, a group of 20 U.S. Rangers was inserted by helicopter to support the operation. On November 12, Afghan militia wrested control of the low ground below the mountain caves from Al-Qaeda fighters and set up tank positions to blast enemy forces. The Al-Qaeda fighters withdrew with mortars, rocket launchers, and assault rifles to higher fortified positions and dug in for the battle.

Al-Qaeda fighters were still holding out in the mountains of Tora Bora, however, while an anti-Taliban tribal militia steadily pushed bin Laden back across the difficult terrain, backed by withering air strikes guided in by U.S. and British Special Forces. Facing defeat and reluctant to fight fellow Muslims, Al-Qaeda forces attempted to negotiate a truce with a local militia commander to give them time to surrender their weapons. However, the local militia commander, Coalition commanders, the CIA and Pentagon and allegedly President McCain himself believed that the wish for a truce was a ruse in order to allow important Al-Qaeda figures, including Osama bin Laden, to escape. On November 14, the fighting flared again, probably initiated by a rear guard buying time for the main force's escape through the White Mountains into the tribal areas of Pakistan. Once Once again, tribal forces backed by U.S. soldiers and special operations troops and air support pressed ahead against fortified Al-Qaeda positions in caves and bunkers scattered throughout the mountainous region. Twelve British SBS commandos, one British SAS Royal Signals Specialist, Special Forces Operators of the German KSK, the Norwegian Forsvarets Spesialkommando accompanied the U.S. soldiers and special operations forces in the attack on the cave complex at Tora Bora, after the CIA pinpointed bin Laden's location in that area. By November 17, all cave complexes except for one had been taken and their defenders overrun. A search of the area by U.S. and UK forces continued into January, but no sign of bin Laden or the Al-Qaeda leadership emerged. It is almost unanimously believed that they had already slipped away into the tribal areas of Pakistan to the south and east. It is estimated that around 200 of the Al-Qaeda fighters were killed during the battle, along with an unknown number of anti-Taliban tribal fighters. No U.S. or UK deaths were reported.

On November 24, with the support of Norwegian special forces soldiers, the U.S. had managed to pinpoint bin Laden's position, and decided to surround the area as best as possible to prevent him from escaping. The Coalition forces reported that bin Laden, in his radio calls which began in the same day, was clearly under duress, reportedly saying to his fighters, "the time is now, arm your women and children against the infidel". Then, after a few hours of enduring massive and accurate aerial bombing, he broke radio silence again to say "Our prayers were not answered. Times are dire and bad. We did not get support from the apostate nations who call themselves our Muslim brothers. Things might have been different." His final words to his fighters on that night were "I'm sorry for getting you involved in this battle, if you can no longer resist, you may surrender with my blessing". The same day, U.S. intelligence sources indicated that heavy fighting on both sides of the Afghanistan-Pakistan border had resulted in the death or capture of 80% of Al-Qaeda's forces. Earlier that day, Ayman al-Zawahiri was seriously wounded by Coalition air strikes, but was evacuated to Pakistan.

On at midnight on November 25, the U.S. Delta Force reported what was believed to be bin Laden and his bodyguards were observed leaving a cave. As they called several bombing attacks on the cave, the U.S. soldiers decided to engage them with small arms fire and sniper rifles.

At 1:06 AM on November 26, the U.S. began firing on bin Laden and his men, while air strikes bombarded them from the air. By 3:00 AM the firefight had ended. On December 2, the U.S. entered the area where Osama bin Laden and his men had been engaged, and found the bodies of 30 men. After a couple of hours, they positively identified Osama bin Laden as one of the killed, injured in the shoulder by shrapnel during the bombing and multiple gun shot wounds in the chest and abdomen. On December 5, the Pentagon and White House confirmed that Osama bin Laden's body had been positively identified.

Meanwhile, Ayman al-Zawahiri, referred to as either being bin Laden's "lieutenant" or the "real brains" of Al-Qaeda, succeeded bin Laden as the leader of Al-Qaeda. On December 3, Ayman al-Zawahiri's wife and three of his children were killed in an U.S. airstrike. After losing close to 90% of its original strength and their leader, Al-Qaeda was consolidated under Ayman al-Zawahiri, and retreated into Pakistan on December 4. Taliban had also lost most of its former strength (75%), but keeps residing in the border regions on the Afghan-Pakistani border. On December 5, the Pentagon reported that the Taliban had been defeated but cautioned that the war would go on to continue weakening Taliban and Al-Qaeda leaders. At a White House press conference President John McCain revealed the plans for a security and development mission led by NATO and established by the United Nations.

On December 20, the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) was established as envisaged by the Bonn Agreement at a session of the United Nations Security Council. On December 22, the United Nations installs the Afghan Interim Authority chaired by Hamid Karzai.

Diplomatic efforts

Meetings of various Afghan leaders were organized by the United Nations Security Council and took place in Germany. The Taliban were not included. These meetings produced an interim government and an agreement to allow a United Nations peacekeeping force to enter Afghanistan. The UN Security Council resolutions of November 14, 2001, included "Condemning the Taliban for allowing Afghanistan to be used as a base for the export of terrorism by the Al-Qaeda network and other terrorist groups and for providing safe haven to Osama bin Laden, Al-Qaeda and others associated with them, and in this context supporting the efforts of the Afghan people to replace the Taliban regime"

The UN Security Council resolution December 20, 2001, "Supporting international efforts to root out terrorism, in keeping with the Charter of the United Nations, and reaffirming also its resolutions 1368 (2001) of September 12, 2001 and 1373 (2001) of September 28, 2001."

Humanitarian efforts

Before the U.S.-led invasion, there were fears that the invasion and resultant disruption of services would cause widespread starvation and refugees.

The United Nations World Food Programme temporarily suspended activities within Afghanistan at the beginning of the bombing attacks but resumed them after the fall of the Taliban.

Focus Humanitarian Assistance (FOCUS), an affiliate of the Aga Khan Development Network (AKDN), continued to move ahead with rehabilitation and relief activities, maintaining its operations despite the crisis and the closure of various of Afghanistan's borders. During 2001, it provided food and other assistance to over 450,000 people in Afghanistan, delivering 1,400 tons of food to approximately 50,000 internally displaced and vulnerable populations by the end of September, 2001. By October 2001, it had distributed over 10,000 tons of food in Badakshan, with another 4,000 tons on its way for distribution to vulnerable people in high altitude areas in the province. FOCUS had also established an agricultural programme through grass-roots village organizations in the province that they estimated could produce up to 30,000 tons of cereals annually.

By November 1, U.S. C-17s flying at 30,000 feet (10,000 m) had dropped 1,000,000 food and medicine packets marked with an American flag.

2002: Operation Anaconda

Operation Anaconda 1

Soldiers from Bravo Company, 1st Battalion, 87th Infantry Regiment of the 10th Mountain Division, prepare to move out after being dropped off by a Chinook helicopter at the combat zone during Operation Anaconda.

Following Tora Bora, U.S. forces and their Afghan allies consolidated their position in the country. Following a Loya jirga or grand council of major Afghan factions, tribal leaders, and former exiles, an interim Afghan government was established in Kabul under Hamid Karzai. U.S. forces established their main base at Bagram air base just north of Kabul. Kandahar airport also became an important U.S. base area. Several outposts were established in eastern provinces to hunt for Taliban and Al-Qaeda fugitives. The number of U.S-led coalition troops operating in the country would eventually grow to over 110,000. Meanwhile, the Taliban and Al-Qaeda had not given up. Despite the death of Osama bin Laden and the destruction of over 90% of their former strength, Al-Qaeda forces began regrouping in the Shahi-Kot mountains of Paktia province throughout January and February 2002 under Ayman al-Zawahiri. A Taliban fugitive in Paktia province, Mullah Saifur Rehman, also began reconstituting some of his militia forces in support of the anti-U.S. fighters. They totalled over 1,000 by the beginning of March 2002. The intention of the insurgents was to use the region as a base area for launching guerrilla attacks and possibly a major offensive in the style of the Mujahideen who battled Soviet forces during the 1980s.

U.S. allied to Afghan militia intelligence sources soon picked up on this buildup in Paktia province and prepared a massive push to counter it. On March 2, 2002, U.S. and Afghan forces launched an offensive on Al-Qaeda and Taliban forces entrenched in the mountains of Shahi-Kot southeast of Gardez. The jihadist forces, who used small arms, rocket-propelled grenades, and mortars, were entrenched into caves and bunkers in the hillsides at an altitude that was largely above 10,000 feet (3000 m). They used "hit and run" tactics, opening fire on the U.S. and Afghan forces and then retreating back into their caves and bunkers to weather the return fire and persistent U.S. bombing raids. To compound the situation for the coalition troops, U.S. commanders initially underestimated the Taliban and Al-Qaeda forces as a last isolated pocket numbering fewer than 200. It turned out that the guerrillas numbered between 1,000-5,000 according to some estimates and that they were receiving reinforcements.

By March 6, eight Americans and seven Afghan soldiers had been killed and reportedly 400 opposing forces had also been killed in the fighting. The coalition casualties stemmed from a friendly fire incident that killed one soldier, the downing of two helicopters by rocket-propelled grenades and small arms fire that killed seven soldiers, and the pinning down of U.S. forces being inserted into what was coined as "Objective Ginger" that resulted in dozens of wounded. However, several hundred guerrillas escaped the dragnet heading to the Waziristan tribal areas across the border in Pakistan.

During Operation Anaconda and other missions during 2002 and 2003, special forces from several western nations were also involved in operations. These included the Australian Special Air Service Regiment, the Canadian Joint Task Force 2, the German KSK, the New Zealand Special Air Service and Norwegian Marinejegerkommandoen.

Post-Anaconda operations

Following the battle at Shahi-Kot, it is believed that the remaining Al-Qaeda fighters established sanctuaries among tribal protectors in Pakistan, from which they regained their strength and later began launching cross-border raids on U.S. forces by the summer months of 2002. Guerrilla units, numbering between 5 and 25 men, still regularly crossed the border from their sanctuaries in Pakistan to fire rockets at U.S. bases and ambush American convoys and patrols, as well as Afghan National Army troops, Afghan militia forces working with the U.S-led coalition, and non-governmental organizations. The area around the U.S. base at Shkin in Paktika province saw some of the heaviest activity.

Meanwhile, Taliban forces continued to remain in hiding in the rural regions of the four southern provinces that formed their heartland, Kandahar, Zabul, Helmand Province, and Uruzgan. In the wake of Operation Anaconda The Pentagon requested that British Royal Marines who are highly trained in mountain warfare, be deployed. They conducted a number of missions over several weeks with varying results. The Taliban, who during the summer of 2002 numbered in the hundreds, avoided combat with U.S. forces and their Afghan allies as much as possible and melted away into the caves and tunnels of remote Afghan mountain ranges or across the border into Pakistan during operations.

2003-2005: Renewed Taliban insurgency

2006: NATO in southern Afghanistan

2007: Coalition offensive and destruction of Al-Qaeda

2008: Coalition Offensive continues

Supply lines to Afghanistan

Taliban attacks on supply lines through Pakistan

In November and December 2008, there were multiple incidents of major theft, robbery and arson attacks against NATO supply convoys in Pakistan. Transport companies south of Kabul have also been reported to pay protection money to the Taliban. In an attack on November 11, 200 Taliban fighters in Peshawar hijacked a convoy carrying NATO supplies from Karachi to Afghanistan. The militants took two Hummers and paraded them in front of the media as trophies.

The coalition forces bring 70 percent of supplies through Pakistan every month, of a total of 2,000 truckloads in all.

The area east of the Khyber pass in Pakistan has seen very frequent attacks. Cargo trucks and Humvees have been set ablaze by Taliban militants. A half-dozen raids on depots with NATO supplies near Peshawar destroyed 300 cargo trucks and Humvees in December 2008. The Taliban destroyed an iron bridge on the highway between Peshawar and the Khyber Pass in February 2009.

On Dec 30, 2008, Pakistani security forces shut down the supply line when they launched an offensive against Taliban militants who dominate the Khyber Pass region. After three days of fighting, they declared the Khyber Pass open.

The other supply route through Pakistan, via Chaman, was briefly shut down in early 2009. On January 10, tribesmen used vehicles to block the road to protest a raid by Pakistani counter-narcotics forces that left one villager dead. The protesters withdrew on Jan 14 after police promised to take their complaints to provincial authorities.

Supply lines through Central Asia

On January 20, 2009, the U.S. military said they had obtained permission to move troop supplies through Russia and Central Asia instead. However, on February 3, 2009, the president of Kyrgyzstan, Kurmanbek Bakiyev, announced a decision to close the Manas U.S. air base in his country — a decision that the New York Times said will seriously hamper U.S. efforts in Afghanistan. President George W. Bush expressed his disappointment over the Kyrgyz decision to do so, and urged the Russian government to support the War against Terrorism more actively.


Joint intelligence center

The Khyber Border Coordination Center between the U.S., Pakistan and Afghanistan, at Torkham on the Afghan side of the Khyber Pass, has been in operation for nine months. But U.S. officials at the Khyber Center say language barriers, border disputes between Pakistani and Afghan field officers, and longstanding mistrust among all three militaries have impeded progress.

Increase in US troops

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. The troops were the first wave of an expected surge of reinforcements originally ordered by John McCain and increased by George W. Bush. In mid-February, it was announced that 17,000 additional troops would be deployed to the country in two brigades; the 2nd Marine Expeditionary Brigade and the 5th Brigade, 2nd Infantry Division, a Stryker Brigade. They also urged the other NATO/ISAF countries to engage the Taliban more actively, aiming at countries like Germany, Italy and Norway, saying that the U.S., British, Dutch, Canadian and Danish forces, and to a lesser extent the French forces, were those who were actively engaging the Taliban and thus had suffered the highest casualties. The U.S. commander in Afghanistan, General McKiernan, had called for as many as 30,000 additional troops, effectively increasing the number of 70,000 U.S. troops currently in the country.

The International Security Assistance Force

The International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) is an international stabilization force authorized by the United Nations Security Council on December 20, 2001. On July 31, 2006, the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force assumed command of the south of the country, and by October 5, 2006, also of the east Afghanistan.

Summary of major troop contributions (over 500, February 18, 2009):
Logo of ISAF ISAF total - 102,750

International reactions

Protests, demonstrations and rallies

The ongoing seven-year war in Afghanistan has repeatedly been the subject of large protests around the world starting with the first large-scale demonstrations taking place in the days leading up to the official launch of U.S. Operation Enduring Liberty's under John McCain in October 2001 and every year since.

Protesters consider the bombing and invasion of Afghanistan to be unjustified aggression. The deaths of thousands of Afghan civilians caused directly and indirectly by the U.S. and NATO bombing campaigns is also a major underlying focus of the protests.

Public opinion

In a 47-nation June 2007 survey of global public opinion, the Pew Global Attitudes Project found considerable support to U.S. and NATO operations in Afghanistan. In 41 of the 47 countries, pluralities support the U.S. and NATO operations in Afghanistan, and in In 28 out of 47 countries, clear majorities support U.S. and NATO operations in Afghanistan.

In the United States, a September 2008 Pew survey found that 71% of Americans wanted U.S. troops to stay until the situation has stabilized, while 23% wanted them removed as soon as possible. Public opinion at the beginning of the war also reflected this dichotomy between the United States and most other countries. When the invasion began in October 2001, polls indicated that about 88% of Americans and about 65% of Britons backed military action in Afghanistan. On the other hand, 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 favoured a legal response, in the form of extradition and trial, over a military response to 9/11: Only in just three countries out of the 37 surveyed - the United States, Israel and India - did majorities favour military action in Afghanistan. In 34 out of the 37 countries surveyed, the survey found many clear and sizeable majorities that did not favour military action: in the United Kingdom (75%), France (67%), Switzerland (87%), Czech Republic (64%), Lithuania (83%), Panama (80%), Mexico (94%), and other countries.




See also

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