U.S. invasion of Afghanistan

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(Redirected from Operation Infinite Justice)

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

The purpose of Operation Enduring Freedom was to target Osama bin Laden, the architect behind the planning and funding the September 11, 2001 Terrorist Attacks, and his terrorist network al-Qaida, as well as the Taliban government in Afghanistan which provided support to al-Qaida and gave them safe haven.



Since approximately 1996, Osama bin Laden had been resident in Afghanistan along with other members of al-Qaeda, operating terrorist training camps in a loose alliance with the Taliban. Following the 1998 U.S. embassy bombings in Africa, the Clinton administration had fired cruise missiles at these camps with limited effect on their overall operations. After the September 11th attacks, investigators rapidly accumulated evidence implicating bin Laden.

In the weeks prior to the military action in Afghanistan, US President George W. Bush delivered an ultimatum [1] (http://www.cnn.com/2001/US/09/20/gen.bush.transcript/) to the Taliban, to:

  • deliver Al-Qaeda leaders located in Afghanistan to the United States
  • release all imprisoned foreign nationals, including American citizens [2] (http://www.guardian.co.uk/waronterror/story/0,1361,595750,00.html)
  • protect foreign journalists, diplomats and aid workers in Afghanistan
  • close terrorist training camps in Afghanistan and "hand over every terrorist and every person and their support structure to appropriate authorities".
  • give the US full access to terrorist training camps to verify their closure

President Bush further stated that the demands were not open to negotiation or discussion. The Taliban refused to directly speak to Bush, stating this 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 insincere.

The UN Security Council also issued a resolution on September 18, 2001 directed towards the Taliban demanding that they hand over the 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.

Military operations

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. There were also reports of explosions in Kabul within a day of September 11, although this was later described as a minor rocket attack by the Northern Alliance.

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.'

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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." [3] (http://www.australianpolitics.com/news/2001/01-10-07.shtml). These drops came under criticism for having the same color as the cluster bombs that the United States was using.

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

Initial air campaigns

Bombers operating at high altitudes well out of range of anti-aircraft fire began bombarding al-Qaeda training camps and Taliban air defenses. During the initial build-up before the actual attack, there had been speculation in the media that the Taliban might try to use U.S.-built Stinger anti-air missiles that were the bane of Soviet helicopters during the Soviet occupation in the 80's. If any of these missiles existed at the time of the air campaign, they were never used and the U.S. never lost a single aircraft to enemy fire. Beyond that, the Taliban had little to offer in the way of anti-aircraft weaponary, relying mostly on left-over arms and weapons from the Soviet war, and American aircraft, including Apache helicopter gunships, operated with impunity throughout the campaign. 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 the Taliban's air defenses 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 line facing the Northern Alliance 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 front lines. Critics began to see the war losing its way. Civilian casualties also began to mount. Several Red Cross warehouses were bombed. Meanwhile, thousands of Pashtun militiamen from Pakistan poured into the country, joining the fight against the U.S. led forces. Pessimism spread.

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US Army Special Forces ride on horseback in the early days of the operation

The next stage of the campaign began. Hornet bombers hit Taliban vehicles in pinprick strikes, while U.S. planes began cluster bombing Taliban defenses. However, for the first time, Northern Alliance commanders 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, the campaign's progress seemed to remain very slow. The last week of October had ended, and it was now the beginning of November.

At this time, the next stage of the air campaign began to fulfill long-awaited Northern Alliance expectations. The Taliban front lines were bombed with 15,000-pound daisy cutter bombs, and by AC-130 gunships. 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 air attacks. By November 2, Taliban frontal positions were decimated, and a Northern Alliance march on Kabul seemed possible for the first time. Afghan Taliban troops had terrible morale, and were regarded as untrustworthy. Foreign fighters from al-Qaeda took over security in the Afghan cities, demonstrating how unstable the regime had become. Meanwhile, the Northern Alliance and their CIA/Special Forces advisors planned the offensive. Northern Alliance troops would seize Mazar-I-Sharif, thereby cutting off Taliban supply lines and enabling the flow of equipment from the countries to the north, followed by an attack on Kabul itself.

Land advances: Mazar-e-Sharif

On November 9, 2001, the battle for Mazar-e-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-e-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.

The same day the massacres of former Taliban supporters was taking place in Mazar-e-Sharif, November 10, Northern Alliance forces swept through five northern provinces in a rapid advance. The fall of Mazar-e-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.

The fall of Kabul

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 group of perhaps twenty devoted Arab fighters hiding in the city's park were the only defenders left. 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. Kabul had fallen.

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Air Force combat controllers send coordinates for air strike

The fall of 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, comprised of mainly Pakistani volunteers, fled to the northern city of Konduz to make a stand. By November 16, the Taliban's last stronghold in northern Afghanistan was besieged by the Northern Alliance. Nearly 10,000 Taliban fighters, led by foreign fighters, refused to surrender and continued to put up stubborn resistance. By then, the Taliban had retreated 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.

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 (50 km) 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.

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US Army SF fight during the uprising at Mazar I Sharif

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.

Consolidation: the taking of Konduz and Kandahar

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-47s, 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 of 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 now 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.

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Tommy Franks meets with Army Special Forces

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 2,000 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. On December 2, a group of 20 U.S. commandos 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.

By December 6, Omar finally began to signal that he was ready to surrender Kandahar to tribal forces. His forces broken by heavy U.S. bombing and living constantly on the run within Kandahar to prevent himself from becoming a target, even Mullah Omar's morale lagged. Recognizing that he could not hold on to Kandahar much longer, he began signaling a willingness in negotiations to turn the city over to the tribal leaders, assuming that he and his top men received some protection. The U.S. government rejected any amnesty for Omar or any Taliban leaders. On December 7, Mullah Mohammad Omar slipped out of the city of Kandahar with a group of his hardcore loyalists and moved northwest into the mountains of Uruzgan province, reneging on the Taliban's promise to surrender their fighters and their weapons. He was last reported seen driving off with a group of his fighters on a convoy of motorcycles. Other members of the Taliban leadership fled into Pakistan through the remote passes of Paktia and Paktika provinces. However, Kandahar, the last Taliban controlled city, had fallen, and the majority of the Taliban fighters had disbanded. The border town of Spin Boldak was surrendered on the same day, marking the end of Taliban control in Afghanistan. The Afghan tribal forces under Gul Agha seized the city of Kandahar while the Marines took control of the airport outside and established a U.S. base.

The Battle of Tora Bora: endgame deferred

The foreign al-Qaeda fighters were still holding out in the mountains of Tora Bora, however. Anti-Taliban tribal militia continued a steady advance through the difficult terrain, backed by withering air strikes guided in by U.S. Special Forces. Facing defeat and reluctant to fight fellow Muslims, the al-Qaeda forces agreed to a truce to give them time to surrender their weapons. In retrospect, however, many believe that the truce was a ruse to allow important al-Qaeda figures, including Osama bin Laden, to escape. On December 12, the fighting flared again, probably initiated by a rear guard buying time for the main force's escape through the White Mountains into the tribal areas of Pakistan. Once again, tribal forces backed by U.S. special operations troops and air support pressed ahead against fortified al-Qaeda positions in caves and bunkers scattered throughout the mountainous region. By December 17, the last cave complex had been taken and their defenders overrun. A search of the area by U.S. forces continued into January, but no sign of bin Laden or the al-Qaeda leadership emerged. It is almost unanimously believed that they had already slipped away into the tribal areas of Pakistan to the south and east. It is estimated that around 200 of the foreign jihadis were killed during the battle, along with an unknown number of anti-Taliban tribal fighters. No U.S. deaths were reported.

Following Tora Bora, U.S. forces and their Afghan allies consolidated their position in the country. Following a loya jirga or grand council of major Afghan factions, tribal leaders, and former exiles, an interim Afghan government was established in Kabul under Hamid Karzai. U.S. forces established their main base at Bagram airbase just north of Kabul. Kandahar airport also became an important U.S. base area. Several outposts were established in eastern provinces to hunt for Taliban and al-Qaeda fugitives. The number of U.S-led coalition troops operating in the country would eventually grow to over 10,000. Meanwhile, the Taliban and al-Qaeda had not yet given up. Al-Qaeda forces began regrouping in the Shahi-Kot mountains of Paktia province throughout January and February of 2002. A Taliban fugitive in Paktia province, Mullah Saifur Rehman, also began reconstituting some of his militia forces in support of the foreign fighters. They totalled over 1,000 by the beginning of March of 2002. The intention of the rebels was to use the region as a base area for launching guerilla attacks and possibly a major offensive in the style of the mujahedin who battled Soviet forces during the 1980s.

Operation Anaconda

Soldiers board a Chinook in Operation Anaconda
Soldiers board a Chinook in Operation Anaconda

U.S. and allied Afghan militia intelligence sources soon picked up on this buildup in Paktia province and prepared a massive push to counter it. On March 2, 2002, U.S. and Afghan forces launched an offensive on al-Qaeda and Taliban forces entrenched in the mountains of Shahi-Kot southeast of Gardez. The rebel forces, who used small arms, rocket-propelled grenades, and mortars, were entrenched into caves and bunkers in the hillsides at an altitude that was largely above 10,000 feet. They used "hit and run" tactics, opening fire on the U.S. and Afghan forces and then retreating back into their caves and bunkers to weather the return fire and persistent U.S. bombing raids. To compound the situation for the coalition troops, U.S. commanders initially underestimated the Taliban and al-Qaeda forces as a last isolated pocket of dead-enders numbering less than 200. It turned out that the guerillas number over 1,000, perhaps as high as 5,000 according to some estimates, and that they were receiving reinforcements.

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Canadian Governor General with Canadian Soldiers who were wounded in the friendly fire incident

By March 6, eight Americans and seven Afghan soldiers had been killed and reportedly 400 opposing forces had also been killed in the fighting. The coalition casualties stemmed from a friendly fire incident that killed one soldier, the downing of two helicopters by rocket-propelled grenades and small arms fire that killed seven soldiers, and the pinning down of U.S. forces being inserted into what was coined as "Objective Ginger" that resulted in dozens of wounded. Ground fire from Afghan militia and American forces in a number of skirmishes, along with heavy aerial bombardment, resulted in the over 400 al-Qaeda and Taliban rebels killed, according to U.S. estimates. However, fewer than 50 bodies were ever found. Regardless of the correct number of guerillas killed, it is clear that several hundred somehow escaped the dragnet and melted away, almost certainly by moving in small groups along mountain trails to the tribal areas across the border into Pakistan. The Pakistani forces meant to serve as a blocking forces apparently lacked either the will or the capability, or possibly both, to seal off the border.

Post-Anaconda operations

Following the battle at Shahi-Kot, it is believed that the al-Qaeda fighters established sanctuaries among tribal protectors in Pakistan, from which they regained their strength and later began launching cross-border raids on U.S. forces by the summer months of 2002. Guerilla units, numbering between 5 and 25 men, still regularly cross the border from their sanctuaries in Pakistan to fire rockets at U.S. bases and ambush American convoys and patrols, as well as Afghan National Army troops, Afghan militia forces working with the U.S-led coalition, and non-governmental organizations. The area around the U.S. base at Shkin in Paktika province has seen some of the heaviest activity.

Meanwhile, Taliban forces continued to remain in hiding in the rural regions of the four southern provinces that formed their heartland, Kandahar, Zabul, Helmand, and Uruzgan. In the wake of Operation Anaconda the Pentagon requested that British Royal Marines who are highly trained in mountain warfare, be deployed. They conducted a number of missions over several weeks with very limited results.The Taliban, who during the summer of 2002 numbered in the hundreds, avoided combat with U.S. forces and their Afghan allies as much as possible and melted away into the caves and tunnels of remote Afghan mountain ranges or across the border into Pakistan during operations. This resulted in a number of fruitless missions conducted by American and British forces, in which no combat occurred and no enemy forces were captured or killed. Even with popular support, and it is not certain that the coalition has obtained it, and advanced surveillance technology, locating small bands of 5-10 men in the vast stretches of rugged terrain that exist in southeastern Afghanistan and along the Pakistani border, and who are determined to avoid contact, is an almost impossible task. This rather frustrating situation persisted throughout 2002.

Renewed Taliban insurgency

After managing to evade U.S. forces throughout the summer of 2002, the remnants of the Taliban gradually began to regain their confidence and started to begin preparations to launch the insurgency that Mullah Muhammad Omar had promised during the Taliban's last days in power. During September, Taliban forces began a recruitment drive in Pashtun areas in both Afghanistan and Pakistan to launch a renewed "jihad" or holy war against the Afghan government and the U.S-led coalition. Pamphlets distributed in secret during the night also began to appear in many villages in the former Taliban heartland in southeastern Afghanistan that called for jihad. Small mobile training camps were established along the border with Pakistan by al-Qaeda and Taliban fugitives to train new recruits in guerilla warfare and terrorist tactics, according to Afghan sources and a United Nations report. Most of the new recruits were drawn from the madrassas or religious schools of the tribal areas of Pakistan, from which the Taliban had originally arisen. Major bases, a few with as many as 200 men, were created in the mountainous tribal areas of Pakistan by the summer of 2003. Slipping across the long and rugged border in small groups is a relatively simple task, even with heavy patrolling by security forces. The will of the Pakistani paramilitaries stationed at border crossings to prevent such infiltration were called into question, and Pakistani military operations proved of little use.

The Taliban gradually reorganized and reconstituted their forces over the winter, preparing for a summer offensive. They established a new mode of operation: gather into groups of around 50 to launch attacks on isolated outposts and convoys of Afghan soldiers, police, or militia and then breaking up into groups of 5-10 men to evade subsequent offensives. U.S. forces in the strategy were attacked indirectly, through rocket attacks on bases and improvised mines planted in the roadside. To coordinate the strategy, Mullah Omar named a 10-man leadership council for the resistance, with himself at the head. Five operational zones were created, assigned to various Taliban commanders such as the key Taliban leader Mullah Dadullah, in charge of Zabul province operations. Al-Qaeda forces in the east had a bolder strategy of concentrating on the Americans and catching them when they could with elaborate ambushes.

The first sign that Taliban forces were regrouping came on January 28, when a band of 80 fighters allied with the Taliban and Hezb-i-Islami were discovered and assaulted by U.S. forces at the Adi Ghar cave complex 15 miles (24 km) north of Spin Boldak. 18 rebels were reported killed and no U.S. casualties reported. The site was suspected to be a base to funnel supplies and fighters from Pakistan. The first isolated attacks by relatively large Taliban bands on Afghan targets also appeared around that time.

As the summer continued, the attacks gradually increased in frequency in the "Taliban heartland." Dozens of Afghan government soldiers, non-governmental organization and humanitarian workers, and several U.S. soldiers died in the raids, ambushes, and rocket attacks. In addition to the guerilla attacks, Taliban fighters began building up their forces in the district of Dai Chopan, a district in Zabul province that also straddles Kandahar and Uruzgan and is at the very center of the Taliban heartland. Dai Chopan district is a remote and sparsely populated corner of southeastern Afghanistan composed of towering, rocky mountains interspersed with thin gorges. Taliban fighters decided it would be the perfect area to make a stand against the Afghan government and the coalition forces.

Nature of the 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. Although undoubtedly of practical value, in some cases it 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 offered support. Pakistan and Iran agreed to open borders to receive the expected increased migration of refugees from Afghanistan. Earlier, Pakistan had supported the Taliban, especially during the 1996-1998 period - later relations between the two were not as close. After the 9/11 attacks, Pakistan allocated three airbases to the United States for the invasion of Afghanistan. Uzbekistan has allowed the U.S. to place troops on the ground as well as use an airfield for humanitarian relief. 34 nations participate in the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) for Afghanistan. [4] (http://www.afnorth.nato.int/ISAF/index.htm)

Casualties of the invasion

Major 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. A similar case occurred with another mine clearing facility on November 19, killing 12 people.

On October 10, 2001, the Sultanpur mosque in Jalalabad was bombed twice - once during prayer, and again when rescue workers returned to remove the wounded and the dead. Initial casualty estimates ranged from 15-70 in the first attack, and up to 120 in the second. This two-hit bombing was repeated later on November 19, when 32 people were killed in Shamshad and then the rescuers were hit again. Several other mosques were bombed later, such as the Kunduz mosque on October 12 and the particularly deadly bombing of the Kala Shah Pir village mosque on October 23. On the same day, the villages of Darunta, Torghar, and Farmada were bombed, killing between 28 and 100 people.

On October 11, 2001, the village of Karam was completely destroyed. Reporters on the scene reported having to hold their noses due to the smell. Between 160 and 200 people, in addition to their livestock, were killed, as reported by the surviving villagers. In response, Donald Rumsfeld stated "We do not have information that validates any of that", but added that Washington's information on the ground was "imperfect". Al-Qaeda was believed to have training camps and ammunition storage tunnels in the area around Karam.

On October 17, 2001, downtown Kandahar was targeted with bombs and rockets in the area around a ministry building; the bombing destroyed several dozen stores and homes, and killing between 40 and 47 people. This was repeated the following day elsewhere in Kandahar, where bombs near the Kepten intersection destroyed a bazaar and killed between 10 and 47 additional people. This began a relatively deadly few days, where 40 people were killed in the Kabul area on the 18th, several dozen people were killed in Tarin Kot on the 19th, and 60-70 were killed in Herat and 50 killed in Kandahar on the 20th.

On October 21, 2001, the casualty rate peaked with the bombing of a hospital and mosque in Herat. The 200 bed hospital, used for both military and civilian patients, was reportedly not the target; the target was 300 feet away. Approximately 100 bodies were found among the wreckage. On the same day, over 20 people (including 9 children) died when the tractor trailer used by several families to flee Tarin Kut was bombed (similar to an event on October 24); a stray bomb in the Parod Gajadad district of Khair Khana destroyed two homes; in another district of Khair Khana, 18 people were killed when 17 homes were destroyed by a bomb that missed a military base by 1/2 mile (800 m); 5 people from Kabul's Kaluezaman Khan neighborhood were killed; an 8 year old girl was killed in Macroyan, Kabul; 23 people were killed in the village Thori; 11 people were killed in Tarin Kut; and 3 were killed in Kandahar city. The following day, the casualty rate didn't fall much, with the coalition stepping up the targeting of fuel trucks and the accidental bombing of homes and shops in several cities, killing well over 100 people.

On October 23, 2001, the village of Chowkar Kariz was destroyed; testimony from the survivors indicated a casualty number between 52 and 93. Times journalist Paul Rogers reported that "not a single house has been left intact" and that "evidence that this remote spot had ever been used for military or terrorist purposes is non-existant." In the face of opposition from human rights groups, including Human Rights Watch, U.S. officials continued to claim that the town was a "fully legitimate target" and that "the people there are dead because we wanted them dead." This was the last major case of civilian casualties for the next few weeks, as incidents dropped to an average of four per day and an average of about 8 casualties per said attack. The most lethal attack between the 23rd and November 4, 2001 was an attack on residential areas in Kabul on October 29 that took 25 lives.

On November 5, 2001, an upswing in civilian casualties occurred with major attacks on Kabul and villages in the Balkh province. The most deadly of the attacks occurred in Ogopruk village, near Mazar e Sharif, where 36 people in a residential area were killed by stray bombs. The daily civilian casualty rate remained over 50 through November 10th, where it peaked with attacks on three villages near Khakrez that killed approximately 125 people.

On November 17, 2001, 62 people were killed in the bombing of a Madrassa in Khost, while 42 nomads were killed near Maiwand, two families with a total of 30 people were killed in Charikar village, 28 people were killed in Zani Khel village, and other scattered attacks took another 13 lives.

November 18, 2001 proved to be one of the more deadly days of bombing in the conflict. Scores of gypsies were killed in Kundar, 100-150 people were killed in villages near Khanabad in an attack described by witnesses as "carpet bombing", 35 people were killed in Shamshad village, and 24 in Garikee Kah village. Several of these villages were near the front lines, and were likely hit by stray bombs. A similar error occurred on November 20 when 40 people were killed as their mud houses collapsed from a stray bomb in a village near the Kunduz front line.

On November 25, 2001, 92 people (including 18 women and 7 children) were killed by bombing in Kandahar. On the same day, 70 people were killed when cluster bombs were dropped in the Kunduz area, as well as scattered deaths in Adha village and Takhta-Pal.

On December 1, 2001, about 100 people were killed by 25 bombs in their houses in the village of Kama Ado. Kandahar city reported numerous civilian casualties, while four trucks and five busses carrying passengers fleeing the war were hit on a highway, killing 30. Talkhel and Balut villages suffered 50 casualties, while Chperagem village suffered 28. About 20 people were killed in the Agam district, while 15 people died in refugee vehicles in Arghisan, and over 30 people died in the Jada area near Herat. It proved to be another particularly lethal day in the conflict for civilians.

The subsequent days were little improved. About 150 civilians died across the country on December 2 in a variety of villages. In the same week, over 300 villagers in the white mountains near Tora Bora, as US forces attacked villages which fighters passed through, hoping to kill any which remained in the area.

After the Tora Bora bombing campaign, the effort dispersed to kill Taliban and al-Qaeda members fleeing with their families, and focused on the Paktia and Paktika provinces. Numerous villages were hit shortly after the leaders passed through, leaving a chain of destruction following their path. The first place to be struck was Mashikhel in Paktia, in what inaccurate intelligence had said was a Taliban base. The city's mosque (Saqawa) was hit, killing 10 and injuring 12. The bombing then moved to Mashkhel, killing another 16 civilians. On December 20, 2001, U.S. AC-130 gunships and Navy fighters attacked and destroyed a convoy in Afghanistan believed to be carrying the leaders and struck surrounding villages. The convoy turned out to be carrying tribal elders heading to the inauguration ceremony for Hamid Karzai; between 20 and 65 people died. Overnight on the 27th, US forces struck at the village of Naka. Between 25 and 40 people were killed, 5-25 houses were destroyed, and 4-60 people were injured; however, US forces got one of their targets (the Taliban's Minister of Security, Qari Ahmadullah) and two sons of a commander they were also seeking (Maulvi Ahmed Taha). Taha himself was not killed in the attack. The next night, the village of Shekhan was bombed, killing 15 civilians and destroying three houses.

The following day (December 31, 2001), one of the largest single incidents of civilian casualties in the entire war occurred: at least one U.S. fighter jet, a B-52 bomber and two helicopters swooped on Qalaye Niazi near Gardez, killing over 100 people. The area was littered with craters; one person (Janat Gul) recounted how all other 24 members of her family were killed. Body parts were reported scattered throughout the streets; the United Nations has confirmed that all of the dead were civilians.

It is unknown whether the attacks ever killed Taha; all in all, between 194 and 269 civilians were killed in the last round of attacks aimed at the two leaders over a period of two weeks.

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. One person, witnessed alive when the survivors were taken prisoner, was later found dead with handcuffs on and a shot to the back of the neck, stomach, and shoulder. Prisoners taken reported being physically abused by their captors while in captivity. On the car outside, on one of the trucks US forces destroyed when they raided, was a piece of paper with an American flag that read "God Bless America" and "Have a nice day. From Damage, Inc."

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 (800 m) 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, 2002, four Canadian soldiers were killed (Sgt. Marc Leger, Cpl. Ainsworth Dyer, Pte. Richard Green and Pte. Nathan Smith) and eight wounded during a night-time live-fire training exercise near Kandahar. The Four were killed when an American F-16 fighter jet in the area, unaware of the exercise, noticed the ground fire and responded by dropping a bomb without determining who the combatants were. These were the first Canadian soldiers to be killed in combat since the Korean War. The pilot, U.S. Air Force Maj. Harry Schmidt, disobeyed an air controller's order to "standby" while information was verified. Schmidt was initially charged by the U.S. Air Force with 4 counts of involuntary manslaughter and 8 counts of assault. The charges were dropped in June 2003 and in July 2004 he was found guilty of dereliction of duty.

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.

February 2003 - At least 17 civilians, mostly women and children, were killed in coalition bombing raids in a mountainous region Helmand province.

April 9, 2003 - Eleven Afghans were killed and one wounded when a stray U.S. laser-guided bomb hit a house on the outskirts of Shkin in Paktika province.

September 2003 - At least eight civilians died in a U.S. air strike in the Naw Bahar district of the Zabul province that also killed a Taliban commander.

October 30, 2003 - In a small hamlet near the village of Aranj in the Waygal district of Nuristan province, Afghanistan, six people of the same family were killed when a house was bombarded by U.S. warplanes. The house belonged to a former provincial governor, Ghulam Rabbani, who was in Kabul at the time. The raid was aimed at Gulbuddin Hekmatyar and Mullah Faqirullah, both of whom had left the area just hours before. The victims (three children, an adolescent, a young man and an old woman) were all relatives of Mullah Rabbani.

November 15, 2003 - Six civilians died when a U.S. warplane dropped a bomb in the Barmal district of Paktika province.

December 5, 2003 - Near Gardez in Paktia province, an air and ground attack by U.S. special forces on a compound, used by a rebel commander Mullah Jalani to store munitions, killed six children and two adults.

December 6. 2003 - Seven boys, two girls and a 25-year-old man were killed when two U.S. A-10 Thunderbolt II planes fired rockets and bullets into a group of villagers sitting under a tree in Hutala. Mullah Wazir, the intended target, was not at home at the time. U.S. ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad stated the next day that Wazir was killed in the attack, but retracted the statement shortly after.

January 18, 2004 - Four children and seven adults were killed by a U.S. air strike on the village of Saghatho.

Total casualties

According to Marc W. Herold's Dossier on Civilian Victims of United States' Aerial Bombing (http://pubpages.unh.edu/~mwherold/) up to 3600 civilians were killed as a result of US bombing. According to Jonathan Steele of The Guardian between 20,000 and 49,600 people may have died of the consequences of the invasion.

Many people, however, dispute Herold's estimates. Joshua Muravchik of the American Enterprise Institute and Carl Conetta of the Project on Defense Alternatives question Herold's heavy use of the Afghan Islamic Press (the Taliban's official mouthpiece), suspicious tallies of other news agencies, and statistical errors in Herold's study[5] (http://www.comw.org/pda/0201oef.html#appendix2) [6] (http://www.weeklystandard.com/Content/Public/Articles/000/000/001/565otmps.asp?pg=1). Conetta's study puts total civilian casualties between 1000 and 1300 [7] (http://www.comw.org/pda/0201oef.html#appendix1). A Los Angeles Times study put the number of collateral dead between 1,067 and 1,201.

Whatever the true number of civilian casualties in Operation Enduring Freedom, it has been the least bloody war in modern Afghan history. For example, about 1.8 million people were killed during the Afghan Civil war and subsequent Soviet Invasion.

See also: Coalition Casualties in Afghanistan

Diplomatic efforts

Meetings of various Afghan 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

A USAF  returns to base from a humanitarian drop
A USAF 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 Programme temporarily suspended activities within Afghanistan at the beginning of the bombing attacks. The efforts have, as of early (December 2001), resumed with a daily distribution 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.

Human rights abuses

The Dasht-i-Leili massacre allegedly occurred in December, 2001, when a number (disputed to be between 250 and 3000) Taliban prisoners were shot or suffocated to death in metal truck containers while being transferred by U.S. and Northern Alliance soldiers from Kunduz to Sheberghan prison in northern Afghanistan.[8] (http://www.sundayherald.com/25520). These claims are disputed by journalist Robert Young Pelton, who was present at the time of the incident . [9] (http://www.uexpress.com/tedrall/?uc_full_date=20030204).

There are allegations that coalition soldiers tortured prisoners in interrogations; many complaints center on the U.S. prison camp at Camp X-Ray at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. [10] (http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/articles/A11017-2004May8.html)

Abdul Wali died on 2003-06-21 at a base near Asadabad. He was brutally beaten by former Army Ranger and CIA contractor David Passaro, who was arrested on 2004-06-17 on four counts of assault. [11] (http://www.reuters.com/printerFriendlyPopup.jhtml?type=topNews&storyID=5451302)

In February of 2005, the American Civil Liberties Union released documents they had obtained from the United States Army which showed that, following the Abu Ghraib scandal, the Army in Afghanistan had destroyed photographs which documented the abuse of prisoners in their custody. Pictures were taken in the area of Fire Base Tycze, and around the villages of Gurjay and Sukhagen. The pictures were alleged to have shown soldiers posing with hooded and bound detainees during mock executions.

An Army specialist claimed that he knew that similar photos had been destroyed after images of the Abu Ghraib torture were released. Another specialist said that he was photographed standing behind a hooded prisoner, holding a gun to the prisoner's head. The documents also detailed reports of an Army investigation which concluded that as many as eight had pointed weapons at bound prisoners and took pictures. Another part of the report said that an Iraqi detainee had alleged that Americans in civilian clothes had beaten him and fired an empty pistol into his mouth.

Senior American psychological operations officers in Afghanistan were also quoted as reporting assaults on civilians.

See also: Bagram torture and prisoner abuse and Impeach Bush campaign.

Protests, demonstrations and rallies

Several small protests occurred in various cities and college campuses across the United States and in other countries in the first days after the start of the bombing 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 both Islamic and non-Islamic nations, protests and rallies of various sizes against the attack on Afghanistan took place.

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.

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".

Disputable information 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 (steganography), and that the airing of such propaganda was inadvisable. The networks stated that they would review the tapes before airing them.

Slogans and terms

  • US Government:
  • Yahoo: "Allied Strikes"
  • CNN: "America Strikes Back", "America's New War"
  • MSNBC: "America Strikes Back"
  • ABC: "America Strikes"
  • NBC: "Taliban Attacked"
  • New York Times: "America Attacks" & "A Nation Challenged"

2001 U.S. Attack on Afghanistan -- Timeline

See also: Afghanistan timeline, Invasions of Afghanistan, History of Afghanistan since 1992

External link

bg:Война в Афганистан (2001 - 2002) de:US-Krieg in Afghanistan fr:Guerre d'Afghanistan 2001 nl:Oorlog in Afghanistan ja:アメリカのアフガニスタン侵攻 fi:Afganistanin sota


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