Afghanistan fell to the control of the Taliban, or the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan, on Sunday, 15 August 2021. The Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan are a Sunni Islamic fundamentalist political movement and military organization. One of its leaders has been proclaimed President of Afghanistan. The collapse came after nearly 20 years of occupation by United States forces.
The American-Afghanistan conflict began on 7 October 2001 when American forces invaded Afghanistan, and the United States and its allies drove the Taliban from power. The reason for the invasion was in answer to the 11 September 2001 attack on the United States and the desire to deny a safe base of operations for Osama bin Laden and al-Qaeda. America is not the first nation to lose in Afghanistan. This site gives a brief history of the land known as Afghanistan.
The land that is now Afghanistan has a long history of domination by foreign conquerors and strife among internally warring factions. At the gateway between Asia and Europe, this land was conquered by Darius I of Babylonia circa 500 B.C., and Alexander the Great of Macedonia in 329 B.C., among others.
Mahmud of Ghazni, an 11th century conqueror who created an empire form Iran to India, is considered the greatest of Afghanistan’s conquerors.
Genghis Khan took over the territory in the 13th century, but it wasn’t until the 1700s that the area was united as a single country. By 1870, after the area had been invaded by various Arab conquerors, Islam had taken root.
During the 19th century, Britain, looking to protect its Indian empire from Russia, attempted to annex Afghanistan, resulting in a series of British-Afghan Wars (1838-42, 1878-80, 1919-21).
The British, beleaguered in the wake of World War I, are defeated in the Third British-Afghan War (1919-21), and Afghanistan becomes an independent nation. Concerned that Afghanistan has fallen behind the rest of the world, Amir Amanullah Khan begins a rigorous campaign of socioeconomic reform.
In 1926 Amanullah declared Afghanistan to be a monarchy, rather than an emirate, and proclaimed himself to be king of Afghanistan. He tried to institute plans to modernize the nation and limit the power of the Loya Jirga, the National Council. His attempts caused critics, frustrations, and people taking up arms in 1928. He abdicated and left the country in 1929.
Zahir Shah became the king in 1933 and brought some stability to the nation. He ruled for 40 years. The United States formally recognized Afghanistan in 1934. Britain withdrew from India in 1947 and created “the predominantly Hindu but secular state of India and the Islamic state of Pakistan.” The border between Pakistan and Afghanistan is “a long, largely uncontrollable” border.
In 1953, Mohammed Daoud Khan, a cousin of the king and a pro-Soviet, became prime minister. He looked to Russia “for economic and military assistance” and introduced “a number of social reforms including allowing women a more public presence.” In 1956, Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev agreed to help Afghanistan and became a close ally. In 1957, women were “allowed to attend university and enter the workforce.”
The Afghan Communist Party was formed secretly in 1965. In 1973, Khan overthrew the last king, Mohammed Zahir Shah, in a military coup. His regime, the People’s Democratic Party of Afghanistan, took power. Khan abolished the monarchy and named himself president. The Republic of Afghanistan became firmly tied to the USSR.
Khan proposed a new constitution granting women rights and worked to modernize the nation. He was killed in a communist coup in 1978. Nur Mohammad Taraki became the president, and Babrak Karmal became the deputy prime minister – both founding members of the Afghan Communist Party.
In 1979, American Ambassador Adolph Dubs was killed, and the United States stopped assistance to Afghanistan. On December 24, 1979, the USSR invaded Afghanistan and executed several Afghan leaders. There were “violent public demonstrations.” Early in 1980, the Mujahadeen rebels began fighting the Soviet invaders and the USSR-backed Afghan Army.
In 1982, 2.8 million Afghans fled to Pakistan, and 1.5 million fled to Iran. The Afghan guerrillas controlled rural areas, and the Soviet troops controlled the urban areas. Saudi Islamist Osama bin Laden made his first documented trip to Afghanistan in 1984 to help the guerrillas.
The United States, Britain, and China provide arms to the Mujahadeen via Pakistan in 1986. In September 1988, Osama bin Laden with 15 other Islamists formed al Qaida, or “the base,” to fight their jihad, or holy war, against the Soviets. They thought that they were winning the war with the Soviets and began planning to attack America.
Peace accords were signed in Geneva in 1989 between the United States, Pakistan, Afghanistan, and the Soviet Union. These accords guaranteed the withdrawal of 100,000 Soviet troops and Afghan independence. The Afghan guerrillas continued their resistance against the “puppet Soviet state” and had an exiled government. The Taliban, an Islamic militia, was formed in 1995 and gained power by promising peace.
Most Afghans, exhausted by years of drought, famine and war, approve of the Taliban for upholding traditional Islamic values. The Taliban outlaw cultivation of poppies for the opium trade, crack down on crime, and curtail the education and employment of women. Women are required to be fully veiled and are not allowed outside alone. Islamic law is enforced via public executions and amputations. The United States refuses to recognize the authority of the Taliban.
A continuing drought in 1995-1999 devastated farmers, and more than 1 million Afghans fled to Pakistan, living in “squalid refugee camps. In 1997, ethnic groups in the north and the south of Afghanistan “battled the Taliban for control of the country.” President Bill Clinton ordered cruise missile attacks against bin Laden’s training camps in Afghanistan after al-Qaida bombed two American embassies in Africa, but bin Laden and other leaders escaped.
By 2000, bin Laden was considered to be an international terrorist hiding in Afghanistan where he cultivated “thousands of followers in terrorist training camps.” The United States demanded that bin Laden be extradited to stand trial for the bombing of the two embassies, but the Taliban declined to extradite him. Afghanistan was sanctioned by the United Nations to restrict trade and economic development.
Al-Qaida continued their terrorist activities. On September 11, 2001, four commercial aircraft were hijacked and crashed into the World Trade Center Towers in New York, the Pentagon outside Washington, D.C., and a Pennsylvania field, killing approximately 3,000 people. A few days later, U.S. officials claimed that the attacked were engineered by bin Laden. The United States demanded that bin Laden be turned over for trial, but their demands were denied.
On October 7, 2001, forces from the United States and Great Britain launched airstrikes against targets in Afghanistan. The warplane bombed Taliban targets and bases thought to belong to the al-Qaida network. In December 2001, the Taliban leaders surrendered their last hold on Afghanistan in Kandahar.
On December 22, 2001, Hamid Karzai was sworn in as the leader of the interim government in Afghanistan. In June 2002, he was again chosen to lead an interim government until 2004. NATO took over security in Kabul in August 2003 because of increased violence. In January 2004, a new constitution was adopted after input from nearly 500,000 Afghans. In October 2004, Karzai was elected as president with 55 percent of the vote from more than 10.5 million Afghans.
Taliban and al-Qaeda members continued fighting against Afghan government forces, and NATO expanded its security responsibilities. On May 2, 2011, United States forces attacked a compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan, and killed Osama bin Laden. In December 2014, NATO officially ended its combat mission in Afghanistan, but U.S.-led NATO troops stayed to train and advise Afghan forces.
After several years of training and advising the Afghan troops, President Donald Trump said that it was time to bring America’s troops home. On February 29, 2020, the “Trump administration [signed] a withdrawal agreement with the Taliban that excluded the Afghan government, freed 5,000 imprisoned Taliban soldiers and set a date certain of May 1, 2021, for the final withdrawal.”
The Trump administration reduced American troops from about 13,000 to 2,500, even though the Taliban, including leaders from al-Qaeda, continued to attack Afghan government forces. The Biden administration delayed the date of withdrawal from May to August 31. He followed through with the withdrawal despite signs of trouble. The “Taliban wasn’t complying with the agreement and had a stated goal to create an ‘Islamic government’ in Afghanistan after the U.S. left, even if it meant it had to ‘continue our war to achieve our goal.’”
On April 14, 2021, Biden announced that it was “time to end the forever war” and that Americans would be removed from Afghanistan by September 11. “We will not conduct a hasty rush to the exit…. We’ll do it responsibly, deliberately, and safely.” He assured Americans that the Afghan military had over 300,000 personnel who were trained and equipped to “continue to fight valiantly, on behalf of the Afghans, at great cost.”
The Taliban did not accept the delay, saying that “failure to complete the withdrawal by May 1 “opens the way for [the Taliban] to take every necessary countermeasure, hence the American side will be held responsible for all future consequences.” Trump encouraged Biden to maintain the May 1 withdrawal date.
The Taliban increased its attacks against the Afghanistan government forces. U.S. forces pulled out of Bagram Airfield, the largest airfield in Afghanistan, on July 6. They left in the night without notifying Afghanistan government forces. The Taliban confiscated all the equipment and ammunition left by the Americans. Two days later, Biden moved the withdrawal date to August 31, saying “speed is safety.” He acknowledged that the Taliban “is at its strongest militarily since 2001,” but said that going back on the agreement would mean more American casualties.
Biden assured Americans that it “is not inevitable” that the Taliban would take over Afghanistan, and he denied intelligence sources saying that the government in Afghanistan would likely collapse. He claimed that withdrawing from Afghanistan would be nothing like the withdrawal from Vietnam. He did not consider the Taliban as capable of forcing such a rushed withdrawal.
The Taliban took control of its first province on August 6 and entered the Afghanistan capital Kabul on August 15. The Afghan president fled the country, and the United Stated evacuated diplomats from its embassy by helicopter – much like the fall of Saigon. Aircraft carrying Americans to safety took off with Afghans clinging to the outside of the airplane – falling to their deaths.
Biden still believes that leaving Afghanistan was the right thing to do, even if the withdrawal was botched. He said that the “buck stopped” with him, but he blamed the Afghan military for being too weak to defend their country, even though he withdrew their means of fighting. He also blamed Trump for planning the withdrawal and forcing him to carry it out.
The problem is that Biden is a different president than Trump. According to Trump, he threatened the Taliban, saying if “you decide to do something terrible to our country … we are going to come back and we are going to hit you harder than any country has ever been hit.” The Taliban know that Trump would keep his word, but they are not afraid of Biden. Trump would not have closed Bagram Airfield before all the Americans were out of Afghanistan, and he would have been dropping bombs on the Taliban before they reached Kabul! A strong leader deters attacks, while a weak leader invites them.