Combat Outpost Keating, located in the Nuristan Province, in the mountains of eastern Afghanistan, was attacked on October 3, 2009, killing eight brave American soldiers. The attack on COP Keating resulted in the Taliban suffering an estimated 150 killed. How did this bloody and brutal war begin? Let me take you back to the beginning. The Invasion of Afghanistan by the United States occurred due to terror attacks against the United States that terror groups based in Afghanistan had orchestrated. On September 11, 2001, the Al-Qaeda militants led by Osama bin Laden staged a terror attack killing 2,977 people. In response, the United States invaded Afghanistan on October 7, 2001, because they had been providing safe havens for the Al-Qaeda masterminds behind the attack. The initial success of the American invasion of Afghanistan turned into a failure, due to the primary mission changing from defeating terrorists, to nation-building.
After 911, bin Laden made a series of publications describing the real motives for the attacks. In one of their famous publications in 2002, referred to as the “Letter to America,” bin Laden cited American support for the expansion of Israel as one of the motives that led to the attacks (Langman, 2021). He referred to the creation and expansion of the state of Israel as a crime that should not have been allowed to happen1. Bin Laden viewed Israel as an evil state that committed atrocities against Muslims. He also cited the “immoral” culture of the American people as one reason for the attacks2. Other reasons that he noted included the presence of the US military in Saudi Arabia, the imposing of sanctions on Iraq, and the conflicts in Somalia, and other Muslim states, which he believed were fueled by the United States.
The 911 attack led to the formation of various counter-terrorism measures that targeted the Al-Qaeda group and its sympathizers. President Bush issued ultimatums to the Taliban he regime in Afghanistan is believed to have provided a haven for the thriving Al-Qaeda fighters (Whitlock, 2021). The ultimatums included handing over Osama Bin Laden and Al-Qaeda fighters to the government of the United States, closing every terrorist camp in Afghanistan, and granting the US full access to inspect the terrorist camps3. However, Taliban leader Mullah Omar failed to comply with the demands because he believed bin Laden was innocent and that handing him over to the United States would betray the Muslim world4. In response, the United States military invaded Afghanistan on October 7, 2001, to topple the Taliban regime and capture or kill bin Laden.
The US’s initial success in Afghanistan involved overthrowing the Taliban regime and capturing the major Al-Qaeda strongholds. The US sent its Special Forces team to Afghanistan to team up with the anti-Taliban coalition in the country, the Northern Alliance, and the other ethnic fighters who were against the Taliban regime, such as the Pashtun forces5. The invasion began with airstrikes aimed at the Taliban and Al-Qaeda military bases. The coordinated attacks between the US and NATO–allied forces and the local fighters saw the Taliban administration rapidly lose its strongholds, such as Kabul, Jalalabad, and Herat (Salt, 2018). Meanwhile, Osama bin Laden succeeded in escaping to neighboring Pakistan. Hamid Karzai was appointed the head of the interim government, and a peace force was created to maintain security in Kabul, enabling the interim government to conduct its duties (Salt, 2018). The Taliban leader Omar Mullar was forced into exile while the Taliban surrendered Kandahar6. Many Taliban fighters went into Pakistan, while many others gave up their arms.
The failure to include Taliban officials in the Interim government was considered one of the greatest mistakes that led to the failure of the US military in Afghanistan. The Taliban has expressed the willingness to negotiate with the US and be part of an inclusive government (Greentree, 2021). However, the US maintained a non-negotiable stance that dismissed every suggestion by the Taliban. As a result, the Taliban began reorganizing and planning attacks on the US and the Afghani military forces from 2002 to 20057. There were a lot of errors by the coalition forces hunting for terrorists that led to a lot of civilian casualties8. Additionally, most of the Taliban fighters who had surrendered were often mistreated by the US forces and the Afghani government leading to public support for the Taliban (Fox, 2021). The failure to capture either the leader of the Taliban or bin Laden was also another mistake that led to the reorganization of both the Taliban and the Al-Qaeda fighters. The Taliban started establishing their influence in the countryside. They urged the Muslims to rise against the American and foreign forces to stop the atrocities they were committing on the civilians.
After close to four years of the battle for Tora Bora, the US military failed to capture Osama bin Laden in the mountainous region of Afghanistan where he was believed to be hiding. The operation was coordinated between the US and British Special Forces and the local fighting groups9. Various theories have explained why the US failed to capture bin laden despite constant bombardment of the hideout believed to be hosting bin laden (Ye, 2018). According to one of the Delta Force commanders, the Pakistani government failed to fortify the border to prevent escape of Osama (Ye, 2018). He also cited the failure of NATO to use GATOR mines that forced bin Laden out of the caves and the overreliance on the local fighting groups (Ye, 2018). It was believed that during the Holy month of Ramadhan, the Afghani fighters would leave the battlegrounds in the evenings, thus giving the Al-Qaeda fighters a chance to escape. Had the US succeeded in killing or capturing bin Laden, the war in Afghanistan would have ended quickly10. However, the failure to achieve the mission’s primary objective escalated the operation into a more challenging mission that involved rebuilding the Afghani society, thus escalating the war.
The US primary goal in Afghanistan was to achieve counter-terrorism objectives, including capturing senior Al-Qaeda and Taliban leaders. The failure of the primary mission led to a change of plan to reconstruct Afghanistan to prevent the regrouping of terrorist groups. The nation-building strategy made the US military stay in Afghanistan to oversee the establishment of government institutions (Bandow, 2021). The US also funded the construction of basic infrastructure and social amenities such as schools and hospitals and created the Afghani Army11. However, due to the Bush administration’s differing opinions, the Afghani army’s growth was slow. Some officials preferred working with the tribal fighters rather than creating a new army (Bandow, 2021). In the meantime, the Taliban fighters were regrouping and reorganizing themselves for offensive attacks12. They convinced many locals in the countryside and took control of villages, where they worked with the locals to launch attacks on the coalition forces.
The withdrawal of the US forces was signed during peace talks between the Taliban and the US. The peace talks aimed to promote ceasefire and prisoner exchange within ten days of signing the deal13. The deal was conditional such that after the prisoner exchange, the United States was supposed to withdraw its troops in Afghanistan within 14 months (ul Amin, 2021). The primary objective of the deal was for the Taliban and the Afghani government to negotiate a ceasefire that would eventually establish a new government and an inclusive constitution14. The Trump administration had set the withdrawal deadline to be March 1, 2021. However, President Biden extended the deadline to August 31 (Bamberger, 2022). Biden said that the primary goal for the invasion, which was to destroy the haven for the thriving of terror groups, had been achieved and that the US military could not establish a democratic government for the Afghani people but required negotiations between the Afghani government and the Taliban (Miah, 2021). This led to a chaotic withdrawal that saw the Taliban rapidly take over the Afghani government and overthrow President Ghani’s regime.
In conclusion, the war in Afghanistan took longer than expected because the primary objectives of the mission were never achieved, forcing the US to change the goal to the reconstruction of the Afghani society. There are various lessons that the Afghani war presents. Firstly, there were no clear and applicable strategies by the US government for the reconstruction of Afghanistan. The government agencies did not work collaboratively to develop and implement a clear reconstruction strategy. Secondly, the US government underestimated the time required for the reconstruction of Afghanistan by setting unrealistic timeframes that promoted corruption and undermined the efficiency of strategies. Thirdly, poor relations between the US military and civilians created a conducive environment for the Taliban to thrive. The US personnel in Afghanistan often involved inexperienced fresh graduates that lacked the necessary skills to establish a good relationship with the locals. Lastly, consistent attacks by the Taliban created a hostile environment for the implementation of reconstruction strategies.
Bamberger, Leo. “Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR): What we need to learn. Lessons of twenty years of Afghanistan Reconstruction. Washington, DC: SIGAR, 2021.” SIRIUS–Zeitschrift für Strategische Analysen 6.1, 2022, pp. 97-98.
Bandow, Doug. “9/11: The War on Terror Wasn’t Supposed to End This Way.” 2021.
Fox, Donovan. “Why The Taliban Have Been Successful In Afghanistan.” 2021.
Greentree, Todd. “Strategic failure in Afghanistan.” Journal of Strategic Studies 44.1, 2021, pp. 117-140.
Greentree, Todd. “What Went Wrong in Afghanistan?” The US Army War College Quarterly: Parameters 51.4, 2021, pp. 7-22.
Langman, Peter. “Osama bin Laden: humble megalomaniac.” Aggression and Violent Behavior 60, 2021, 101519.
Malkasian, Carter. The American war in Afghanistan: A history. Oxford UP, 2021.
Miah, Malik. “Biden claims’ success’ while resistance grows inside Afghanistan.” Green Left Weekly 1319, 2021, p. 14.
Salt, Alexander. “Transformation and the War in Afghanistan.” Strategic Studies Quarterly 12.1, 2018, pp. 98-126.
ul Amin, Rooh, Ghulam Muhammad Awan, and Fozia Naseem. “US-Taliban Negotiated Peace Accord: Analyzing the Future Prospects.” Research Journal of Social Sciences and Economics Review 2.2, 2021, pp. 164-170.
Whitlock, Craig. The Afghanistan Papers: a Secret History of the War. Simon and Schuster, 2021.
Ye, Wong Chooi. “US Military Operations in Afghanistan: Sun Tzu’s View on Opportunities and Challenges.” Advances In Natural And Applied Sciences 12.7, 2018, pp. 10-13.
- Bin Laden perceived Israel as an illegal state in a Muslim land.
- He cited the American culture as full of fornication, homosexuality, bad trading habits, and gambling
- The ultimatums were non-negotiable.
- The Taliban believed bin Laden was innocent.
- The US Air force strongly overwhelmed the Taliban and Al-Qaeda fighters.
- Many of the Taliban fighters surrendered while others were forced into exile.
- The US undermined the power of the Taliban.
- Most of the airstrikes killed civilians thus causing negative public opinion on the US troops.
- The local fighters were familiar with the terrain.
- The US stayed to cover their failures of achieving the primary objectives.
- Women’s rights were also restored
- Most of the locals were recruited to the group to fight the US troops.
- The Taliban never honored the deal.
- The Afghani government dismissed the deal because it was not consulted.