War in Afghanistan (2001–present)
The War in Afghanistan (or the U.S. War in Afghanistan; code named Operation Enduring Freedom – Afghanistan (2001–2014) and Operation Freedom's Sentinel (2015–present)) followed the United States invasion of Afghanistan of October 7, 2001. The U.S. was supported initially by the United Kingdom and Canada and later by a coalition of over 40 countries, including all NATO members. The war's public aims were to dismantle al-Qaeda and to deny it a safe base of operations in Afghanistan by removing the Taliban from power. The War in Afghanistan is the longest war in United States history.
Following the September 11 attacks in 2001 on the U.S., which President George W. Bush blamed on Osama bin Laden who was living or hiding in Afghanistan, President Bush demanded that the Taliban hand over Osama bin Laden and expel al-Qaeda; bin Laden had already been wanted by the U.S. since 1998. The Taliban declined to extradite him unless they were provided evidence of his involvement in the September 11 attacks and also declined demands to extradite others on the same grounds. The U.S. dismissed the request for evidence as a delaying tactic, and on October 7, 2001 launched Operation Enduring Freedom with the United Kingdom. The two were later joined by other forces, including the Northern Alliance which had been fighting the Taliban in the ongoing civil war since 1996. 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 the same month, Hamid Karzai was selected to head the Afghan Interim Administration, which after a 2002 loya jirga (grand assembly) 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.
NATO became involved in ISAF in August 2003, and later that year assumed leadership of it. At this stage, ISAF included troops from 43 countries with NATO members providing the majority of the force. One portion of U.S. forces in Afghanistan operated under NATO command; the rest remained under direct U.S. command.
Following defeat in the initial invasion, the Taliban was reorganized by its leader Mullah Omar, and launched an insurgency against the government and ISAF in 2003. Though outgunned and outnumbered, insurgents from the Taliban, Haqqani Network, Hezb-e-Islami Gulbuddin and other groups have waged asymmetric warfare with guerrilla 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, which is among the most corrupt in the world, to reassert influence across rural areas of southern and eastern Afghanistan. In the initial years there was little fighting, but from 2006 the Taliban made significant gains and showed an increased willingness to commit atrocities against civilians. ISAF responded in 2006 by increasing troops for counterinsurgency operations to "clear and hold" villages and "nation building" projects to "win hearts and minds". Violence sharply escalated from 2007 to 2009. While ISAF continued to battle the Taliban insurgency, fighting crossed into neighboring North-West Pakistan. Troop numbers began to surge in 2009 continued to increase through 2011 when roughly 140,000 foreign troops operated under ISAF and U.S. command in Afghanistan. Of these 100,000 were from the U.S. On May 1, 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. In May 2014, the United States announced that its major combat operations would end in December 2014, and that it would leave a residual force in the country. In October 2014, British forces handed over the last bases in Helmand to the Afghan military, officially ending their combat operations in the war. On December 28, 2014, NATO formally ended ISAF combat operations in Afghanistan and officially transferred full security responsibility to the Afghan government. The NATO-led Operation Resolute Support was formed the same day as a successor to ISAF. As of May 2017, over 13,000 foreign troops remain in Afghanistan without any formal plans to withdraw, and continue their fight against the Taliban, which remains by far the largest single group fighting against the Afghan government and foreign troops.
Before the start of war
Origins of Afghanistan's civil war
Afghanistan's political order began to break down with the overthrow of King Zahir Shah by his distant cousin Mohammed Daoud Khan in a bloodless 1973 Afghan coup d'état. Daoud Khan had served as prime minister since 1953 and promoted economic modernization, emancipation of women, and Pashtun nationalism. This was threatening to neighboring Pakistan, faced with its own restive Pashtun population. In the mid-1970s, Pakistani Prime Minister Zulfikar Ali Bhutto began to encourage Afghan Islamist leaders such as Burhanuddin Rabbani and Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, to fight against the regime. In 1978, Daoud Khan was killed in a coup by Afghan's Communist Party, his former partner in government, known as the People's Democratic Party of Afghanistan (PDPA). The PDPA pushed for a socialist transformation by abolishing arranged marriages, promoting mass literacy and reforming land ownership. This undermined the traditional tribal order and provoked opposition across rural areas. The PDPA's crackdown was met with open rebellion, including Ismail Khan's Herat Uprising. The PDPA was beset by internal leadership differences and was weakened by an internal coup on September 11, 1979 when Hafizullah Amin ousted Nur Muhammad Taraki. The Soviet Union, sensing PDPA weakness, intervened militarily three months later, to depose Amin and install another PDA faction led by Babrak Karmal.
The entry of Soviet forces in Afghanistan in December 1979 prompted its Cold War rivals, the United States, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and China to support rebels fighting against the Soviet-backed Democratic Republic of Afghanistan. In contrast to the secular and socialist government, which controlled the cities, religiously motivated mujahideen held sway in much of the countryside. Beside Rabbani, Hekmatyar, and Khan, other mujahideen commanders included Jalaluddin Haqqani. The CIA worked closely with Pakistan's Inter-Service Intelligence to funnel foreign support for the mujahideen. The war also attracted Arab volunteers, known as "Afghan Arabs", including Osama bin Laden.
After the withdrawal of the Soviet military from Afghanistan in May 1989, the PDPA regime under Najibullah held on until 1992, when the collapse of the Soviet Union deprived the regime of aid, and the defection of Uzbek general Abdul Rashid Dostum cleared the approach to Kabul. With the political stage cleared of socialists, the warlords, some of them Islamist, vied for power. By then, Bin Laden had left the country and the United States' interest in Afghanistan also diminished.
Warlord rule (1992–1996)
In 1992, Rabbani officially became president of the Islamic State of Afghanistan, but had to battle other warlords for control of Kabul. In late 1994, Rabbani's defense minister, Ahmad Shah Massoud, defeated Hekmatyar in Kabul and ended ongoing bombardment of the capital. Massoud tried to initiate a nationwide political process with the goal of national consolidation. Other warlords, including Ismail Khan in the west and Dostum in the north, maintained their fiefdoms.
In 1994, Mohammed Omar, a mujahideen member who taught at a Pakistani madrassa, returned to Kandahar and formed the Taliban movement. His followers were religious students, known as the Talib and they sought to end warlordism through strict adherence to Islamic law. By November 1994, the Taliban had captured all of Kandahar Province. They declined the government's offer to join in a coalition government and marched on Kabul in 1995.
Taliban Emirate vs Northern Alliance
The Taliban's early victories in 1994 were followed by a series of costly defeats. Pakistan provided strong support to the Taliban. Analysts such as Amin Saikal described the group as developing into a proxy force for Pakistan's regional interests, which the Taliban denied. The Taliban started shelling Kabul in early 1995, but were driven back by Massoud.
On September 27, 1996, the Taliban, with military support by Pakistan and financial support from Saudi Arabia, seized Kabul and founded the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan. They imposed their fundamentalist interpretation of Islam in areas under their control, issuing edicts forbidding women to work outside the home, attend school, or to leave their homes unless accompanied by a male relative. According to the Pakistani expert Ahmed Rashid, "between 1994 and 1999, an estimated 80,000 to 100,000 Pakistanis trained and fought in Afghanistan" on the side of the Taliban.
Massoud and Dostum, former arch-enemies, created a United Front against the Taliban, commonly known as the Northern Alliance. In addition to Massoud's Tajik force and Dostum's Uzbeks, the United Front included Hazara factions and Pashtun forces under the leadership of commanders such as Abdul Haq and Haji Abdul Qadir. Abdul Haq also gathered a limited number of defecting Pashtun Taliban. Both agreed to work together with the exiled Afghan king Zahir Shah. International officials who met with representatives of the new alliance, which the journalist Steve Coll referred to as the "grand Pashtun-Tajik alliance", said, "It's crazy that you have this today … Pashtuns, Tajiks, Uzbeks, Hazara … They were all ready to buy in to the process … to work under the king's banner for an ethnically balanced Afghanistan." The Northern Alliance received varying degrees of support from Russia, Iran, Tajikistan and India. The Taliban captured Mazar-i-Sharif in 1998 and drove Dostum into exile.
The conflict was brutal. According to the United Nations (UN), the Taliban, while trying to consolidate control over northern and western Afghanistan, committed systematic massacres against civilians. UN officials stated that there had been "15 massacres" between 1996 and 2001. The Taliban especially targeted the Shia Hazaras. In retaliation for the execution of 3,000 Taliban prisoners by Uzbek general Abdul Malik Pahlawan in 1997, the Taliban executed about 4,000 civilians after taking Mazar-i-Sharif in 1998.
Bin Laden's 055 Brigade was responsible for mass killings of Afghan civilians. The report by the United Nations quotes eyewitnesses in many villages describing "Arab fighters carrying long knives used for slitting throats and skinning people".
By 2001, the Taliban controlled as much as 90% of Afghanistan, with the Northern Alliance confined to the country's northeast corner. Fighting alongside Taliban forces were some 28,000–30,000 Pakistanis (usually also Pashtun) and 2,000–3,000 Al-Qaeda militants. Many of the Pakistanis were recruited from madrassas. A 1998 document by the U.S. State Department confirmed that "20–40 percent of [regular] Taliban soldiers are Pakistani." The document said that many of the parents of those Pakistani nationals "know nothing regarding their child's military involvement with the Taliban until their bodies are brought back to Pakistan". According to the U.S. State Department report and reports by Human Rights Watch, other Pakistani nationals fighting in Afghanistan were regular soldiers, especially from the Frontier Corps, but also from the Pakistani Army providing direct combat support.
In August 1996, Bin Laden was forced to leave Sudan and arrived in Jalalabad, Afghanistan. He had founded Al-Qaeda in the late 1980s to support the Mujahideen's war against the Soviets, but became disillusioned by infighting among warlords. He grew close to Mullah Omar and moved Al-Qaeda's operations to eastern Afghanistan.
The 9/11 Commission in the U.S. found that under the Taliban, al-Qaeda was able to use Afghanistan as a place to train and indoctrinate fighters, import weapons, coordinate with other jihadists, and plot terrorist actions. While al-Qaeda maintained its own camps in Afghanistan, it also supported training camps of other organizations. An estimated 10,000 to 20,000 men passed through these facilities before 9/11, most of whom were sent to fight for the Taliban against the United Front. A smaller number were inducted into al-Qaeda.
After the August 1998 U.S. Embassy bombings were linked to bin Laden, President Bill Clinton ordered missile strikes on militant training camps in Afghanistan. U.S. officials pressed the Taliban to surrender bin Laden. In 1999, the international community imposed sanctions on the Taliban, calling for bin Laden to be surrendered. The Taliban repeatedly rebuffed these demands.
Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) Special Activities Division paramilitary teams were active in Afghanistan in the 1990s in clandestine operations to locate and kill or capture Osama bin Laden. These teams planned several operations, but did not receive the order to proceed from President Clinton. Their efforts built relationships with Afghan leaders that proved essential in the 2001 invasion.
Change in U.S. policy toward Afghanistan
During the Clinton administration, the U.S. tended to favor Pakistan and until 1998–1999 had no clear policy toward Afghanistan. In 1997, for example, the U.S. State Department's Robin Raphel told Massoud to surrender to the Taliban. Massoud responded that, as long as he controlled an area the size of his hat, he would continue to defend it from the Taliban. Around the same time, top foreign policy officials in the Clinton administration flew to northern Afghanistan to try to persuade the United Front not to take advantage of a chance to make crucial gains against the Taliban. They insisted it was the time for a cease-fire and an arms embargo. At the time, Pakistan began a "Berlin-like airlift to resupply and re-equip the Taliban", financed with Saudi money.
U.S. policy toward Afghanistan changed after the 1998 U.S. embassy bombings. Subsequently, Osama bin Laden was indicted for his involvement in the embassy bombings. In 1999 both the U.S. and the United Nations enacted sanctions against the Taliban via United Nations Security Council Resolution 1267, which demanded the Taliban surrender Osama bin Laden for trial in the U.S. and close all terrorist bases in Afghanistan. The only collaboration between Massoud and the U.S. at the time was an effort with the CIA to trace bin Laden following the 1998 bombings. The U.S. and the European Union provided no support to Massoud for the fight against the Taliban.
By 2001 the change of policy sought by CIA officers who knew Massoud was underway. CIA lawyers, working with officers in the Near East Division and Counter-terrorist Center, began to draft a formal finding for President George W. Bush's signature, authorizing a covert action program in Afghanistan. It would be the first in a decade to seek to influence the course of the Afghan war in favor of Massoud. Richard A. Clarke, chair of the Counter-Terrorism Security Group under the Clinton administration, and later an official in the Bush administration, allegedly presented a plan to incoming Bush National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice in January 2001.
A change in U.S. policy was effected in August 2001. The Bush administration agreed on a plan to start supporting Massoud. A meeting of top national security officials agreed that the Taliban would be presented with an ultimatum to hand over bin Laden and other al-Qaeda operatives. If the Taliban refused, the U.S. would provide covert military aid to anti-Taliban groups. If both those options failed, "the deputies agreed that the United States would seek to overthrow the Taliban regime through more direct action."
Northern Alliance on the eve of 9/11
Ahmad Shah Massoud was the only leader of the United Front in Afghanistan. In the areas under his control, Massoud set up democratic institutions and signed the Women's Rights Declaration. As a consequence, many civilians had fled to areas under his control. In total, estimates range up to one million people fleeing the Taliban.
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". Among those in attendance were Pashtun nationalists, Abdul Haq and Hamid Karzai.
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.
On September 9, 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. Both of the alleged al-Qaeda men were subsequently killed by Massoud's guards.
September 11 attacks
On the morning of September 11, 2001, a total of 19 Arab men carried out four coordinated attacks in the United States. Four commercial passenger jet airliners were hijacked. The hijackers – members of al-Qaeda's Hamburg cell – 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 2,000 people in the buildings. Both buildings collapsed within two hours from 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. Total deaths were 2996, including the 19 hijackers.
U.S. invasion of Afghanistan
The United States invasion of Afghanistan occurred after the September 11 attacks in late 2001, 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.S. since 1998 for the bombing of two U.S. embassies and was never officially charged for the 9/11 attacks. The Taliban government refused to extradite him (or others sought by the U.S.) unless it provided evidence of his involvement in the 9/11 attacks. They ignored U.S. demands to shut down al-Qaeda bases. The request for proof of bin Laden's involvement was dismissed by the U.S. as a delaying tactic.
Immediately after the attacks, General Tommy Franks, then-commanding general of Central Command (CENTCOM), initially proposed 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 and Bush feared that a conventional invasion of Afghanistan could bog down as had happened to the Soviets and the British. Rumsfield rejected Franks's plan, saying "I want men on the ground now!" Franks returned the next day with a plan utilizing U.S. Special Forces. 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 as part of team Jawbreaker into Afghanistan, forming the Northern Afghanistan Liaison Team. They linked up with the Northern Alliance as part of Task Force Dagger.
Two weeks later, Task Force Dagger; Operational Detachment Alpha (ODA) 555 and 595, both 12-man Green Beret teams from 5th Special Forces Group, plus Air Force combat controllers, were airlifted by helicopter from the Karshi-Khanabad Air Base in Uzbekistan 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.
The U.S. officially launched Operation Enduring Freedom on October 7, 2001, with the assistance of the United Kingdom. The two were later joined by other countries. 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.
On December 20, 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 than 5,000. Its mandate did not extend beyond the Kabul area for the first few years. 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.
Following the battle at Shahi-Kot, al-Qaeda fighters established sanctuaries on the Pakistani border, where they launched cross-border raids beginning in the summer of 2002. Guerrilla units, numbering between 5 and 25 men, regularly crossed the border to fire rockets at coalition bases, ambush convoys and patrols and assault non-governmental organizations. The area around the Shkin base in Paktika province saw some of the heaviest activity.
Taliban fighters remained in hiding in the rural regions of four southern provinces: Kandahar, Zabul, Helmand and Uruzgan. After Anaconda the Department of Defense requested British Royal Marines, highly trained in mountain warfare, to be deployed. In response, 45 Commando deployed under the operational codename Operation Jacana in April 2002. They conducted missions (including Operation Snipe, Operation Condor, and Operation Buzzard) over several weeks with varying results. The Taliban avoided combat.
Later in 2002, CJSOFT became a single integrated command under the broader CJTF-180 that commanded all US forces assigned to OEF-A, it was built around an Army Special Forces Group (often manned by National Guard units) and SEAL teams. A small JSOC element (formerly Task Force Sword/11) not under direct CTJF command - embedded within CJSOFT, it was manned by a joint SEAL and Ranger element that rotated command, it was not under direct ISAF command, although it operated in support of NATO operations.
2003–2005 Taliban resurgence, war with Afghan forces
On January 27, 2003, during Operation Mongoose, a band of fighters were assaulted by U.S. forces at the Adi Ghar cave complex 25 km (15 mi) north of Spin Boldak. 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.
In May 2003, Taliban's Supreme Court's chief justice, Abdul Salam, proclaimed that the Taliban were back, regrouped, rearmed, ready for guerrilla war to expel US forces from Afghanistan. Omar assigned five operational zones to Taliban commanders such as Dadullah, who took charge in Zabul province.
Small mobile training camps were established along the border to train recruits in guerrilla warfare, said senior Taliban warrior Mullah Malang in June 2003. 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.
As the summer of 2003 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.
On August 11, 2003, NATO assumed control of ISAF. following NATO , taking the helm at ISAF. Some 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.
In late 2004, the then hidden Taliban leader Mohammed Omar announced an insurgency against "America and its puppets" (referring to transitional Afghan government forces) to "regain the sovereignty of our country".
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 July 31, 2006, ISAF assumed command of the south of the country, and by October 5, 2006, of the east. Once this transition had taken place, ISAF grew to a large coalition involving up to 46 countries, under a U.S. commander.
2006: War between NATO forces and Taliban
From January 2006, a multinational ISAF contingent started to replace U.S. troops in southern Afghanistan. The British 16 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, 2,300 Canadian, 1,963 Dutch, 300 Australian, 290 Danish and 150 Estonian troops. 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.
On May 29, 2006, while according to American website The Spokesman-Review Afghanistan faced "a mounting threat from armed Taliban fighters in the countryside", a US military truck that was part of a convoy in Kabul lost control and plowed into twelve civilian vehicles, killing one and injuring six people. The surrounding crowd got angry and a riot arose, lasting all day ending with 20 dead and 160 injured. When stone-throwing and gunfire had come from a crowd of some 400 men, the US troops had used their weapons "to defend themselves" while leaving the scene, a US military spokesman said. A correspondent for the Financial Times in Kabul suggested that this was the outbreak of "a ground swell of resentment" and "growing hostility to foreigners" that had been growing and building since 2004, and may also have been triggered by a US air strike a week earlier in southern Afghanistan killing 30 civilians, where she assumed that "the Taliban had been sheltering in civilian houses".
On September 18, 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 the 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 far 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: US build-up, ISAF war against Taliban
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. 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). 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.
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. 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 March 4, 2007, U.S. Marines killed at least 12 civilians and injured 33 in Shinwar district, Nangrahar, in a response to a bomb ambush. The event became known as the "Shinwar massacre". 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.
Later in March 2007, the U.S. during the Bush Administration deployed another more than 3,500 troops to Afghanistan to expand the fight against the Taliban.
On May 12, 2007, ISAF forces killed Mullah Dadullah. Eleven other Taliban fighters died in the same firefight.
On August 16, eight civilians including a pregnant woman and a baby died when, few hours after an insurgent IED ambush damaged a Polish wheeled armored vehicle, Polish soldiers shelled the village of Nangar Khel, Paktika Province. Seven soldiers were charged with war crimes, after locals stated the Polish unit fired mortar rounds and machine guns into a wedding celebration without provocation, but they were cleared of all charges in 2011.
On October 28 about 80 Taliban fighters were killed in a 24-hour battle in Helmand.
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 volunteer units, made up of young Afghans, angered by deaths of Afghan civilians in military airstrikes and American detention of Muslim prisoners who had been held for years without being charged. In 2007, more foreign fighters came into Afghanistan than ever before, according to officials. Approximately 100 to 300 full-time combatants were foreigners, many from Pakistan, Uzbekistan, Chechnya, various Arab countries and perhaps even Turkey and western China. They were reportedly more violent, incontrollable and extreme, often bringing superior video-production or bombmaking expertise.
On November 2 security forces killed a top-ranking militant, Mawlawi Abdul Manan, after he was caught crossing the border. The Taliban confirmed his death. On November 10 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.
The Battle of Musa Qala took place in December. Afghan units were the principal fighting force, supported by British forces. Taliban forces were forced out of the town.
Reassessment and renewed commitment 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.
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. 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.
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. The same month, the UK lost its 100th serviceman.
On June 13, 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.
On July 13, 2008, a coordinated Taliban attack was launched on a remote NATO base at Wanat in Kunar province. On August 19, French troops suffered their worst losses in Afghanistan in an ambush with 10 soldiers killed in action and 21 injured. 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.
On September 3, 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".
On September 11, 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. Several European countries set their own records, particularly the UK, who suffered 108 casualties.
Taliban attacks on supply lines 2008
In November and December 2008, multiple incidents of major theft, robbery, and arson attacks afflicted NATO supply convoys in Pakistan. Transport companies south of Kabul were extorted for money by the Taliban. These incidents included the hijacking of a NATO convoy carrying supplies in Peshawar, the torching of cargo trucks and Humvees east of the Khyber pass and a half-dozen raids on NATO supply depots near Peshawar that destroyed 300 cargo trucks and Humvees in December 2008.
US action into Pakistan 2008–2009
An unnamed senior Pentagon official told the BBC that at some point between July 12 and September 12, 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. 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.
On September 25, 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. Chief Pakistani military spokesman Major General Athar Abbas said that the helicopters had "crossed into our territory in Ghulam Khan area. They passed over our checkpost so our troops fired warning shots". A few days later a CIA drone crashed into Pakistan territory.
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. Pakistanis reacted angrily to the action, saying that 20 innocent villagers had been killed by U.S. troops. 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 Areas (FATA) and Balochistan; as of early 2009, drone attacks were up 183% since 2006.
By the end of 2008, the Taliban apparently had severed remaining ties with al-Qaeda. According to senior U.S. military intelligence officials, perhaps fewer than 100 members of al-Qaeda remained in Afghanistan.
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.
2009 US reinforcements, Taliban progress
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 Central Asian republics. Initial permission to move supplies through the region was given on January 20, 2009, after a visit to the region by General David Petraeus. The first shipment along the NDN route left on February 20 from Riga, Latvia, then traveled 5,169 km (3,212 mi) to the Uzbek town of Termez on the Afghanistan border. In addition to Riga, other European ports included Poti, Georgia and Vladivostok, Russia. U.S. commanders hoped that 100 containers a day would be shipped along the NDN. By comparison, 140 containers a day were typically shipped through the Khyber Pass. By 2011, the NDN handled about 40% of Afghanistan-bound traffic, versus 30% through Pakistan.
On May 11, 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.
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.
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. 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.
2009 Increase in U.S. troops
In January 2009, about 3,000 U.S. soldiers from the 3rd Brigade Combat Team of the 10th Mountain Division moved into the provinces of Logar, Wardak and Kunar. 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.
In mid-February 2009, 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. ISAF commander General David McKiernan had called for as many as 30,000 additional troops, effectively doubling the number of troops. On September 23, a classified assessment by General McChrystal included his conclusion that a successful counterinsurgency strategy would require 500,000 troops and five years.
In November 2009, 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. 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.
On November 26, 2009, 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 U.S. response.
On December 1, Obama announced at the U.S. Military Academy in West Point that the U.S. would send 30,000 more troops. Antiwar organizations in the U.S. responded quickly, and cities throughout the U.S. saw protests on December 2. Many protesters compared the decision to deploy more troops in Afghanistan to the expansion of the Vietnam War under the Johnson administration.
On September 4, 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.
Operation Khanjar and Operation Panther's Claw
On June 25 U.S. 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 participated. 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 long-term ISAF presence.
Initially, Afghan and American soldiers moved into towns and villages along the Helmand River 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 August 20.
According to a December 22 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." 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. 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.
On August 10 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, the militants aggressively spread their influence into north and west Afghanistan and stepped up their attack in an attempt to disrupt presidential polls. 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".
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. 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".
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. 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.
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".
2010: American–British offensive and Afghan peace initiative
In public statements U.S. officials had previously praised Pakistan's military effort against militants during its offensive in South Waziristan in November 2009. Karzai started peace talks with Haqqani network groups in March 2010, 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. President Zardari said that Pakistan had spent over 35 billion U.S. dollars during the previous eight years fighting against militancy. According to the Afghan government, approximately 900 Taliban were killed in operations conducted during 2010. Due to increased use of IEDs by insurgents the number of injured coalition soldiers, mainly Americans, significantly increased. 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. 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.
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 and a Marine Expeditionary Force in the Helmand Province. U.S. troops in Afghanistan outnumbered those in Iraq for the first time since 2003.
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. 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.
The surge in troops supported a sixfold increase in Special Forces operations. 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. Hundreds more insurgent leaders were killed or captured as 2010 ended. Petraeus said, "We've got our teeth in the enemy's jugular now, and we're not going to let go."
The CIA created Counter-terrorism Pursuit Teams (CTPT) staffed by Afghans at the war's beginning. 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. These units were not only 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 "counter-insurgency" options discussed by the Obama administration in the December 2010 review.
Battle of Marjah
In early February, Coalition and Afghan forces began highly visible plans for an offensive, codenamed Operation Moshtarak, on the Taliban stronghold near the village of Marjah. It began on 13 February and, according to U.S. and Afghan officials, was the first operation where Afghan forces led the coalition. Led by the 2nd Marine Expeditionary Brigade (US), the offensive involved 15,000 US, British, Canadian, Estonian, Danish, French, and Afghan troops. It was the biggest joint operation since the 2001 invasion that ousted the Taliban. The troops were fighting over an area of less than 100 square miles (260 km2), with a population of 80,000.
On July 25, 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. Some of these documents included sanitized, 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. 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."
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. After the Torkham border closing, Pakistani Taliban attacked NATO convoys, killing several drivers and destroying around 100 tankers.
2011: U.S. and NATO drawdown
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 April 30 announcement that the Taliban would launch their Spring offensive.
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. 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."
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 U.S. Navy SEALs, in Pakistan.
On June 22 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. 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. 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.
Belgium announced that half of their force would withdraw starting in January 2012. Norway announced it had started a withdrawal of its near 500 troops and would be completely out by 2014. 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.
2011 U.S.–NATO attack in Pakistan
After Neptune Spear, ISAF forces accidentally attacked Pakistan's armed forces on November 26, 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.
2012: Strategic agreement
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 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 Kabul in May 2011.
In January 2012, the National Front of Afghanistan raised concerns about the possibility of a secret deal between the U.S., 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." After the meeting with U.S. 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.— National Front Berlin Statement, January 2012
High-profile U.S. military incidents
Beginning in January 2012, incidents involving U.S. troops occurred which were described by The Sydney Morning Herald as "a series of damaging incidents and disclosures involving U.S. troops in Afghanistan […]". These incidents created fractures in the partnership between Afghanistan and ISAF, raised the question whether discipline within U.S. troops was breaking down, 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 U.S. troops lack respect for Afghan culture and people" and strained the relations between Afghanistan and the United States. Besides an incident involving U.S. troops who posed with body parts of dead insurgents and a video apparently showing a U.S. helicopter crew singing "Bye-bye Miss American Pie" before blasting a group of Afghan men with a Hellfire missile these "high-profile U.S. military incidents in Afghanistan" also included the 2012 Afghanistan Quran burning protests and the Panjwai shooting spree.
Enduring Strategic Partnership Agreement
On May 2, 2012, Presidents Karzai and Obama signed a strategic partnership agreement between the two countries, after the U.S. president had arrived unannounced in Kabul 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 two countries' relationship after the drawdown of U.S. forces. The Strategic Partnership Agreement went into effect on July 4, 2012, according to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on July 8, 2012 at the Tokyo Conference on Afghanistan. On July 7, 2012, as part of the agreement, the U.S. designated Afghanistan a major non-NATO ally after Karzai and Clinton met in Kabul. On November 11, 2012, as part of the agreement, the two countries launched negotiations for a bilateral security agreement.
NATO Chicago Summit: Troops withdrawal and long-term presence
On May 21, 2012 the leaders of NATO-member countries endorsed an exit strategy during the NATO Summit. ISAF Forces would transfer command of all combat missions to Afghan forces by the middle of 2013, while shifting from combat to advising, training and assisting Afghan security forces. Most of the 130,000 ISAF troops would depart by the end of December 2014. A new NATO mission would then assume the support role.
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. On January 11, 2012 Karzai and Obama agreed to transfer combat operations from NATO to Afghan forces by spring 2013 rather than summer 2013. "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 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."
Obama also stated that he would determine the pace of troop withdrawal after consultations with commanders. He added that any U.S. mission beyond 2014 would focus solely on counterterrorism operations and training. Obama insisted that a continuing presence must include an immunity agreement in which U.S. troops are not subjected to Afghan law. "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.
Both leaders agreed that the United States would transfer Afghan prisoners and prisons to the Afghan government and withdraw troops from Afghan villages in spring 2013. "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.
On June 18, 2013 the transfer of security responsibilities was completed. 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." ISAF remained slated to end its mission by the end of 2014. Some 100,000 ISAF forces remained in the country.
2014: Withdrawal continues and the insurgency increases
After 2013, the Taliban escalated suicide bombings. An example of this is a bombing of a Lebanese restaurant in the Wazir Akbar Khan area of Kabul on February 18, 2014. Among the dead in this attack were UN staff and the owner of a restaurant, who died protecting his business; 21 people altogether were killed. Meanwhile, the withdrawal continued, with 200 more U.S. troops going home. The UK halved their force and were slowing withdrawal with all but two bases being closed down. On March 20, 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's restaurant 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.
However, as the U.S. troops withdrew from Afghanistan, they were replaced by private security companies hired by the United States government and the United Nations. Many of these private security companies (also termed military contractors) consisted of ex U.S. Army, U.S. Marine, British, French and Italian defense personnel who had left the defense after a few years of active service. Their past relations with the defense helped establish their credentials, simultaneously allowing the U.S. and British to continue to be involved in ground actions without the requirement to station their own forces. This included companies such as the Ohio-based military contracting company, Mission Essential Personnel set up by Sunil Ramchand, a former White House staffer and U.S. Navy veteran.
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. On June 9, 2014 a coalition air strike mistakenly killed five U.S. troops, an Afghan National Army member and an interpreter in Zabul Province.
On August 5, 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 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.
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 Afghanistan after the year 2014.
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.
As early as November 2012, the U.S. and NATO were considering the precise configuration of their post-2014 presence in Afghanistan. On May 27, 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. In 2014, 56 United States service members, and 101 contractors, died in Afghanistan.
On December 28, 2014 NATO officially ended combat operations in a ceremony held in Kabul. Continued operations by United States forces within Afghanistan will continue under the name Operation Freedom's Sentinel; this was joined by a new NATO mission under the name of Operation Resolute Support. Operation Resolute Support will involve 28 NATO nations, 14 partner nations, 11,000 American troops, and 850 German troops. The Special Operations Joint Task Force – Afghanistan, the remnant U.S./NATO special forces organisation, includes a counter-terrorism task force. In the words of the U.S. Special Operations Command Factbook for 2015, this task force '[c]onducts offensive operations in Afghanistan to degrade the Taliban, al-Qaeda, and the Haqqani Networks in order to prevent them from establishing operationally significant safe havens which threaten the stability and sovereignty of Government of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan and the United States.' This task force is similar to previous forces such as Task Force 373.
2015 Taliban resurgence
The Taliban began a resurgence due to several factors. At the end of 2014, the US and NATO combat mission ended and the withdrawal of most foreign forces from Afghanistan reduced the risk the Taliban faced of being bombed and raided. In June 2014, the Pakistani military's Operation Zarb-e-Azb, launched in the North Waziristan tribal area in June 2014, dislodged thousands of mainly Uzbek, Arab and Pakistani militants, who flooded into Afghanistan and swelled the Taliban's ranks. The group was further emboldened by the comparative lack of interest from the international community and the diversion of its attention to crisis in other parts of the world, such as Syria, Iraq, Yemen, and Ukraine. Afghan security forces also lack certain capabilities and equipment, especially air power and reconnaissance. The political infighting in the central government in Kabul and the apparent weakness in governance at different levels are also exploited by the Taliban. In May 2015, Russia has closed a key military transport corridor which allowed NATO to deliver military supplies to Afghanistan through the Russian territory.
On January 5, a suicide car bomber attacked the HQ of EUPOL Afghanistan in Kabul, killing 1 person and injuring 5. The Taliban claimed responsibility. On January 15, Afghan security officials arrested five men in Kabul in relation to their suspected involvement in the 2014 Peshawar school massacre in Pakistan. In mid-January 2015, the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant established a branch in Afghanistan called Wilayah Khorasan and began recruiting fighters and clashing with the Taliban. However, an Afghan military officer stated that he believed the Afghan military could handle any threat that the group presented in the country.
American forces have increased raids against "Islamist militants," moving beyond counter-terrorism missions. This is partially due to improved relations with the United States due to the Ghani presidency. Reasoning used for these raids include protecting American forces, which has been broadly interpreted. One raid, a joint raid by American and Afghan forces arrested six Taliban connected to the 2014 Peshawar school massacre. American Secretary of Defense Ash Carter traveled to Afghanistan in February 2015; during a period when it was discussed that the U.S. would slow down its withdrawal from Afghanistan.
In February 2015, the headquarters element of the U.S. 7th Infantry Division began to deploy to Afghanistan. It will serve as the Resolute Support Mission's Train Advise Assist Command - South headquarters. It will be joined by 10th Mountain Division's 2nd Brigade Combat Team, and 101st Combat Aviation Brigade.
On March 19, it was reported by Reuters that the U.S. military bases in Kandahar and Jalalabad were likely to remain open beyond the end of 2015, a senior U.S. official said, as the Federal Government of the United States considered slowing its military withdrawal to help the new government fight the Taliban. The anticipated policy reversal reflected U.S. support of Afghanistan's new and more cooperative president, Ashraf Ghani, and a desire to avoid the collapse of local security forces that occurred in Iraq after the U.S. withdrawal there.
On March 25, the Afghan National Army killed twenty-nine insurgents and injured twenty-one others in a series of operations in the Daikundi, Ghazni, and Parwan provinces. Eleven people, including one U.S. service member, died in a Taliban attack on Camp Integrity in Kabul in August.
Suicide bombers attacked Hetal Hotel in May. Norwegian Marinejegerkommandoen special forces were central in saving 37 Australian hostages while maintaining direct contact with the Australian ambassador in Kabul.
Kabul Parliament attack
On June 22, 2015, the Taliban detonated a car bomb outside the National Assembly in Kabul, and Taliban fighters attacked the building with assault rifles and RPGs. A Taliban fighter driving a car loaded with explosives managed to get through security checkpoints before detonating the vehicle outside the parliament's gates. Six Taliban insurgents with AK-47 rifles and RPGs took up positions in a construction site nearby. Members of Parliament were evacuated to safety, while security forces engaged the insurgents in a two-hour gun battle. Afghan Interior Ministry spokesman Sediq Sediqqi said all seven attackers were killed by police and no MPs were wounded. The UN mission in Afghanistan said a woman and a child were killed in the attack, and forty civilians were injured.
Heavy fighting has occurred in the Kunduz province, which was the site of clashes from 2009 onwards. In May, flights into the Northern city of Kunduz were suspended due to weeks of clashes between the Afghan security forces and the Taliban outside the city. The intensifying conflict in the Northern Char Dara District within the Kunduz province led the Afghan government to enlist local militia fighters to bolster opposition to the Taliban insurgency. In June, the Taliban intensified attacks around the Northern city of Kunduz as part of a major offensive in an attempt to capture the city. Tens of thousands of inhabitants have been displaced internally in Afghanistan by the fighting. The government recaptured the Char Dara district after roughly a month of fighting.
In late September, Taliban forces launched an attack on Kunduz, seizing several outlying villages and entering the city. The Taliban stormed the regional hospital and clashed with security forces at the nearby university. The fighting saw the Taliban attack from four different districts: Char Dara to the west, Aliabad to the south-west, Khanabad to the east and Imam Saheb to the north. The Taliban took the Zakhel and Ali Khel villages on the highway leading south, which connects the city to Kabul and Mazar-e Sharif through Aliabad district, and reportedly made their largest gains in the south-west of Kunduz, where some local communities had picked up weapons and supported the Taliban. Taliban fighters had allegedly blocked the route to the Airport to prevent civilians fleeing the city. One witness reported that the headquarters of the National Directorate of Security was set on fire. Kunduz was recaptured by Afghan and American forces on October 14, 2015.
Taliban negotiations, 2015–2016
Chinese officials have declared that Afghan stability affects separatist movements in the region, including in China's West as well as the security of the China–Pakistan Economic Corridor. China and Pakistan have been involved in negotiations between the Afghan government and the Taliban. The Quadrilateral Coordination Group-consisting of Afghan, American, Chinese and Pakistani officials have been inviting the Taliban to discuss peace talks since January 2016, but currently they are presumably preoccupied with fighting each other and the government forces. A meeting between representatives of both sides were expected to take place in early March but the Taliban stated they would not participate.
The bombing of the Kabul parliament has highlighted differences within the Taliban in their approach to peace talks. In April 2016, President Ashraf Ghani "pulled the plug" on the Afghan governments failing effort to start peace talks with the Taliban. And due to the Haqqani Networks integration into the Taliban leadership, it will now be harder for peace talks to take place. Although leader of the Taliban, Haibatullah Akhundzada, said a peace agreement was possible if the government in Kabul renounced its foreign allies.
Taliban infighting, 2015–2016
On November 11, 2015, it was reported that infighting had broken out between different Taliban factions in Zabul Province. Fighters loyal to the new Taliban leader Mullah Akhtar Mansoor fought a Pro-ISIL splinter faction led by Mullah Mansoor Dadullah. Even though Dadullah's faction enjoyed the support of foreign ISIL fighters, including Uzbeks and Chechens, it was reported that Mansoor's Taliban loyalists had the upper hand. According to Ghulam Jilani Farahi, provincial director of security in Zabul, more than 100 militants from both sides were killed since the fighting broke out.
The infighting has continued into 2016; on March 10, 2016, officials said that the Taliban clashed with the Taliban splinter group (led by Muhammad Rasul) in the Shindand district of Herat with up to 100 militants killed; the infighting has also stifled peace talks.
As a result of the infighting, which has resulted in Mansour being consumed with a campaign to quell dissent against his leadership; Sirajuddin Haqqani, chief of the Haqqani Network was selected to become the deputy leader of the Taliban in the summer of 2015, during a leadership struggle within the Taliban. Sirajuddin and other Haqqani leaders increasingly run the day-to-day military operations for the Taliban, in particular; refining urban terrorist attacks and cultivating a sophisticated international fund-raising network, they have also appointing Taliban governors and began uniting the Taliban. As a result, the Haqqani Network is now closely integrated with the Taliban at a leadership level, and is growing in influence within the insurgency, whereas the network was largely autonomous before, and there are concerns that the fighting is going to be deadlier. Tensions with the Pakistani military have also been raised because American and Afghan officials accuse them of sheltering the Haqqanis as a proxy group.
Taliban offensive in Helmand Province, 2015–2018
In 2015 the Taliban began an offensive in Helmand Province, taking over parts of the Province. By June 2015, they had seized control of Dishu and Baghran killing 5,588 Afghan government security forces (3,720 of them were police officers). By the end of July, the Taliban had overrun Nawzad District and on August 26, the Taliban took control of Musa Qala. the status of the remaining districts, by December 18, 2015, is that Taliban and Afghan security forces are contesting Nahr-i-Sarraj, Sangin, Kajaki, Nad Ali and Khanashin (Afghan security forces claim to have previously "ejected" the Taliban from the Khanashin district center, with 42 Taliban fighters killed) whilst Garmsir, Washir, and Nawa-i-Barak are believed to be contested.
In October 2015, Taliban forces had attempted to take Lashkar Gah; the capital of Helmand province, the Afghan's 215th Corps and special operations forces launched a counteroffensive against the Taliban in November, Whilst the assault was repelled, Taliban forces remained dug into the city's suburbs as of December 2015. December 2015 saw a renewed Taliban offensive in Helmand focused on the town of Sangin, Sangin district fell to the Taliban on December 21, after fierce clashes that killed more than 90 soldiers in two days. It was reported that 30 members of the SAS alongside 60 US special forces operators joined the Afghan Army in the Battle to retake parts of Sangin from Taliban insurgents, in addition, about 300 U.S. troops and a small number of British troops are in Helmand and are advising Afghan commanders at the Corps level.
On or around December 23, approximately 200 Afghan Police and Army forces were besieged inside the town's police headquarters, with ammunition, military equipment and food having to be airdropped to their positions, with the rest of Sangin being under Taliban control, and an attempted relief mission failing. As of December 27, 2015, the Taliban control the districts of Musa Qala, Nawzad, Baghran, and Disho and districts of Sangin, Marja, Khanishin, Nad Ali, and Kajaki have also experienced sustained fighting according to Mohammad Karim Attal, the chief of the Helmand Provincial council.
Senior American commanders said that the Afghan troops in the province have lacked effective leaders as well as the necessary weapons and ammunition to hold off persistent Taliban attacks. Some Afghan soldiers in Helmand have been fighting in tough conditions for years without a break to see their family, leading to poor morale and high desertion rates. In early February 2016, Taliban insurgents renewed their assault on Sangin, after previously being repulsed in December 2015, launching a string of ferocious attacks on Afghan government forces earlier in the month. As a result, the United States decided to send troops from the 2nd Battalion, 87th Infantry Regiment, 10th Mountain Division, in order to prop up the Afghan 215th Corps in Helmand province, particularly around Sangin, joining US special operations forces already in the area.
On February 23, 2016, CNN announced that Afghan troops pulled out of Nawzad and Musa Qala districts in Helmand Province on February 20 and 21 in what a senior military official said was a "tactical" move. Head of the local provincial council Mohammad Karim Atal told CNN, "Afghan soldiers had paid a heavy price and had recaptured some of the areas in those districts by shedding their blood only few months back, but now because of mismanagement, lack of coordination and weak leadership they left them in the hands of enemies."
On March 14, 2016, Khanneshin District in Helmand Province fell to the Taliban; and district by district, Afghan troops are retreating back to urban centers in Helmand. In early April 2016, 600 Afghan troops launched a major offensive to retake Taliban-occupied areas of Sangin and the area around it, an Afghan army offensive to retake the town of Khanisheen was repelled by the Taliban, desertions from the army in the area are rife. By July 28, 2016, the outlook on the situation in Helmand province was good, U.S. military officials are now expecting a major Taliban offensive. General Nicholson said, "Now, fighting season's not over. We anticipate we'll see other enemy attempts to regain territory in Helmand. But thus far, things are on a real positive trajectory."
Despite US airstrikes, militants besieged Lashkar Gah, reportedly controlling all roads leading to the city and areas a few miles away. The US stepped up airstrikes in support of Afghan ground forces. Afghan forces in Lashkar Gah were reported as "exhausted" whilst police checkpoints around the capital were falling one by one; whilst the Taliban sent a new elite commando force into Helmand called "Sara Khitta" in Pashto. Afghan security forces beat back attacks by Taliban fighters encroaching on Chah-e-Anjir, just 10 km from Lashkar Gah; Afghan special forces backed by U.S. airstrikes battled increasingly well-armed and disciplined Taliban militants. An Afghan special forces commander said "The Taliban have heavily armed, uniformed units that are equipped with night vision and modern weapons." On August 22, 2016, the US announced that 100 U.S. troops were sent to Lashkar Gah to help prevent the Taliban from overrunning it, in what Brigadier General Charles Cleveland called a "temporary effort" to advise the Afghan police. The deployment brought the number of US troops deployed in and around Lashkar Gah to about 700; according to a spokesman for the provincial governor of Helmand, U.S. forces have been carrying out operations with Afghan forces in the Chah Anjir area of Nad-e-Ali district and around the Babaji area.
On October 1, 2016, it was reported that Taliban fighters advanced closer to Lashkar Gah by pushing into a farming district on the other side of the river from the town. Despite pushing back the Taliban with the support of US airstrikes in August, the Afghan government is struggling to reverse the tide of fighting. Local officials said that security forces were engaging insurgents and were expected to begin offensive operations soon. On October 10, it was reported that the Taliban launched a large-scale attack on Lashkar Gah, pushing into the town, and were said to have taken Bolan and Nawa.
On December 31, 2016, the Taliban continued their assault on the province with attacks on Sangin and Marjah districts. In January 2017, the Marine Corps Times reported that in spring 2017, the U.S. Marine Corps will deploy a task force of 300 personnel (known as Task Force Southwest) for nine months to southwestern Afghanistan to advise-and-assist local security forces in countering Taliban gains in the Helmand province. Officials said the Marines will work alongside "key leaders" from the Afghan National Army's 215th Corps and the 505th Zone National Police "to further optimize their capabilities in that region." Task Force Southwest will comprise mostly more-senior military personnel selected from units across II Marine Expeditionary Force, including the 6th Marine Regiment; the Task Force will be replacing the US Army's Task Force Forge, which has conducted a similar advisory role for much of 2016. Some estimates suggest the Taliban has retaken more than 80% of Helmand province. According to Defense Department statistics 9 U.S. service members were killed in action and another 70 were wounded there by hostile activity throughout 2016. The Washington Post reported that the Afghan government control 2 districts whilst 6 districts are contested and the 6 others are largely controlled by the Taliban.
On February 12, 2017, the Huffington Post reported that, according to a UN report, that US aircraft conducted around 30 air strikes in Helmand Province in the preceding week; according to a U.N. statement, air strikes in Sangin district on February 9 and 10 killed as many as 18 civilians. Military.com reported that the Helmand governor's office said 60 Taliban fighters, including 8 commanders, were killed in the recent fighting but denied any civilian deaths.
During the early hours of March 23, 2017 Sangin district was captured by the Taliban as they have overrun the district center, the town of Sangin. During earlier phase of the war almost a quarter of British casualties were caused by fighting for the town, while more recently hundreds of Afghan troops lost their lives defending it. On April 29, 2017, the Donald Trump administration deployed an additional 5,000 US Marines to the Southern Helmand Province, this marks the return of US marines to the province since 2014.
The Washington Post reported on April 16, 2018, that the Afghan government believe they have Lashkar Gah and Gereshk under control, and have expanded security as far south as Garmser district center and as far west as Marjah district center, but most of those two districts and many others remain under Taliban influence or control. On April 1, 2018, Afghan forces, with US air support launched an offensive in Nad-e Ali district.
In January 2016, the US government sent a directive to the Pentagon which granted new legal authority for the U.S. military to go on the offensive against Militants affiliated with the ISIL-KP (Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant – Khorasan Province), after the State Department announced the designation of ISIS in Afghanistan and Pakistan as a foreign terrorists organisation. ISIS-K formed in January 2015 after it pledged its allegiance to Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the number of militants started with around 60 or 70, with most of them coming over the border with Pakistan but now they range between 1,000 and 3,000 militants, mainly defectors from the Afghan and the Pakistani Taliban, and is generally confined to Nangarhar Province but also has/had a presence in Kunar province.
For 3 weeks in that month, the U.S. military carried out at least a dozen operations, including commando raids and airstrikes, many of these raids and strikes taking place in the Tora Bora region of Nangarhar Province. American commanders in Afghanistan said they believed that between 90 and 100 Islamic State militants had been killed in these recent operations. By February 11, ABC news reported the U.S. military had carried out 20 airstrikes on ISIS in eastern Afghanistan in the previous 3 weeks. On February 21, the Wall Street Journal reported that, just over a week before, Afghan forces supported by U.S. airstrikes launched an operation dubbed "Eagle 18," against ISIL forces in Nangarhar province. Ground forces led by the Afghan army and backed by police and paramilitary groups pushed into Achin district, the group's main base and Dislodged Islamic State From their Stronghold, U.S. airstrikes had hit the area almost daily for weeks, killing militants affiliated with Islamic State and weakening their grip on the district. Two Afghan soldiers were wounded in the operation but ISIL militants retreated from Achin and other districts. On March 6, 2016, Afghanistan's President Ashraf Ghani announced in the Afghan parliament that the Islamic State has been defeated in the eastern parts of the country, Afghan forces claimed victory following the 21-day operation in Achin and Shinwar districts of Nangarhar province, claiming at least 200 militants killed. The operation was aided by local civilians who set up checkpoints to help maintain security in their villages and later supplemented the Afghan forces. On March 15, 2016, an official confirmed that Islamic State militants had moved into Chahar Dara district of Kunduz province and into Kunar province.
In early April 2016, it was reported that US and Afghan forces had killed 1,979 suspected militants, 736 others wounded and 965 detained between April 2015 and March 2016, ISIS militants have also been trying to flee into Ghazni and Nuristan province, whilst a rise in defections from the group to the government and the Taliban. On April 12, 2016, the Taliban announced that they would launch an offensive called Operation Omari.
In late June 2016, IS militants attacked police checkpoints in the Kot area of Nangarhar province, heavy fighting between Islamic State militants and government security forces has claimed dozens of lives in eastern Afghanistan, as many as 36 IS militants are reported to have been killed in the assaults, at least a dozen Afghan security forces and civilians have been killed, with another 18 wounded. The latest attacks indicate the group remains a potent threat to a government already battling an insurgency dominated by the rival Taliban.
Afghan forces have been battling the Taliban in northeastern Kunduz as part of the Afghan forces' own spring offensive. On April 14, hundreds of Taliban and other insurgents attempted to retake Kunduz, however Afghan forces repelled the assault, according to Kunduz provincial police chief, allegedly killing 40 and injuring between 8 and 60 Taliban, whilst Afghan forces suffered 4 killed and 6 wounded. U.S. surveillance aircraft are supporting Afghan forces as they try to push the Taliban back, there has also been fighting in at least 6 other districts, where a further 28 Taliban fighters were killed with another 28 wounded. On July 18, 2016, at least 100 Taliban fighters attacked Qalai Zal district, Kunduz Province, in an attempt to take the district, but Afghan forces pushed them back, 8 Taliban – including a commander – were killed, while 1 Afghan security force member was killed and three others wounded.
The Taliban executed at least 10 people, some of whom were reportedly off-duty soldiers from the Afghan army on May 31, 2016 after kidnapping up to 220 people from buses and cars at a checkpoint on the Kunduz-Takhar highway. The majority of the passengers were released after they were interrogated by the Taliban insurgents, however at least 18 individuals still remained hostage. On June 7, 2016, in Ghazni province 12 members of Afghan security forces were killed, they include seven policemen, three soldiers, and two officials from the National Directorate of Security, the next day in the northern province of Kunduz Taliban fighters stopped a bus on a highway near the provincial capital and abducted 40 passengers—the second such abduction in the province in less than two weeks.
On June 1, 2016, Taliban insurgents stormed a court in the Afghan city of Ghazni, clashing with police for at least an hour in an attack in which 10 people, including all five of the militants, were killed, police said. The attack came days after the Taliban, vowed to seek revenge for the execution last month of six Taliban prisoners by the Afghan government. Another retaliatory attack for the execution of prisoners by the Afghan government came on June 5, 2016, leaving at least 5 people killed and at least 19 others injured at an appeals court in Pul-e Alam in Logar province, among the five killed in the attack was the newly named head of the appeals court. Later same day an Afghan member of parliament, Shir Wali Wardak, was killed by a bomb planted near his residence in the capital Kabul, another 11 people were injured by the blast, no group has claimed responsibility.
In June 2016, President Obama approved a policy to give the U.S. military greater ability to accompany and enable Afghan forces fighting the Taliban; the decision also allows greater use of US air power, particularly in CAS missions. The US commander in Afghanistan, General John Nicholson, will now be able to decide when it is appropriate for American troops to accompany conventional Afghan forces into the field; something they have so far only been allowed to do with Afghan special forces. A senior US defence official said that the expanded powers are only meant to be employed "in those select instances in which their engagement can enable strategic effects on the battlefield". Previous US rules of engagement in Afghanistan impose limits on US forces ability to strike at insurgents; being allowed to take action against the Taliban in moments when their assistance was needed to prevent a significant Afghan military setback. The Taliban are refocusing their attention mostly on Helmand, Kandahar and Uruzgan province, according to U.S. and Afghan military officials, although the insurgents also have struck elsewhere. The Taliban still have a large presence in the region with as many as 25,000 fighters with more than 30,000 Afghan security forces fighting to quell the group's resurgence. On June 24, it was reported that in the previous week, the U.S. military had launched its first airstrikes against the Taliban since the change in US policy; carrying out a "couple" of airstrikes on targets in southern Afghanistan. In July 2016, President Obama announced that he plans to leave 8,400 US troops in Afghanistan when he finishes his term – instead of reducing the number of personnel to 5,500 troops by the end of this year, reflecting the difficulty of drawing down the US presence in the country. Whilst the UK sent up to 50 additional military personnel to Afghanistan: 21 will join the counter-terrorism mission, 15 will be involved in a leadership development at the Afghan army's officer training academy, and 13 will join the Resolute Support Mission, joining the 450 British troops already in the country. UK troops had been due to leave Afghanistan this year but will now have their mission extended into 2017. On June 30, 2016, two suicide bombers attacked an Afghan police convoy carrying recently graduated cadets on the western outskirts of the capital Kabul, killing up to 40 cadets, while injuring 40 more. The incident comes 10 days after an attack on a bus carrying Nepali security guards working for the Canadian embassy in Kabul that killed 14 people.
As of July 2016, the US American Time magazine estimated that at least 20% of Afghanistan was under Taliban control with southernmost Helmand Province as major stronghold, while US commanding General in Afghanistan, J.M. Nicholson, stated that Afghan official armed forces' casualties had risen 20 percent compared to 2015. On July 23, 2016, Afghan and U.S. forces began an offensive to clear Nangarhar province of Islamic State militants hours after the Kabul bombing, the operation was dubbed "Wrath of the Storm" involving both Afghan regular army and special forces and is the Afghan army's first major strategic offensive of the summer. The operation was backed by U.S. special forces troops and airstrikes; 5 US special forces troops were wounded by small arms fire or shrapnel over July 24 and 25 whilst clearing areas of southern Nangarhar with Afghan special operations troops, it appeared to be the first reported instance of U.S. troops being wounded in fighting ISIL in Afghanistan. On July 26, in overnight raid in Kot district during the operation, supported by foreign air support, one of the most important leaders of IS in the region, Saad Emarati, one of the founders of the ISIL-KP, was killed along with 120 other suspected militants killed; by July 30 killed hundreds of IS militants in eastern Afghanistan. Afghan troops pushed into Kot district after a heavy air and artillery bombardment that forced Daesh to flee into nearby mountain areas, Afghan forces met little resistance, finding an already destroyed training camp, by July 30, the provincial governor said that 78 Daesh fighters had been killed in the operation. The operation reclaimed large and significant parts of eastern Afghanistan, forcing Daesh militants back into the mountains of southern Nangarhar. The estimated size of the ISIL-KP in January 2016 was around 3,000, but by July 2016 the number had been reduced to closely 1,000 to 1,500, with 70% of its fighters come from the TTP.
On October 4, 2016, A US soldier from B Company, 2nd Battalion, 10th SFG was killed by a roadside bomb blast in Achin, Nangarhar province, he was on a patrol with Afghan forces during an operation against ISIL-K militants. This marked the first time a U.S. serviceman was killed in combat against IS militants in the country. The Washington Post reported that during October, as part of coordinated attacks on several cities in the country in an attempt to retake territory lost during the invasion, Farah was besieged for three weeks by the Taliban and was only ended with US air support. Afghan intelligence officials said four dead Iranian Commandos were discovered, village elders told Afghan provincial officials that many Taliban dead and wounded were taken back across the Iranian border, where the insurgents had been recruited and trained. CNN reported that during the month, US aircraft dropped 203 bombs, missiles and other munitions on Taliban and local ISIS targets in Afghanistan.
In December 2016, CNN reported that The Afghan air force was just beginning to conduct its first independent airstrikes; whilst the Afghan government had become increasingly reliant on Afghan Special Forces to carry out the fight against ISIS and the Taliban – the 17,000-strong force is responsible for 70% of offensive military operations, an operational tempo that the commander of the international coalition, General John Nicholson acknowledged is difficult to sustain. As of December 2016, there are 9,800 US service members in Afghanistan, Nicholson told reporters at the Pentagon that the number of US forces would be reduced to 8,450 by 2017; the US and its 39 coalition partners in Afghanistan are committed to providing support to Afghanistan for through 2020, in particular, Nicholson added that the international community had pledged millions of dollars and advisory support to Afghanistan – these commitments would help grow the size of the Afghan Special Forces. Even with the US providing advisers and airstrikes to the Afghan forces, the US military believes that the government only controls about 64% of the country, with the Taliban controlling about 10% and the remainder being contested by the army and the insurgency; Nicholson also said that US-led operations in 2016 had killed or captured 50 leaders from al Qaeda and AQIS. On December 24, 2016, Military.com reported that Brigadier General Charles Cleveland said that ISIL-K's presence in the country has been pushed back from nearly a dozen districts to just two or three, the number of its members in Afghanistan had been reduced to about 1,000 from an estimated strength of between 1,500 and 3,000 members the previous year. Overall, U.S. troops in Afghanistan conducted more than 350 operations against the IS and al-Qaeda this year, more than 200 al-Qaeda members were killed or captured. In early December, General John Nicholson said U.S.-led counter-terrorism operations and Afghan government forces had killed 12 of the organization's top leaders in the country; U.S. officials have said IS fighters are primarily located in Nangarhar and Kunar Province's and Al-Qaida fighters operate in at least 6 provinces also along the country's eastern border. In January 2017, the Marine Corps Times reported that according to an inspector general, the Afghan army comprises about 169,000 soldiers, but in 2016 they suffered a 33 percent attrition rate—a 7 percent increase from 2015.
2016 peace deal
On September 22, 2016, the Afghan government signed a draft peace deal with Hezb-i-Islami. According to the draft agreement, Hezb-i-Islami agreed to cease hostilities, cut ties to extremist groups and respect the Afghan Constitution, in exchange for government recognition of the group and support for the removal of United Nations and American sanctions against Hekmatyar, who was also promised an honorary post in the government. The agreement was formalized on September 29 by both Afghan President Ashraf Ghani and Hekmatyar who appeared via a video link in the presidential palace, signing the agreement.
In early January 2017, the Marine Corps Times reported that Afghan forces seek to rebuild, following an exhausting 2016 fighting season; 33 districts, which are spread across 16 Afghan provinces, are under insurgent control whilst 258 are under government control and nearly 120 districts remain "contested".
On February 9, 2017, General John W. Nicholson Jr. told Congress that NATO and allied forces in Afghanistan are facing a "stalemate" and that he needed a few thousand additional troops to more effectively train and advise Afghan soldiers. He also asserted that Russia was trying to "legitimize" the Taliban by creating the "false narrative" that the militant organization has been fighting the Islamic State and that Afghan forces have not, he asserted Russia's goal, was "to undermine the United States and NATO" in Afghanistan. However he said that the area in which Islamic State fighters operate in Afghanistan had been greatly reduced. A U.S. Special Forces soldier was severely wounded that day when the base he was at was attacked in Helmand province, raising the number of U.S. troops injured in combat nationwide so far this year to at least 6, Nicholson indicated the soldier was wounded in Sangin.
The Military Times reported that on February 26, 2017, a USAF airstrike that killed the Taliban leadership commander Mullah Abdul Salam in Kunduz province in a joint operation with Afghan security forces. The airstrike marked a renewed strategy by U.S. forces under the Trump administration to remove the Taliban leadership/commanders from the battlefield. The Obama administration strategy had focused much of its efforts in pushing reconciliation between the Taliban and the central government of Afghanistan; although in June 2016, to turn back the tide of Taliban gains, President Obama changed the rules of engagement to give U.S. commanders more flexibility to provide airstrikes and ground support to struggling Afghan forces, if those efforts were perceived to provide "strategic effects." It made a concerted effort to kill high-profile al-Qaeda and Haqqani terrorists-groups officially designated as terrorist organizations by the U.S. State Department-while attempting to draw down U.S. and NATO forces in the region, having a tangible successes.
The Army Times reported that in early March 2017, American and Afghan forces launched Operation Hamza to "flush" ISIS-K from its stronghold in eastern Afghanistan, engaging in regular ground battles. Stars and Stripes reported that General Dawlat Waziri, spokesman for Afghanistan's Defense Ministry, said that for four weeks before April 13 Nangarhar airstrike (which was part of the operation), Afghan special forces unsuccessfully attempted to penetrate the area because of the difficult terrain and improvised explosive device (IEDs) planted by ISIS-KP militants. The governor of Achin province Ismail Shinwary, confirmed to the BBC that two weeks preceding the strike that Afghan special forces, with the US air support, had begun anti-IS operations in the area two weeks ago.
In April 2017, the Washington Post reported that Captain Bill Salvin, a spokesman for NATO's mission to Afghanistan, said that Afghan and international forces had reduced ISIS-K controlled territory in Afghanistan by two-thirds and had killed around half their fighters in the previous two years. Since the beginning of 2017, 460 airstrikes against terrorists (with drone strikes alone killing more than 200 IS militants); he added that the affiliate has an estimated 600-800 fighters in two eastern Afghan provinces.
On April 13, 2017, the United States dropped the largest non-nuclear bomb, known as the GBU-43/B Massive Ordnance Air Blast (MOAB) Mother of All Bombs, at 34.073336, 70.631215 (latitude and longitude coordinates) near Momand village upon a Nangahar's Achin District village in eastern Afghanistan to destroy tunnel complexes used by the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant – Khorasan Province (ISIL-KP or ISIS-K). The Guardian reported that following the strike, US and Afghan forces conducted clearing operations and airstrikes in the area and assessed the damage.
On April 28, 2017, the Washington Post reported that the Taliban announced the beginning of their spring offensive dubbed "Operation Mansouri." On 20 May, Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan fully secured Waghaz District in the province of Ghazni, while at the same time stormed Dih Yak district center and blew up Governor of Ghazni compound in Ghazni city. Another major assault took place on 22 May in Shah Wali Kot district, Northern Kandahar province, during which Taliban managed to capture large military base, while inflicting heavy casualties to the Afghan army, reportedly killing 35 and capturing 4 soldiers as well as 3 Armoured Personnel Carriers . During the same day they had overran a border outpost in southern Shorabak district, killing 15 soldiers, in addition to another outpost in district of Khakrez, killing 8 more. The next day rebels assaulted another military base in Shah Wali Kot and an outpost, killing 4 soldiers and injuring 4 more, while pro-government forces abandoned a village in northern district of Maruf. On 24 May Taliban assaulted a base in Maiwand district killing 13 soldiers. Taliban launched another attack in province of Kandahar on 26 May, killing at least 18 soldiers, injuring 16 more and capturing 4 according to security officials, while the group itself claimed to have killed 35 soldiers and capturing 7 more, while also seizing 7 Armoured Personnel Carriers and an array of weapons On 27 May, 13 members of Khost Provincial Force, a CIA funded and equipped paramilitary group, known for torture and extrajudicial killings, were killed after a Taliban car bomb blew up in Khost city.
On May 31, 2017, the German embassy in Kabul was attacked by a suicide truck, located in the heavily fortified area of Kabul, killing over 90 and injuring over 350. No one has claimed responsibility for the attack yet. The bomb went off at about 08:25 local time (03:55 GMT) during rush hour. The fortified area is considered the safest area of Kabul, with 3 m (10 ft) tall blast walls. India's foreign minister Sushma Swaraj said its embassy staff were safe.
The Guardian reported that following the announcement of Donald Trump new strategy in the country, More than 900 munitions were released in August and September, bringing the total number of munitions used in 2017 to nearly 3,000, more than twice the expended munitions in 2016.
On October 14, 2017, The Guardian reported that there were then between 600 and 800 ISIL-KP militants left in Afghanistan, who are mostly concentrated in Nangarhar Province. CNN reported that throughout October, US aircraft dropped 653 bombs, missiles and other munitions on Taliban and local ISIL targets in Afghanistan; military officials said that the success against ISIS in Iraq and Syria has freed up air assets to be deployed to Afghanistan and other theatres.
The Washington Post reported that on November 20, 2017, General John W. Nicholson announced that US aircraft were targeting drug production facilities in Afghanistan under a new strategy aimed at cutting off Taliban funding, saying that the Taliban was "becoming a criminal organization" that was earning about $200 million a year from drug-related activities. President Ashraf Ghani strongly endorsed the new campaign of U.S. and Afghan airstrikes against the Taliban-run narcotic centers; the following day, a spokesman for the Helmand governor's office said that the past week's air operations involving coalition forces and Afghan air force planes conducted "direct strikes on Taliban hideouts and narcotics centers" (8 strikes by the coalition and 2 by the afghan air force), killing more than 40 Taliban fighters and that a "main processing center of narcotics was destroyed" along with about 2,200 pounds of drugs. CNN reported that the campaign is known as Operation Jagged Knife, three of the strikes occurred in Kajaki district, four in Musa Qala and one in Sangin; a Pentagon spokesman said that the airstrikes were carried out by US F-16s and B-52s, General Nicholson told reporters at the Pentagon that a US F-22 Raptor and Afghan Air Force A-29s also participated in the strikes. Nicholson estimated that there are approximately 400 to 500 such facilities in Afghanistan and that "these operations will continue on in the coming days." CNN also reported that General Nicholson said "our priority's been in Iraq and Syria and, as we continue to see success there, we hope to see more assets coming over to enable us to do more of these kinds of operations," the strikes marked the first time commanders used their newly granted authorities to target Taliban revenue sources. Vice President Mike Pence announced on December 21, 2017 that Afghan President Ashraf Ghani told him that more senior Taliban leaders have been killed in 2017 than in all prior years of the war combined. Pence also stated that the USA was making great progress with the war in Afghanistan.
Donald Trump's Afghanistan policy
On August 21, 2017, US President Donald Trump stated that he would expand the American presence in Afghanistan, without giving details on how or when. Trump did not formulate any timelines, troop numbers or specific purposes to be met; only that a US withdrawal was not an option now as it would play into the hands of terrorists and that publicising deadlines and exact plans would only help those groups prepare. Trump also said that 20 US designated terrorist organizations are active in Afghanistan and Pakistan. According to The Washington Post, this contradicts the official US Government list which only has 13 such organizations.
The Guardian reported that Afghan government officials praised the new strategy, not only for increasing troop numbers and removing with strict timelines, but for increasing pressure on Pakistan-which they see as a main sponsor of the insurgency. In a televised address, President Trump said a new approach to Pakistan would be a "pillar" of the new strategy, adding that "we can no longer be silent about Pakistan's safe havens for terrorist organisations, the Taliban and other groups that pose a threat to the region and beyond;" Najibullah Azad, a spokesman for the Afghan president, said that "the strategy is made in accordance with realities on the ground," and that "this is the first time the US government is coming with a very clear-cut message to Pakistan to either stop what you're doing or face the negative consequences." Other statements by Afghan officials such as Davood Moradian, the director general of the Afghan Institute for Strategic Studies in Kabul, said that "the new strategy is premised on 'peace through strength', in contrast to Obama's failed approach, which was essentially 'peace through appeasement'." In response, Pakistani security officials accused Trump of shifting blame for its failures in the war against the Taliban and other armed groups in Afghanistan and of endangering the already fraught bilateral relations between the two countries.
On September 15, 2017, the New York Times reported that the CIA was looking to reportedly seeking authority to conduct its own drone strikes in Afghanistan and other war zones, according to current and former intelligence and military officials, the change in authority was being considered by the White House as part of the new strategy, despite concerns by the Pentagon. On September 19, 2017, the Trump Administration deployed another 3,000 US troops to Afghanistan. They will add to the approximately 11,000 US troops already serving in Afghanistan, bringing the total to at least 14,000 US troops stationed in Afghanistan. On October 4, 2017, Fox News reported that Defense Secretary Jim Mattis approved a change in rules of engagement as part of the new strategy so that there is no longer a requirement for US troops to be in contact with enemy forces in Afghanistan before opening fire.
In January 2018, the BBC reported that the Taliban are openly active in 70% of the country (being in full control of 14 districts and have an active and open physical presence in a further 263) and that Islamic State is more active in the country than before. Following attacks by the Taliban and Islamic State that killed scores of civilians, President Trump and Afghan officials decided to rule out any talks with the Taliban.
On February 15, 2018, The New York Times reported the rise of Afghan civilians being intentionally targeted, based on an annual United Nations report released on February 8, 2018. This report offered a detailed assessment of the 16 year Afghan war, showing the rise of complex bombing attacks deliberately targeting civilians in 2017, having 10,453 Afghan civilians wounded or killed. As the US and Afghan government are publishing fewer statistics, the UN report is one of the most reliable indicators about the war's impact by 2018. The report emphasizes the rise of "complex attacks", a type of suicide assault that is becoming more deadly, described by the New York Times as the hallmark of the war in 2018. These attacks are referred to as the Taliban's ferocious response to US President Trump's new strategy of war, an increased pace of aerial bombardments targeting Taliban and Islamic State Militants, giving the message that the Taliban can strike at will, even in the capital city, Kabul. The UN report included a statement showing the Taliban's position, the Taliban blamed the U.S and its allies for fighting war in Afghanistan, and it denied targeting civilians. The New York Times quoted Atiqullah Amarkhel, a retired general and military analyst based in Kabul, saying that the UN report proved the failure of peace talks, as the Taliban and the US government are both determined for victory rather than negotiating settlement. He said "More airstrikes mean more suicide attacks," proving the intensification of the war by 2018.
Impact on Afghan society
According to the Watson Institute for International Studies Costs of War Project, roughly 31,000 civilians had been killed as a result of the war up to the middle of 2016. 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.
The US website of The Weekly Standard stated in 2010, referring to a UN Report, that 76% of civilian deaths in Afghanistan over the past year had been "caused by the Taliban". That is a misquotation of the UNAMA Report, which does not attribute numbers of deaths directly to the Taliban, but to "anti-government elements" (AGE) and to "pro-government forces" (PGF). Over the period January until June 2010, indeed the report published in August 2010 stated that, of all 3,268 civilian casualties (dead or wounded), 2,477 casualties (76%) were caused by AGE, 386 caused by PGF (11%).
Over the whole of 2010, with a total of 2,777 civilians killed, the UN reported 2,080 civilian deaths caused by "anti-government elements" (75%), "pro-government forces" caused 440 deaths, and 257 deaths "could not be attributed to any party".
In July 2011, a UN report said "1,462 non-combatants died" in the first six months of 2011 (insurgents 80%). In 2011 a record 3,021 civilians were killed, the fifth successive annual rise. 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. 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.
In 2015, according to the United Nations (UN) annual report there were 3,545 civilian deaths and 7,457 people wounded. The anti-government elements were responsible for 62 percent of the civilians killed or wounded. The pro-government forces caused 17 percent of civilian deaths and injuries – including United States and NATO troops, which were responsible for about 2 percent of the casualties.
In 2016, a total of 3,498 civilians deaths and 7,920 injuries were recorded by the United Nations. The UN attributed 61% of casualties to anti-government forces. Afghan security forces caused about 20 percent of the overall casualties, while pro-government militias and Resolute Support Mission caused 2 percent each. Air strikes by US and NATO warplanes resulted in at least 127 civilian deaths and 108 injuries. While, the Afghan air force accounted for at least 85 deaths and 167 injuries. The UN was not able to attribute responsibility for the remaining 38 deaths and 65 injuries resulting from air strikes.
According to Nicholas Kristoff, improved healthcare resulting from the war has saved hundreds of thousands of lives.
Since 2001, more than 5.7 million former refugees have returned to Afghanistan, but 2.2 million others remained refugees in 2013. 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
Afghans who interpreted for the British army have been tortured and killed in Afghanistan, including their families. As of May 2018 the UK government has not resettled any interpreter or family member in the UK.
From 1996 to 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 U.S.$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".
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). Omar then banned opium cultivation and production dropped to an estimated 74 metric tonnes from 1,685 hectares (4,160 acres). 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 September 11 attacks against the U.S. – the Taliban allegedly authorized Afghan peasants to sow opium again.
Soon after the invasion opium production increased markedly. By 2005, Afghanistan was producing 90% of the world's opium, most of which was processed into heroin and sold in Europe and Russia. 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".
As of 2017, the Afghan government has cooperated with Taliban forces to provide education services: in Khogyani District, the government is given "nominal control" by local Taliban fighters in return for paying the wages of teachers whom the Taliban appoint in local schools.
While the Taliban have typically opposed girls' education, in 2017 in Khogyani District it has allowed girls to receive education in order to improve its standing among local residents.
War crimes (a serious violation of the laws and customs of war giving rise to individual criminal responsibility) 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 3⁄4 of all civilian deaths in the war in Afghanistan. In 2013 the UN stated that the Taliban had been placing bombs along transit routes.
In 2015, Amnesty International reported that the Taliban committed mass murder and gang rape of Afghan civilians in Kunduz. Taliban fighters killed and raped female relatives of police commanders and soldiers as well as midwives. One female human rights activist described the situation in the following manner:
When the Taliban asserted their control over Kunduz, they claimed to be bringing law and order and Shari'a to the city. But everything they've done has violated both. I don't know who can rescue us from this situation.
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. 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 and that the U.S. blocked investigations into the incident.
On June 21, 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 August 10, 2009, he was sentenced to 8 years and 4 months in prison.
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. The prisoners, Habibullah and Dilawar, were chained to the ceiling and beaten, which caused their deaths. Military coroners ruled that both the prisoners' deaths were homicides. 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. Eleven of the twelve soldiers were convicted on various counts.
A British Royal Marine Sergeant, identified as Sergeant Alexander Blackman from Taunton, Somerset, was convicted at court martial in Wiltshire of the murder of an unarmed, reportedly wounded, Afghan fighter in Helmand Province in September 2011. In 2013, he received a life sentence from the court martial in Bulford, Wiltshire, and was dismissed with disgrace from the Royal Marines. In 2017, after appeal to the Court Martial Appeal Court (CMAC), his conviction was lessened to manslaughter on the grounds of diminished responsibility and the sentence was reduced to seven years effectively releasing Blackman due to time served.
On March 11, 2012, the Kandahar massacre occurred when sixteen civilians were killed and six wounded in the Panjwayi District of Kandahar Province, Afghanistan. Nine of the victims were children, and eleven of the dead were from the same family. 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 and dishonorably discharged from the United States Army.
The cost of the war reportedly was a major factor as U.S. officials considered drawing down troops in 2011. 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. The estimate for the cost of deploying one U.S. soldier in Afghanistan is over U.S.$1 million a year.
Criticism of costs
In 2011, the independent Commission on Wartime Contracting reported to Congress that, during the previous decade in Iraq and Afghanistan, the United States had lost between $31 and $60 billion to waste and fraud and that this amount may continue to increase.
In the summer of 2013, preparing for withdrawal the following year, the U.S. military destroyed over 77,000 metric tons of equipment and vehicles worth over $7 billion that could not be shipped back to the United States. Some was sold to Afghans as scrap metal. In 2013, the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction, a U.S. government oversight body, criticized the misuse or waste of hundreds of millions of dollars in U.S. aid, including the $772 million purchase of aircraft for the Afghan military especially since "the Afghans lack the capacity to operate and maintain them."
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.
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.
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. 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."
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. "Pakistan appears to be playing a double-game of astonishing magnitude," the report states. 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" 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."
Afghan security forces
Afghan National Army
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. This increase in Afghan troops allowed the U.S. to begin withdrawing its forces in July 2011.
In 2010, the Afghan National Army had limited fighting capacity. 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. Some were suspected of collaborating with the Taliban. "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." In addition, 9 out of 10 soldiers in the Afghan National Army were illiterate.
The Afghan Army was plagued by inefficiency and endemic corruption. U.S. training efforts were drastically slowed by the problems. U.S. trainers reported missing vehicles, weapons and other military equipment, and outright theft of fuel. 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. U.S. trainers frequently removed the cell phones of Afghan soldiers hours before a mission for fear that the operation would be compromised. 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.
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.
In early 2015, Philip Munch of the Afghanistan Analysts' Network wrote that '..the available evidence suggests that many senior ANSF members, in particular, use their positions to enrich themselves. Within the ANSF there are also strong external loyalties to factions who themselves compete for influence and access to resources. All this means that the ANSF may not work as they officially should. Rather it appears that the political economy of the ANSF prevents them from working like modern organisations – the very prerequisite' of the Resolute Support Mission. Formal and informal income, Munch said, which can be generated through state positions, is rent-seeking – income without a corresponding investment of labour or capital. 'Reportedly, ANA appointees also often maintain clients, so that patron-client networks, structured into competing factions, can be traced within the ANA down to the lowest levels. ... There is evidence that Afghan officers and officials, especially in the higher echelons, appropriate large parts of the vast resource flows which are directed by international donors into the ANA.
Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction has reported that roughly half of Afghan soldiers brought to the United States for training go absent without leave which may inhibit the operational readiness of their units back in Afghanistan, negatively impact the morale of other trainees and home units and pose security risks to the United States.
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. Attempts to build a credible Afghan police force were faltering badly, according to NATO officials. 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.
Tactics/strategy of anti-government elements
The armed opposition or anti-government elements – some Western news media tend to address them all simply as "Taliban" – have from 2008 into 2009 shifted their tactics from frontal attacks on pro-government forces to guerrilla type activities, including suicide, car and road side bombs (IEDs), and targeted assassinations, said a UNAMA report in July 2009. Mr. Maley, an Afghanistan expert at the Australian National University, stated in 2009 that IEDs had become Taliban's weapon of choice.
In 2008–2009, according to the Christian Science Monitor, 16 improvised explosive devices (IEDs) were planted in girls' schools in Afghanistan, but there's no certainty who did that.
ISAF conception of Taliban strategy
In 2009, Colonel Richard Kemp, formerly Commander of British forces in Afghanistan and current intelligence coordinator for the British government – thus part of the anti-Taliban coalition (ISAF), made these comments about the Taliban tactics and strategy as he perceived them:
Like Hamas in Gaza, the Taliban in southern Afghanistan are masters at shielding themselves behind the civilian population and then melting in among them for protection. Women and children are trained and equipped to fight, collect intelligence, and ferry arms and ammunition between battles. Female suicide bombers are increasingly common. The use of women to shield gunmen as they engage NATO forces is now so normal it is deemed barely worthy of comment. Schools and houses are routinely booby-trapped. Snipers shelter in houses deliberately filled with women and children.
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. The attacks continued but began diminishing towards the planned December 31, 2014 ending of combat operations in Afghanistan by ISAF. However, on August 5, 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.
In November 2001, the CNN reported widespread relief amongst Kabul's residents after the Taliban fled the city, with young men shaving off their beards and women taking off their burqas. Later that month the BBC's longtime Kabul correspondent Kate Clark reported that "almost all women in Kabul are still choosing to veil" but that many felt hopeful that the ousting of the Taliban would improve their safety and access to food.
A 2006 WPO opinion poll found that the majority of Afghans endorsed America's military presence, with 83% of Afghans stating that they had a favorable view of the U.S. military forces in their country. Only 17% gave an unfavorable view. The majority of Afghans, among all ethnic groups including Pashtuns, stated that the overthrowing of the Taliban was a good thing. 82% of Afghans as a whole and 71% of those living in the war zone held this anti-Taliban view. The Afghan population gave the U.S.A one of its most favorable ratings in the world. A solid majority (81%) of Afghans stated that they held a favorable view of the U.S.A. However, the majority of Afghans (especially those in the war zone) held negative views on Pakistan and most Afghans also stated that they believe that the Pakistani government was allowing the Taliban to operate from its soil.
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.
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.
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." "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."
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.
A 2015 survey by Langer Research Associates found that 77% of Afghans support the presence of U.S. forces; 67% also support the presence of NATO forces. Despite the problems in the country, 80% of Afghans still held the view that it was a good thing for the United States to overthrow the Taliban in 2001. More Afghans blame the Taliban or al-Qaeda for the country's violence (53%) than those who blame the U.S.A (12%).
- Reporting in Kabul had been severely limited first by the Taliban's ban on nearly all foreign news organizations and subsequently by US bombing which destroyed Al Jazeera's Kabul headquarters and damaged the BBC's and Associated Press' offices; no journalists died as a result of the US bombing. https://cpj.org/2002/03/attacks-on-the-press-2001-afghanistan.php
A 47-nation global survey of public opinion conducted in June 2007 by the Pew Global Attitudes Project found considerable opposition to the NATO military operations in Afghanistan. Only Israel and Kenya citizens were in favor of the war. On the other hand, in 41 of the 47 countries pluralities wanted NATO troops out of Afghanistan as soon as possible. The authors of the survey mentioned a "global unease with major world powers" and in America that "Afghan War not worth it". In 32 out of 47 countries majorities wanted NATO troops out of Afghanistan as soon as possible. Majorities in 7 out of 12 NATO member countries wanted troops withdrawn as soon as possible.
In 2008 there was a strong opposition to war in Afghanistan in 21 of 24 countries surveyed. Only in the U.S. and Great Britain did half the people support the war, with a larger percentage (60%) in Australia. Since then, public opinion in Australia and Britain has shifted, and the majority of Australians and British now also want their troops to be brought home from Afghanistan. Authors of articles on the issue mentioned that "Australians lose faith in Afghan War effort" and "cruel human toll of fight to win Afghan peace". Of the seven NATO countries in the survey, not one showed a majority in favor of keeping NATO troops in Afghanistan – one, the U.S., came close to a majority (50%). Of the other six NATO countries, five had majorities of their population wanting NATO troops removed from Afghanistan as soon as possible.
The 2009 global survey reported that majorities or pluralities in 18 out of 25 countries wanted NATO to remove their troops from Afghanistan as soon as possible.:22 Despite American calls for NATO allies to send more troops to Afghanistan, there was majority or plurality opposition to such action in every one of the NATO countries surveyed.:39
Public opinion in 2001
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%).
An Ipsos-Reid poll conducted between November and December 2001 showed that majorities in Canada (66%), France (60%), Germany (60%), Italy (58%), and the UK (65%) approved of U.S. airstrikes while majorities in Argentina (77%), China (52%), South Korea (50%), Spain (52%), and Turkey (70%) opposed them.
Development of public opinion
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 favored 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. 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.
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.
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. A November 2008 poll found that 68% of Britons wanted their troops withdrawn within the next 12 months.
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. 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. 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.
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.
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.
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. 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. 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. Dozens of organizations planned (and eventually held) a national march for peace in Washington, D.C. on March 20, 2010.
Human rights abuses
The Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission (AIGRC) called the Taliban's terrorism against the Afghan civilian population a war crime. 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.
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." according to the U.S. State Department, the Taliban committed human rights violations against women in Afghanistan.
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. 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. U.S. forces used white phosphorus to screen a retreat in the Battle of Ganjgal when regular smoke munitions were not available.
Human Rights Abuses Against Afghan Refugees
Human rights abuses against Afghan refugees and asylum seekers have been documented. This includes mistreatment of refugees who lived in Iran, Pakistan, Netherlands, Canada, Australia, US, Europe, and other NATO members countries.
Afghan refugees in Iran, for example, were not allowed attend public schools, "faced with restrictions on property ownership, freedom of movement, and access to government services...bullying, and physical abuse accompany many Afghan children throughout their adolescence...whether playing at recess or standing in line for bread at the naanvai, they hear jeers like 'Go back to your country,' and 'Dirty Afghan' daily", denied participation in any form of elections, and legally restricted to take a handful of minimum paid jobs, and frequent target of scapegoating. For the price of citizenship for their family members, Afghan children as young as 14 were recruited to fight in Iraq and Syria for a six month tour.
Afghan refugees were regularly denied visa to travel between countries to visit their family members, faced long delays (usually a few years) in processing of their visa applications to visit family members for purposes such as weddings, gravely ill family member, burial ceremonies, and university graduation ceremonies; potentially violating rights including free movement, right to family life and the right to an effective remedy. Racism, low wage jobs including below minimum wage jobs, lower than inflation rate salary increases, were commonly practiced in Europe and the Americas. Many Afghan refugees were not permitted to visit their family members for a decade or two. Studies have shown abnormally high mental health issues and suicide rates among Afghan refugees and their children living in the west.
Since 1979 landmines, shells, bombs, and other unexploded ordnance have been left behind.
In 2015 the NATO's International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) was replaced by the U.S.-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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