The U.S war in Afghanistan code name Operation enduring Freedom (2001-14) and Operation Freedom’s Sentinel (2015-present) may be what we know as the Afghanistan War but as we look back in the past, war and conflict never left the Afghan soils.
The political situation began tumbling down during 1978 when Mohammed Daoud Khan overthrew King Zahir Khan in a coup d’état. Daoud Khan was initially the Prime Minister since 1953 and promoted economic modernization, emancipation of women and Pashtun nationalism. In 1978, he was felled in a coup by Afghan’s communist party, who he belonged to initially who were the People’s democratic party of Afghanistan (PDPA). The PDPA pushed socialist reforms. It was met with open rebellion. Another coup occurred following which Soviet Union intervened sometime later to depose coup leaders.
The entry of Soviet in Afghanistan in December 1979 led to its Cold War rivals US, Pakistan, China to support the rebel forces fighting against the Soviet backed Democratic Republic of Afghanistan. As the socialists ruled the cities, the rural were heavily influenced by the Mujahideen. The CIA worked alongside with Pakistan’s intelligence ISI to funnel foreign support for the Mujhideen. The soviet withdrew from the Afghan soils in May 1989. With the political stage cleared of Socialists, warlords fought for power. With Osama Bin Laden leaving the country after the war, US’s interest in Afghanistan also reduced.
In 1992, Rabbani became the president of the Islamic State of Afghanistan, but had to continually fight with Afghan warlord to retain power of Kabul. In 1994, Mohammed Omar, a mujahideen member returned to Kandahar and formed the Taliban movement. By November 1994, the Taliban had captured the Kandahar province. The declined the coalition government and marched on Kabul in 1995.
Taliban Emirate vs. Northern Alliance
The Taliban’s victories in 1994 were followed by a series of defeats. They started shelling Kabul being supported by Pakistan were driven back by Massoud. In September 1996, supported by Pakistan and Saudi Arabia, they founded the Islamic emirate of Afghanistan.
Massoud and Dostum, former arch enemies created a united front against the Taliban known as the Northern alliance. The northern alliance got support from Russia, Iran, Tajikistan and India. As per the UN, there were 15 massacres between 1996 and 2001, where Shia Hazaras were targeted. In 1997, the Talibans executed around 4000 civilians. Bin Laden’s 055 brigade were responsible for mass killings of Afghan civilians. The UN provided horrific eye reports. By 2001, the Taliban controlled as much as 90% of Afghanistan.
U.S. military and their policies
In August 1996, Bin Laden fled Sudan and arrived in Jalalabad, Afghanistan. He had founded Al-Qaeda in late 1980s to support the Mujahideen in their fight against the Soviet. The 9/11 commission in the US discovered that under the Taliban, Afghanistan served as training grounds for terrorists, where indoctrination and weapon trade took place. 20,000 men passed through these facilities before getting into the Taliban to fight the United front. A small number among them were inducted into the Al-Qaeda.
After August 1998, US embassy bombings were linked to Bin Laden, US president Bill Clinton ordered missile strikes on militant training camps in Afghanistan. The CIA Special Activities Division paramilitary teams were stationed in Afghanistan in the 1990s in clandestine operations to locate and eliminate or capture Osama Bin Laden. Their efforts built relationships with Afghan leaders that proved essential in the 2001 invasion.
During the period Clinton was the president, the U.S. tended to favor Pakistan and until 1998-99, they had no clear policy against Afghanistan. It changed after the U.S. embassy bombings after which Osama Bin Laden was indicted for his involvement in the bombings. Welcome 1999, and the UN and the US enacted sanctions against the Taliban via United Nations Security Council Resolutions 1267, which demanded the Taliban surrender Osama Bin Laden for trail in US and close all terrorist based in Afghanistan. Despite these, political reasons led to US and European Union not helping Massoud for their fight against the Taliban. Change in U.S. policy were sought by CIA lawyers who began a draft for President George W. Bush’s signature, authorizing a covert action program in Afghanistan. First time in a decade, U.S. actively assisted Massoud in the course of Afghan War. This change in U.S. policy was effected into in August 2001 where top national security officials agreed to provide Taliban with an ultimatum to hand over Laden and other operatives from Al-Qaeda. If Taliban refused, the U.S. would provide covert military aid to anti-Taliban groups. If all else fails, they decided to take direct action.
Massoud was the only leader of the United front in Afghanistan. He set up democratic institutions and signed the Women’s rights declaration. As a consequence, estimated around a million civilians fled from Taliban controlled regions to his. In late 2000s, he invited Afghan tribal leaders to a jirga, a tradional assembly of leaders, to settle the political turmoil in Afghanistan. They approached the European Parliament in Brussels to ask for Humanitarian help. The Afghan envoy asserted the fact that the Taliban and Al-Qaeda had introduced a very wrong perception of the Islam, and without Pakistan and Osama Bin Laden, the Taliban won’t be able to sustain their military campaign for another year. He warned the U.S. of a imminent large scale attack on the U.S. soil. On 9 September 2001, a mere two day before the largest attack on U.S. in modern times, Massoud was killed in a suicide attack by the Al-Qaeda.
Beyond 11 September attacks
After around 2,996 people died in the coordinated attack, the U.S. provided an ultimatum to the Taliban to hand over Osama Bin Laden. He was protected by the traditional Pashtun laws of hospitality. The Taliban demanded evidence for Osama Bin Laden’s guilt to which George W. Bush replied that he doesn’t negotiate with terrorists. It was subsequently followed by U.S. and NATO invasion of Afghanistan.
Present Day and the recent past
After the peace deal in 2016 and Donald Trump’s new Afghan policy in 2017, we come to January 2018, when BBC reported that Taliban is still openly active in 70% of the country. Following the attacks by the Taliban and the Islamic state that killed scores of civilians, Trump and Afghan decided to end talks with the Taliban.
A report by the New York Times on 15 February 2018 stated that around 10,400 civilians had been seriously wounded or killed. Air strike started by the U.S. started but concerns were raised by the U.N. due to the civilian casualties. The U.S. air force dropped around 3,000 bombs in the first six months of the year already, to for Taliban into peace talks.
Welcome 2019, and we saw far less violence comparatively. A January 2019 report estimated that now 53.8% of Afghan districts were now controlled by the government, 12.3% under insurgent control and 33.9% still being contested. On February 25, successful peace talks between the U.S. and the Taliban started. Although we have come so far as humans dealing with battles after battles, permanent peace seems out of grasp. A provincial official said that over 9,000 families had been displaced due to the fighting.
The political void created the U.S. invasion allowed other countries to step in. Iran made efforts to expand their influence. The U.S. already eliminated Iran’s two major enemies, Saddam Hussain in the war of Iraq and the Taliban. Saudi Arabia and Pakistan are the other dominant players in the region following the major war. Iran and Russia, strengthened by their alliance in the Syrian civil war initiated a proxy war against the U.S. in Afghanistan. China had also been expanding their influence in the region. China has the potential to bring peace and stability in the region. They had donated billions for the Belt and Road initiative. They had signed mining contracts in Kabul. But their success angered Trump who stated that U.S. was losing the war.
Post war, healthcare improved saving thousands of lives. 5.7 million Refugees returned to Afghanistan since 2001. Remnants of the war still take lives today. On July 31st 2019, 32 civilians were killed and over 20 were injured after their bus hit a land mine.
War helped Humanity mature, after thousands of years, we have come to a time where peace although fleeting is being welcomed by people all around the world. War would never end as long as humans exist, but we can hope as did the Afghan civilians.