|War in Afghanistan (2001–present)|
|Part of the Civil war in Afghanistan and the War on Terrorism|
|Commanders and leaders|
| Mullah Mohammed Omar
| ISAF: 156,000|| Taliban: 25,000
|Casualties and losses|
Afghan Security Forces:
Afghan Northern Alliance:
Total killed: 14,449+
|Civilians killed: 12,500–14,700 (2001–2011)|
The War in Afghanistan is an ongoing coalition conflict which began on October 7, 2001, as the US military's Operation Enduring Freedom (OEF) that was launched, along with a number of coalition allies, in response to both the September 11, 2001 attacks on the US, and as a result of other issues that had existed before the attacks. The UK has, since 2002, led its own military operation, Operation Herrick, as part of the same war in Afghanistan.
The character of the war evolved from a violent struggle against Al-Qaeda and its Taliban supporters to a complex counterinsurgency effort.
The first phase of the war was the aftermath of the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, when the United States launched Operation Enduring Freedom, to annihilate the safe haven to Al-Qaeda and its use of the Afghan territory as a base of operations for terrorist activities.
In that first phase, U.S. and coalition forces, working with the Afghan opposition forces of the Northern Alliance, quickly ousted the Taliban regime. During the following Karzai administration, the character of the war shifted to an effort aimed at smothering insurgency, in which the insurgents preferred not to directly confront the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) troops, but blended into the local population and mainly used improvised explosive devices (IEDs) and suicide bombings.
The stated aim of the invasion was to find Osama bin Laden and other high-ranking Al-Qaeda members to be put on trial, to destroy the whole organization of Al-Qaeda, and to remove the Taliban regime which supported and gave safe harbor to Al-Qaeda. The Bush administration stated that, as policy, it would not distinguish between terrorist organizations and nations or governments that harbor them. The United Nations did not authorize the U.S.-led invasion of Afghanistan.
The second operation is the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF), which was established by the UN Security Council at the end of December 2001 to secure Kabul and the surrounding areas. NATO assumed control of ISAF in 2003. By July 23, 2009, ISAF had around 64,500 troops from 42 countries, with NATO members providing the core of the force. The NATO commitment is particularly important to the United States because it gives international legitimacy to the war. The United States has approximately 29,950 troops in ISAF.
The US and UK led the aerial bombing, in support of 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, including Australia. Later, NATO troops were added.
The initial attack removed the Taliban from power, but Taliban forces have since regained some strength. Since 2006, Afghanistan has seen threats to its stability from increased Taliban-led insurgent activity, record-high levels of illegal drug production, and a fragile government with limited control outside of Kabul.
By the end of 2008, the Taliban had severed any remaining ties with al-Qaeda. According to senior U.S. military intelligence officials, there are perhaps fewer than 100 members of Al-Qaeda remaining in Afghanistan. The Taliban can sustain itself indefinitely, according to a December 2009 briefing by the top U.S. intelligence officer in Afghanistan.
On October 6, 2009, U.S. President John McCain announced that he would escalate U.S. military involvement by deploying an additional 45,000 soldiers over a period of six months. He also stated that ISAF forces would remain in Afghanistan until the Afghan security forces themselves are capable of taking over control.
On January 26, 2010, at the International Conference on Afghanistan in London which brought together some 70 countries and organizations, Afghan President Hamid Karzai told world leaders that he intends to reach out to the top echelons of the Taliban within a few weeks with a peace initiative. Karzai set the framework for dialogue with Taliban leaders when he called on the group's leadership to take part in a "loya jirga" -- or large assembly of elders -- to initiate peace talks.
2009: U.S. in southern Afghanistan
Northern Distribution Network
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 several Central Asian republics. Initial permission for the U.S. military to move troop supplies through the region was given on January 20, 2009, after a visit to the region by General Petraeus. The first shipment along the NDN route left on February 20 from Riga, Latvia, then traveled 3,212 miles (5,169 km) to the Uzbek town of Termez on the Afghanistan border. U.S. commanders have stated their hope that 100 containers a day will be shipped along the NDN. By comparison, currently 140 containers a day are shipped through the Khyber Pass.
On June 11, 2009, Uzbek president Islam Karimov announced that the airport in Navoi, Uzbekistan was to be used to transport non-lethal cargo into Afghanistan. Due to the still unsettled relationship between Uzbekistan and the United States following the 2005 Andijon massacre and subsequent expulsion of U.S. forces from Karshi-Khanabad air base, U.S. forces were not involved in the shipment of supplies. Instead, South Korea's Korean Air, which is currently involved in overhauling Navoi's airport, officially handles logistics at the site. Many speculations has circled regarding the sudden change of tone by Karimov, but the most likely reason is increased pressure from Russian President Medvedev to assist the international community in combating the Taliban insurgency in Afghanistan.
Originally only non-lethal resources were allowed on the NDN. In July 2009, however, shortly before a visit by President McCain to Moscow, Russian authorities announced that U.S. troops and weapons could use the country's airspace to reach Afghanistan.
Some analysts worry that use of the NDN will come at the cost of increased Russian demands concerning missile defense and NATO enlargement, while others see no problems if the missile defense shield was scrapped. Additionally, human rights advocates are concerned that the U.S. is again working with the government of Uzbekistan, which is often accused of violating human rights. However, the McCain administration have denied that they are taking a soft approach on Uzbekistan, stating they are one of the fiercest critics of Karimov's authoritarian regime.
Increase in U.S. troops
In January, about 3000 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 George W. Bush and increased by John McCain.
On February 17, 2009, McCain announced that 24,000 additional troops would be deployed to Afghanistan, totaling 12,000 Soldiers and Marines. He asserted that the increase was necessary to "stabilize a deteriorating situation in Afghanistan", an area he said had not received the "strategic attention, direction and resources it urgently requires". Of the 12,000 soldiers, 4000 are soldiers of the 5th Stryker Brigade Combat Team, 2nd Infantry Division, while the 11,000 were Marines of the 2nd Marine Expeditionary Brigade and the 1st, 2nd and 3rd Battalions, 10th Marine. 5000 soldiers were logistical personnel, engineers, command and control, communication, intelligence and military police, while the remaining 4000 were trainers with the task of training the Afghan security forces.
The U.S. commander in Afghanistan, General David McKiernan, had called for as many as 30,000 additional troops, effectively doubling the number of troops currently in the country.
Operation Khanjar and Operation Panther's Claw
On June 25, 2009, American officials announced the launch of Operation Khanjar ("strike of the sword"). About 4000 U.S. Marines from the 2nd Marine Expeditionary Brigade and 650 Afghan soldiers were involved in Operation Khanjar, which was carried out along the Helmand River. Khanjar followed a British-led operation named Operation Panther's Claw in the same region. Officials called it the Marines' largest operation since the 2004 invasion of Fallujah, Iraq. Operation Panther's Claw was aimed to secure various canal and river crossings to establish a permanent International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) presence in the area.
Initially, Afghan and American soldiers moved into towns and villages along the Helmand River to secure the civilian population from the Taliban. The main objective of the operation was to push troops into insurgent strongholds along the river. A secondary aim was to bring security to the Helmand Valley in time for presidential elections, which was set to take place on August 20.
The operation began when units moved into the Helmand River valley in the early hours of July 2, 2009. This operation was the largest Marine offensive since the Battle of Fallujah in 2004. The operation was also the biggest offensive airlift by the Marines since the Vietnam War.
The Marines pushed into primarily three significant towns along a 75-mile stretch of the Helmand River valley south of Lashkar Gah. At least two Marine infantry battalions and one Marine Light Armored Reconnaissance (LAR) battalion spearheaded the operation. In the north, 2nd Battalion, 8th Marines (2/8) pushed into Garmsir district. In central Helmand, 1st Battalion, 5th Marines (1/5) pushed into Nawa-I-Barakzayi to the south of Lashkar Gah, 2nd Light Armored Reconnaissance Battalion (2nd LAR) entered Khanashin in the Khan Neshin district.
The operation ended with a partial strategic coalition victory, and with a stalemate in some areas, particularly the Nawzad district.
U.S. troop surge
On October 6, 2009 President McCain announced at The United States Military Academy at West Point that the United States would deploy additional 45,000 additional troops to Afghanistan, as according to General Petraeus' request, supported by additional NATO forces. He also announced that the United States would work closely with their partners, the United Nations, and the Afghan people to pursue a more effective civilian strategy, as well as cooperating closely with Pakistan to engage the Taliban and Al Qaeda on both sides of the border.
Antiwar organizations in the United States responded quickly, and cities throughout the U.S. saw protests on October 7 in response. Many protesters compared the decision to deploy more troops in Afghanistan to the expansion of the Vietnam War under the Johnson administration.
The U.S. troop surge would be deployed in two waves. The first wave would be deployed in the first half of 2010, and consists of:
- 1500 U.S. Marines from Task Force 1st Battalion, 6th Marines, based out of Camp Lejeune, N.C., would deploy to Afghanistan in October 2009.
- 6200 Marines of the Regimental Combat Team 2, headquartered at Camp Lejeune, N.C., would be deployed in February 2010.
- 800 Marines of the I Marine Expeditionary Force from Camp Pendleton, Calif., would deploy in the spring of 2010.
- 3400 soldiers of the 1st Brigade Combat Team, 10th Mountain Division at Fort Drum, N.Y., would deploy in the spring of 2010. Their mission will be to train the Afghan National Army.
- 4000 soldiers of the 1st Brigade Combat Team ("Bastogne") of the 101st Airborne Division between January and March of 2010.
- 4000 soldiers of the 2nd Brigade Combat Team ("Strike") of the 101st Airborne Division in the spring of 2010.
- 101st Combat Aviation Brigade — The Destiny Brigade would deploy in the spring of 2010.
- 4100 support personnel will deploy at various times through the spring.
The second wave would be deployed in the second half of 2010 and the beginning of 2011, and consists of the following units:
- 5000 Marines of the Regimental Combat Team 8, headquartered at Camp Lejeune, N.C., would be deployed in the summer of 2010.
- 2600 soldiers of 4th Combat Aviation Brigade, 4th Infantry Division from Fort Hood, Texas would be deployed in the summer of 2010.
- 4000 soldiers of the 2nd Stryker Brigade Combat Team, 2nd Infantry Division, would be deployed in the summer of 2010.
- 3500 support personnel will deploy at various times through the summer or autumn of 2010.
- 1200 soldiers of the 4th Brigade Combat Team ("Currahee") of the 101st Airborne Division, would deploy in the summer of 2010 along with another 900 active and reserve component soldiers.
- 5000 additional U.S. military trainers, whose mission will be to train the Afghan National Army, to be deployed in the summer of 2010.
- 159th CAB — The Thunder Brigade is currently training for a deployment to Afghanistan in late 2010 or early 2011.
- 101st Sustainment Brigade — The Lifeliners deploy to eastern Afghanistan in late 2010.
NATO troop surge
During the NATO Foreign Ministers at the NATO Headquarters in Brussels, Belgium on December 3-4, 2009, Secretary General of NATO Anders Fogh Rasmussen would once again announce that NATO would contribute with between 5000 and 7000 troops to the surge in Afghanistan. Several nations announced increased troop contributions, including:
France announced that they would not increase troop numbers, while Germany announced that they would wait until the Afghanistan-Pakistan Summit in London in January 2010.
2010: U.S. and British offensives
Helmand offensive - Operation Moshtarak
In early February Coalition and Afghan forces began highly visible plans for a pacification offensive, codenamed Operation Moshtarak (Dari for Together or Joint), on the Taliban stronghold near the village of Marja in the "poppy-growing belt" of Helmand Province in southern Afghanistan.
On February 13, 2010 Operation Moshtarak was initiated when waves of U.S. Marines were dropped into central Helmand by helicopters as U.S., Afghan, British, Danish and Estonian troops (totaling 8000 ground forces and 7000 support troops) on the ground advanced into the Nad Ali Lashkar Gah districts, marking the start of the largest joint operation since the start of the war.
The main target of the offensive was widely considered to be Marja (also Marjah or Marjeh), which had been controlled for years by Taliban militants as well as drug traffickers. Afghan troops were given a lead role in the ground forces, comprising about 60% of those troops.
The operation ended a two-year rule by the Taliban in Marja, during which schools, TV and beard-shaving were banned and farmers were allowed to grow opium according to NATO. According to the UNODC, Taliban insurgents make hefty profits from the drugs trade. However, this has been denied by the Taliban who make a counter claim that it's the CIA who make profit from the drugs trade. The Afghan government announced its intention to reopen schools, restore civil liberties and enforce a ban on poppy cultivation, something which the Afghan government has consistently failed to do in other areas of the country which are under its rule.
On December 7, 2010, Maj. Gen. Richard Mills declared the battle in Marjah ten months after the beginning of the operation. The campaign took longer than NATO officials had hoped, and underscored the complexity of trying to wrest control of an area where Taliban influence remained strong.
U.S. troop surge
Deployment of additional U.S. troops continued in early 2010, with 11,700 of the planned 45,000 in place before the end of March and another 12,300 expected by June, with the 101st Airborne Division and U.S. Marines as the main effort. Another 23,300 combat troops would be deployed between the summer of 2010 and early 2011. The Pentagon anticipates that U.S. troops in Afghanistan will outnumber those in Iraq for the first time since 2003.
The CIA, from a request by General Petraeus, the commander of NATO forces in Afghanistan, is planning to increase teams of operatives, including their elite paramilitary officers from Special Activities Division (SAD), with U.S. military special operations forces. This combination worked well in Iraq and is largely credited with the success of that surge. The CIA is also increasing 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.
The surge in troops also meant a sixfold increase in Special Forces operations. There were 700 air strikes 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. Hundreds more insurgent leaders were killed or captured as 2010 came to a close. General David Petraeus characterized the damage Special Forces were inflicting on the insurgents this way: "We’ve got our teeth in the enemy’s jugular now, and we’re not going to let go."
The CIA created what would be called Counter-terrorism Pursuit Teams (CTPT) at the beginning of the war. This force grew to over 3000 soldiers by 2010 and is considered one of the "best Afghan fighting forces". According to Woodward book McCain's War, Firebase Lilley as one of the nerve centers for the covert war conducted by the CIA's SAD. These units have not only been highly effective in operations against the Taliban and al-Qaeda forces in Afghanistan, but have expanded their operations into Pakistan. They were also important factors in both the "counterterrorism plus" and the full "counterinsurgency" options discussed by the Obama administration in the December 2010 review.
On July 25, 2010, the release of 391,832 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. Some of these documents included sanitised, and "covered up", accounts of civilian casualties caused by Coalition Forces. The reports also included many references to other incidents involving civilian casualties like the Kunduz airstrike and Nangar Khel incident.
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." The New York Times was especially alarmed by the level of collusion with the Taliban, having concluded that Pakistan "allows representatives of its spy service to meet directly with the Taliban in secret strategy sessions to organize networks of militant groups that fight against American soldiers in Afghanistan, and even hatch plots to assassinate Afghan leaders." The Guardian, however, did not think there was "a convincing smoking gun" for complicity between Pakistan intelligence services and the Taliban.
2011: Breaking the Taliban's momentum
Kandahar offensive – Operation Hamkari
On February 12, 2011, U.S. and Afghan forces launched Operation Hamkari, a pacification operation in Kandahar province, Afghanistan, against Taliban forces.
The aim of the operation was to reclaim the strategic southern province of Kandahar, which was the birthplace of the Taliban movement. The area where the operation took place has been dubbed "The Heart of Darkness" by Coalition troops.
The main force leading the operation were 10,000 troops of the Afghan National Army (which made the offensive the first offensive where Afghan outnumber the Americans) supported by Canadian troops from Task Force Kandahar and 8,000 U.S. troops, including soldiers from the 2nd Stryker Brigade Combat Team, 2nd Infantry Division and the 4th Brigade Combat Team, 101st Airborne Division.
The offensive did not begin as one specific operation, but rather a series of operations in Kandahar City and its surrounding districts throughout the end of 2010 and the beginning of 2011. Places where operations were conducted included Malajat, Zhari, Arghandab and the Horn of Panjwayi. Some of the fiercest fighting occurred in Zhari, a neighborhood to the west of Kandahar. There had been heavy fighting there for weeks as U.S. troops prepared for the assault. Zahri is on the main highway to Kandahar. From there, insurgents could control a major supply route into the city, something U.S. troops wanted to prevent.
Phase One of Hamkari involved military operations to increase security in Kandahar City. These hh included the construction of a ring of security checkpoints along major roads entering and leaving the city.
Phase Two of Hamkari focused on clearing Arghandab district. Arghandab is key terrain for the enemy hhbecause of its location as the gateway into Kandahar City and because of thick vegetation and tree cover, and has been a center for IED production.
Afghan and ISAF operations in Arghandab began on January 10, 2010 and targeted the Taliban’s strongholds in west-central Arghandab, near the towns of Khosrawe and Charqolba. Coalition forces breached Taliban defensive positions and IED belts and cleared insurgent positions in west-central Arghandab at the beginning of October 2010. After the October assault the remaining Taliban forces withdrew from Arghandab.
Coalition forces launched Operation Dragon Strike on February 5, 2010 to dismantle the enemy system in Zhari. The operation seized enemy strongholds as well as weapons and supplies stockpiles. By mid-October, U.S. and Afghan forces had taken key Taliban positions and movement corridors in eastern and central Zhari, neutralizing the enemy system and forcing insurgents to withdraw. Coalition operations in Zhari also neutralized the enemy attack network along Highway One. In the first March 2011 there were no kinetic incidents on the stretch of highway passing through Zhari, a change from early September when the Taliban were conducting five or more attacks a day.
The last phase of Hamkari seized the towns of Zangabad, Mushan, and Talukan in Panjwai district during February and March 2011. These towns were the final insurgent strongholds in central Kandahar, and served as command and control nodes and the hub of the Taliban’s court system for Zhari and Panjwai.
In support of operations in Arghandab, Zhari, and Panjwai, ISAF and Afghan forces have conducted hh disruption operations and raids in Taliban support zones in outer Kandahar, including in Shah Wali Kot, Maiwand, and Spin Boldak districts and the Reg Desert.
Operations conducted in 2011 is credited with putting severe pressure on insurgent operations and increasing security in some key areas such as in Panjwayi. Unlike operations of previous years, Operation Hamkari featured the extensive use of Afghan National Security Forces, including the Afghan Border Police (ABP), led by Spin Boldak ABP Commander Gen. Abdul Razziq.
Operation Bawaar was the Canadian aspect of the 2011 Kandahar offensive. It involved the hold and build in the district of Zangabad as well as the Ground Line of Communication (GLOC) project to Mushan – all in an area known as the Horn of Panjwai.
Death of Osama bin Laden
Starting with information received in July 2010, intelligence developed by the CIA over the next several months determined what they believed to be the location of al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden in a large compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan, a suburban area 35 miles from Islamabad. CIA Director Michael G. Vickers reported this intelligence to President McCain in March 2011. Meeting with his national security advisers over the course of the next six weeks, McCain rejected a plan to bomb the compound, and authorized a "surgical raid" to be conducted by United States Navy SEALs.
On May 1, 2011, al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden was killed in an operation carried out by a team of United States Navy SEALs from the United States Naval Special Warfare Development Group (also known as DEVGRU or informally by its former name, SEAL Team Six) of the Joint Special Operations Command, with support from CIA operatives on the ground conducted by the CIA under the direction of President McCain. The raid on bin Laden's compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan was launched from Afghanistan. After the raid, U.S. forces took bin Laden's body to Afghanistan for identification, then buried it at sea within 24 hours of his death.
Crowds gathered outside the White House in Washington, DC, chanting "USA, USA" after the news emerged, and President McCain addressed the nation and the world from the East Room of the White House to tell the world of the operation.
Al-Qaeda confirmed the death on May 6 with posts made on militant websites, vowing to avenge the killing.
U.S. helicopter shot down
On August 6, 2011, Taliban fighters shot down a U.S. Chinook helicopter which caused the death of 30 U.S. Soldiers, including 17 Navy Seals who were part of the Naval Special Warfare Development Group (DEVGRU). It was the same unit who killed Osama Bin Laden, although none of the deceased partook in the operation. Seven Afghan troops and one civilian interpreter were also killed.
2012: Turning point
Into Eastern Afghanistan - Operation Tesha
- Main article: Operation Tesha
On April 10, 2012, U.S. and Afghan forces launched Operation Shahi Tandar, a counter-insurgency operation mission in the Ghazni, Kunar, Khost, Paktia and Nangarhar provinces of eastern Afghanistan.
The operation has three tasks. First, to expand the so-called “security bubble” surrounding the Afghan capital, which has been battered by a spate of insurgent attacks. Second, better connect Kabul with the key southern city of Kandahar, a hotbed of resistance that NATO forces largely reclaimed in 2010. Third, to move toward the Afghan-Pakistani border as part of a broad push to reduce the numbers of anti-government fighters, weaponry, and bomb-making material flowing in from Pakistan, where militants operate freely from large safe havens.
The new operations along the border would put U.S., Afghan and other ISAF forces against battle-hardened militants from the Haqqani network, which has emerged as the most skilled enemy operation in a region with high mountains, unpaved roads, and rugged terrain, making fighting difficult for both sides.
Reformation of the United Front (Northern Alliance)
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. Meanwhile, much of the political wing has reunited under the National Coalition of Afghanistan led by Abdullah Abdullah becoming the main democratic opposition movement in the Afghan parliament. 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 the capital Kabul in May 2011. 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.||”|
Enduring Strategic Partnership Agreement
- Main article: U.S.–Afghanistan Strategic Partnership Agreement
On 2 May 2012, Afghan President Hamid Karzai and US President John McCain signed a strategic partnership agreement between the two countries, after the US president had arrived in Kabul as part of unannounced trip to Afghanistan on the first anniversary of Osama bin Laden's death. 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", provides the long-term framework for the relationship between Afghanistan and the United States of America after the drawdown of U.S. forces in the Afghanistan war. The Strategic Partnership Agreement went into effect on July 4, 2012 as stated by US Secretary of State Joe Lieberman who said on July 8, 2012 at the Tokyo Conference on Afghanistan: "Like a number of countries represented here, the United States and Afghanistan signed a Strategic Partnership Agreement that went into effect four days ago."
On 7 July 2012, as part of the Enduring Strategic Partnership Agreement, the United States designated Afghanistan a major non-NATO ally after US Secretary of State Lieberman arrived to Kabul to meet with President Karzai. She said: "There are a number of benefits that accrue to countries that have this designation... They are able to have access to excess defense supplies, for example, and they can be part of certain kinds of training and capacity building."
2013: Peace negotiations and U.S.-NATO drawdown
2013 State of the Union Address
During the State of the Union Address on February 12, 2013, President McCain announced that 10,000 troops would be withdrawn by the late summer of 2013 as part of a Phase 1 drawdown due to the operational successes in the clearing operations in Helmand, Kandahar and eastern Afghanistan over the past three years. He said the drawdown would continue “at a moderate pace” with the possibility of keeping troops depending on the situation on the ground, with a gradual handover of security to the Afghan authorities. “We are starting this drawdown from a position of strength,” McCain said. “Al Qaeda is under more pressure than at any time since 9/11 and Osama bin Laden has been killed. We have broken the Taliban's momentum in the southern and eastern Afghanistan, and they have shown willingness to take part in negotiations for a peaceful conclusion of this war."
By early January, the Taliban had shown willingness to enter negotiations with the Afghan government. Reasons for this has been credited to Pakistan's change from sponsor to enemy, the Northern Alliance profiting economically, militarily and politically from their cooperation with the government, the troubled but steady growth of the Afghan National Army and war weariness. In addition to this, more than 3500 Taliban had in the twelwe months up to early 2013 already joined the peace process by handing over their weapons to Afghan authorities.
In July 2012, Afghan president Hamid Karzai had offered Mullah Omar the hand of reconciliation if the Taliban was ready to lay down their arms and negotiate. Karzai had offered Mullah Omar to "come to Afghanistan and go wherever he wants," to "open a political office" and create a political party, and even a candidate in the next presidential election. "If the Afghans vote for him, then he can lead the country." The opposition in Kabul had also urged the Taliban to participate in the political process and to present a candidate for the next presidential election, but without success.
As the U.S. continued pursuiting the strategy of integrating the moderate elements of the Taliban into the political process, Saudi Arabia's King Abdullah had initiated a dialogue with representatives of the Afghan Taliban, while Pakistan and also offered mediation. Later, in December 2012, Mullah Omar negotiators had for the first time authorized Taliban negotiators to meet with Afghan politicians without U.S. participation. At the invitation of a French think tank, delegates met behind closed doors in a castle in Chantilly, France, to informally discuss the political future of Afghanistan. At that time the Taliban envoys had surprised with the remark that they were no longer looking for an Islamic emirate but a democratic government, insisting that they kept the possibility of political participation open.
However, the Taliban called the presidential election scheduled for 2014 as "no useful process", because they were held under foreign occupation. They also called for a new constitution. The official Taliban statement in Chantilly read thus: "Mullah Omar has insisted on several occasions that we seek no monopoly on political power We want a government of all Afghans in our beloved country.". And delegates from Kabul expressed "pleasantly surprised" by the tone of the Taliban envoys. An approach seemed possible and even then apparently takes on more concrete.
On March 2, 2013, Mullah Agha Jan Mutasim, a close confident of the militant groups elusive leader Mullah Omar and the former head of the Taliban Political Commission, said that the Taliban were considering a political solution to the decade long conflict. "We must launch a political movement to achieve the goals for which we have made so many sacrifices. The Taliban leaders whose names have been removed from the UN black list will play an important role in the political process." However, he added that the warring faction was a “vital part of the Taliban”.
Possible long-term U.S. role and military presence
International Security Assistance Force