The War in Afghanistan
A basic overview of the war in Afghanistan
After 9/11, President George W. Bush gave the rulers of Afghanistan an ultimatum: hand over the terrorists responsible for 9/11, or “share in their fate.” The Taliban—the Islamic fundamentalists who ruled the country—refused to surrender their ally, terrorist leader Osama bin-Laden. Air strikes began on 10/7/01, less than a month after 9/11. American, British and other soldiers fought together with Afghans opposed to the Taliban. The goals: remove the Taliban from power, find bin-Laden and his lieutenants, and destroy his organization, known as Al-Qaeda. Taliban forces fled from Kabul, the capital city, on 11/12/01, and retreated toward the mountainous border of Afghanistan and Pakistan. With U.S. support, a new government was installed, with Hamid Karzai as President. The Taliban gradually rebuilt its fighting forces and carried out attacks against the new government and American soldiers. Noting the Taliban’s growing strength and the difficulty of fighting an enemy hidden in remote caves and mountains, many observers said that the war was unwinnable. On 12/1/09, President Obama announced a new strategy: the rapid deployment of 30,000 additional troops, to break the Taliban’s momentum and turn the war around. Despite slow progress, serious obstacles remain. President Karzai’s followers have been accused of brazen fraud in his 2009 reelection, further eroding support for his government among the Afghan people, who complain of widespread corruption. The Taliban has proven difficult to uproot. Nevertheless, after the assassination of Osama bin-Laden in May, 2011, President Obama announced he would accelerate the withdrawal of that American forces—reflecting, in part, America’s war-weariness and lingering economic woes. Pressure to pull U.S. troops out earlier than planned
Three separate incidents during the early months of 2012 inflamed Afghans against the American military. First, four American Marines were videotaped urinating on the corpses of Taliban insurgents. Next, copies of the Koran were thrown into a trash incinerator on a U.S. military base—inadvertently, a spokesman said. That incident set off violent riots, leaving 30 people dead, including two American officers. Finally, in March, an American soldier went from house to house, murdered 16 Afghan villagers (many of them women and children), and burned some of their bodies. In response to the incident, President Karzai demanded that the U.S. pull its troops out of Afghan villages, back to military bases. Many Americans now want the president to speed up the troop withdrawal—but military and political leaders oppose a change in the timetable, which calls for most of the 90,000 U.S. troops now in Afghanistan to come home by December, 2014. For now, the president has not decided to change U.S. withdrawal plans. Where exactly is Afghanistan?
Between Iran and Pakistan. (Picture India on a map; go northwest, past Pakistan, and you’re there.) Our purpose
The U.S. originally hoped to replace the Taliban regime with a Western-style democracy. Corruption seems to run deep in the Karzai government, however; our main purposes now are to keep the Taliban from returning to power and to prevent Afghanistan from again becoming a haven for anti-Western terrorist groups. In order to accomplish that, the U.S. will have to help Karzai’s government provide Afghan citizens with basic services and security, so they won’t give their support to the Taliban. Historical background
From 1979-1989, the Soviet Union joined the Marxist government of Afghanistan in trying to put down an Islamist insurgency. Religious guerrillas known as the mujahadeen fought to push the Soviets out. In 1989, they succeeded. (The Reagan Administration armed and funded the mujahadeen in their war against the Soviets—a Cold War tactic that led to the rise of the Taliban.) The Communist government in Afghanistan fell in 1992, three years after...
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