(Operation Enduring Freedom)
Toppling the Taliban (October 2001 - December 2001)
Within days of the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, the U.S. government blamed Al Qaeda, a group of Islamic extremists led by Osama bin Laden in Afghanistan. The Taliban, an Islamic fundamentalist regime ruling Afghanistan, had provided Al Qaeda and bin Laden sanctuary since 1996. President George W. Bush ordered the Taliban leader Mullah Omar to turn over bin Laden. When Omar refused, the President prepared for war. On October 7, 2001, Operation Enduring Freedom exploded over the skies of Afghanistan as U.S. and British planes blasted Taliban strongholds. U.S. military leaders planned to fight an unconventional war against the Taliban and Al Qaeda, relying heavily on preexisting anti-Taliban resistance fighters like the Northern Alliance to do much of the fighting while American and other coalition forces provided arms, advice, and most important, air strikes. The strategy was a huge success. The capital city, Kabul, fell to coalition forces in less than a month on November 13. Kandahar, the spiritual home of the Taliban and its last stronghold in southern Afghanistan, collapsed on December 6. Surviving Taliban and Al Qaeda leaders took flight, withdrawing into rural parts of Afghanistan and into Pakistan. A massive manhunt for Mullah Omar and Osama bin Laden
ensued, but it came up empty. American commanders believe that they came very close to capturing bin Laden at the Battle of Tora Bora during December, but he managed to escape to Pakistan and survive another ten years.Thwarting the Taliban: Nation Building and Taliban Resurgence (2002 - 2008)
With the Taliban out of power and many Al Qaeda leaders on the run, the coalition began to focus less on military efforts and more on nation building in Afghanistan, which meant billions of dollars in funding and construction teams to build up the nation's infrastructure. Another major part of nation building was to help create a path towards good representative government. By 2005, Afghans had gone to the polls to elect a Parliament and a president named Hamid Karzai, a Pashtun tribal leader who had helped to drive out the Taliban. Afghanistan got representative government, but it was not a good one. Karzai's administration, in particular, continued to be plagued by corruption and its inability to create a strong independent Afghan police force and military. Sensing weakness, the Taliban resurged in 2005. They began to copy the techniques that Iraqi insurgents were using against U.S. forces in Iraq (see the panel The Iraq War). Suicide bombings and roadside LEDs (improvised explosive devices), among other techniques, caused significant deaths and injuries to soldiers and civilians
alike. However, Afghan civilians began to blame the U.S., especially, for not being able to protect them. Furthermore, Pakistan professed publicly to be an ally of the U.S. in its War on Terror but continued to allow insurgents to reside within their borders without consequence. As a result, the U.S. began to order "drone" strikes against rebels within the borders of Pakistan. These unmanned vehicles dropped bombs that killed some of the insurgents, but not enough to squash the Taliban's resurgence. As 2007 turned into 2008, insurgent violence continued and anti-American sentiment continued to grow among the Afghan people. Taming the Taliban: The Afghanistan Surge and the Killing of Osama Bin Laden (2008 - Present)
In spring 2009, America's new President Barack Obama chose General Stanley McChrystal to remake America's Afghanistan war strategy more into the image of the successful counterinsurgency strategy being employed in Iraq since 2007, "the Surge." The strategy included an escalation of 30,000 troops, but perhaps more important, a shift in focus for the U.S. military-protecting civilians from insurgents rather than only being concerned with killing the enemy. The Afghanistan surge start- ed in 2010 and achieved some degree of success, though fighting still continued. Two major developments occurred in 2011. First, the manhunt for the person who inspired the
entire War on Terror, Osama bin Laden, came to an end when the leader of Al Qaeda was found hiding in a compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan and killed by American forces in a firefight on May 2. Second, President Obama announced on June 22 that he was instituting a plan for a full withdrawal of U.S. troops by 2014 since the U.S. had accomplished many of its initial goals for the war, including the destruction of much of Al Qaeda's structure and leadership. As of October 2011, the U.S. still had over 50,000 troops in Afghanistan, and violence between insurgents and U.S. forces continued.