War in Afghanistan (2001–2021)

War in Afghanistan (2001–2021)
Part of the Global War on Terrorism, and
the continuous Afghanistan conflict
Collage of the War in Afghanistan (2001-present).png
Clockwise from top-left: A U.S. Air Force warplane dropping a JDAM on a cave in eastern Afghanistan; US soldiers in a firefight with Taliban forces in Kunar Province; An Afghan National Army soldier surveying atop a Humvee; Afghan and US soldiers move through snow in Logar Province; Canadian forces fire an M777 howitzer in Helmand Province; An Afghan soldier surveying a valley in Parwan Province; British troops preparing to board a Chinook during Operation Tor Shezada.
(For a map of the current military situation in Afghanistan, see here.)
Date7 October 2001 – 15 August 2021
(19 years, 10 months, 1 week and 1 day)
First phase: 7 October 2001 – 28 December 2014
Second phase: 1 January 2015 – 15 August 2021

Taliban victory[29]

First phase:

Second phase:

Invasion (2001):
Afghanistan Northern Alliance
 United States
 United Kingdom
 New Zealand[1]
Invasion (2001):
Afghanistan Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan[3]
055 Brigade[4][5]

ISAF/RS phase (2001–2021):
 Transitional Islamic State of Afghanistan
 Islamic Republic of Afghanistan

Resolute Support
(2015–2021) (36 countries)[9]

ISAF/RS phase (2001–2021):
Afghanistan Taliban

(al-Qaeda in the Indian Subcontinent (AQIS)[12]
Afghanistan Taliban splinter groups
Supported by:

RS phase (2015–2021):

Commanders and leaders
Islamic Republic of Afghanistan Ashraf Ghani
United States Joe Biden
United Kingdom Boris Johnson
Australia Scott Morrison
Italy Mario Draghi
Germany Angela Merkel
Kenneth F. McKenzie Jr.
John F. Campbell
Afghanistan Mohammed Omar #
Afghanistan Akhtar Mansoor 
Afghanistan Jalaluddin Haqqani #[31]
Afghanistan Obaidullah Akhund [30]
Afghanistan Dadullah Akhund [30]
Gulbuddin Hekmatyar
Osama bin Laden 
Ayman al-Zawahiri
Asim Umar 
Haji Najibullah[32]
Shahab al-Muhajir [33]
Hafiz Saeed Khan 
Mawlavi Habib Ur Rahman[34]
Abdul Haseeb Logari 
Abdul Rahman Ghaleb 
Abu Saad Erhabi 
Abdullah Orokzai  (POW)
Qari Hekmat 
Mufti Nemat Surrendered
Dawood Ahmad Sofi 
Mohamed Zahran 
Ishfaq Ahmed Sofi 

Islamic Republic of Afghanistan Afghan National Security Forces: 352,000[35]
Resolute Support Mission: ~17,000[36]

Military Contractors: 20,000+[37]

Afghanistan Taliban: 60,000
(tentative estimate)[38]

HIG: 1,500–2,000+[42]
al-Qaeda: ~300[43][44][45] (~ 3,000 in 2001)[43]

Afghanistan IEHCA: 3,000–3,500[15]
Fidai Mahaz: 8,000[32]
Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant ISIL–KP: 3,500–4,000 (2018, in Afghanistan)[46]
Casualties and losses

Afghan security forces:
67,558–70,558+ killed[47][48]
Northern Alliance:
200 killed[49][50][51][52][53]

Dead: 3,576

Wounded: 22,773

  • United States: 19,950[55]
  • United Kingdom: 2,188[56]
  • Canada: 635[57]

Dead: 3,937[58][59]
Wounded: 15,000+[58][59]

Total killed: 73,295+
51,191+ killed[47] (2,000+ al-Qaeda fighters)[43] ISIL–KP: 2,400+ killed[27]

Civilians killed: 51,613[47][60]

Total killed: 212,191+ (per UCDP)[61]

a The continued list includes nations who have contributed fewer than 200 troops as of November 2014.[62]

b The continued list includes nations who have contributed fewer than 200 troops as of May 2017.[63]

The War in Afghanistan was a conflict that took place from 2001 to 2021[64] in the central Asian country of Afghanistan.[65] It started with an invasion[66] that led to the United States and its allies toppling the Taliban-ruled Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan in order to deny al-Qaeda a safe base of operations in the country.[67][68] For most of the period the war was officially fought between allied NATO and Afghan Armed Forces, and opposing Taliban insurgents. The Taliban regained power and re-established the Emirate 19 years and 8 months later,[69][70][71] thus winning the war.[29] It was the longest war in United States history, surpassing the Vietnam War by roughly five months.

Following the September 11 attacks in 2001, George W. Bush demanded that the Taliban, then-de facto ruling Afghanistan, hand over Osama bin Laden.[72] The Taliban's refusal to extradite him[73] led to Operation Enduring Freedom;[74] the Taliban and their Al-Qaeda allies were mostly defeated in the invasion phase by US-led forces, and the Northern Alliance which had been fighting the Taliban since 1996.

After the initial objectives were completed, a coalition of over 40 countries (including all NATO members) formed a security mission in the country called International Security Assistance Force (ISAF, succeeded by the Resolute Support Mission (RS) in 2014) of which certain members were involved in military combat allied with Afghanistan's government.[75] The war mostly consisted of Taliban insurgencies[76] fighting against the Afghan Armed Forces and allied forces; the majority of ISAF/RS soldiers and personnel were American.[75] The war was code-named by the US as Operation Enduring Freedom (2001–2014) and Operation Freedom's Sentinel (2015–2021).[77][78]

At the Bonn Conference, new Afghan interim authorities (mostly from the Northern Alliance) elected Hamid Karzai to head the Afghan Interim Administration. The United Nations Security Council established the ISAF to assist the new authority with securing Kabul. A nationwide rebuilding effort was also made following the end of the Taliban regime.[79][80][81]

However, the Taliban was reorganized by Mullah Omar and launched an insurgency against the Afghan government in 2003.[82][83] Insurgents from the Taliban and other groups waged asymmetric warfare with guerrilla raids and ambushes in the countryside, suicide attacks against urban targets, and turncoat killings against coalition forces. The Taliban exploited weaknesses in the Afghan government to reassert influence across rural areas of southern and eastern Afghanistan. From 2006 the Taliban made further gains and showed an increased willingness to commit atrocities against civilians; ISAF responded by increasing troops for counter-insurgency operations to "clear and hold" villages.[84][85]

Violence escalated from 2007 to 2009.[86] Troop numbers began to surge in 2009 and continued to increase through 2011 when roughly 140,000 foreign troops operated under ISAF and US command in Afghanistan.[87] NATO leaders in 2012 commenced an exit strategy for withdrawing their forces[88] and later the United States announced that its major combat operations would end in December 2014, leaving a residual force in the country.[89] On 28 December 2014, NATO formally ended ISAF combat operations in Afghanistan and officially transferred full security responsibility to the Afghan government. The NATO-led Operation Resolute Support was formed the same day as a successor to ISAF.[90][91]

On 29 February 2020, the United States and the Taliban signed a conditional peace deal in Doha[92] which required that US troops withdraw from Afghanistan within 14 months so long as the Taliban cooperated with the terms of the agreement not to "allow any of its members, other individuals or groups, including Al Qaeda, to use the soil of Afghanistan to threaten the security of the United States and its allies".[93][94] Additionally, insurgents belonging to al-Qaeda in the Indian Subcontinent and ISIL-K would continue to operate in parts of the country.[95] The Afghan government was not a party to the deal and rejected its terms regarding release of prisoners.[96] After Joe Biden became president, he moved back the target withdrawal date from 1 May 2021 to 11 September 2021 and then to 31 August 2021.[97] The Taliban rejected the move and after the original deadline had expired launched a broad offensive in which they captured most of Afghanistan, finally taking Kabul on 15 August 2021. The same day the president of Afghanistan Ashraf Ghani fled the country and the Taliban declared victory and the war over.[98] On 16 August Biden confirmed the Taliban takeover, with US forces remaining in the country only to assist with evacuations.[99]

According to the Costs of War project at Brown University, the war killed 171,000 to 174,000 people in Afghanistan; 51,613 civilians, 69,000 military and police and at least 51,000 Taliban fighters.[60][100] According to the UN, after the 2001 invasion, more than 5.7 million former refugees returned to Afghanistan.[101] However, since the renewed Taliban offensive of 2021, 2.6 million Afghans remain refugees or have fled,[60] mostly in Pakistan and Iran, and another 4 million Afghans remain internally displaced persons within the country.

Before the start of war

Origins of Afghanistan's civil war

1979 Afghan postage stamp commerating the leftist Saur Revolution

Afghanistan's political order began to break down in the 1970s. First, Mohammed Daoud Khan seized power in the 1973 Afghan coup d'état. Daoud Khan was then killed in the 1978 Saur Revolution, a coup in which the People's Democratic Party of Afghanistan (PDPA) took control of the government.[102] PDPA pushed for a socialist transformation by abolishing arranged marriages, promoting mass literacy and reforming land ownership. This undermined the traditional tribal order and provoked opposition across rural areas. PDPA's crackdown was met with open rebellion including the 1979 Herat uprising. PDPA was beset by internal leadership differences and was affected by an internal coup on 11 September 1979 when Hafizullah Amin ousted Nur Muhammad Taraki. The Soviet Union, sensing PDPA weakness, intervened militarily three months later, to depose Amin and install another PDPA faction led by Babrak Karmal.

Soviet–Afghan War: President Reagan meeting with Afghan Mujahideen leaders in the Oval Office in 1983; Soviet troops in Afghanistan in 1986

The entry of Soviet forces in Afghanistan in December 1979 prompted its Cold War rivals, the United States, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and China to support rebels fighting against the Soviet-backed Democratic Republic of Afghanistan. In contrast to the secular and socialist government, which controlled the cities, religiously motivated mujahideen held sway in the majority of the countryside. The CIA worked with Pakistan's Inter-Service Intelligence to funnel foreign support for the mujahideen. The war also attracted Arab volunteers known as "Afghan Arabs", including Osama bin Laden.

After the withdrawal of the Soviet military from Afghanistan in May 1989, the PDPA regime under Mohammad Najibullah held on until 1992 when the dissolution of the Soviet Union deprived the regime of aid and the defection of Uzbek general Abdul Rashid Dostum cleared the approach to Kabul. With the political stage cleared of socialists, the warlords, some of them Islamist, vied for power.

Warlord rule (1992–1996)

In 1992, the mujahideen commander Burhanuddin Rabbani officially became president of the Islamic State of Afghanistan but he had to battle other warlords for control of Kabul. In late 1994, Rabbani's defense minister, Ahmad Shah Massoud, defeated Hekmatyar in Kabul and ended the ongoing bombardment of the capital.[103][104][105] Massoud tried to initiate a nationwide political process with the goal of national consolidation.[citation needed] Other warlords including Ismail Khan in the west and Dostum in the north maintained their fiefdoms.[citation needed]

In 1994, Mohammed Omar, a mujahideen member who taught at a Pakistani madrassa, returned to Kandahar and formed the Taliban movement. His followers were religious students known as the Talib and they sought to end warlordism through stricter adherence to Sharia. By November 1994, the Taliban had captured all of Kandahar Province. They declined the government's offer to join in a coalition government and marched on Kabul in 1995.[106]

Taliban Emirate vs Northern Alliance

The Taliban's early victories in 1994 were followed by a series of costly defeats.[107] Pakistan "provided strong support" to the Taliban.[108][109] Analysts such as Amin Saikal described the group as developing into a proxy force for Pakistan's regional interests which the Taliban denied.[108] The Taliban started shelling Kabul in early 1995, but were driven back by Massoud.[104][110]

On 27 September 1996, the Taliban, with military support by Pakistan and financial support from Saudi Arabia, seized Kabul and founded the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan.[111] They imposed their fundamentalist interpretation of Islam in areas under their control, issuing edicts forbidding women to work outside the home, attend school or to leave their homes unless accompanied by a male relative.[112] According to the Pakistani 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.[113][114]

Afghan guerilla leader Ahmad Shah Massoud (right) with the Pashtun anti-Taliban leader and later Vice President of the Karzai administration, Haji Abdul Qadir

Massoud and Dostum, former arch-enemies, created a United Front against the Taliban, the Northern Alliance.[115] In addition to Massoud's Tajik force and Dostum's Uzbeks, the United Front included Hazara factions and Pashtun forces under the leadership of commanders such as Abdul Haq and Haji Abdul Qadir. Abdul Haq also gathered a number of defecting Pashtun Taliban.[116] Both agreed to work together with the exiled Afghan king Zahir Shah.[114] The Northern Alliance received varying degrees of support from Russia, Iran, Tajikistan and India. The Taliban captured Mazar-i-Sharif in 1998 and drove Dostum into exile.

According to the United Nations (UN), the Taliban, while trying to consolidate control over northern and western Afghanistan, committed systematic massacres against civilians. UN officials stated that there had been "15 massacres" between 1996 and 2001. The Taliban especially targeted the Shia Hazaras.[117][118] In retaliation for the execution of 3,000 Taliban prisoners by Uzbek general Abdul Malik Pahlawan in 1997, the Taliban executed about 4,000 civilians after taking Mazar-i-Sharif in 1998.[119][120]

Bin Laden's 055 Brigade was responsible for mass killings of Afghan civilians.[121] The report by the United Nations quotes eyewitnesses in some villages describing "Arab fighters carrying long knives used for slitting throats and skinning people".[117][118]

By 2001, the Taliban controlled as much as 90% of Afghanistan with the Northern Alliance confined to the country's northeast corner. Fighting alongside Taliban forces were some 28,000–30,000 Pakistanis (usually also Pashtun) and 2,000–3,000 Al-Qaeda militants.[106][121][122][123] Many of the Pakistanis were recruited from madrassas.[121] A 1998 document by the US Department of State confirmed that "20–40 percent of [regular] Taliban soldiers are Pakistani". The document said that a number of 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". According to the US State Department report and reports by Human Rights Watch, other Pakistani nationals fighting in Afghanistan were regular soldiers especially from the Frontier Corps but also from the Pakistani Army providing direct combat support.[109][124]


In August 1996, Bin Laden was forced to leave Sudan and arrived in Jalalabad, Afghanistan. He had founded his international Al-Qaeda network in the late 1980s to support the Mujahideen's war against the Soviets but became disillusioned by infighting among warlords. He grew close to Mullah Omar and moved Al-Qaeda's operations to eastern Afghanistan, a safe haven as he was under the protection of the Taliban there.[citation needed]

The 9/11 Commission in the US found that under the Taliban, al-Qaeda was able to use Afghanistan as a place to train and indoctrinate fighters, import weapons, coordinate with other jihadists, and plot terrorist actions.[125] While al-Qaeda maintained its own camps in Afghanistan, it also supported training camps of other organizations. An estimated 10,000 to 20,000 men passed through these facilities before 9/11, most of whom were sent to fight for the Taliban against the United Front. A smaller number were inducted into al-Qaeda.[126]

After the August 1998 United States embassy bombings were linked to bin Laden, President Bill Clinton ordered missile strikes on militant training camps in Afghanistan. US officials pressed the Taliban to surrender bin Laden. In 1999, the international community imposed sanctions on the Taliban, calling for bin Laden to be surrendered. The Taliban repeatedly rebuffed these demands.

Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) Special Activities Division paramilitary teams were active in Afghanistan in the 1990s in clandestine operations to locate and kill or capture Osama bin Laden. These teams planned several operations but did not receive the order to proceed from President Clinton. Their efforts built relationships with Afghan leaders that proved essential in the 2001 invasion.[127]

Change in US policy toward Afghanistan

During the Clinton administration, the US tended to favor Pakistan and until 1998–1999 had no clear policy toward Afghanistan. In 1997, for example, the US State Department's Robin Raphel told Massoud to surrender to the Taliban. Massoud responded that, as long as he controlled an area the size of his hat, he would continue to defend it from the Taliban.[106] Around the same time, top foreign policy officials in the Clinton administration flew to northern Afghanistan to try to persuade the United Front not to take advantage of a chance to make crucial gains against the Taliban. They insisted it was the time for a cease-fire and an arms embargo. At the time, Pakistan began a "Berlin-like airlift to resupply and re-equip the Taliban", financed with Saudi money.[128]

US policy toward Afghanistan changed after the 1998 US embassy bombings. Subsequently, Osama bin Laden was indicted for his involvement in the embassy bombings. In 1999 both the US and the United Nations enacted sanctions against the Taliban via United Nations Security Council Resolution 1267, which demanded the Taliban surrender Osama bin Laden for trial in the US and close all terrorist bases in Afghanistan.[129] The only collaboration between Massoud and the US at the time was an effort with the CIA to trace bin Laden following the 1998 bombings.[130] The US and the European Union provided no support to Massoud for the fight against the Taliban.

By 2001 the change of policy sought by CIA officers who knew Massoud was underway.[131] CIA lawyers, working with officers in the Near East Division and Counter-terrorist Center, began to draft a formal finding for President George W. Bush's signature, authorizing a covert action program in Afghanistan. It would be the first in a decade to seek to influence the course of the Afghan war in favor of Massoud.[111] Richard A. Clarke, chair of the Counter-Terrorism Security Group under the Clinton administration, and later an official in the Bush Administration, allegedly presented a plan to incoming Bush National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice in January 2001.

A change in US policy was effected in August 2001.[111] The Bush administration agreed on a plan to start supporting Massoud. A meeting of top national security officials agreed that the Taliban would be presented with an ultimatum to hand over bin Laden and other al-Qaeda operatives. If the Taliban refused, the US would provide covert military aid to anti-Taliban groups. If both those options failed, "the deputies agreed that the United States would seek to overthrow the Taliban regime through more direct action".[132]

Massoud's assassination on the eve of 9/11

Ahmad Shah Massoud was assassinated by Al-Qaeda in Afghanistan's Takhar Province on September 9, 2001

Ahmad Shah Massoud was the only leader of the United Front (Northern Alliance) in Afghanistan in 2001. In the areas under his control, Massoud set up democratic institutions and signed the Women's Rights Declaration.[133] As a consequence, a number of civilians had fled to areas under his control.[134][135] In total, estimates range up to one million people fleeing the Taliban.[136]

In late 2000, Massoud invited some other Afghan tribal leaders to a jirga in northern Afghanistan "to settle political turmoil in Afghanistan".[137] Among those in attendance were Pashtun nationalists, Abdul Haq and Hamid Karzai.[138][139]

In early 2001, Massoud and several other Afghan leaders addressed the European Parliament in Brussels, asking the international community to provide humanitarian help. The Afghan envoy asserted that the Taliban and al-Qaeda had introduced "a very wrong perception of Islam" and that without the support of Pakistan and Osama bin Laden, the Taliban would not be able to sustain their military campaign for another year. Massoud warned that his intelligence had gathered information about an imminent, large-scale attack on US soil.[140]

On 9 September 2001, two French-speaking Algerians posing as journalists killed Massoud in a suicide attack in Takhar Province of Afghanistan. The two perpetrators were later alleged to be members of al-Qaeda. They were interviewing Massoud before detonating a bomb hidden in their video camera.[141][142] Both of the alleged al-Qaeda men were subsequently killed by Massoud's guards. Massoud lost his life en route in a helicopter to a hospital across the border in Tajikistan.[143] His funeral in his native Panjshir Valley was attended by thousands.[144]

September 11 attacks

Ground Zero in New York following the attacks of 11 September 2001

On the morning of September 11, 2001, a total of 19 Arab men—15 of whom were from Saudi Arabia—carried out four coordinated attacks in the United States. Four commercial passenger jet airliners were hijacked.[145][146] The hijackers – members of al-Qaeda's Hamburg cell[147] – intentionally crashed two of the airliners into the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center in New York City, killing everyone on board and more than 2,000 people in the buildings. Both buildings collapsed within two hours from damage related to the crashes, destroying nearby buildings and damaging others. The hijackers crashed a third airliner into the Pentagon in Arlington, Virginia, just outside Washington, D.C. The fourth plane crashed into a field near Shanksville, in rural Pennsylvania, after some of its passengers and flight crew attempted to retake control of the plane, which the hijackers had redirected toward Washington, D.C., to target the White House, or the US Capitol. No one aboard the flights survived. According to the New York State Health Department, the death toll among responders including firefighters and police was 836 as of June 2009.[148] Total deaths were 2,996, including the 19 hijackers.[148]

US ultimatum to the Taliban

The Taliban publicly condemned the September 11 attacks.[149] U.S. President George W. Bush issued an ultimatum to the Taliban to hand over Osama bin Laden, "close immediately every terrorist training camp, hand over every terrorist and their supporters, and give the United States full access to terrorist training camps for inspection."[149] Osama bin Laden was protected by the traditional Pashtun laws of hospitality.[150] In the weeks ahead and at the beginning of the U.S. and NATO invasion of Afghanistan, the Taliban demanded evidence of bin Laden's guilt, and subsequently offered to hand over Osama bin Laden.[151][152] A Bush administration official later stated that their demands were "not subject to negotiation" and that it was "time for the Taliban to act now."[153]

After the US invasion, the Taliban refused to hand over Bin Laden to the US, instead expressing willingness to hand him over to a third country that would "never come under the pressure of the United States" if further evidence of guilt were produced. The United States responded by continuing their bombardment of Kabul airport and other cities. For their part, Al Qaeda threatened further attacks against the UK and United States.[154][155] Haji Abdul Kabir, the third most powerful figure in the ruling Taliban regime, told reporters: "If the Taliban is given evidence that Osama bin Laden is involved, we would be ready to hand him over to a third country."[155] At a meeting in Islamabad in October, Wakil Ahmed Muttawakil, the foreign minister of Afghanistan, offered to remove Osama bin Laden to the custody of the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) to be tried for the 9/11 terror attacks. Muttawakil by this point had dropped the condition that the U.S. furnish evidence of Osama bin Laden's involvement in the 9/11 attacks as a precondition for the transfer of Osama bin Laden by Afghanistan to the OIC for trial.[156][157]



Leading nations of the ISAF reconstruction teams and regional commands under NATO command (not under US command), as of 2006
A Slovenian ISAF Humvee in Afghanistan
Map detailing the spread of the Taliban-insurgency in Afghanistan 2002–2006
US Army soldiers boarding a Black Hawk, 2012
USAF pilots fly a CH-47 Chinook near Jalalabad, April 2017
Year(s) Main event(s)
2001 United States invasion of Afghanistan
2002 Post-Anaconda operations
2003–2005 Taliban resurgence, war with Afghan forces
2006 War between NATO forces and Taliban
2007 US build-up, ISAF war against Taliban
2008 Reassessment and renewed commitment and Taliban attacks on supply lines
2008–2009 US action into Pakistan
2009 US reinforcements, Taliban progress
2010 American–British offensive and Afghan peace initiative
2011 US and NATO drawdown
2012 Strategic agreement
2013 Withdrawal
2014 2014: Withdrawal continues and the insurgency increases
2015 Taliban resurgence
2015–2016 Taliban negotiations and Taliban infighting
2015–2018 Taliban offensive in Helmand Province
2016 Peace deal with Hezb-i Islami, Withdrawal of US troops from Afghanistan (2011–2016)
2017 Events and Donald Trump's Afghan policy
2018 Kabul ambulance bombing, battles of Farah and Darzab, Ghazni offensive
2019 Maidan Shar attack, Kabul wedding bombing, Haska Meyna mosque bombing
2020 Attacks on Kabul's gurdwara and university
2021 Withdrawal of United States troops from Afghanistan (2021) and 2021 Taliban offensive


In January, the BBC reported that the Taliban were openly active in 70% of the country (being in full control of 14 districts and have an active and open physical presence in a further 263) and that Islamic State was more active in the country than ever before. Following attacks by the Taliban (including a suicide ambulance bombing in Kabul on 27 January that killed over 100 people) and Islamic State that killed scores of civilians, President Trump and Afghan officials decided to rule out any talks with the Taliban.[158]

Curtis Scaparrotti, the Supreme Allied Commander Europe, and Kay Bailey Hutchison with Brig. Gen. Wolf-Jürgen Stahl in Afghanistan in February 2018

On 15 February, The New York Times reported the rise of Afghan civilians being intentionally targeted by the Taliban, based on an annual United Nations report released a week earlier. This report offered a detailed assessment of the 16-year Afghan war, showing the rise of complex bombing attacks deliberately targeting civilians in 2017, having 10,453 Afghan civilians wounded or killed.[159] As the US and Afghan government are publishing fewer statistics, the UN report is one of the most reliable indicators about the war's impact by 2018. The report emphasizes the rise of "complex attacks", a type of suicide assault that is becoming more deadly, described by the New York Times as the hallmark of the war in 2018. These attacks are referred to as the Taliban's ferocious response to US President Trump's new strategy of war (an increased pace of aerial bombardments targeting Taliban and Islamic State Militants), giving the message that the Taliban can strike at will, even in the capital city, Kabul. The UN report included a statement showing the Taliban's position, the Taliban blamed the US and its allies for fighting the war in Afghanistan, and it denied targeting civilians. The New York Times quoted Atiqullah Amarkhel, a retired general and military analyst based in Kabul, saying that the UN report proved the failure of peace talks, as the Taliban and the US government are both determined for victory rather than negotiating a settlement. He said "more airstrikes mean more suicide attacks", proving the intensification of the war by 2018.[160]

From 12 July to 1 August, the Taliban carried out the Darzab offensive and captured Darzab District following the surrender of ISIL-K to the Afghan Government.

From 10 to 15 August, the Taliban launched a series of offensives, the largest being the Ghazni offensive. During the Ghazni offensive, the Taliban seized Ghazni, Afghanistan's sixth-largest city, for several days, but eventually retreated. The Taliban killed hundreds of Afghan soldiers and police and captured several government bases and districts.

Following the offensives Erik Prince, the private military contractor and former head of Blackwater, advocated additional privatization of the war.[161][162] However, the then-US Defense Secretary James Mattis rebuked the idea, saying, “When Americans put their nation's credibility on the line, privatizing it is probably not a wise idea.”[163]

In September, the United Nations raised concerns over the increasing number of civilian casualties due to air strikes in Afghanistan. The US air force dropped around 3,000 bombs in the first six months of the year, to force Taliban militants for peace talks. In a statement issued by the UNAMA, it reminded all the parties involved in the conflict "to uphold their obligations to protect civilians from harm".[164]

On 17 October, days before parliamentary election, Abdul Jabar Qahraman, an election candidate was killed in an attack by the Taliban. The Taliban issued a statement, warning teachers and students to not participate in the upcoming elections or use schools as polling centers.[165]

On 17 December, US diplomats held talks with the Taliban, at the United Arab Emirates on possibly ending the war. The Taliban gave conditions of a pullout date for US-led troops before any talks with the Kabul government and has demanded that Washington not oppose the establishment of an Islamist government. However, the US officials have insisted on keeping some troops and at least a couple of bases in the country. The meeting was described by US officials as "part of efforts by the United States and other international partners to promote an intra-Afghan dialogue aimed at ending the conflict in Afghanistan".[166]


Ongoing armed conflicts in June 2019.

  Major wars, 10,000 or more deaths in current or past year

On 21 January 2019, the Taliban killed about 100 people at a National Directorate of Security base in Maidan Shar, Maidan Wardak Province. On 25 January 2019, Afghanistan's president Ashraf Ghani said that more than 45,000 members of the Afghan security forces had been killed since he became president in 2014. He also said that there had been fewer than 72 international casualties during the same period.[167] A January 2019 report by the US government estimated that 53.8% of Afghanistan's districts were controlled or influenced by the government, with 33.9% contested and 12.3% under insurgent control or influence.[168]

On 4 February 2019, the Taliban attacked a checkpoint in northern Baghlan province. 21 people, including 11 policemen were killed. The same day, another attack took place in northern Samangan province that killed 10 people.[169]

On 25 February 2019, peace talks began between the Taliban and the United States in Qatar, with the Taliban co-founder Abdul Ghani Barada notably present. US special envoy Zalmay Khalilzad reported that this round of negotiations was "more productive than they have been in the past" and that a draft version of a peace agreement had been agreed upon. The deal involved the withdrawal of US and international troops from Afghanistan and the Taliban not allowing other jihadist groups to operate within the country. The Taliban also reported that progress was being made in the negotiations.[170]

On 1 March 2019, the Taliban led an assault against Shorab military base, in Helmand, killing 23 security forces and wounding 20.[171]

On 30 April 2019, Afghan government forces undertook clearing operations directed against both ISIS-K and the Taliban in eastern Nangarhar Province, after the two groups fought for over a week over a group of villages in an area of illegal talc mining. The National Directorate of Security claimed 22 ISIS-K fighters were killed and two weapons caches destroyed, while the Taliban claimed US-backed Afghan forces killed seven civilians; a provincial official said over 9,000 families had been displaced by the fighting.[172]

On 28 July 2019, President Ashraf Ghani’s running mate Amrullah Saleh’s office was attacked by a suicide bomber and a few militants. At least 20 people were killed and 50 injured, with Saleh also amongst the injured ones. During the six-hour-long operation, more than 150 civilians were rescued and three militants were killed.[173]

By August, the Taliban controlled more territory than at any point since 2001.[174] The Washington Post reported that the US was close to reaching a peace deal with the Taliban and was preparing to withdraw 5,000 troops from Afghanistan.[175] The same month, however, it was later confirmed that some Taliban leaders, including Taliban emir Hibatullah Akhunzada's brother Hafiz Ahmadullah and some other relatives,[176] were killed in a bomb blast at the Khair Ul Madarais mosque, which was located in the Quetta suburb of Kuchlak and had long served as the main meeting place of members of the Taliban.[177][176] In September, the US canceled the negotiations.[178]

On 3 September 2019, the Taliban claimed responsibility for the suicide attack in Afghanistan's capital, targeting the Green Village Compound in Kabul. According to the reports, nearly 16 civilians died, while 119 were reported to be injured.[179]

On 15 September 2019, 38 Taliban fighters, including two senior commanders, were killed in a joint US-Afghan military operation.[180]

On 17 September 2019, a suicide bomber attacked the campaign rally of President Ashraf Ghani, killing 26 people and wounding 42. Less than an hour later, the Taliban carried out another suicide bomb attack near the US Embassy and the Afghan Defense Ministry, killing 22 people and wounded around 38.[181]

On 27 October 2019, 80 Taliban fighters were killed as a result of joint Afghan–US military operations in Kandahar and Faryab.[182]


US representative Zalmay Khalilzad (left) and Taliban representative Abdul Ghani Baradar (right) sign the Agreement for Bringing Peace to Afghanistan in Doha, Qatar on 29 February 2020

Peace negotiations had resumed in December 2019.[183] This round of talks resulted in a seven-day partial ceasefire which began on 22 February.[184] On 29 February, the United States and the Taliban signed a conditional peace deal in Doha, Qatar[92] that called for a prisoner exchange within ten days and was supposed to lead to US troops withdrawal from Afghanistan within 14 months.[94][185] However, the Afghan government was not a party to the deal, and in a press conference the next day, President Ghani criticized the deal for being "signed behind closed doors". He said the Afghan government had "made no commitment to free 5,000 Taliban prisoners" and that such an action "is not the United States' authority, but it is the authority of the government of Afghanistan".[186][187][96][188] Ghani also stated that any prisoner exchange "cannot be a prerequisite for talks" but rather must be negotiated within the talks.[189]

The Taliban resumed offensive operations against the Afghan army and police on 3 March, conducting attacks in Kunduz and Helmand provinces.[190] On 4 March, the United States retaliated by launching an air strike against Taliban fighters in Helmand.[191]

On 6 March, ISIS-K killed 32 people in a mass shooting in Kabul.[192] Between 3 and 27 March, the Taliban claimed 405 attacks against Afghan security forces.[193]

On 20 April, Taliban in another attack killed at least 23 Afghan troops and nine civilians.[194]

In April, The New York Times documented Afghan war casualties from 27 March until 23 April and informed that at least 262 pro-government forces, alongside 50 civilians have been killed in almost a month's time. Additionally, hundreds of civilians and Afghan forces also got injured.[195]

On 2 May, Afghan authorities released at least 100 Taliban members from prison in Kabul. This came in response to the peace deal with the US, which the Taliban argues assured them their 5,000 inmates being released. However, the Afghan government, which denied release and any authority by the US over decision, has now agreed to free 1,500 members of the militia organization.[citation needed]

On 12 May, A maternity hospital in Kabul was attacked by gunmen, leading to the death of two newborn babies and their mothers, alongside 24 other people. The attackers posed as police officers while wearing police uniforms, which made it possible for them to enter the hospital and opened fire at the people inside.[196][197]

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg and Afghan President Ashraf Ghani in Kabul, Afghanistan, 2020

On 19 May, Afghan forces bombed a clinic in the Northern province of Kunduz. The bombing is the result of Afghan force's decision to go on an offensive, a decision made by President Ashraf Ghani of Afghanistan.[198]

On 28 May, the first attack was carried out since the three-day ceasefire for Eid al-Fitr holiday ended at a checkpoint in Parwan province of Kabul, which led to the death of at least 14 members of the Afghan security forces.[199] The Taliban was blamed for the attack, based on the statement issued by the spokeswoman to the provincial governor. She added that members of the Taliban were also killed during the attack, although the Taliban is yet to claim responsibility for the attack.[200][201] According to the District police chief Hussain Shah, the checkpoint was set ablaze by Taliban fighters, killing five security forces in the process, with two others killed by gunshots.[202]

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo meeting with Taliban delegation in Doha, Qatar, on 12 September 2020

On 29 May, following the attack that claimed the lives of 14 members of the Afghan forces, the government called on the Taliban to prolong the ceasefire deal.[203] A Taliban delegation reportedly arrived in Kabul to negotiate on a prisoner swap by both parties.[204]

According to a report published by the UN Assistance Mission (UNAMA) on 21 June, fifteen attacks have been carried out on healthcare in Afghanistan, in the first two months of the COVID-19 pandemic. Of the fifteen attacks, twelve were targeted while the rest were incidental.[205]

In July, the US Military reported that despite the lack of progress in the peace process, the Afghan government was still able to maintain control of Kabul, provincial capitals, major population centers, most district centers and most major ground lines of communications.[206] There was also a reduction in violence.[206] Also in July, President Ghani reported that since 29 February, 3,560 members of the Afghan security forces had been killed, and 6,781 wounded.[207] On 30 July, a suicide car bomber killed 17 people in Puli Alam, Logar Province.[208]

In August, ISIS-K conducted an attack on a prison in Jalalabad, Nangarhar Province, killing 29, injuring at least 50, and freeing approximately 300 prisoners.[209]

In August, US intelligence officials assessed that Iran offered bounties to the Taliban-linked Haqqani network to kill foreign servicemembers, including Americans, in Afghanistan.[210][211] US intelligence determined that Iran paid bounties to Taliban insurgents for the 2019 attack on Bagram airport.[212] According to CNN, Donald Trump's administration has "never mentioned Iran's connection to the bombing, an omission current and former officials said was connected to the broader prioritization of the peace agreement and withdrawal from Afghanistan.[disambiguation needed]"[210]

On 14 August, Fawzia Koofi, an Afghan politician and human rights activist, was shot in the arm in an attempted assassination near Kabul. Koofi had been a vocal Taliban critic, and was also a part of the 21-member team responsible for representing the Afghan government in peace talks with the Taliban.[213]

On 12 October, Taliban forces launched a major offensive in Helmand Province, with the UN reporting 35,000 forced to flee their homes. During this fighting on the 14 October, two Afghan Army helicopters evacuating the wounded collided with each other killing all passengers and crew in both aircraft. The Taliban halted the offensive due to US airstrikes.[214]

On 21 October, Taliban militants ambushed Afghanistan security forces in the province of Takhar killing at least 34.[215]

In late October, about 25 Afghan and Australian human rights organizations wrote a letter to the Australian government demanding the release of an inquiry by the Inspector-General of the Australian Defence Force, into the war crimes committed by Australian special forces in Afghanistan.[216]

In November, the White House told the Pentagon to begin planning to bring the troop levels in Afghanistan and Iraq down to 2,500 each by 15 January, just days before President Donald Trump would leave office. This came one week after Trump fired Defense Secretary Mark Esper for pushing back on Trump's efforts to accelerate the Afghanistan drawdown against the advice of military commanders, including the US and coalition commander Austin S. Miller, setting off a purge of top Pentagon officials.[217][218]

In December, the Afghan government abandoned 193 checkpoints in Kandahar Province.[219]


United States and allies withdraw

In January 2021, the US reached its target troop level of 2,500 personnel in Afghanistan. This was the lowest force level since 2001.[220]

On 15 February, IS-KP operatives exchanged fire with fighters of an elite unit of the Afghan government in Jalalabad. About 20 fighters of the elite unit were killed or wounded in the exchange of fire, which lasted about six hours.[221]

In March, President Ashraf Ghani confirmed that his government was prepared to take forward peaceful talks with the Taliban. Addressing the lawmakers, he said to hold discussions around new elections and forming a government through a democratic process.[222] During the same month, Germany decided to send more troops into the country, boosting their forces to 1,300.[223]

On 29 March, the New Zealand Defence Force withdrew their forces from Afghanistan, ending New Zealand's involvement in the war.[224]

NATO's Resolute Support Mission commander Austin S. Miller alongside US Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin in Afghanistan, March 2021

On 13 April, US President Joe Biden announced the withdrawal of all remaining troops in Afghanistan by September 11, 2021.[225][226] (The date was later set for August 31.)[97] On the same day, Turkish authorities said that Turkey would host a summit from April 24 to May 4 in an effort to end the war in Afghanistan.[227] The summit was later postponed until after Ramadan.[228]

On 15 April, Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison announced that the remaining 80 troops deployed to Afghanistan would leave by September 2021 in line with the US withdrawal.[229]

By 30 June, both Germany (which, two months earlier, had announced plans to withdraw)[230] and Italy had completely withdrawn their forces and equipment from Afghanistan, ending their involvement in the war.[231][232] On the same day, the last Polish troops left Afghanistan, thereby ending Poland's involvement in the war. Around 33,000 Polish troops had served in Afghanistan during the war, with 44 being killed in action.[233] On 2 July, officials announced that Western forces had left the Bagram Air Base without notice and turned over control of that base to the Afghan government.[234]

As of 5 July, the Taliban controlled roughly two-thirds of Afghanistan as the NATO forces were completing their withdrawal; and there were reports of Afghan Army soldiers fleeing from the nation in droves.[235] In advance of the US withdrawal, Biden had reportedly concluded that it was an "unwinnable war" and a situation without "a military solution".[97]

On 11 July, Australian Defence Minister Peter Dutton said that his country had ended their involvement in Afghanistan.[236]

Taliban advances

A map of Afghanistan showing the Taliban offensive

In early March, Almar District fell to Taliban forces,[237] and government forces withdrew from a base in Bala Murghab District, Badghis Province.[238] The Ministry of Interior announced that they had withdrawn from 40% of their police checkpoints, and the Taliban established checkpoints on the Kunduz–Takhar and Pul-i-Khumri–Mazar-i-Sharif highways.[238]

On 22 March, Charkh District in Logar Province fell to Taliban forces after several ANDSF and policemen were killed by the attacking Taliban militants. The remaining ANDSF forces apparently fled their positions.[239][240]

On 14 April, Taliban forces attacked an Afghan military base in Zabul, killing at least 10 Afghan soldiers, including a commander.[241]

A UN report dated 20 May 2021, stated that "the Taliban now contest or control an estimated 50 to 70 per cent of Afghan territory outside of urban centres, while also exerting direct control over 57 per cent of district administrative centres".[242]

Between 4 June and 5 June 2021, Du Ab District fell to the Taliban forces after 20 days of fighting. This marked the 7th district to fall to the Taliban since May 1, 2021.[243]

According to the New York Times, between 1 June and 11 June, 327 Afghan security forces and 82 civilians were killed. Also, at least 11 districts had fallen to the Taliban in the same period of time.[244]

On 16 June, at least 24 elite Afghan commandos and 5 police officers were killed after being surrounded by Taliban forces whilst defending the key district of Dawlat Aban in Fayrab province. The Taliban took control of the district.[245]

On July 8, President Joe Biden stated that: "The likelihood there’s going to be the Taliban overrunning everything and owning the whole country is highly unlikely."[246]

On 18 June, Taliban forces entered the city of Kunduz, beginning a new battle for the city.[247] Fighting was reportedly still ongoing by 22 June.[248]

On 22 June, the Taliban captured Shir Khan Bandar, Afghanistan's main Tajikistan border crossing.[249] 13 districts fell to the Taliban within 24 hours.[250] On the same day heavy fighting was also occurring in Baghlan province after Afghan forces launched a military operation on the outskirts of Pul-e-Khumri, the provincial capital, killing 17 Taliban militants including Qari Khalid, a Taliban divisional commander.[251] Simultaneously, Taliban forces took control of Balkh and encircled Mazar-i-Sharif, the capital of Balkh province.[252][253]

On 23 June, the Taliban and Afghan forces clashed inside Pul-e Khumri.[254]

On 25 June, the Taliban took control of the Shinwari District and the Ghorband District in Parwan province north of Kabul.[255] That same day NBC News reported that the Taliban "were surprised at the speed of their advance and had avoided capturing some targets so as not to run afoul of the US",[256] and the Afghan government launched a program called National Mobilization that aimed to arm militia groups to fight the Taliban.[257]

On 27 June, Chaki Wardak District and Saydabad District fell to the Taliban after at least 50 Afghan troops surrendered and were captured by the Taliban. On the same day Rustaq District, Shortepa District and the Arghistan District fell to the Taliban. ToloNews reported that 108 districts fell to the Taliban in the last two months and the Afghan army had only managed to re-take 10.[258][259]

On 29 June, the Taliban launched an offensive on Ghazni city, causing violent clashes within the city.[260]

On 5 July, 11 more districts fell to the Taliban, following heavy Afghan Army losses in the northern part of the country in the week prior.[261] On July 7, the Taliban attacked Qala e Naw, the capital of Badghis Province. Taliban forces captured the city's police headquarters and National Directorate of Security office, in what the AFP described as "the first time the Taliban have attempted to overrun a provincial capital".[262]

President Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris held a video conference with the national security team to discuss the situation in Kabul on August 15

On 9 July, during the early morning, the Taliban captured Afghanistan's main border crossings with Iran and Turkmenistan, Islam Qala and Torghundi respectively, rendering the city of Herat surrounded by Taliban forces.[263]

On 22 July, about 100 people were killed in a mass shooting in Spin Boldak District, Kandahar Province.

On 3 August, eight people were killed in a Taliban suicide car bombing and shootout in Kabul.[264]

By 6 August, the Taliban had captured their first provincial capital Zaranj, in Nimroz Province. A UN envoy warned that Afghanistan was entering a "deadlier phase" of the war.[265] As of 12 August, the Taliban controlled 10 out of 34 provincial capitals of Afghanistan.[266]

On 14 August, skirmishes were reported in Paghman district, location of Kabul. The Taliban attacked the outskirts of Kabul and seized security posts in Paghman District.[267][268]

The battle of Kabul commenced with a citywide blackout and heavy assaults from its outskirts on 15 August.[269] Negotiations for the surrender of Kabul were reported the same day.[270][271][272]

Fall of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan

Taliban fighters in Kabul, 17 August 2021

On 15 August 2021, Taliban forces entered the capital city of Kabul, meeting only limited resistance.[273] In the afternoon, it was reported that Afghan President Ashraf Ghani had left the country. Early unconfirmed reports placed him in Tajikistan or Uzbekistan, but on 18 August it was announced that he and his family were in the United Arab Emirates.[274] The Chairman of the House of the People Mir Rahman Rahmani was reported to have fled into Pakistan.[275] Following Ghani's escape, the remaining loyalist forces abandoned their posts and the Afghan Armed Forces de facto ceased to exist.[276]

In the evening of 15 August, the Taliban occupied the Arg, lowered the Afghan republican flag and raised their own flag over the palace. The following day (16 August 2021) the Taliban informally proclaimed the restoration of the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan,[69] which was formally declared on 19 August 2021,[70][71] thus regaining power after 19 years and 8 months. Therefore, many international analysts and governments considered that the Taliban had won the war.[29]

Following the fall of Kabul US President Joe Biden held a press conference on 16 August, outlining that US forces would from then only assist in evacuations from Hamid Karzai International Airport. In response to growing criticism of his decision to pull out of Afghanistan Biden argued that Al Qaeda had been the primary objective of the invasion and was now "severely degraded" and that American forces should not be used for nation building or counter-insurgency.[99] This however was contested by Politico, who found that he had previously been an advocate for nation building, declaring in 2003 that "the alternative to nation-building is chaos, a chaos that churns out blood-thirsty warlords, drug traffickers and terrorists" and argued his disavowal of nation building was "disingenuous". Others took issue with the President's comments, contending that they sought to blame the Afghans and the previous administration for how events had unfolded, including laying blame regarding the slow pace of evacuations on his assertion that "some of the Afghans did not want to leave earlier, still hopeful for their country."[277]

In a press conference on 16 August at the Pentagon Major General Hank Taylor confirmed that US air strikes had ended at least 24 hours earlier and that the focus of the US military at that point was maintaining security at Hamid Karzai International Airport as evacuations continued.[278]


Start of the Panjshir conflict

On 17 August, Vice President Amrullah Saleh, citing provisions of the Constitution of Afghanistan, declared himself President of Afghanistan from a base of operations in the Panjshir Valley, which had yet to be taken by Taliban forces, and vowed to continue military operations against the Taliban from there.[279] His claim to the presidency was endorsed by Ahmad Massoud and Islamic Republic of Afghanistan Minister of Defence Bismillah Khan Mohammadi.[279] The Panjshir-based resistance recaptured the provincial capital of Charikar on 17 August.[280]

Impact on Afghan society

Civilian casualties

According to the Costs of War project at Brown University, the war killed 51,613 Afghan civilians in Afghanistan. However, the death toll is possibly higher due to unaccounted deaths by "disease, loss of access to food, water, infrastructure, and/or other indirect consequences of the war".[100][60] A report titled Body Count put together by Physicians for Social Responsibility, Physicians for Global Survival and International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War (IPPNW) concluded that 106,000–170,000 civilians have been killed as a result of the fighting in Afghanistan at the hands of all parties to the conflict.[281]

Victims of the Narang night raid that killed at least 10 Afghan civilians, December 2009

A UN report over the year 2009 stated that, of the 1,500 civilians having died from January until the end of August 2009, 70% were blamed on "anti-government elements".[282]

The US website of The Weekly Standard stated in 2010, referring to a UN Report, that 76% of civilian deaths in Afghanistan over the past year had been "caused by the Taliban".[283] That is a misquotation of the UNAMA Report, which does not attribute numbers of deaths directly to the Taliban, but to "anti-government elements" (AGE) and to "pro-government forces" (PGF). Over the period January until June 2010, indeed the report published in August 2010 stated that, of all 3,268 civilian casualties (dead or wounded), 2,477 casualties (76%) were caused by AGE, 386 caused by PGF (11%).[284]

Over the whole of 2010, with a total of 2,777 civilians killed, the UN reported 2,080 civilian deaths caused by "anti-government elements" (75%), "pro-government forces" caused 440 deaths, and 257 deaths "could not be attributed to any party".[285][286]

In July 2011, a UN report said "1,462 non-combatants died" in the first six months of 2011 (insurgents 80%).[287] In 2011 a record 3,021 civilians were killed, the fifth successive annual rise.[288] According to a UN report, in 2013 there were 2,959 civilian deaths with 74% being blamed on anti-government forces, 8% on Afghan security forces, 3% on ISAF forces, 10% to ground engagements between anti-Government forces and pro-Government forces and 5% of the deaths were unattributed.[289] 60% of Afghans have direct personal experience and most others report suffering a range of hardships. 96% have been affected either personally or from the wider consequences.[290]

In 2015, according to the United Nations (UN) annual report there were 3,545 civilian deaths and 7,457 people wounded.[291] The anti-government elements were responsible for 62% of the civilians killed or wounded. The pro-government forces caused 17% of civilian deaths and injuries – including United States and NATO troops, which were responsible for about 2% of the casualties.[292]

In 2016, a total of 3,498 civilians deaths and 7,920 injuries were recorded by the United Nations. The UN attributed 61% of casualties to anti-government forces.[293] Afghan security forces caused about 20% of the overall casualties, while pro-government militias and Resolute Support Mission caused 2% each. Air strikes by US and NATO warplanes resulted in at least 127 civilian deaths and 108 injuries. While, the Afghan air force accounted for at least 85 deaths and 167 injuries. The UN was not able to attribute responsibility for the remaining 38 deaths and 65 injuries resulting from air strikes.[294]

Gathering outside Afghan embassy in Tehran to condemn the 2021 Kabul school bombing

During the parliamentary elections on 20 October 2018, several explosions targeting the polling stations took place. At least 36 people were killed and 130 were injured. Previously, ten election candidates were killed during the campaigning by the Taliban and the Islamic State group.[295]

On 28 December 2018 a report issued by UNICEF revealed that during the first nine months of 2018, five thousand children were killed or injured in Afghanistan.[296] Manuel Fontaine UNICEF Director of Emergency Programs said the world has forgotten children living in conflict zones.[297]

According to the Human Rights Watch, more than 10,000 civilians were killed or wounded during 2018, out of which one third were children. Reportedly, countless deadly attacks were carried out in urban areas by insurgents. Airstrikes and night raids by the US and Afghan forces also caused heavy civilian casualties.[298]

Health care

Between 2001 and 2021, Afghanistan experienced improvements in health, education and women's rights.[299][300] Life expectancy has increased from 56 to 64 years and the maternal mortality rate has reduced by half. 89% of residents living in cities have access to clean water, up from 16% in 2001. The rate of child marriage has been reduced by 17%.[299][301]

A September 2019 Taliban attack destroyed most buildings of the main hospital in southern Afghanistan and killed almost 40 people, due to which the country is now reportedly struggling to efficiently fight against the COVID-19 pandemic.[302]


Foreign donated clothing being handed out by an Afghan civil officer to children at a refugee camp, 2011

Since 2001, more than 5.7 million former refugees have returned to Afghanistan,[303][304][305] but 2.6 million others remained refugees in 2021 and few refugees were returning.[60][306] After many years of returning refugees, the tide started to turn both due to a bad economic situation[307] and a significant increase of violence, leading to increasing numbers fleeing as of 2009.[308]

In January 2013 the UN estimated that 547,550 were internally displaced persons, a 25% increase over the 447,547 IDPs estimated for January 2012[305][306][309] 400,000 people were displaced in 2020 and 200,000 were displaced in the first half of 2021.[60]

As of 2020, Pakistan has taken in the largest number of Afghan refugees, followed by Iran. Smaller numbers have taken refuge in India, Indonesia and Tajikistan. Outside Asia, Germany took in by far the largest number of refugees as well as the largest amount of asylum seekers.[310]


Afghans who interpreted for the British army have been tortured and killed in Afghanistan, including their families. As of May 2018, the UK government has now resettled 3,000 interpreters and family members in the UK.[311]

Drug trade

Afghanistan opium poppy cultivation, 1994–2016 (hectares)

From 1996 to 1999, the Taliban controlled 96% of Afghanistan's poppy fields and made opium its largest source of revenue. Taxes on opium exports became one of the mainstays of Taliban income. According to Rashid, "drug money funded the weapons, ammunition and fuel for the war". In The New York Times, the Finance Minister of the United Front, Wahidullah Sabawoon, declared the Taliban had no annual budget but that they "appeared to spend US$300 million a year, nearly all of it on war". He added that the Taliban had come to increasingly rely on three sources of money: "poppy, the Pakistanis and bin Laden".[312]

By 2000 Afghanistan accounted for an estimated 75% of the world's opium supply and in 2000 produced an estimated 3276 tonnes from 82,171 hectares (203,050 acres).[313] Omar then banned opium cultivation and production dropped to an estimated 74 metric tonnes from 1,685 hectares (4,160 acres).[314] Some observers say the ban – which came in a bid for international recognition at the United Nations – was issued only to raise opium prices and increase profit from the sale of large existing stockpiles. 1999 had yielded a record crop and had been followed by a lower but still large 2000 harvest. The trafficking of accumulated stocks continued in 2000 and 2001. In 2002, the UN mentioned the "existence of significant stocks of opiates accumulated during previous years of bumper harvests". In September 2001 – before the 11 September attacks against the US – the Taliban allegedly authorized Afghan peasants to sow opium again.[312]

Soon after the invasion opium production increased markedly.[315] By 2005, Afghanistan was producing 90% of the world's opium, most of which was processed into heroin and sold in Europe and Russia.[316] In 2009, the BBC reported that "UN findings say an opium market worth $65bn (£39bn) funds global terrorism, caters to 15 million addicts, and kills 100,000 people every year".[317]

United States officials stated that winning the War on drugs in Afghanistan is integral for winning the War on Terror in Afghanistan, and asked for international assistance in drug eradication efforts.[318]

According to a 2018 report by the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR), the US spent $8.6 billion since 2002 to stop Afghanistan's drug trade and deny the Taliban a revenue source. A May 2021 SIGAR report estimated that the Taliban earn 60% of their annual revenue from the trade, while UN officials estimated more than $400 million was earned by the Taliban from the trade between 2018 and 2019, however other experts have disputed this and estimated that the Taliban earns at most $40 million annually from the drug trade.[319]

Public education

As of 2013, 8.2 million Afghans attended school, up from 1.2 million in 2001.[320] The literacy rate has risen from 8% to 43% since 2001.[299]

All Afghan children are legally required to complete class nine. In 2017, Human Rights Watch reported that the Afghan government was unable to provide a system to ensure all children received this level of education and, in practice, many children missed out.[321] In 2018, UNICEF reported that 3.7 million children between the ages of 7 and 17, or 44 percent, were not attending school.[322]

As of 2017, the Afghan government has cooperated with Taliban forces to provide education services: in Khogyani District, the government is given "nominal control" by local Taliban fighters in return for paying the wages of teachers whom the Taliban appoint in local schools.[323]

Girls' education

A young Afghan girl in Qalat pictured by the 116th Infantry Battalion before receiving school supplies in 2011

As of 2013, 3.2 million girls attended school, up fewer than 50,000 in 2001.[324] 39% of girls were attending school in 2017 compared to 6% in 2003.[60]

While the Taliban typically opposed girls' education, in 2017 in Khogyani District it has allowed girls to receive education in order to improve its standing among local residents.[323]

In 2018, UNICEF reported that sixty percent of girls did not attend school. In some provinces such as Kandahar, Helmand, Wardak, Paktika, Zabul and Uruzgan, 85 percent of girls were not going to school.[322]

War crimes

War crimes (a serious violation of the laws and customs of war giving rise to individual criminal responsibility)[325] have been committed by both sides including civilian massacres, bombings of civilian targets, terrorism, use of torture and the murder of prisoners of war. Additional common crimes include theft, arson, and destruction of property not warranted by military necessity.


The Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission (AIGRC) called the Taliban's terrorism against the Afghan civilian population a war crime.[84] According to Amnesty International, the Taliban commit war crimes by targeting civilians, including killing teachers, abducting aid workers and burning school buildings. Amnesty International said that up to 756 civilians were killed in 2006 by bombs, mostly on roads or carried by suicide attackers belonging to the Taliban.[326]

NATO has alleged that the Taliban have used civilians as human shields. As an example, NATO pointed to the victims of NATO air strikes in Farah province in May 2009, during which the Afghan government claims up to 150 civilians were killed. NATO stated it had evidence the Taliban forced civilians into buildings likely to be targeted by NATO aircraft involved in the battle. A spokesman for the ISAF commander said: "This was a deliberate plan by the Taliban to create a civilian casualty crisis. These were not human shields; these were human sacrifices. We have intelligence that points to this."[327] According to the US State Department, the Taliban committed human rights violations against women in Afghanistan.[328]

On 7 August 2010, Taliban gunmen killed medical aid workers in Afghanistan. After returning from an on foot trip to provide medical aid and care, the group of six Americans, a Briton, a German and four Afghans was accosted and shot by gunmen in a nearby forest in the Hindu Kush mountains.[329] This attack was the largest massacre on aid workers in Afghanistan and the Taliban claimed responsibility for the attack.[329] The Taliban claimed the Christian aid group which had been active in Afghanistan was responsible for spying, and that they were not providing any actual aid. This attack on aid workers constitutes one of the many war crimes committed by the Taliban.[329]

In 2011, The New York Times reported that the Taliban was responsible for 34 of all civilian deaths in the war in Afghanistan.[330][331] In 2013 the UN stated that the Taliban had been placing bombs along transit routes.[332]

In 2015, Amnesty International reported that the Taliban committed mass murder and gang rape of Afghan civilians in Kunduz.[333] Taliban fighters killed and raped female relatives of police commanders and soldiers as well as midwives.[333] One female human rights activist described the situation in the following manner:[333]

"When the Taliban asserted their control over Kunduz, they claimed to be bringing law and order and Shari'a to the city. But everything they've done has violated both. I don't know who can rescue us from this situation."

On 25 July 2019, there were three explosions in the capital of Kabul that killed at least fifteen people, leaving dozens wounded.[334] The attack was targeting a bus carrying government officials from the ministry of mines and petroleum.[334] The attacks left five women and children dead. Minutes later, a suicide bomber blew himself up nearby and this resulted in another seven dead.[334] A spokesman for the Taliban claimed responsibility for the attacks.[334]

On 12 July 2021, Taliban fighters executed 22 unarmed Afghan commandos after the commandos surrendered due to running out of ammunition. One of the commandos was the son of a retired Afghan general.[335]

Northern Alliance

In December 2001, the Dasht-i-Leili massacre took place, where between 250 and 3,000 Taliban fighters who had surrendered, were shot and/or suffocated to death in metal truck containers during transportation by Northern Alliance forces. Reports place US ground troops at the scene.[336][337][338] The Irish documentary Afghan Massacre: The Convoy of Death investigated these allegations and claimed that mass graves of thousands of victims were found by UN investigators[339] and that the US blocked investigations into the incident.[340]

NATO and allies

Afghan teenage farmer murdered on 15 January 2010 by a group of US Army soldiers called the Kill Team

On 21 June 2003, David Passaro, a CIA contractor and former United States Army Ranger, killed Abdul Wali, a prisoner at a US base 16 km (10 mi) south of Asadabad, in Kunar Province. Passaro was found guilty of one count of felony assault with a dangerous weapon and three counts of misdemeanor assault. On 10 August 2009, he was sentenced to 8 years and 4 months in prison.[341][342]

In 2002, two unarmed civilian Afghan prisoners were tortured and later killed by US armed forces personnel at the Bagram Theater Internment Facility (also Bagram Collection Point or B.C.P.) in Bagram, Afghanistan.[343] The prisoners, Habibullah and Dilawar, were chained to the ceiling and beaten, which caused their deaths.[344] Military coroners ruled that both the prisoners' deaths were homicides.[345] Autopsies revealed severe trauma to both prisoners' legs, describing the trauma as comparable to being run over by a bus. Fifteen soldiers were charged.

During the summer of 2010, ISAF charged five United States Army soldiers with the murder of three Afghan civilians in Kandahar province and collecting their body parts as trophies in what came to be known as the Maywand District murders. In addition, seven soldiers were charged with crimes such as hashish use, impeding an investigation and attacking the whistleblower, Specialist Justin Stoner.[346][347][348] Eleven of the twelve soldiers were convicted on various counts.[349]

A British Royal Marine Sergeant, identified as Sergeant Alexander Blackman from Taunton, Somerset,[350] was convicted at court martial in Wiltshire of the murder of an unarmed, reportedly wounded, Afghan fighter in Helmand Province in September 2011.[351] In 2013, he received a life sentence from the court martial in Bulford, Wiltshire, and was dismissed with disgrace from the Royal Marines. In 2017, after appeal to the Court Martial Appeal Court (CMAC), his conviction was lessened to manslaughter on the grounds of diminished responsibility and the sentence was reduced to seven years effectively releasing Blackman due to time served.[352]

On 11 March 2012, the Kandahar massacre occurred when sixteen civilians were killed and six wounded in the Panjwayi District of Kandahar Province, Afghanistan.[353][354] Nine of the victims were children,[354] and eleven of the dead were from the same family.[355] United States Army Staff Sergeant Robert Bales was taken into custody and charged with sixteen counts of premeditated murder. Bales pleaded guilty to sixteen counts of premeditated murder as part of a plea deal to avoid a death sentence, and was subsequently sentenced to life in prison without parole and dishonorably discharged from the United States Army.[356]

On 3 October 2015, a USAF airstrike hit a hospital operated by Doctors Without Borders in Kunduz during the Battle of Kunduz. 42 people were killed and over 30 were injured in the airstrike.[357] Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein, the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights said that it may have been a war crime.[358] Eleven days after the attack, a US tank made its way into the hospital compound. Doctors Without Borders officials said: "Their unannounced and forced entry damaged property, destroyed potential evidence and caused stress and fear for the MSF team."[359] An investigation by the United States Central Command was approved by General John F Campbell on 21 November 2015. The report concluded that certain personnel failed to comply with the rules of engagement and the law of armed conflict. However, the investigation concluded that the airstrike was not a war crime, stating that the label "war crimes" is typically reserved for intentional acts—intentionally targeting civilians or intentionally targeting protected objects (like hospitals). The investigation found that the incident resulted from a mixture of human errors and equipment failures, and that none of the personnel knew they were striking a medical facility,[360]

In November 2014, Amnesty International accused the Pentagon of covering up evidence related to war crimes, torture and unlawful killings in Afghanistan.[361]

In September 2018, the United States threatened to arrest and impose sanctions on International Criminal Court judges and other officials if they tried to charge any US soldier who served in Afghanistan with war crimes.[362] The US further claimed that they would not cooperate in any way with the International Criminal Court in the Hague if it carries out a prospective investigation into allegations of war crimes by US military and intelligence personnel in Afghanistan.[363] On 12 April 2019 a panel of ICC judges decided that they would not open an investigation in Afghanistan. The Court's chief prosecutor Fatou Bensouda provided a report that established "a reasonable basis" that crimes had been committed, but they decided against continuing because the US and other parties would not cooperate.[364][365]

Australian whistleblower David McBride leaked classified documents to ABC journalists in 2017, who went on to produce a series called The Afghan Files.[366] The documents covered a wide range of topics, however most notably it detailed multiple cases of unlawful killings of unarmed civilians.[367] In response to the leak, the Australian Federal Police raided the ABC's offices in June 2019.[368]

In March 2020, senior judges at the international criminal court called for the investigation into war crimes by the US, Afghan and Taliban troops in Afghanistan. The ruling overturned the previous rejection of probe into US’ role in committing war crimes.[369]

The Inspector-General of the Australian Defence Force publicly released a redacted version of the Afghanistan Inquiry, otherwise known as the Brereton Report,[370] in November 2020, detailing misconduct by Australian troops in Afghanistan, predominantly the SAS.[371] It found evidence of 39 unlawful killings by Australian forces, including murdering non-combatants and the execution of prisoners, resulting in the disbandment of an SAS squadron and a police investigation.[372]

White phosphorus use

White phosphorus has been condemned by human rights organizations as cruel and inhumane because it causes severe burns. White phosphorus burns on the bodies of civilians wounded in clashes near Bagram were confirmed. The US claims at least 44 instances in which militants have used white phosphorus in weapons or attacks.[373] In May 2009, the US confirmed that Western military forces in Afghanistan use white phosphorus to illuminate targets or as an incendiary to destroy bunkers and enemy equipment.[374][375] US forces used white phosphorus to screen a retreat in the Battle of Ganjgal when regular smoke munitions were not available.[376]


The cost of the war reportedly was a major factor as US officials considered drawing down troops in 2011.[377] The estimated average cost of deploying just one US soldier in Afghanistan is over US$1 million a year.[378]

In March 2019, the United States Department of Defense estimated fiscal obligations of $737.592 billion have incurred expended during FY2001 to FY2018 in Afghanistan, at a cost of $3,714 per taxpayer.[379] However Brown University research came up with a higher figure of $975 billion for FY2001 to FY2019.[380]

Taliban fighters patrolling Kabul in U.S.-supplied Humvee, 17 August 2021

For FY2019, the United States Department of Defense requested approximately $46.3 billion for Operation FREEDOM'S SENTINEL (US codename for War in Afghanistan) and Related Missions[381]

According to Investment in Blood, a book by Frank Ledwidge, summations for the UK contribution to the war in Afghanistan came to £37bn ($56.46 billion).[382]

Long-term costs

In March 2013, Linda Bilmes, a Senior Lecturer of Public Policy at Harvard Kennedy School, estimated that the total costs of the US wars in Afghanistan and Iraq would come to total at least US$4 to $6 trillion. The two wars were counted as one cost due to their occurring simultaneously and using many of the same US troops. Collectively, the Iraq and Afghanistan wars are expected become the most expensive wars in US history.

The $4 to $6 trillion cost includes long-term medical and disability costs for service members, military replenishment, and social and economic costs. The costs of benefits for veterans were expected to continue increasing over the following 40 years. A significant part of the expected final cost was due to "the budgetary impact of a war that is funded largely by borrowing", and the resulting additional interest costs—out of the $9 trillion of US debt accrued since 2001, around $2 trillion had been borrowed to finance the Afghanistan and Iraq wars.[383][384]

As of 2021, Brown University estimates that the war in Afghanistan has already cost $2.261 trillion, out of which $530 billion has been spent on interest payments and $296 billion has been spent on veterans' care.[100]

Estimated Congressional Appropriations and Spending in Current Billions of US Dollars, Excluding Future Interest Payments and Future Costs for Veterans Care

(Rounded to nearest billion)

Defense Department Overseas Contingency Operations (OCO) (War) Budget $933
State Department OCO (War) Budget $59
Defense Department Base Budget War-Related Increases $443
Veterans Care for Afghan War Vets $296
Estimated Interest on War Borrowing $530
TOTAL in Billions of Current Dollars $2,261

Criticism of costs

In 2011, the independent Commission on Wartime Contracting reported to Congress that, during the previous decade in Iraq and Afghanistan, the United States had lost between $31 and $60 billion to waste and fraud and that this amount may continue to increase.[385]

In the summer of 2013, preparing for withdrawal the following year, the US military destroyed over 77,000 metric tons of equipment and vehicles worth over $7 billion that could not be shipped back to the United States. Some was sold to Afghans as scrap metal.[386] In 2013, the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction, a US government oversight body, criticized the misuse or waste of hundreds of millions of dollars in US aid, including the $772 million purchase of aircraft for the Afghan military especially since "the Afghans lack the capacity to operate and maintain them".[387]

In interviews conducted for the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction's Lessons Learned Program, one interviewee estimated that 40 percent of US aid to Afghanistan since 2001 ended up in the pockets of corrupt officials, warlords, criminals and insurgents.[388] Ryan Crocker, former ambassador to Afghanistan and Iraq, told the investigators in a 2016 interview, "You just cannot put those amounts of money into a very fragile state and society, and not have it fuel corruption."[389]

As the Taliban threatened stability in Kabul in 2021, President Biden justified his decision to withdraw US troops by saying: "We spent over a trillion dollars over 20 years."[390]

Stability problems

In a 2008 interview, the then-head US Central Command General David H. Petraeus, insisted that the Taliban were gaining strength. He cited a recent increase in attacks in Afghanistan and in neighboring Pakistan. Petraeus insisted that the problems in Afghanistan were more complicated than the ones he had faced in Iraq during his tour and required removing widespread sanctuaries and strongholds.[391]

Observers have argued that the mission in Afghanistan is hampered by a lack of agreement on objectives, a lack of resources, lack of coordination, too much focus on the central government at the expense of local and provincial governments, and too much focus on the country instead of the region.[392]

In 2009, Afghanistan moved three places in Transparency International's annual index of corruption, becoming the world's second most-corrupt country just ahead of Somalia.[393] In the same month, Malalai Joya, a former member of the Afghan Parliament and the author of "Raising My Voice", expressed opposition to an expansion of the US military presence and her concerns about the future. "Eight years ago, the US and NATO—under the banner of women's rights, human rights, and democracy—occupied my country and pushed us from the frying pan into the fire. Eight years is enough to know better about the corrupt, mafia system of President Hamid Karzai. My people are crushed between two powerful enemies. From the sky, occupation forces bomb and kill civilians … and on the ground, the Taliban and warlords continue their crimes. It is better that they leave my country; my people are that fed up. Occupation will never bring liberation, and it is impossible to bring democracy by war."[394]

Pakistan plays a central role in the conflict. A 2010 report published by the London School of Economics says that Pakistan's ISI has an "official policy" of support to the Taliban.[395] "Pakistan appears to be playing a double-game of astonishing magnitude," the report states.[395] Amrullah Saleh, former director of Afghanistan's intelligence service, stated, "We talk about all these proxies [Taliban, Haqqanis] but not the master of proxies, which is the Pakistan army. The question is what does Pakistan's army want to achieve …? They want to gain influence in the region"[396] About the presence of foreign troops in Afghanistan he stated: "[T]hey fight for the US national interest but … without them we will face massacre and disaster and God knows what type of a future Afghanistan will have."[396][397]

The New York Times reports that the US created a 'void' that allowed other countries to step in. For example, Iran is making efforts to expand influence into Afghanistan and fill the vacuum. In the past two decades, the US took out two of Iran's regional enemies: Saddam Hussein through the Iraq War as well as the Taliban. Saudi Arabia and Pakistan are other 'dominant players'. Once enemies, Iran and the Taliban have strengthened ties, with Russian assistance as well, to 'bleed' the American force. Lately, the Taliban has been 'diversifying' its sources by calling for economic support from Dubai, UAE and Bahrain. Pakistan has also given economic support and encouraged increased Iran-Taliban ties.[398]

Iran and Russia, emboldened by their alliance in the Syrian Civil War, have also initiated a 'proxy war' in Afghanistan against the US.[398]

The article says that Afghans yearn for the days when they were at the center of the thriving Silk Road connecting China to Europe. Iran plans to build roads from Afghanistan to the Persian Gulf so that Afghanistan would not be landlocked anymore. Herat is sometimes referred to as 'Little Iran' and during the Soviet–Afghan War many Afghans fled to Iran for refuge.[398]

China has also been quietly expanding its influence. Since 2010 China has signed mining contracts with Kabul[399] and is even building a military base in Badakshan to counter regional terrorism (from the ETIM).[400] China has donated billions of dollars in aid over the years to Afghanistan, which plays a strategic role in the Belt and Road Initiative. The Diplomat says that China has the potential to play an important role in bringing peace and stability to the region.[400]

According to senior administration officials, Donald Trump said during a meeting at the White House in July 2017 that the US was losing the war and had considered firing the US generals in charge.[399] An article in NBC said that what set Trump apart during that meeting relative to his predecessors was his open questioning of the quality of the advice that he was receiving.[399]

In December 2019 The Washington Post published 2,000 pages of government documents, mostly transcripts of interviews with more than 400 key figures involved in prosecuting the Afghanistan war. According to the Post and the Guardian, the documents (dubbed the Afghanistan Papers) showed that US officials consistently and deliberately misled the American public about the unwinnable nature of the conflict,[401] and some commentators and foreign policy experts subsequently drew comparisons to the release of the Pentagon Papers.[401] The Post obtained the documents from the Office of the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction, via Freedom of Information Act requests, after a three-year legal battle.[402][401]

Afghan security forces

Afghan National Army

Afghan Commandos practice infiltration techniques, 1 April 2010 at Camp Morehead in the outer regions of Kabul.
Soldiers from the Afghan army patrolling a village in Khost Province in 2010

US policy called for boosting the Afghan National Army to 134,000 soldiers by October 2010. By May 2010 the Afghan Army had accomplished this interim goal and was on track to reach its ultimate number of 171,000 by 2011.[403] This increase in Afghan troops allowed the US to begin withdrawing its forces in July 2011.[404][405]

In 2010, the Afghan National Army had limited fighting capacity.[406] Even the best Afghan units lacked training, discipline and adequate reinforcements. In one new unit in Baghlan Province, soldiers had been found cowering in ditches rather than fighting.[407] Some were suspected of collaborating with the Taliban.[406] "They don't have the basics, so they lay down," said Capt. Michael Bell, who was one of a team of US and Hungarian mentors tasked with training Afghan soldiers. "I ran around for an hour trying to get them to shoot, getting fired on. I couldn't get them to shoot their weapons."[406] In addition, 9 out of 10 soldiers in the Afghan National Army were illiterate.[408]

The Afghan Army was plagued by inefficiency and endemic corruption.[409] US training efforts were drastically slowed by the problems.[410] US trainers reported missing vehicles, weapons and other military equipment, and outright theft of fuel.[406] Death threats were leveled against US officers who tried to stop Afghan soldiers from stealing. Afghan soldiers often snipped the command wires of IEDs instead of marking them and waiting for US forces to come to detonate them. This allowed insurgents to return and reconnect them.[406] US trainers frequently removed the cell phones of Afghan soldiers hours before a mission for fear that the operation would be compromised.[411] American trainers often spent large amounts of time verifying that Afghan rosters were accurate—that they are not padded with "ghosts" being "paid" by Afghan commanders who stole the wages.[412]

US Marines and ANA soldiers take cover in Marja on 13 February 2010 during their offensive to secure the city from the Taliban.

Desertion was a significant problem. One in every four combat soldiers quit the Afghan Army during the 12-month period ending in September 2009, according to data from the US Defense Department and the Inspector General for Reconstruction in Afghanistan.[413]

In early 2015, Philip Munch of the Afghanistan Analysts' Network wrote that "... the available evidence suggests that many senior ANSF members, in particular, use their positions to enrich themselves. Within the ANSF there are also strong external loyalties to factions who themselves compete for influence and access to resources. All this means that the ANSF may not work as they officially should. Rather it appears that the political economy of the ANSF prevents them from working like modern organisations – the very prerequisite of the Resolute Support Mission."[414] Formal and informal income, Munch said, which can be generated through state positions, is rent-seeking – income without a corresponding investment of labour or capital. "Reportedly, ANA appointees also often maintain clients, so that patron-client networks, structured into competing factions, can be traced within the ANA down to the lowest levels. [...] There is evidence that Afghan officers and officials, especially in the higher echelons, appropriate large parts of the vast resource flows which are directed by international donors into the ANA."[415]

An Afghan soldier surveying a valley during an anti-Taliban operation
A-29 plane of the Afghan Air Force

Most Afghan fighters being trained by the US habitually use opium, and it is a constant struggle to field them in a sober state.[416] Rape in US-run military facilities by other Afghan soldiers also plagues Afghan recruits and undermines combat readiness.[417] A report by a US inspector general revealed 5,753 cases of "gross human rights abuses by Afghan forces", including "routine enslavement and rape of underage boys by Afghan commanders".[418]

Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction has reported that roughly half of Afghan soldiers brought to the United States for training go absent without leave which may inhibit the operational readiness of their units back in Afghanistan, negatively impact the morale of other trainees and home units and pose security risks to the United States.[419]

Afghan National Police

The Afghan National Police provides support to the Afghan army. Police officers in Afghanistan are also largely illiterate. Approximately 17% of them tested positive for illegal drugs in 2010. They were widely accused of demanding bribes.[420] Attempts to build a credible Afghan police force were faltering badly, according to NATO officials.[421] A quarter of the officers quit every year, making the Afghan government's goals of substantially building up the police force even harder to achieve.[421]

Tactics/strategy of anti-government elements

The armed opposition or anti-government elements – some Western news media tend to address them all simply as "Taliban"[422] – have from 2008 into 2009 shifted their tactics from frontal attacks on pro-government forces to guerrilla type activities, including suicide, car and roadside bombs (IEDs), and targeted assassinations, said a UNAMA report in July 2009.[423] Mr. Maley, an Afghanistan expert at the Australian National University, stated in 2009 that IEDs had become Taliban's weapon of choice.[422]

In 2008–2009, according to the Christian Science Monitor, 16 improvised explosive devices (IEDs) were planted in girls' schools in Afghanistan, but there is no certainty who did it.[422]

Insider attacks

Beginning in 2011, insurgent forces in Afghanistan began using a tactic of insider attacks on ISAF and Afghan military forces. In the attacks, Taliban personnel or sympathizers belonging to, or pretending to belong to, the Afghan military or police forces attack ISAF personnel, often within the security of ISAF military bases and Afghan government facilities. In 2011, for example, 21 insider attacks killed 35 coalition personnel. Forty-six insider attacks killed 63 and wounded 85 coalition troops, mostly American, in the first 11 months of 2012.[424] The attacks continued but began diminishing towards the planned 31 December 2014 ending of combat operations in Afghanistan by ISAF. However, on 5 August 2014, a gunman in an Afghan military uniform opened fire on a number of international military personnel, killing a US general and wounding about 15 officers and soldiers, including a German brigadier general and 8 US troops, at a training base west of Kabul.[425]


Domestic reactions

In November 2001, the CNN reported widespread relief amongst Kabul's residents after the Taliban fled the city, with young men shaving off their beards and women taking off their burqas.[426] Later that month the BBC's longtime Kabul correspondent Kate Clark reported that "almost all women in Kabul are still choosing to veil" but that many felt hopeful that the ousting of the Taliban would improve their safety and access to food.[427]

A US marine interacting with Afghan children in Helmand Province

A 2006 WPO opinion poll found that the majority of Afghans endorsed America's military presence, with 83% of Afghans stating that they had a favorable view of the US military forces in their country. Only 17% gave an unfavorable view.[428] The majority of Afghans, among all ethnic groups including Pashtuns, stated that the overthrowing of the Taliban was a good thing. 82% of Afghans as a whole and 71% of those living in the war zone held this anti-Taliban view.[429] The Afghan population gave the USA one of its most favorable ratings in the world. A solid majority (81%) of Afghans stated that they held a favorable view of the USA.[430] However, the majority of Afghans (especially those in the war zone) held negative views on Pakistan and most Afghans also stated that they believe that the Pakistani government was allowing the Taliban to operate from its soil.[431]

A village elder speaking with an Afghan policeman in Panjwayi District, Kandahar

Polls of Afghans displayed strong opposition to the Taliban and significant support of the US military presence. However, the idea of permanent US military bases was not popular in 2005.[432]

Afghan women sewing school uniforms using materials donated by U.S companies, 2003

According to a May 2009 BBC poll, 69% of Afghans surveyed thought it was at least mostly good that the US military came in to remove the Taliban—a decrease from 87% of Afghans surveyed in 2005. 24% thought it was mostly or very bad—up from 9% in 2005. The poll indicated that 63% of Afghans were at least somewhat supportive of a US military presence in the country—down from 78% in 2005. Just 18% supported increasing the US military's presence, while 44% favored reducing it. 90% of Afghans surveyed opposed the Taliban, including 70% who were strongly opposed. By an 82%–4% margin, people said they preferred the current government to Taliban rule.[433]

In a June 2009 Gallup survey, about half of Afghan respondents felt that additional US forces would help stabilize the security situation in the southern provinces. But opinions varied widely; residents in the troubled South were mostly mixed or uncertain, while those in the West largely disagreed that more US troops would help the situation.[434]

In December 2009, many Afghan tribal heads and local leaders from the south and east called for US troop withdrawals. "I don't think we will be able to solve our problems with military force," said Muhammad Qasim, a Kandahar tribal elder. "We can solve them by providing jobs and development and by using local leaders to negotiate with the Taliban."[435] "If new troops come and are stationed in civilian areas, when they draw Taliban attacks civilians will end up being killed," said Gulbadshah Majidi, a lawmaker and close associate of Mr. Karzai. "This will only increase the distance between Afghans and their government."[436]

In late January 2010, Afghan protesters took to the streets for three straight days and blocked traffic on a highway that links Kabul and Kandahar. The Afghans were demonstrating in response to the deaths of four men in a NATO-Afghan raid in the village of Ghazni. Ghazni residents insisted that the dead were civilians.[437]

A 2015 survey by Langer Research Associates found that 77% of Afghans support the presence of US forces; 67% also support the presence of NATO forces. Despite the problems in the country, 80% of Afghans still held the view that it was a good thing for the United States to overthrow the Taliban in 2001. More Afghans blame the Taliban or al-Qaeda for the country's violence (53%) than those who blame the USA (12%).[438][439]

International reactions

22 December 2009 protest against the war, New York City

A 47-nation global survey of public opinion conducted in June 2007 by the Pew Global Attitudes Project found considerable opposition to the NATO military operations in Afghanistan. Only Israel and Kenya citizens were in favor of the war.[440] On the other hand, in 41 of the 47 countries pluralities wanted NATO troops out of Afghanistan as soon as possible. The authors of the survey mentioned a "global unease with major world powers" and in America that "Afghan War not worth it".[440] In 32 out of 47 countries majorities wanted NATO troops out of Afghanistan as soon as possible. Majorities in 7 out of 12 NATO member countries wanted troops withdrawn as soon as possible.[440][441][442]

In 2008 there was a strong opposition to war in Afghanistan in 21 of 24 countries surveyed. Only in the US and Great Britain did half the people support the war, with a larger percentage (60%) in Australia.[443] Since then, public opinion in Australia and Britain has shifted, and the majority of Australians and British now also want their troops to be brought home from Afghanistan. Authors of articles on the issue mentioned that "Australians lose faith in Afghan War effort" and "cruel human toll of fight to win Afghan peace".[444][445][446][447] Of the seven NATO countries in the survey, not one showed a majority in favor of keeping NATO troops in Afghanistan – one, the US, came close to a majority (50%). Of the other six NATO countries, five had majorities of their population wanting NATO troops removed from Afghanistan as soon as possible.[443]

The 2009 global survey reported that majorities or pluralities in 18 out of 25 countries wanted NATO to remove their troops from Afghanistan as soon as possible.[448]:22 Despite American calls for NATO allies to send more troops to Afghanistan, there was majority or plurality opposition to such action in every one of the NATO countries surveyed.[448]:39

Public opinion in 2001

Home-made sign (2015) in Devine, Texas, south of San Antonio, welcomes returning troops from the war in Afghanistan.

When the invasion began in October 2001, polls indicated that about 88% of Americans and about 65% of Britons backed military action.[449]

A large-scale 37-nation poll of world opinion carried out by Gallup International in late September 2001 found that large majorities in most countries favored a legal response, in the form of extradition and trial, over a military response to 9/11: in only three countries out of the 37 surveyed—the US, Israel and India—did majorities favor military action. In the other 34 countries surveyed, the poll found many clear majorities that favored extradition and trial instead of military action: in the United Kingdom (75%), France (67%), Switzerland (87%), Czech Republic (64%), Lithuania (83%), Panama (80%) and Mexico (94%).[450][451]

An Ipsos-Reid poll conducted between November and December 2001 showed that majorities in Canada (66%), France (60%), Germany (60%), Italy (58%), and the UK (65%) approved of US airstrikes while majorities in Argentina (77%), China (52%), South Korea (50%), Spain (52%), and Turkey (70%) opposed them.[452]

Development of public opinion

22 June 2007 demonstration in Québec City against the Canadian military involvement in Afghanistan

In a 47-nation June 2007 survey of global public opinion, the Pew Global Attitudes Project found international opposition to the war. Out of the 47 countries surveyed, 4 had a majority that favored keeping foreign troops: the US (50%), Israel (59%), Ghana (50%), and Kenya (60%). In 41, pluralities wanted NATO troops out as soon as possible.[440] In 32 out of 47, clear majorities wanted war over as soon as possible. Majorities in 7 out of 12 NATO member countries said troops should be withdrawn as soon as possible.[440][453]

A 24-nation Pew Global Attitudes survey in June 2008 similarly found that majorities or pluralities in 21 of 24 countries want the US and NATO to remove their troops from Afghanistan as soon as possible. Only in three out of the 24 countries—the US (50%), Australia (60%), and Britain (48%)—did public opinion lean more toward keeping troops there until the situation has stabilized.[454][455]

Number of fatalities among Western coalition soldiers involved in the execution of Operation Enduring Freedom from 2001 to 2019.[456]
Canadian Forces personnel carry the casket of a fallen comrade onto an aircraft at Kandahar Air Field, 17 July 2009

Following that June 2008 global survey, however, public opinion in Australia and Britain diverged from that in the US. A majority of Australians and Britons now want their troops home. A September 2008 poll found that 56% of Australians opposed continuation of their country's military involvement.[445][457][458] A November 2008 poll found that 68% of Britons wanted their troops withdrawn within the next 12 months.[444][459][460]

In the US, a September 2008 Pew survey found that 61% of Americans wanted US troops to stay until the situation has stabilized, while 33% wanted them removed as soon as possible.[461] Public opinion was divided over Afghan troop requests: a majority of Americans continued to see a rationale for the use of military force in Afghanistan.[462] A slight plurality of Americans favored troop increases, with 42%–47% favoring some troop increases, 39%–44% wanting reduction, and 7–9% wanting no changes. Just 29% of Democrats favored troop increases while 57% wanted to begin reducing troops. Only 36% of Americans approved of Obama's handling of Afghanistan, including 19% of Republicans, 31% of independents, and 54% of Democrats.[463]

In a December 2009 Pew Research Center poll, only 32% of Americans favored increasing US troops in Afghanistan, while 40% favored decreasing them. Almost half of Americans, 49%, believed that the US should "mind its own business" internationally and let other countries get along the best they can. That figure was an increase from 30% who said that in December 2002.[464]

An April 2011 Pew Research Center poll showed little change in American views, with about 50% saying that the effort was going very well or fairly well and only 44% supporting NATO troop presence in Afghanistan.[465]

Protests, demonstrations and rallies

The war has been the subject of large protests around the world starting with the large-scale demonstrations in the days leading up to the invasion and every year since. Many protesters consider the bombing and invasion of Afghanistan to be unjustified aggression.[466] The deaths of Afghan civilians caused directly and indirectly by the US and NATO bombing campaigns is a major underlying focus of the protests.[467] In January 2009, Brave New Foundation launched Rethink Afghanistan, a national campaign for non-violent solutions in Afghanistan built around a documentary film by director and political activist Robert Greenwald.[468] Dozens of organizations planned (and eventually held) a national march for peace in Washington, D.C. on 20 March 2010.[469][470]

US departure and return of the Taliban

In April of 2021 US President Joe Biden announced the withdrawal of all US forces from Afghanistan by September of 2021,[471] while relying upon some 300,000 trained Afghani forces to maintain security in the country. By 2 July, US troops fully left Bagram Airfield, outside of Kabul, handing it to the Afghan Armed Forces. By 16 August, Kabul and the greater part of the country had fallen into the hands of the Taliban,[472] who were swift to offer conciliatory gestures to the west, offering general amnesty to those Afghans who assisted the Americans in operations against their countrymen, as well as initially permitting the transit of foreign nationals to the airport in order to leave the country.[473] The US departure from Afghanistan concluded, in effect, a 20-year US war and involvement in Afghanistan.

See also


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