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U.S. invasion of Afghanistan

The United States, with support from the United Kingdom and the Northern Alliance invaded Afghanistan in October, 2001 as part of its "War on Terrorism". The military campaign, led by U.S. general Tommy Franks, was initially dubbed Operation Infinite Justice but quickly renamed Operation Enduring Freedom, due to the perceived religious connotations of the former. British military operations against Afghanistan were codenamed Operation Veritas.

According to the US, the purpose of Operation Enduring Freedom was to target Osama bin Laden, suspected of planning and funding the September 11, 2001 Terrorist Attack, and his terrorist network al-Qaida, as well as the Taliban government in Afghanistan which allegedly provided support to al-Qaida and gave them safe haven. Many journalists have reported that plans to attack al-Qaida and the Taliban existed as early as the Clinton administration.

Table of contents
1 Background
2 Initial Attack
3 Taliban retreat
4 Operation Anaconda
5 Nature of coalition
6 Casualties and Accidental Strikes
7 Diplomatic efforts
8 Humanitarian efforts
9 Protests, demonstrations and rallies
10 Misinformation and rumors
11 Slogans and terms
12 External links


In the weeks prior to the military action in Afghanistan, US President George W. Bush delivered an ultimatum to the Taliban [1], to:

President Bush further stated that the demands were not open to negotiation or discussion. The Taliban refused to directly speak to Bush, noting it would be an insult to Islam, but made statements through their Pakistan embassy. Their initial response was to demand evidence of bin Laden's culpability in the September 11th attacks and to offer to try him in an Islamic court. Later, as the likelihood of military action became more imminent, they offered to extradite bin Laden to a neutral nation. Moderates within the Taliban allegedly met with American embassy officials in Pakistan in mid-October, in order to work out a way to convince Mullah Muhammed Omar to turn bin Laden over to the U.S. and avoid the impending retaliation from the United States. President Bush rejected these offers made by the Taliban as unacceptable.

The U.N. Security Council also issued a resolution on September 18, 2001 directed towards the Taliban demanding that they hand over suspected terrorist Osama bin Laden and close all terrorist training camps immediately and unconditionally. The council also referred to a resolution it adopted in December 2000 demanding that the Taliban turn over bin Laden to the United States or a third country for trial in the deadly bombings of two U.S. embassies in Africa in August 1998.

Initial Attack

Before October 7, there were reports that U.S. and British special-forces soldiers were covertly landed in Afghanistan at some time after September 11, presumably for reconnaissance purposes, and that several of these troops were captured by the Taliban. As of October 1, all such reports had been officially denied by the U.S., British, and Afghani governments.

At approximately 16:30 UTC (12:30 EDT, 17:00 local time) on Sunday October 7, 2001, US and British forces began an aerial bombing campaign targeting Taliban forces and Al-Qaida. Strikes were reported in the capital, Kabul (where electricity supplies were severed), at the airport and military nerve-centre of Kandahar (home of the Taliban's Supreme Leader Mullah Omar), and also in the city of Jalalabad (military/terrorist training camps). The US government justified these attacks as a response to the September 11, 2001 Terrorist Attack and the failure of the Taliban to meet any US demands. The Taliban condemned these attacks and called them an 'attack on Islam.'

At 17:00 UTC, Bush confirmed the strikes on national television and UK Prime Minister Tony Blair also addressed the UK. Bush stated that at the same time as Taliban military and terrorists' training grounds would be targeted, food, medicine, and supplies would be dropped to the starving and suffering men and women and children of Afghanistan. [1]

A number of different technologies were employed in the strike. Air Force general Richard Myers, chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff, stated that approximately 50 Tomahawk cruise missiles, launched by British and US submarines and ships, 15 strike aircraft from carriers and 25 bombers, such as B-1 Lancer, B-2 Spirit, B-52 Stratofortress and F-16 Fighting Falcon were involved in the first wave. Two C-17 Globemaster transport jets were to deliver 37,500 daily rations by airdrop to refugees inside Afghanistan on the first day of the attack.

A pre-recorded video tape of Osama bin Laden had been released before the attack in which he condemned any attacks against Afghanistan. Al-Jazeera, the Arabic satellite news channel, claimed that these tapes were received shortly before the attack. In this recording bin Laden claimed that the United States would fail in Afghanistan and then collapse, just as the Soviet Union did, and called for a war of Muslims, a Jihad, against the entire non-Muslim world.

Taliban retreat

Bombers operating at high altitudes well out of range of anti-aircraft fire began bombarding al-Qaeda training camps and Taliban air defenses. Around 50 Tomahawk cruise missiles were also used. The strikes initially focused on the area in and around the cities of Kabul, Jalalabad, and Kandahar. Within a few days, most al-Qaeda training sites had been severely damaged and Taliban air defense had been destroyed. The campaign then focused on communications and “command and control”. The Taliban began losing the ability to coordinate, and their morale began to sink. But the frontline held, and no tangible battlefield successes had yet occurred. Two weeks into the campaign, the Northern Alliance, not seeing a breakthrough, demanded the bombing focus more on the frontlines. Critics began to see the war losing its way. Civilian casualties also began to mount. A Red Cross headquarters in Kabul was even bombed. Meanwhile, thousands of Pashtun militiamen from Pakistan poured into the country, joining the fight against the U.S led forces. Pessimism spread.

The next stage of the campaign began. Hornet bombers hit Taliban vehicles in pinprick strikes, while U.S planes began cluster bombing Taliban defenses. The cluster bombs, which due to their bright colors often attract children, resulted in more civilian casualties. However, for the first time, Northern Alliance commander began seeing results. The Taliban support structure was beginning to erode under the pressure of the strikes. Then, for the first time, U.S Special Forces launched an audacious raid deep into the Taliban’s heartland of Kandahar, even striking one of Mullah Omar’s compounds. However, they still didn’t see how any breakthrough could take place the way the campaign was proceeding. The last week of October had ended, and it was now the beginning of November.

Then the next stage of the air campaign began, fulfilling long awaited Northern Alliances expectations. Bombers began pounding the Taliban frontlines with 15,000-pound daisy cutter bombers, inflicting heavy casualties. AC-130 gunships joined, striking enemy positions with their cannons firing thousands of rounds per minute. The intensity of the strikes increased by the day. The poor Taliban tactics increased the effect of the strikes. The fighters had no previous experience with American firepower, and often even stood on top of bare ridgelines where Special Forces could easily spot them and call in devastating air attacks. By November 2, the enemy frontal positions were decimated, and a Northern Alliance march on Kabul for the first time looked possible. Afghan Taliban troops had terrible morale, and were regarded as untrustworthy. Foreign fighters with al-Qaeda took over security in the Afghan cities, demonstrating how unstable the regime now was becoming. Meanwhile, the Northern Alliance and their CIA/Special Forces advisors planned the offensive. Northern Alliance troops would seize Mazar-I-Sharif, cutting Taliban supply lines and enabling the flow of equipment from the countries to the north, followed by an attack on Kabul itself.

On November 9, 2001, the battle for Mazar-I-Sharif began. U.S bombers carpet-bombed Taliban defenders concentrated in the Chesmay-e-Safa gorge that marks the entrance to the city. At 2 P.M, Northern Alliance forces then swept in from the south and west, seizing the city’s main military base and airport. The forces then mopped up the remnants of the Taliban in the gorge in front of the city, meeting only feeble resistance. Within 4 hours, the battle was over. By sunset, what remained of the Taliban was retreating to the south and east. Mazar-I-Sharif was taken. The next day, Northern Alliance forces seeking retribution combed the city, shooting suspected Taliban supporters in on-the-spot executions. 520 young Taliban, demoralized and defeated, many of whom were from the fighters that crossed from Pakistan, were massacred when they were discovered hiding in a school. Looting was rampant. Little criticism, however, was levied.

The same day the massacres of former Taliban supporters was taking place in Mazar-I-Sharif, November 10, Northern Alliance forces swept through five northern provinces in a rapid advance. The fall of Mazar-I-Sharif had triggered a complete collapse of Taliban positions. Many local commanders switched sides rather than fight. The regime was beginning to unravel at the seams throughout the north. Even in the south, their hold on power seemed tenuous at best. The religious police stopped their regular patrols. A complete implosion of the Taliban regime seemed imminent.

Finally, on the night of November 12, Taliban forces fled from the city of Kabul, sneaking away under cover of darkness in a massive retreat. By the time Northern Alliance forces arrived in the afternoon of November 13, only bomb craters, burned foliage, and the burnt out shells of Taliban gun emplacements and positions were there to greet them. A small pocket of perhaps twenty devoted Arab fighters hiding in the city’s park was the only defense Kabul had left. As soon as they saw Northern Alliance forces advancing through the streets, they opened fire. After a brief 15-minute gun battle, all of the foreign al-Qaeda fighters were dead, having had little more than some scrub to shield them from the volley of fire that sought them out. Kabul had fallen.

Kabul marked the beginning of a collapse of Taliban positions across the map. Within 24 hours, all of the Afghan provinces along the Iranian border, including the key city of Herat, had fallen. Local Pashtun commanders had taken over throughout northeastern Afghanistan, including the key city of Jalalabad. Taliban holdouts in the north, mainly Pakistani volunteers, fled to the northern city of Konduz to make a desperate stand. By November 16, the Taliban’s last stronghold in northern Afghanistan was completely besieged by the Northern Alliance. Nearly 10,000 Taliban fighters, led by foreign elements, refused to surrender and continued to put up stubborn resistance. By then, the Taliban had retreated all the way back to their heartland in southeastern Afghanistan around Kandahar, and even their hold there was tenuous at best. The regime seemed to be teetering on the brink of annihilation.

Meanwhile, al-Qaeda’s infrastructure around the country had been decimated by the bombing campaign and their backers were being swept from power. However, by November 13, al-Qaeda forces, almost certainly with Osama bin Laden himself, had regrouped and were concentrating their forces in the Tora Bora cave complex, 30 miles southeast of Jalalabad, to prepare for a stand against the anti-Taliban and American forces. Nearly 2000 al-Qaeda fighters fortified themselves in positions within bunkers and caves, and by November 16, U.S bombers began stepped up pummeling of the mountain fortress. Around the same time, CIA and Special Forces operatives were already at work in the area, enlisting and paying local warlords to join the fight and planning an attack on the al-Qaeda base.

Just as the bombardment at Tora Bora was stepped up, the bloody siege of Konduz that began on November 16 was continuing. Finally, after 9 days of heavy fighting and blistering American bombardment, Taliban fighters surrendered to Northern Alliance forces on November 25. However, the bloodiest incidents were yet to come. Northern Alliance forces, possibly with the approval of nearby U.S Special Forces, packed captured Taliban fighters into trucks with no ventilation for transport to the Afghan prisons and executed many on the spot. Nearly 2000 captured Taliban died, either by suffocation or execution. This was only a precursor of one of the war’s bloodiest battles.

On November 25, the day that Taliban fighters holding out in Konduz finally surrendered and were being herded into the Qala-e-Jangi prison complex near Mazar-I-Sharif, a few foreign Taliban attacked some Northern Alliance guards, taking their weapons and opening fire. This incident soon triggered a widespread revolt by 600 detained fighters at the prison, who began grabbing AK-47’s, machine guns, and grenades and attacking Northern Alliance troops. One American CIA operative who had been interviewing prisoners, Mike Spann, was killed, marking the first American combat death in the war. The fighters soon seized the southern half of the complex, once a medieval fortress. The revolt was finally put down after three days by heavy strafing fire by AC-130 gunships and Black Hawk helicopters. Less than one hundred of the several hundred Taliban prisoners survived, and around fifty Northern Alliance soldiers were killed. The putting down of the revolt marked the end of the combat in northern Afghanistan, where local Northern Alliance warlords were firmly in control.

By the end of November, Kandahar, the movement’s birthplace, was the last remaining Taliban stronghold and was coming under increasing pressure. Nearly 3,000 tribal fighters, led by Hamid Karzai, a westernized and polished loyalist of the former Afghan king, and Gul Agha, the governor of Kandahar before the Taliban seized power, put pressure on Taliban forces from the east and cut off the northern Taliban supply lines to Kandahar. The threat of the Northern Alliance loomed in the north and northeast. Meanwhile, the first significant U.S combat troops had arrived. Nearly 1,000 Marines, ferried in by Chinook helicopters, set up a forward operating base in the desert south of Kandahar on November 25. The first significant combat involving U.S ground forces occurred a day later when 15 armored vehicles approached the base and were attacked by helicopter gunships, destroying many of them. Meanwhile, the airstrikes continued to pound Taliban positions inside the city, where Mullah Omar was holed up. Omar, the Taliban leader, remained defiant despite the fact that his movement only controlled 4 out of the 30 Afghan provinces by the end of November and called on his forces to fight to the death.

As the Taliban teetered on the brink of losing their last bastion, the U.S focus increased on the Tora Bora cave complex. Local tribal militias, numbering over 2,00 strong and paid and organized by Special Forces and CIA paramilitaries, continued to mass for an attack as heavy bombing continued of suspected al-Qaeda positions. 100-200 civilians were reported killed when 25 bombs struck a village at the foot of the Tora Bora and White Mountains region. The Pentagon initially denied the reports and maintains a policy of not counting civilian deaths. On December 2, a group of 20 U.S commandoes was inserted by helicopter to support the operation. On December 5, Afghan militia wrested control of the low ground below the mountain caves from al-Qaeda fighters and set up tank positions to blast enemy forces. The al-Qaeda fighters, mostly composed of Arabs, withdrew with mortars, rocket launchers, and assault rifles to higher fortified positions and dug in for the battle.

Operation Anaconda

In (March 2002). fighting was renewed as coalition forces made a massive push against about 500 to 1000 Al-Qaida and Taliban forces (many of whom are with their families) in the Shahi-Kot Valley and Arma Mountains southeast of Zormat.

By March 6, eight Americans and seven Afghan soldiers had been killed and about 400 opposing forces had also been killed in the fighting.

Nature of coalition

The first wave of attacks was carried out solely by American and British forces. On the second day, only American forces participated. In addition to the United Kingdom, a number of other countries provided support which, although undoubtedly of practical value, is generally seen as primarily a moral statement. In rough order of level of contribution, these were:

Despite reluctance in the Arab states towards retaliation against the al-Qaida network in Afghanistan, the Pakistani leader General Pervez Musharraf has offered support. Pakistan and Iran agreed to open borders to receive the expected increased migration of refugees from Afghanistan. Pakistan has traditionally supported the Taliban. Uzbekistan has allowed the U.S. to place troops on the ground as well as use an airfield for humanitarian relief.

The campaign is viewed on all fronts as an American initiative. The American news media labeled the attacks as "America Attacks", "American Strikes Back" or some such; the U.S. government repeatedly stated its willingness to undertake the attacks unilaterally if necessary; the BBC referred to a "confrontation between Afghanistan and the U.S."; the majority of the forces are American; the entire campaign is unequivocally led by the U.S.; the U.S. informed NATO of the attack but did not seek its consent.

Casualties and Accidental Strikes

On October 9, 2001, in a news conference in Islamabad, Pakistan, a United Nations spokeswoman reported that a cruise missile had killed four U.N. employees and injured four others in a building several miles east of Kabul. The casualties were Afghans employed as security guards by the Afghan Technical Consultancy, the U.N. demining agency (Afghanistan is the most heavily mined country on the planet). The Taliban reported about 8 to 20 civilian casualties, unconfirmed by independent sources.

On December 2, 2001, the Afghan village of Agam - located 15 km north of the Tora Bora complex - was hit by stray US bombing. 18 people were killed (mainly members of a single family) and many more seriously injured. Other persons near the village are also killed or injured by US bombing on or about this time.

On January 24, 2002, Green Beret commandos mistakenly raided a district compound and a school in Oruzgan, believing there were Taliban inside. However, the people they fought and killed (16, according to the Pentagon, 21, according to the Afghans) were interim-government soldiers collecting material from former Taliban supporters.

In the school, about 24 Afghans were asleep when several dozen Green Berets landed from helicopters and attacked. At least one Afghan returned fire, some escaped, one was taken prisoner and the rest were killed, including commanders Abdul Qadoos and Sana Gul, killed by grenade. In the compound, about 50 Afghans were asleep when American forces landed and attacked, killing two and taking 26 prisoners.

On March 2, 2002, Army Chief Warrant Officer Stanley L. Harriman, of the Third Special Forces Group, was killed in an ambush along the road from Gardez to the Shahi Kot Valley.

On March 4, 2002, Seven American Special Forces soldiers were killed as they attempt to infiltrate the Shahi Kot Valley on a low-flying helicopter reconnaissance mission. Around 3 a.m. local time a MH-47 Chinook helicopter was hit by an rocket-propelled grenade, causing a soldier to fall out and damaging a hydraulic line. The helicopter made an emergency landing a half-mile away.

A second helicopter on the mission picked up the first helicopter's crew and flew to where the crew member had fallen. The soldiers soon came under heavy fire, and six were killed. The remaining soldiers returned fire and retrieved the bodies before returning to base.

On April 18, four Canadians soldiers were killed (Sgt. Marc Leger, Cpl. Ainsworth Dyer, Pte. Richard Green and Pte. Nathan Smith) and eight wounded when an American F-16 fighter jet dropped a bomb during a training exercise near Kandahar. These were the first Canadian soldiers to be killed in combat since the Korean War. An American board of inquiry eventually placed the blame on the pilot, who dropped the bomb without first receiving authorization.

On July 1, 2002, 48 people at a wedding party in a village in Oruzgan province were killed, and a further 117 injured, in a bombing raid. The name of the village is Del Rawad, though early reports gave its name as Kakrakai or Kakrak. Gunfire meant to celebrate the wedding was apparently mistaken by US military for hostile gunfire. A B-52 bomber and AC 130 helicopter were both involved in the incident, which reportedly went on for over an hour. The victims included many women and children. Some survivors were treated in Mirwai Hospital in Kandahar, and at least four children were treated at military hospitals in Bagram and Kandahar.

The incident resulted in a formal protest, and later a warning, from the Afghan government. An anti-American rally was held in Kabul on July 5 as a protest against the incident. On July 3, US President George Bush expressed "deep condolences for the loss of human life", and US authorities later stated that the area affected by the bombing would be rebuilt. Several inquiries into the incident were undertaken. According to The Times, a preliminary UN report has stated that US forces arrived at the scene of the bombing raid and removed vital evidence. However, this has been dismissed as false by the Afghan government.

United States bombs have also struck a Kabul residential area and struck near and damaged a military hospital (according to the U.N.) or an elderly home (according to the Pentagon) in Herat.

By studying all available news reporting, Marc Herold came to the conclusion that 3767 civilians died because of US bombs in Afghanistan between October 7 and December 7. Less comprehensive inquiries have listed only 300-400 civilians killed between October 2001 and July 2002.

Diplomatic efforts

Meetings of various Afgan leaders were organised by the United Nations and took place in Germany. The Taliban was not included. These meetings produced an interim government and an agreement to allow a United Nations peacekeeping force to enter Afghanistan.

Humanitarian efforts

C-17 Globemaster returns to base from a humanitarian drop

It is estimated that in Afghanistan there are 1.5 million suffering from immediate starvation, as well as 7.5 million suffering as a result of the country's dire situation - the combination of civil war, drought-related famine, and, to a large extent, the Taliban's oppressive regime.

In Pakistan, the United Nations and private humanitarian organisations have begun gearing up for the massive humanitarian effort necessary in addition to the already major refugee and food efforts. The United Nations World Food Program temporarily suspended activities within Afghanistan at the beginning of the bombing attacks. The efforts have, as of early (December 2001), resumed with a daily distrubution rate of 3,000 tons a day. It is however estimated that 30,000 tons of food will be needed by (January 2002) to provided sufficient relief to the impoverished masses.

By November 1, U.S. C-17s flying at 30,000 feet had dropped 1,000,000 food and medicine packets marked with an American flag. Doctors Without Borders called it an act of transparent propaganda and said that using medicines without medical consultation is much more likely to cause harm than good. Action Against Hunger head of operations in Afghanistan Thomas Gonnet said it was an "act of marketing". A further dangerous problem lies in the fact that the food packets are bright yellow in color; the same color as unexploded bomblets from U.S. cluster bombs. Some injuries and damage to housing also occurred from boxes of relief supplies dropped from U.S. aircraft.

Protests, demonstrations and rallies

Several small protest occurred in various cities and college campuses across the United States and in other countries in the first days after the start of the boming campaign. These were mainly peaceful but larger protests and general strikes occurred in Pakistan, a previous Taliban ally. Some of these were suppressed by police with casualties among the protesters. In various Islamic nations, as well as in many "Western" industrialised nations with no official state religion, protests and rallies of various sizes against the attack on Afghanistan took place.

On October 7, there was a peace rally of ten to twelve thousand people in New York City. They marched from Union Square to Times Square, cheering the police at the beginning of the march. The list of about twelve speakers was cut to three or four by the police, and they were herded at the end into a one-lane-wide "bullpen". The New York Times buried their coverage of the march on page B12 and, after the first couple of weeks of the campaign, few protests occurred.

Many protesters felt that the attack on Afghanistan was unjustified aggression and would lead to the deaths of many innocent people by preventing humanitarian aid workers from bringing food into the country.

Misinformation and rumors

Coded messages in Osama bin Laden tapes

The U.S. government requested that national media not air or check with the federal government first, before airing pre-recorded messages from Osama bin Laden. The reasons they gave were that bin Laden may be sending coded messages within the tapes, and that the airing of such propaganda was inadvisable. The networks stated that they would review the tapes before airing them. See also propaganda, steganography, First Amendment.

U.S. planned "terrorist" attack as pretext

These attacks are stated to be in response to the September 11, 2001 Terrorist Attack. However, many members of the Islamic community believe that there was actually a conspiracy, and that the terrorist attacks were planned as an artificial pretext for the American military action. Many Islamic media organizations are disseminating these theories. See also September 11, 2001 Terrorist Attack/Misinformation and rumors.

Slogans and terms

2001 U.S. Attack on Afghanistan -- Timeline See Also Afghanistan timeline

External links

See also: History of Afghanistan since 1992