Talibanisation of Afghanistan: A timeline of how the US created the Afghan crisis 

October 15, 1999

An Al-Qaeda and Taliban Nexus

The United Nations Security Council adopts Resolution 1267, creating the so-called al-Qaeda and Taliban Sanctions Committee, which links the two groups as terrorist entities and imposes sanctions on their funding, travel, and arms shipments. The UN move follows a period of ascendancy for al-Qaeda and its leader, Osama bin Laden, who guided the terror group from Afghanistan and Peshawar, Pakistan, in the late 1980s, to Sudan in 1991, and back to Afghanistan in the mid-1990s. The Taliban, which rose from the ashes of Afghanistan’s post-Soviet civil war, provides al-Qaeda sanctuary for operations.

September 9, 2001

A Northern Alliance Assassination

Ahmad Shah Massoud, commander of the Northern Alliance, an anti-Taliban coalition, is assassinated by al-Qaeda operatives. The killing of Massoud, a master of guerilla warfare known as the Lion of the Panjshir, deals a serious blow to the anti-Taliban resistance. Terrorism experts believe his assassination assured Osama bin Laden protection by the Taliban after the 9/11 attacks. Expert Peter Bergen later calls Massoud’s assassination “the curtain raiser for the attacks on New York City and Washington, DC.”

September 11, 2001

Terrorists Strike the United States

Al-Qaeda operatives hijack four commercial airliners, crashing them into the World Trade Center in New York and the Pentagon in Washington, DC. A fourth plane crashes in a field in Shanksville, Pennsylvania. Close to three thousand people die in the attacks. Although Afghanistan is the base for al-Qaeda, none of the nineteen hijackers are Afghan nationals. Mohammed Atta, an Egyptian, led the group, and fifteen of the hijackers originated from Saudi Arabia. President George W. Bush vows to “win the war against terrorism,” and later zeros in on al-Qaeda and Osama bin Laden in Afghanistan. Bush eventually calls on the Taliban regime to “deliver to the United States authorities all the leaders of al-Qaeda who hide in your land,” or share in their fate.

September 18, 2001

A War Footing

President George W. Bush signs into law a joint resolution authorizing the use of force against those responsible for attacking the United States on 9/11. This joint resolution will later be cited by the Bush administration as legal rationale for its decision to take sweeping measures to combat terrorism, from invading Afghanistan, to eavesdropping on U.S. citizens without a court order, to standing up the detention camp at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

October 7, 2001

The Opening Salvo

The U.S. military, with British support, begins a bombing campaign against Taliban forces, officially launching Operation Enduring Freedom. Canada, Australia, Germany, and France pledge future support. The war’s early phase [PDF] mainly involves U.S. air strikes on al-Qaeda and Taliban forces that are assisted by a partnership of about one thousand U.S. special forces, the Northern Alliance, and ethnic Pashtun anti-Taliban forces. The first wave of conventional ground forces arrives twelve days later. Most of the ground combat is between the Taliban and its Afghan opponents.

November 2001

The Taliban in Retreat

The Taliban regime unraveled rapidly after its loss at Mazar-e-Sharif on November 9, 2001, to forces loyal to Abdul Rashid Dostum, an ethnic Uzbek military leader. Over the next week Taliban strongholds crumble after coalition and Northern Alliance offensives on Taloqan (11/11), Bamiyan (11/11), Herat (11/12), Kabul (11/13), and Jalalabad (11/14). On November 14, 2001, the UN Security Council passed Resolution 1378, calling for a “central role” for the United Nations in establishing a transitional administration and inviting member states to send peacekeeping forces to promote stability and aid delivery. 

December 2001

Bin Laden Escapes

After tracking al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden to the well-equipped Tora Bora cave complex southeast of Kabul, Afghan militias engage in a fierce two-week battle (December 3 to 17) with al-Qaeda militants. It resulted in a few hundred deaths and the eventual escape of bin Laden, who is thought to have left for Pakistan on horseback on December 16—just a day before Afghan forces captured twenty of his remaining men. Despite intelligence pointing to bin Laden’s presence in Tora Bora, U.S. forces do not lead the assault, which is carried out by a ragtag Afghan contingent led by Hazrat Ali, Haji Zaman, and Haji Zahir. Some critics will later question why U.S. forces did not take a more assertive role in the engagement. 

December 5, 2001

An Interim Government

After the fall of Kabul in November 2001, the United Nations invites major Afghan factions, most prominently the Northern Alliance and a group led by the former king (but not the Taliban), to a conference in Bonn, Germany. On December 5, 2001, the factions sign the Bonn Agreement, endorsed by UN Security Council Resolution 1383. The agreement, reportedly reached with substantial Iranian diplomatic help because of Iran’s support for the Northern Alliance faction, installs Hamid Karzai as interim administration head, and creates an international peacekeeping force to maintain security in Kabul. The Bonn Agreement is followed by UN Security Council Resolution 1386 on December 20, which establishes the International Security Assistance Force, or ISAF.

December 9, 2001

The Taliban Collapses

The end of the Taliban regime is generally tied to this date, when the Taliban surrendered Kandahar [PDF] and Taliban leader Mullah Omar flees the city, leaving it under tribal law administered by Pashtun leaders. Despite the official fall of the Taliban, however, al-Qaeda leaders continue to hide out in the mountains.

March 2002

Mixed Signals

Operation Anaconda, the first major ground assault and the largest operation since Tora Bora, is launched against an estimated eight hundred al-Qaeda and Taliban fighters in the Shah-i-Kot Valley south of the city of Gardez (Paktia Province). Nearly two thousand U.S. and one thousand Afghan troops battle the militants. Despite the operation’s size, however, Anaconda does not represent a broadening of the war effort. Instead, Pentagon planners began shifting military and intelligence resources away from Afghanistan in the direction of Saddam Hussein’s Iraq, which is increasingly mentioned as a chief U.S. threat in the “war on terror.”

April 17, 2002

Reconstructing Afghanistan

President George W. Bush calls for the reconstruction of Afghanistan in a speech at the Virginia Military Institute. “By helping to build an Afghanistan that is free from this evil and is a better place in which to live, we are working in the best traditions of George Marshall,” he says, evoking the post-World War II Marshall Plan that revived Western Europe. But the United States and the international community do not come close to Marshall Plan-like reconstruction spending for Afghanistan. The U.S. Congress appropriates over $38 billion in humanitarian and reconstruction assistance to Afghanistan from 2001 to 2009.

November 2002

Establishing a Reconstruction Model

The U.S. military creates a civil affairs framework to coordinate redevelopment with UN and nongovernmental organizations and to expand the authority of the Kabul government. These so-called provincial reconstruction teams, or PRTs, are stood up first in Gardez in November, followed by Bamiyan, Kunduz, Mazar-e-Sharif, Kandahar, and Herat. Command for individual PRTs is eventually handed over to NATO states. While credited with improving security for aid agencies, the model is not universally praised. Concern mounts that the PRT system lacks central controlling authority, is disorganized, and creates what a U.S. Institute of Peace report calls “an ad hoc approach” to security and development. Such criticism grows beyond the PRT program and becomes a common theme in the NATO war effort, as a maze of ìnational caveatsî restricts the activities of member forces. Critics contend this limits the coalition’s effectiveness.

August 8, 2003

An International Mission

The North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) assumes control of international security forces (ISAF) in Afghanistan, expanding NATO/ISAF’s role across the country. It is NATO’s first operational commitment outside of Europe. Originally tasked with securing Kabul and its surrounding areas, NATO expanded in September 2005, July 2006, and October 2006. The number of ISAF troops grew accordingly, from an initial five thousand to around sixty-five thousand troops from forty-two countries, including all twenty-eight NATO member states. In 2006, ISAF assumed command of the international military forces in eastern Afghanistan from the U.S.-led coalition, and also became more involved in intensive combat operations in southern Afghanistan.

January 2004

A Constitution for Afghanistan

An assembly of 502 Afghan delegates agrees on a constitution for Afghanistan, creating a strong presidential system intended to unite the country’s various ethnic groups. The act is seen as a positive step toward democracy. “Afghans have seized the opportunity provided by the United States and its international partners to lay the foundation for democratic institutions and provide a framework for national elections,” declares the U.S. Ambassador to Afghanistan Zalmay Khalilzad.

October 29, 2004

Bin Laden Surfaces

Signaling the persistent challenges facing the U.S.-led coalition in Afghanistan, Osama bin Laden releases a videotaped message three weeks after the country’s presidential election and just days before the U.S. polls in which George W. Bush will win reelection. In remarks aired on the Arab television network Al Jazeera, bin Laden taunts the Bush administration and takes responsibility for the attacks of September 11, 2001. “We want to restore freedom to our nation, just as you lay waste to our nation,” bin Laden says.

September 18, 2005

Democracy and Afghanistan

More than six million Afghans turn out to vote for the Wolesi Jirga (Council of People), the Meshrano Jirga (Council of Elders), and local councils. Considered the most democratic elections ever in Afghanistan, nearly half those casting ballots are women, viewed as a sign of political progress in a highly patriarchal and conservative society. Sixty-eight out of 249 seats are set aside for female members of Afghanistan’s lower house of parliament and 23 out of 102 are reserved in the upper house.

July 2006

A Bloody Resurgence

Violence increases across the country during the summer months, with intense fighting erupting in the south in July. The number of suicide attacks quintuples from 27 in 2005 to 139 in 2006, while remotely detonated bombings more than double, to 1,677. Despite a string of recent election successes, some experts blame a faltering central government for the spike in attacks. “As with most insurgencies, the critical precondition [to the Afghan insurgency] is the collapse of governance,” says Afghanistan expert Seth G. Jones. Jones and other experts point to the many Afghans who lack basic services, the government’s difficulty setting up its police forces, and the lack of international forces to assist with security.

May 2007

A Taliban Commander Falls

A notorious Taliban military commander, Mullah Dadullah, is killed in a joint operation by Afghan, U.S., and NATO forces in the south of Afghanistan. Dadullah is believed to have been a leader of guerrilla forces in the war in Helmand Province, deploying suicide bombers and ordering the kidnapping of Westerners. He once told the BBC that hundreds of suicide bombers awaited his command to launch an offensive against foreign troops. 

July 2009

New Strategy, Old Battles

U.S. Marines launch a major offensive in southern Afghanistan, representing a major test for the U.S. military’s new counterinsurgency strategy. The offensive, involving four thousand Marines, is launched in response to a growing Taliban insurgency in the country’s southern provinces, especially Helmand Province. The operation focuses on restoring government services, bolstering local police forces, and protecting civilians from Taliban incursion. By August 2009 U.S. forces are to number between sixty thousand and sixty-eight thousand.

May 1, 2011

Osama bin Laden Killed

On May 1, 2011, al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden, responsible for the 9/11 attacks in New York and Washington, is killed by U.S. forces in Pakistan. The death of America’s primary target for a war that started ten years ago fuels the long-simmering debate about continuing the Afghanistan war. As President Obama prepares to announce the withdrawal of some or all of the thirty thousand surge troops in July, congressional lawmakers increasingly call for a hastened drawdown of U.S. troops, though some analysts argue for a sustained military engagement. Meanwhile, anti-Pakistan rhetoric grows in Afghanistan, where officials have long blamed terrorist safe havens in Pakistan for violence in Afghanistan. Afghan President Hamid Karzai reiterates that international forces should focus their military efforts across the border in Pakistan. “For years we have said that the fight against terrorism is not in Afghan villages and houses,” he says.

October 7, 2011

Ten Years of War

The U.S. war in Afghanistan marks its tenth anniversary, with about hundred thousand U.S. troops deployed in a counterinsurgency role, primarily in southern and eastern regions. President Barack Obama plans to withdraw all combat troops by 2014, but serious doubts remain about the Afghan government’s capacity to secure the country. Amid a resilient insurgency, U.S. goals in Afghanistan remain uncertain and terrorist safe havens in Pakistan continue to undermine U.S. efforts. A decade in, the war’s tolls include 1,800 U.S. troop casualties and $444 billion in spending. The costs have eroded U.S. public support, with a global economic downturn, a 9.1 percent unemployment rate, and a $1.3 trillion annual budget deficit. While there are military gains, hopes for a deal with the Taliban to help wind down the conflict remain riddled with setbacks. President Karzai suspends the talks following the September 20 assassination of Burhanuddin Rabbani, the government’s chief negotiator, which Afghan officials blame on the Pakistan-based Haqqani network. The group denies it.

January 2018

Taliban Launches Major Attacks Amid U.S. Escalation

The Taliban carry out a series of bold terror attacks in Kabul that kill more than 115 people amid a broader upsurge in violence. The attacks come as the Trump administration implements its Afghanistan plan, deploying troops across rural Afghanistan to advise Afghan brigades and launching air strikes against opium labs to try to decimate the Taliban’s finances. The administration also cuts off security assistance worth billions of dollars to Pakistan for what President Trump called its “lies and deceit” in harboring Taliban militants. Critics of the National Unity Government say domestic politics—notably a showdown with a provincial governor—have distracted President Ghani from security.

February 29, 2020

U.S., Taliban Sign Deal on Path to Peace

U.S. envoy Khalilzad and the Taliban’s Baradar sign an agreement [PDF] that paves the way for a significant drawdown of U.S. troops in Afghanistan and includes guarantees from the Taliban that the country will not be used for terrorist activities. The deal says intra-Afghan negotiations should begin the following month, but Afghan President Ghani says the Taliban must meet his government’s own conditions before it enters talks. The U.S.-Taliban deal doesn’t call for an immediate cease-fire, and in the days after its signing, Taliban fighters carry out dozens of attacks on Afghan security forces. U.S. forces respond with an air strike against the Taliban in the southern province of Helmand.

April 14, 2021

Biden Decides on Complete U.S. Withdrawal by 9/11

President Biden announces that the United States will not meet the deadline set under the U.S.-Taliban agreement to withdraw all troops by May 1 and instead releases a plan for a full withdrawal by September 11, 2021. “It’s time to end America’s longest war,” he says. The remaining 3,500 troops in Afghanistan will be withdrawn regardless of whether progress is made in intra-Afghan peace talks or the Taliban reduces its attacks on Afghan security forces and citizens. NATO troops in Afghanistan will also leave. Biden says Washington will continue to assist Afghan security forces and support the peace process. The Taliban says it will not participate in “any conference” on Afghanistan’s future until all foreign troops leave.

August 15, 2021

Afghan Government Collapses as the Taliban Takes Kabul

Facing little resistance, Taliban fighters overrun the capital, Kabul, and take over the presidential palace hours after President Ghani leaves the country. Taliban leaders say they will hold talks with Afghan officials to form an “open, inclusive Islamic government.” Former Afghan President Karzai and Abdullah, formerly the chief executive under Ghani, create a council to facilitate a peaceful transition to a Taliban government. The takeover follows the Taliban’s rapid advance, during which it captured all but two of Afghanistan’s provincial capitals and seized border crossings. Afghan security forces in some areas reportedly negotiated surrenders and avoided fighting the Taliban.

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Tejaswini Pagadala

Communications Consultant: TEJASWINI PAGADALA is an independent communications consultant. She has previously worked with the Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister’s Office as the Communications Officer where she has written English speeches for the CM, managed English media communication from the CMO and handled social media accounts of Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister and the Government.
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