Military Wiki
War in Afghanistan
Afghanistan (orthographic projection).svg
Location of Afghanistan
Date27 April 1978 – ongoing
(44 years, 2 weeks and 6 days)


  • Communist coup (1978)
  • Uprisings against PDPA government
  • Soviet intervention (1979)
  • Resistance against Soviet intervention
  • Soviet withdrawal (1989)
  • Collapse of the PDPA government (1992)
  • Establishment of the Islamic State of Afghanistan (1992)
  • Inter-factional fighting
  • Establishment of the Taliban Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan (1996)
  • Resistance to the Taliban Emirate by the United Front
  • NATO intervention (2001)
  • Fall of the Taliban government and establishment of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan (2001)
  • Taliban insurgency
Casualties and losses

War in Afghanistan began on 27 April 1978, when the People's Democratic Party of Afghanistan (PDPA) took power in a military coup, known as the Saur Revolution. Most of Afghanistan subsequently experienced uprisings against the PDPA government. The Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan in December 1979 to replace the existing communist government. Afghanistan's resistance forces, known as the mujahideen, fought against the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. Some factions received support by the United States, with the Pakistani ISI serving as the U.S. middleman, and Saudi Arabia. The Soviet Union had to withdraw its troops in February 1989. The Soviet-backed Afghan communist regime survived for three more years until the fall of Kabul in 1992.

In 1992, the Afghan political parties agreed on the Peshawar Accords which established the Islamic State of Afghanistan and appointed an interim government. Militia leader Gulbuddin Hekmatyar was opposed to the agreement and with Pakistani support started a bombardment campaign against Kabul. Additionally, three militias who had been able to occupy some suburbs of Kabul engaged in a violent war against each other. Regional powers such as Pakistan, Iran, Saudi Arabia, India and Uzbekistan seeking influence over the geostrategically located Afghanistan each supported and in some cases controlled one of those militias. While Kabul and some other major cities witnessed most of the fighting during that period most of the more rural parts of Afghanistan, which had seen especially massive bombardment by the Soviets and Communists, remained relatively calm. In late 1994/early 1995 as the Islamic State's minister of defense Ahmad Shah Massoud had been able to defeat most of the militias militarily in Kabul and had restored some calm to the capital, the Taliban emerged as a new faction threatening Kabul.

The Taliban had initially emerged as a new force in the southern city of Kandahar conquering many southern and central provinces not under Islamic State control in the course of 1994. In early 1995, as they launched a major operation against the capital Kabul, they suffered a devastating defeat against the Islamic State forces of Massoud in what many analysts saw as the movement's end. By 1996, however, they had regrouped with massive military support by Pakistan and financial support by Saudi Arabia. In September 1996 they took power in Kabul and established the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan. The United Islamic Front (Northern Alliance) was created under the leadership of Ahmad Shah Massoud as a military-political resistance force against the Taliban Emirate which was backed militarily by Pakistan's Army and enforced by several thousand Al Qaeda fighters from Arab countries and Central Asia. Following the September 11 attacks inside the United States in 2001, NATO intervened in Afghanistan under Operation Enduring Freedom. The purpose of this was to defeat Al-Qaeda, remove the Taliban from power and create a viable democratic state.

Rise and fall of communism


Public transportation in a peaceful Afghan capital Kabul in the 1950s

From 1933 to 1973 Afghanistan witnessed a lengthy period of peace and relative stability.[6] It was ruled as a monarchy by King Zahir Shah who belonged to the Afghan Barakzai dynasty.[6][7] In the 1960s, Afghanistan as a constitutional monarchy held limited parliamentary elections.[8]

Zahir Shah, who would become the last king of Afghanistan, was overthrown peacefully by his cousin Mohammed Daoud Khan in 1973 after discontent with the monarchy was growing in the urban areas of Afghanistan.[6] The country had witnessed several droughts and charges of corruption and poor economic policies were leveled against the ruling dynasty. Khan transformed the monarchy into a republic with him becoming the first President of Afghanistan. He was supported by a faction of the People's Democratic Party of Afghanistan (PDPA), Afghanistan's communist party, which had been founded in 1965 and enjoyed strong relations with the Soviet Union. Neamatollah Nojumi writes in The Rise of the Taliban in Afghanistan: Mass Mobilization, Civil War, and the Future of the Region:

"The establishment of the Republic of Afghanistan increased the Soviet investment in Afghanistan and the PDPA influence in the government's military and civil bodies."[9]

By 1976, alarmed by the growing power of the PDPA and the party's strong affiliation with the Soviet Union, Daoud Khan tried to scale back the PDPA's influence.[9] He dismissed PDPA members from their government posts, appointed conservative elements instead and finally announced the dissolution of the PDPA arresting senior party members.[9]

Communist coup

On April 27, 1978, the PDPA and military units loyal to the PDPA, killed Daoud Khan, his immediate family and bodyguards in a violent coup, and seized control of the capital Kabul.[9] As the PDPA had chosen a weekend holiday, when many government employees were having a day off, as the time to conduct the coup, Daoud Khan had not been able to activate fully in time the well-trained armed forces which remained loyal to him to counter the coup.[9]

The new PDPA government, led by a revolutionary council, did not enjoy the support of the masses.[9] Therefore it soon announced and implemented a hostile doctrine against any political dissent, whether inside or outside the party.[9] The first communist leader in Afghanistan, Nur Muhammad Taraki, was assassinated by his fellow communist Hafizullah Amin.[10] Amin was known for his independent and nationalist inclinations, and was also seen by many as a ruthless leader. He has been accused of killing tens of thousands of Afghan civilians at Pul-e-Charkhi and other national prisons. 27,000 politically motivated executions reportedly took place at Pul-e-Charkhi prison alone.[11]

Soviet intervention and withdrawal

The Soviet Union intervened in Afghanistan on December 24, 1979. Amin was almost immediately deposed from power after he and 200 of his guards were killed by Soviet Army Spetsnaz. After deployment into Afghanistan, Soviet forces along with government forces would begin to engage in a protracted counter-insurgency war with Mujaheddin fighters.

A Soviet Spetsnaz group prepares for a mission in 1988

The Soviet government realized that a military solution to the conflict would require far more troops. Because of this they discussed troop withdrawals and searched for a political and peaceful solution as early as 1980, but they never took any serious steps in that direction until 1988. Early Soviet military reports confirm the difficulties the Soviet army had while fighting on the mountainous terrain, for which the Soviet army had no training whatsoever. Parallels with the Vietnam War were frequently referred to by Soviet army officers.[12]

Policy failures, and the stalemate that ensued after the Soviet intervention, led the Soviet leadership to become highly critical of Karmal's leadership. Under Mikhail Gorbachev, the Soviet Union was able to depose Karmal and replace him with Mohammad Najibullah. Karmal's leadership was seen as a failure by the Soviet Union because of the rise of violence and crime during his administration.

Throughout the Soviet withdrawal from Afghanistan, troop convoys came under attack by Afghan rebel fighters. In all, 523 Soviet soldiers were killed during the withdrawal. The total withdrawal of all Soviet troops from Afghanistan was completed in February 1989.[13] The last Soviet soldier to leave was Lieutenant General Boris Gromov, leader of the Soviet military operations in Afghanistan at the time of the Soviet invasion.[14] In total 14,453 Soviet soldiers died during the Afghan war.

The Soviet war had a damaging impact on Afghanistan. Estimates of the Afghan deaths vary from 670,000[15] to 2 million.[15] 5–10 million Afghans fled to Pakistan and Iran, 1/3 of the prewar population of the country, and another 2 million were displaced within the country.

Fall of communism

After the Soviet withdrawal, the Republic of Afghanistan under Najibullah continued to face resistance from the various mujahideen forces. Najibullah received funding and arms from the Soviet Union until 1991 when the Soviet Union collapsed.[16] For several years the Afghan army had actually increased their effectiveness past levels ever achieved during the Soviet military presence. But the government was dealt a major blow when Abdul Rashid Dostum, a leading general, created an alliance with the Shura-e Nazar of Ahmad Shah Massoud. Large parts of the Afghan communist regime capitulated to the forces of Massoud in early 1992. After the Soviet defeat the Wall Street Journal named Massoud "the Afghan who won the Cold War".[17] He had defeated the Soviet forces nine times in his home region of the Panjshir Valley in northeastern Afghanistan.[18]

Pakistan tried to install Gulbuddin Hekmatyar in power in Afghanistan against the opposition of all other mujahideen commanders and factions.[19] As early as October 1990, the Inter-Services Intelligence had devised a plan for Hekmatyar to conduct a mass bombardment of the Afghan capital Kabul with possible Pakistani troop enforcements.[19] This unilateral ISI-Hekmatyar plan came although the thirty most important mujahideen commanders had agreed on holding a conference inclusive of all Afghan groups to decide on a common future strategy.[19] Peter Tomsen reports that the protest by the other mujahideen commanders was like a "firestorm". Ahmad Zia Massoud, the brother of Ahmad Shah Massoud, said that his faction strongly opposed the plan and like other factions would take measures if any "Pakistani troops reinforced Hekmatyar". Abdul Haq was reportedly so angry about the ISI plan that he was "red in the face".[19] And Nabi Mohammad, another commander, pointed out that "Kabul's 2 million could not escape Hekmatyar's rocket bombardment – there would be a massacre."[19] Massoud's, Abdul Haq's and Amin Wardak's representatives said that "Hekmatyar's rocketing of Kabul ... would produce a civilian bloodbath."[19] The United States finally put pressure on Pakistan to stop the 1990 plan, which was subsequently called off until 1992.[19]

Islamic State and foreign interference

Flag of Hezb-e Islami. All of the Afghan political parties were unified under the Islamic State of Afghanistan in April 1992 except for Hezb-e Islami led by Gulbuddin Hekmatyar. Hezb-e Islami supported by Pakistan started a massive bombardment campaign against the Islamic State.

After the fall of Najibullah's regime in 1992, the Afghan political parties agreed on a power-sharing agreement, the Peshawar Accord. The Peshawar Accord created the Islamic State of Afghanistan and appointed an interim government for a transitional period to be followed by general democratic elections. According to Human Rights Watch:

The sovereignty of Afghanistan was vested formally in the Islamic State of Afghanistan, an entity created in April 1992, after the fall of the Soviet-backed Najibullah government. [...] With the exception of Gulbuddin Hekmatyar's Hezb-e Islami, all of the parties [...] were ostensibly unified under this government in April 1992. [...] Hekmatyar's Hezb-e Islami, for its part, refused to recognize the government for most of the period discussed in this report and launched attacks against government forces and Kabul generally. [...] Shells and rockets fell everywhere.[20]

Gulbuddin Hekmatyar received operational, financial and military support from Pakistan.[9] Afghanistan expert Amin Saikal concludes in Modern Afghanistan: A History of Struggle and Survival:

Pakistan was keen to gear up for a breakthrough in Central Asia. [...] Islamabad could not possibly expect the new Islamic government leaders [...] to subordinate their own nationalist objectives in order to help Pakistan realize its regional ambitions. [...] Had it not been for the ISI's logistic support and supply of a large number of rockets, Hekmatyar's forces would not have been able to target and destroy half of Kabul.[21]

In addition, Saudi Arabia and Iran - as competitors for regional hegemony - supported Afghan militias hostile towards each other.[21] According to Human Rights Watch, Iran was assisting the Shia Hazara Hezb-i Wahdat forces of Abdul Ali Mazari, as Iran was attempting to maximize Wahdat's military power and influence.[20][21][22] Saudi Arabia supported the Wahhabite Abdul Rasul Sayyaf and his Ittihad-i Islami faction.[20][21] Conflict between the two militias soon escalated into a full-scale war. A publication by the George Washington University describes the situation:

[O]utside forces saw instability in Afghanistan as an opportunity to press their own security and political agendas.[23]

Due to the sudden initiation of the war, working government departments, police units or a system of justice and accountability for the newly created Islamic State of Afghanistan did not have time to form. Atrocities were committed by individuals of the different armed factions while Kabul descended into lawlessness and chaos as described in reports by Human Rights Watch and the Afghanistan Justice Project.[20][24] Because of the chaos, some leaders increasingly had only nominal control over their (sub-)commanders.[25] For civilians there was little security from murder, rape and extortion.[25] An estimated 25,000 people died during the most intense period of bombardment by Hekmatyar's Hezb-i Islami and the Junbish-i Milli forces of Abdul Rashid Dostum, who had created an alliance with Hekmatyar in 1994.[24] Half a million people fled Afghanistan.[25] Human Rights Watch writes:

Rare ceasefires, usually negotiated by representatives of Ahmad Shah Massoud, Sibghatullah Mojaddedi or Burhanuddin Rabbani [the interim government], or officials from the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), commonly collapsed within days.[20]

Southern Afghanistan was under the control of neither foreign-backed militias nor the government in Kabul, but was ruled by local leaders such as Gul Agha Sherzai and their militias. In 1994, the Taliban (a movement originating from Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam-run religious schools for Afghan refugees in Pakistan) also developed in Afghanistan as a politico-religious force, reportedly in opposition to the tyranny of the local governor.[26] Mullah Omar started his movement with fewer than 50 armed madrassah students in his hometown of Kandahar.[26] When the Taliban took control of the city in 1994, they forced the surrender of dozens of local Pashtun leaders who had presided over a situation of complete lawlessness and atrocities.[25] In 1994, the Taliban took power in several provinces in southern and central Afghanistan.

A totally destroyed section of Kabul in 1993.

In late 1994, most of the militia factions (Hezb-i Islami, Junbish-i Milli and Hezb-i Wahdat) which had been fighting in the battle for control of Kabul were defeated militarily by forces of the Islamic State's Secretary of Defense Ahmad Shah Massoud. Bombardment of the capital came to a halt.[24][27][28] Massoud tried to initiate a nationwide political process with the goal of national consolidation and democratic elections, also inviting the Taliban to join the process.[29] Massoud had united political and cultural personalities, governors, commanders, clergymen and representatives to reach a lasting agreement. Massoud, like most people in Afghanistan, saw this conference as a small hope for democracy and for free elections. His favourite for candidacy to the presidency was Dr. Mohammad Yusuf, the first democratic prime minister under Zahir Shah, the former king. In the first meeting representatives from 15 different Afghan provinces met, in the second meeting there were already 25 provinces participating. Massoud went unarmed to talk to several Taliban leaders in Maidan Shar, but the Taliban declined to join this political process.[29] When Massoud returned safely, the Taliban leader who had received him as his guest paid with his life: he was killed by other senior Taliban for failing to execute Massoud while the possibility was there.

The Taliban started shelling Kabul in early 1995 but were defeated by forces of the Islamic State government under Ahmad Shah Massoud.[27] Amnesty International, referring to the Taliban offensive, wrote in a 1995 report:

This is the first time in several months that Kabul civilians have become the targets of rocket attacks and shelling aimed at residential areas in the city.[27]

The Taliban's early victories in 1994 were followed by a series of defeats that resulted in heavy losses.[25] Pakistan provided strong support to the Taliban.[21][30] Many analysts like Amin Saikal describe the Taliban as developing into a proxy force for Pakistan's regional interests which the Taliban decline.[21]

On September 26, 1996, as the Taliban, with military support by Pakistan and financial support by Saudi Arabia, prepared for another major offensive, Massoud ordered a full retreat from Kabul.[31] The Taliban seized Kabul on September 27, 1996, and established the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan.

Taliban Emirate against United Front

Taliban rise to power

Map of the situation in Afghanistan in 1996: Ahmad Shah Massoud (red), Abdul Rashid Dostum (green) and Taliban (yellow) territories

The Taliban imposed on the parts of Afghanistan under their control their interpretation of Islam. The Physicians for Human Rights (PHR) stated that:

To PHR’s knowledge, no other regime in the world has methodically and violently forced half of its population into virtual house arrest, prohibiting them on pain of physical punishment.[32]

Women were required to wear the all-covering burka, they were banned from public life and denied access to health care and education, windows needed to be covered so that women could not be seen from the outside, and they were not allowed to laugh in a manner that could be heard by others.[32] The Taliban, without any real court or hearing, cut people's hands or arms off when they were accused of stealing.[32] Taliban hit-squads watched the streets, conducting arbitrary brutal public beatings.[32]

The Taliban began preparing offensives against the remaining areas controlled by Ahmad Shah Massoud and Abdul Rashid Dostum. Massoud and Dostum, former foes, responded by allying to form the United Front (Northern Alliance) against the Taliban.[33] In addition to the dominantly Tajik forces of Massoud and the Uzbek forces of Dostum, the United Front included Hazara factions and Pashtun forces under the leadership of commanders such as Abdul Haq or Haji Abdul Qadir. Prominent politicians of the United Front were in example diplomat and Afghan prime minister Abdul Rahim Ghafoorzai or the UF's foreign minister Abdullah Abdullah. From the Taliban conquest in 1996 until November 2001 the United Front controlled roughly 30% of Afghanistan's population in provinces such as Badakhshan, Kapisa, Takhar and parts of Parwan, Kunar, Nuristan, Laghman, Samangan, Kunduz, Ghōr and Bamyan.

Taliban border guard

According to a 55-page report by the United Nations, the Taliban, while trying to consolidate control over northern and western Afghanistan, committed systematic massacres against civilians.[34][35] UN officials stated that there had been "15 massacres" between 1996 and 2001.[34][35] They also said, that "[t]hese have been highly systematic and they all lead back to the [Taliban] Ministry of Defense or to Mullah Omar himself."[34][35] In a major effort to retake the Shomali plains, the Taliban indiscriminately killed civilians, while uprooting and expelling the population. Kamal Hossein, a special reporter for the UN, reported on these and other war crimes. Upon taking Mazar-i-Sharif in 1998, about 4,000 civilians were executed by the Taliban and many more reported tortured.[36][37] The Taliban especially targeted people of Shia religious or Hazara ethnic background.[34][35] Among those killed in Mazari Sharif were several Iranian diplomats. Others were kidnapped by the Taliban, touching off a hostage crisis that nearly escalated to a full-scale war, with 150,000 Iranian soldiers massed on the Afghan border at one time.[38] It was later admitted that the diplomats were killed by the Taliban, and their bodies were returned to Iran.[39]

The documents also reveal the role of Arab and Pakistani support troops in these killings.[34][35] Bin Laden's so-called 055 Brigade was responsible for mass-killings of Afghan civilians.[40] The report by the United Nations quotes eyewitnesses in many villages describing Arab fighters carrying long knives used for slitting throats and skinning people.[34][35]

Role of the Pakistani military

The Taliban were largely founded by Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) in 1994.[41][42][43][44][45][46][47][48] The ISI used the Taliban to establish a regime in Afghanistan which would be favorable to Pakistan, as they were trying to gain strategic depth.[49][50][51][52] Since the creation of the Taliban, the ISI and the Pakistani military have given financial, logistical and military support.[53][54][55]

According to Pakistani Afghanistan expert Ahmed Rashid, "between 1994 and 1999, an estimated 80,000 to 100,000 Pakistanis trained and fought in Afghanistan" on the side of the Taliban.[56] Peter Tomsen stated that up until 9/11 Pakistani military and ISI officers along with thousands of regular Pakistani armed forces personnel had been involved in the fighting in Afghanistan.[19]

In 2001 alone, according to several international sources, 28,000-30,000 Pakistani nationals, 14,000-15,000 Afghan Taliban and 2,000-3,000 Al Qaeda militants were fighting against anti-Taliban forces in Afghanistan as a roughly 45,000 strong military force.[29][40][57][58] Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf – then as Chief of Army Staff – was responsible for sending thousands of Pakistanis to fight alongside the Taliban and Bin Laden against the forces of Ahmad Shah Massoud.[29][30][59] Of the estimated 28,000 Pakistani nationals fighting in Afghanistan, 8,000 were militants recruited in madrassas filling regular Taliban ranks.[40] A 1998 document by the U.S. State Department confirms that "20–40 percent of [regular] Taliban soldiers are Pakistani."[30] The document further states that the parents of those Pakistani nationals "know nothing regarding their child's military involvement with the Taliban until their bodies are brought back to Pakistan."[30] According to the U.S. State Department report and reports by Human Rights Watch, the other Pakistani nationals fighting in Afghanistan were regular Pakistani soldiers especially from the Frontier Corps but also from the army providing direct combat support.[30][60]

Former Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf sent more troops against the United Front of Ahmad Shah Massoud than the Afghan Taliban

Human Rights Watch wrote in 2000:

Of all the foreign powers involved in efforts to sustain and manipulate the ongoing fighting [in Afghanistan], Pakistan is distinguished both by the sweep of its objectives and the scale of its efforts, which include soliciting funding for the Taliban, bankrolling Taliban operations, providing diplomatic support as the Taliban's virtual emissaries abroad, arranging training for Taliban fighters, recruiting skilled and unskilled manpower to serve in Taliban armies, planning and directing offensives, providing and facilitating shipments of ammunition and fuel, and ... directly providing combat support.[60]

On August 1, 1997 the Taliban launched an attack on Sheberghan the main military base of Abdul Rashid Dostum. Dostum has said the reason the attack was successful was due to 1500 Pakistani commandos taking part and that the Pakistani air force also gave support.[61]

In 1998, Iran accused Pakistan of sending its air force to bomb Mazar-i-Sharif in support of Taliban forces and directly accused Pakistani troops for "war crimes at Bamiyan". [62] The same year Russia said, Pakistan was responsible for the "military expansion" of the Taliban in northern Afghanistan by sending large numbers of Pakistani troops some of whom had subsequently been taken as prisoners by the anti-Taliban United Front.[63]

In 2000, the UN Security Council imposed an arms embargo against military support to the Taliban, with UN officials explicitly singling out Pakistan. The UN secretary-general implicitly criticized Pakistan for its military support and the Security Council stated it was "deeply distress[ed] over reports of involvement in the fighting, on the Taliban side, of thousands of non-Afghan nationals."[64] In July 2001, several countries including the United States, accused Pakistan of being "in violation of U.N. sanctions because of its military aid to the Taliban."[65] The Taliban also obtained financial resources from Pakistan. In 1997 alone, after the capture of Kabul by the Taliban, Pakistan gave $30 million in aid and a further $10 million for government wages.[66]

In 2000, British Intelligence reported that the ISI was taking an active role in several Al Qaeda training camps.[67] The ISI helped with the construction of training camps for both the Taliban and Al Qaeda.[67][68][69] From 1996 to 2001 the Al Qaeda of Osama Bin Laden and Ayman al-Zawahiri became a state within the Taliban state.[70] Bin Laden sent Arab and Central Asian Al-Qaeda militants to join the fight against the United Front, among them his Brigade 055.[70][71]

Anti-Taliban resistance

Ahmad Zia Massoud (left), the brother of anti-Taliban leader Ahmad Shah Massoud

Abdul Rashid Dostum and his forces were defeated by the Taliban in 1998. Dostum subsequently went into exile. The only leader to remain in Afghanistan, and who was able to defend vast parts of his area against the Taliban, was Ahmad Shah Massoud. In the areas under his control Ahmad Shah Massoud set up democratic institutions and signed the Women's Rights Declaration.[29] In the area of Massoud, women and girls did not have to wear the Afghan burqa. They were allowed to work and to go to school. In at least two known instances, Massoud personally intervened against cases of forced marriage.[29] To Massoud there was reportedly nothing worse than treating a person like an object.[29] He stated:

It is our conviction and we believe that both men and women are created by the Almighty. Both have equal rights. Women can pursue an education, women can pursue a career, and women can play a role in society — just like men.[29]

Author Pepe Escobar wrote in Massoud: From Warrior to Statesman:

Massoud is adamant that in Afghanistan women have suffered oppression for generations. He says that 'the cultural environment of the country suffocates women. But the Taliban exacerbate this with oppression.' His most ambitious project is to shatter this cultural prejudice and so give more space, freedom and equality to women — they would have the same rights as men.[29]

While it was Massoud's stated conviction that men and women are equal and should enjoy the same rights, he also had to deal with Afghan traditions which he said would need a generation or more to overcome. In his opinion that could only be achieved through education.[29] Humayun Tandar, who took part as an Afghan diplomat in the 2001 International Conference on Afghanistan in Bonn, said that "strictures of language, ethnicity, region were [also] stifling for Massoud. That is why ... he wanted to create a unity which could surpass the situation in which we found ourselves and still find ourselves to this day."[29] This applied also to strictures of religion. Jean-José Puig describes how Massoud often led prayers before a meal or at times asked his fellow Muslims to lead the prayer but also did not hesitate to ask a Christian friend Jean-José Puig or the Jewish Princeton Professor Michael Barry: "Jean-José, we believe in the same God. Please, tell us the prayer before lunch or dinner in your own language."[29]

Human Rights Watch cites no human rights crimes for the forces under direct control of Massoud for the period from October 1996 until the assassination of Massoud in September 2001.[60] One million people fled the Taliban, many to the area of Massoud.[59][72] National Geographic concluded in its documentary "Inside the Taliban":

The only thing standing in the way of future Taliban massacres is Ahmad Shah Massoud.[59]

The Taliban repeatedly offered Massoud a position of power to make him stop his resistance. Massoud declined. He explained in one interview:

The Taliban say: “Come and accept the post of prime minister and be with us”, and they would keep the highest office in the country, the presidentship. But for what price?! The difference between us concerns mainly our way of thinking about the very principles of the society and the state. We can not accept their conditions of compromise, or else we would have to give up the principles of modern democracy. We are fundamentally against the system called “the Emirate of Afghanistan”.[73]

And in another:

There should be an Afghanistan where every Afghan finds himself or herself happy. And I think that can only be assured by democracy based on consensus.[74]

Massoud with his Proposals for Peace wanted to convince the Taliban to join a political process leading towards nationwide democratic elections in a foreseeable future.[73] Massoud also stated:

The Taliban are not a force to be considered invincible. They are distanced from the people now. They are weaker than in the past. There is only the assistance given by Pakistan, Osama bin Laden and other extremist groups that keep the Taliban on their feet. With a halt to that assistance, it is extremely difficult to survive.[74]

In early 2001 Massoud employed a new strategy of local military pressure and global political appeals.[75] Resentment was increasingly gathering against Taliban rule from the bottom of Afghan society including the Pashtun areas.[75] Massoud publicized their cause of "popular consensus, general elections and democracy" worldwide. At the same time he was very wary not to revive the failed Kabul government of the early 1990s.[75] In 1999, he began training police forces specifically to keep order and protect the civilian population, in case the United Front was successful.[29]

In early 2001 Ahmad Shah Massoud addressed the European Parliament in Brussels asking the international community to provide humanitarian help to the people of Afghanistan.[76] (see video) He stated that the Taliban and Al Qaeda had introduced "a very wrong perception of Islam" and that without the support of Pakistan and Bin Laden the Taliban would not be able to sustain their military campaign for up to a year.[77] On this visit to Europe he also warned that his intelligence had gathered information about a large-scale attack on U.S. soil being imminent.[78][not in citation given][79] The president of the European Parliament, Nicole Fontaine, called him the "pole of liberty in Afghanistan".[80]

On September 9, 2001, Massoud, then aged 48, was the target of a suicide attack by two Arabs posing as journalists at Khwaja Bahauddin, in the Takhar Province of Afghanistan.[81][82] Massoud died in a helicopter taking him to a hospital. The funeral, though in a rather rural area, was attended by hundreds of thousands of mourning people.[83]

The assassination was not the first time Al-Qaeda, the Taliban, the Pakistani ISI, and before them the Soviet KGB, the Afghan Communist KHAD and Hekmatyar had tried to assassinate Massoud. He survived countless assassination attempts over a period of 26 years. The first attempt on Massoud's life was carried out by Hekmatyar and two Pakistani ISI agents in 1975, when Massoud was only 22 years old.[22] In early 2001, Al-Qaeda would-be assassins were captured by Massoud's forces while trying to enter his territory.[75] The assassination of Massoud is considered to have a strong connection to the September 11, 2001 attacks on U.S. soil, which killed nearly 3000 people, and which appeared to be the terrorist attack that Massoud had warned against in his speech to the European Parliament several months earlier.

John P. O'Neill was a counter-terrorism expert and the Assistant Director of the FBI until late 2001. He retired from the FBI and was offered the position of director of security at the World Trade Center (WTC). He took the job at the WTC two weeks before 9/11. On September 10, 2001, O’Neill told two of his friends, "We're due. And we're due for something big.... Some things have happened in Afghanistan. [referring to the assassination of Massoud] I don’t like the way things are lining up in Afghanistan.... I sense a shift, and I think things are going to happen ... soon."[84] O'Neill died on September 11, 2001, when the South Tower collapsed.[84]

After the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, Massoud's United Front troops, with American air support, ousted the Taliban from power in Kabul in Operation Enduring Freedom. In November and December 2001 the United Front gained control of much of the country and played a crucial role in establishing the post-Taliban interim government of Hamid Karzai in late 2001.

Islamic Republic and NATO

U.S. President George W. Bush and Hamid Karzai at the Presidential Palace in Kabul, Afghanistan.

The US-led war in Afghanistan began on October 7, 2001, as Operation Enduring Freedom. It was designed to capture or kill Osama bin Laden and al-Qaeda militants as well as replace the Taliban with a US-friendly government. The Bush Doctrine stated that, as policy, it would not distinguish between al-Qaeda and nations that harbor them.

Several Afghan leaders were invited to Germany in December 2001 for the UN sponsored Bonn Agreement, which was to restore stability and governance in their country. In the first step, the Afghan Transitional Administration was formed and was installed on December 22, 2001.[85] Chaired by Hamid Karzai, it numbered 30 leaders and included a Supreme Court, an Interim Administration, and a Special Independent Commission.

Soldiers of the Afghan National Army, including the ANA Commando Brigade standing in the front.

A loya jirga (grand assembly) was convened in June 2002 by former King Zahir Shah, who returned from exile after 29 years. Hamid Karzai was elected President for the two years in the jirga, in which the Afghan Interim Authority was also replaced with the Transitional Islamic State of Afghanistan (TISA). A constitutional loya jirga was held in December 2003, adopting the new 2004 constitution, with a presidential form of government and a bicameral legislature.[86] Karzai was elected in the 2004 presidential election followed by winning a second term in the 2009 presidential election. Both the 2005 and the 2010 parliamentary elections were also successful.

In the meantime, the reconstruction process of Afghanistan began in 2002. There are more than 14,000 reconstruction projects under way in Afghanistan, such as the Kajaki and the Salma Dam.[87] Many of these projects are being supervised by the Provincial Reconstruction Teams. The World Bank contribution is the multilateral Afghanistan Reconstruction Trust Fund (ARTF), which was set up in 2002. It is financed by 24 international donor countries and has spent more than $1.37 billion as of 2007.[88] Approximately 30 billion dollars have been provided by the international community for the reconstruction of Afghanistan, most of it from the United States. In 2002, the world community allocated $4 billion at the Tokyo conference followed by another $4 billion in 2004. In February 2006, $10.5 billion were committed for Afghanistan at the London Conference[89] and $11 billion from the United States in early 2007.

The UN Security Council established the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) in December 2001 to provide basic security for the people of Afghanistan and assist the Karzai administration. Since 2002, the total number of ISAF and U.S. forces have climbed from 15,000 to 150,000. The majority of them belong to various branches of the United States armed forces, who are not only fighting the Taliban insurgency but also training the military of Afghanistan and the Afghan National Police. They are scheduled to withraw slowly until the end of 2014 but Vice President Joe Biden has proposed to retain an unknown number of U.S. military personnels after the 2014 deadline if the security situation required and the Afghan government and people desired.[90] Germany has announced that they will continue training Afghan police recruits after the 2014 withdrawal date for military troops.[91]

U.S. and Afghan troops prepare for a mission in 2010.

In recent years, NATO and Afghan troops have led many offensives against the Taliban, but proved unable to completely dislodge their presence. By 2009, a Taliban-led shadow government began to form complete with their own version of mediation court.[92] In 2010, U.S. President Barack Obama deployed an additional 30,000 soldiers over a period of six months and proposed that he will begin troop withdrawals by 2012. At the 2010 International Conference on Afghanistan in London, Afghan President Hamid Karzai said he intends to reach out to the Taliban leadership (including Mullah Omar, Sirajuddin Haqqani and Gulbuddin Hekmatyar). Supported by senior U.S. officials Karzai called on the group's leadership to take part in a loya jirga meeting to initiate peace talks. According to the Wall Street Journal, these steps have been reciprocated so far with an intensification of bombings, assassinations and ambushes.[93] Many Afghan groups (including the former intelligence chief Amrullah Saleh and opposition leader Dr. Abdullah Abdullah) believe that Karzai's plan aims to appease the insurgents' senior leadership at the cost of the democratic constitution, the democratic process and progess in the field of human rights, especially women's rights.[94] Dr. Abdullah stated:

I should say that Taliban are not fighting in order to be accommodated. They are fighting in order to bring the state down. So it's a futile exercise, and it's just misleading. ... There are groups that will fight to the death. Whether we like to talk to them or we don't like to talk to them, they will continue to fight. So, for them, I don't think that we have a way forward with talks or negotiations or contacts or anything as such. Then we have to be prepared to tackle and deal with them militarily. In terms of the Taliban on the ground, there are lots of possibilities and opportunities that with the help of the people in different parts of the country, we can attract them to the peace process; provided, we create a favorable environment on this side of the line. At the moment, the people are leaving support for the government because of corruption. So that expectation is also not realistic at this stage.[95]

According to a report by the United Nations, the Taliban were responsible for 76% of civilian casualties in 2009.[96] Afghanistan is currently struggling to rebuild itself while dealing with the results of 30 years of war, corruption among high level politicians and the ongoing Taliban insurgency which according to different scientific institutes such as the London School of Economics, senior international officials such as former United States Joint Chief of Staff Mike Mullen and some Taliban commanders is backed by Pakistan's intelligence service.[97][98]

At the end of July 2010, the Netherlands became the first NATO country to end its combat mission in Afghanistan after 4 years deployed. They withdrew 1,900 troops. The Atlantic Council described the decision as "politically significant because it comes at a time of rising casualties and growing doubts about the war." [99] Canada withdrew troops in 2011, but about 900 were left to train Afghani soldiers.[100][101]

In February 2012, a small number of American servicemembers burned several copies of the Quran. Some Afghans responded with massive demonstrations and riots in Kabul and other areas. Assailants killed several American military personnel, including two officers in the Interior Ministry building.

On March 11, 2012, an American soldier killed 16 civilians in the Kandahar massacre.

According to ISAF there were about 120 000 Nato led troops in Afghanistan per December 2012, of which 66 000 were US troops and 9 000 British. The rest were from 48 different countries. A process of handing over power to local forces has started and according to plans a majority of international troops will leave in 2014.[102]


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