It was in the yet unknown tail end of the Cold-War era, the last decade of the existence of the mightiest communist government the world has ever seen; the Soyuz Sovietskikh Sotsialisticheskikh Respublik (CCCP), or more commonly known to the rest of the world as, the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR).
The world watched in stunned silence as the 5th Guards, 108th and 68th motor rifle divisions of the legendary 40th Army of the USSR marched into Afghanistan on December 24, 1979, to throw their support behind the fledgling socialist government of the People's Democratic Party of Afghanistan (PDPA), who gained power through a military coup a year earlier (note: the coup was an internal one, orchestrated by the Parcham faction of the PDPA against the Khalq faction). After two years of covert support for the Parchams, Afghanistan was now officially a Soviet satellite. The USSR leadership, under General Secretary Leonid Brezhnev, promptly established a puppet government headed by Marxist ideologue, Babrak Karmal, as President.
As the new government consolidated their position with the capture of strategic assets around the capital, the specter of a Communist Middle East slowly began to take shape in the minds of America and her allies. The only hope of curtailing the spread of the Red Menace fell unto the frail shoulders of the mujahideen (warriors of the faith), a motley crew of disorganized Islamic radicals, nationalists, monarchists and remnants of the Khalq faction of the PDPA.
Recognizing this, and in place of direct American participation in the war, President Jimmy Carter authorized the CIA to covertly arm the mujahideen in their fight against the Soviets. However, the limited assistance backfired, as massive retaliatory responses from the Soviets crushed the defenseless Afghani mujahideens.
Following Carter's reelection defeat in 1980, the new Reagan administration decided to expand America's covert assistance to the mujahideen, and with the support and pressure from former Texas Congressman, Republican Charlie Wilson, and the Heritage Foundation, a powerful conservative advocacy group, the Reagan Doctrine was conceived. The Doctrine has since been widely credited as the architect of the eventual disintegration of the USSR.
The CIA was tasked with the implementation of the Doctrine, and was armed with a massive budget towards achieving the goal. The plan, code named Operation Cyclone, was led by Army Special Forces NCO Michael G. Vickers (the current Assistant Secretary of Defense for Special Operations and Low-Intensity Conflict who coordinated efforts to secretly train, arm and provide covert ancillary support to the mujahideen. Two significant developments occurred at the time that will prove to be the crucial in the eventual Soviet retreat and paradoxically, future American deaths; the Tora Bora stronghold and Stinger missiles.
The need for a secret base to house and coordinate the movements of the mobile mujahideen guerrillas, as well as providing a center of command for 'cells' spread all over the country, saw to the creation of the Tora Bora cave complex. The circuitous network, hidden deep within the White Mountain range, with entrances kept miles apart and only known to a selected few, proved to be a masterstroke.
The threat of the previously deadly Soviet Mi-8 and Mi-24 helicopters meanwhile, were nullified with the introduction of the heat-seeking Stingers. In one of the most stunning statistics of any war in recent times, the mujahideen brought down 269 Soviet crafts from a total of 340 shoulder-launched attacks. It forced the Soviets to change their overall military tactics into a ground-based mechanized one. The mujahideen easily countered it with mines placed along major roads and crossing zones, and in the process, contained the majority of Soviet forces into urban centers, and purged huge tracts of the country off the invaders. With mounting military losses and rising economic costs, the humiliated Soviets sought a peace treaty with the Afghanis in 1988 and began an ordered retreat.
However, there was a hidden aspect of the resistance that neither the CIA nor the Army understood. During the height of the resistance, regional and/or communal power bases were created, and warlords came into existence. One of the most powerful to have emerged was none other than Osama Bin Laden, the born-again Muslim, son of a Saudi billionaire.
The young Osama - an idealist, a nationalist and more importantly, a radical Muslim - founded the Maktab al-Khadamat to recruit soldiers for the cause, a cause not exclusively limited to fighting the invading the Soviets. His men were indirectly trained and armed by the CIA, his commanders taught the art of modern guerrilla warfare and perhaps most dangerously, the whole organization saw with their own eyes the humbling of a world superpower.
In the aftermath of the Soviet withdrawal, a power vacuum existed in Afghanistan. The Marxist government, bereft of their Soviet overlords, struggled to maintain power. However, their cause was helped by the now divided mujahideen, who in the absence of the Soviets and the Americans, lacked a unifying cause. The country, for all intents and purpose, were controlled by regional warlords, leveraging the ethnically diverse population to enhance their power bases.
A protracted civil war ensued between the Mohammad Najibullah led Marxist regime against these warlords, which eventually culminated in the Peshawar Accords that saw to the creation of the Islamic State of Afghanistan on April 30, 1992. Unfortunately, a weak central government, political ambitions of neighboring countries (Pakistan, Iran and Saudi Arabia) and powerful warlords, meant that fierce fighting continued still throughout the country. The situation deteriorated, and the country became even more divisive.
The economy collapsed, and the steady inflow of returning refugees slowed down to a trickle. The country was thrown back into the dark ages. There were no police, infrastructure development or government presence out of Kabul; Afghanistan became a free for all, lawless crime-ridden nation with atrocity and violence around every corner. The populace cried for a savior, and it came in the form of 'The Students,' or as they're known to the world, the Taliban.
The movement began in Pakistan in a religious school known as Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam (Assembly of Islamic Clergy). Practicing a strict brand of Islam, the movement advocated the implementation of the Islamic syariah law and the concept of 'ulama (religious leader)-administrator'. One of its students returned to Afghanistan and started a similar religious school there. His name was Mullah Omar, and from all accounts, his movement's evolution into a socio-political force was triggered by the tyranny of the Governor of Kandahar. His students took up arms and began to enforce the law according to a strict interpretation of Islamic laws.
For a nation that was crying out for peace and order, the Taliban was welcomed with open arms and rapidly grew in strength and influence. Their growth from relative anonymity to a national force surprised many. Two years after coming to prominence, the Taliban, with help from the Pakistan military, captured Kabul and subsequently took control of the country in 1996.
While all of this was happening, Osama Bin Laden was safely tucked in the caves of Tora Bora, which he had converted into an al-Qaeda command center, unbeknownst to many in the intelligence community who lost track of him after his disappearance from Sudan several years earlier. As the war against the Soviets was reaching its end in the late eighties, the increasingly militant Osama, together with his cadres of loyalists, left the mujahideens and formed a new group, the World Islamic Front for Jihad Against Jews and Crusaders (WIFJAJC), the precursor to Al-Qaeda (The Base). Harnessing all the knowledge and expertise learned from their CIA and ISI (Pakistan's Directorate for Inter-Services Intelligence) handlers, the organization began to launch sporadic small scaled attacks against American interests and individuals in the region. However, intelligence agencies paid little heed to WIFJAJC, likening them instead to one of the many anti-American militant organizations in the region. This is despite the increasing reports and intelligence chatters of their involvement in acts of terrorism in Sudan, Egypt and elsewhere in the region.
Things changed, however, in 1998 after the release of a fatwa by the group.
"First, for over seven years the United States has been occupying the lands of Islam in the holiest of places, the Arabian Peninsula, plundering its riches, dictating to its rulers, humiliating its people, terrorizing its neighbors, and turning its bases in the Peninsula into a spearhead through which to fight the neighboring Muslim peoples... So here they come to annihilate what is left of this people and to humiliate their Muslim neighbors... All these crimes and sins committed by the Americans are a clear declaration of war on Allah, his messenger, and Muslims. And ulema have throughout Islamic history unanimously agreed that the jihad is an individual duty if the enemy destroys the Muslim countries... The ruling to kill the Americans and their allies -- civilians and military -- is an individual duty for every Muslim"
Extracts from the WIFJAJC Fatwa, 23 February 1998
It was apparent by then that Osama, and the al-Qaeda as a whole, was angered by America's continued presence in the region, specifically at their holy sites, and was prepared to do everything in their power to remove the infidels. The Clinton administration and intelligence community were left ruing the many opportunities they had in the early nineties to capture the then relatively insignificant Osama, who by now has dropped off the radar and was well on his way towards cementing his status as the bogeyman of international intelligence community (although there is now conclusive evidence that certain factions within the ISI were in contact with the man right until his death).
The next three years saw Al-Qaeda finally announcing their presence to the world with a series of attacks on high profile US installations. Despite retaliatory attacks authorized by President Clinton against their training camps in Afghanistan and suspected installations elsewhere, it only seems to ignite them further. Bombings of American embassies in Tanzania and Kenya, and the U.S. Navy destroyer, USS Cole in Yemen, demonstrated the level of planning and sophistication al-Qaeda was capable of. The fluid, clandestine cell structure used by their ground operatives, augmented by an elaborate communication system based on disposal emails and cell phones, made them difficult to track and penetrate. It was through sheer good luck that several of their other plans were halted by law enforcement agencies; the most notable being the planned bombings of the Los Angeles International Airport.
However, all this pales in comparison against 9/11, a horrific attack that was the first, and thus far, only foreign act of terrorism on US soil. After years of intricate planning, nineteen al-Qaeda operatives hijacked American Airlines Flight 11 (Boston to LA), United Airlines Flight 175 (Boston to LA), United Airlines Flight 93 (Newark to San Francisco) and American Airlines Flight 77 (Washington to LA) with the explicit objective of crashing the planes into pre-selected targets.
The coordinated attacks on September 11, 2001, saw the first two planes hurtling into the North Tower and South Tower of the World Trade Center in New York at 8:46am and 9:03am respectively. Both buildings collapsed by 10:30am. AAL Flight 77 struck the western section of the Pentagon in Washington at 9:37am.
The last plane, UAL Flight 93, nose-dived near an abandoned coal-mine in Stonycreek Township in Somerset County, Pennsylvania, at 10:03am, after a violent struggle in the cockpit as passengers attempted to regain control of the craft from the hijackers. Investigators speculate that the hijackers planned to crash the plane into either the Capitol or the White House.
The attacks killed 2,427 civilians at the World Trade Center while 125 died in the Pentagon crash. Another 44, including the four hijackers, died in the UAL 93 crash. 403 rescue and support personnel from the NYPD, FDNY and Port Authority were also killed on the day. The 256 passengers in all four planes died.
Americans watched the images on their TV screen in disbelief. More than the deaths and the fiery infernos, the sense of security they have taken for granted for so long has now been brutally snatched from right under their feet. There was grief, there was bewilderment, there was anger, but most of all, there was a thirst for vengeance, a collective demand for justice. President George W. Bush appeared on the air the next morning to rally the country.
Excerpts of President Bush's speech: "This enemy hides in shadows and has no regard for human life. This is an enemy who preys on innocent and unsuspecting people, then runs for cover, but it won't be able to run for cover forever. This is an enemy that tries to hide, but it won't be able to hide forever. This is an enemy that thinks its harbors are safe, but they won't be safe forever. This enemy attacked not just our people but all freedom-loving people everywhere in the world. The United States of America will use all our resources to conquer this enemy."
His approval rating skyrocketed to over 90% following the speech, and the whole country stood behind him. Three days later, Congress passed the "Authorization for Use of Military Force Against Terrorists" legislation that authorized President Bush the use of the armed forces to apprehend everyone who were involved in the attacks.
In the midst of it all, New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani's leadership shone like a beacon of hope for the traumatized New Yorkers. The Dow Jones Industrial Average fell 14.3% within a single week, wiping off $1.4 trillion from the market. The North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) declared the attack as an attack on all NATO members, and invoked Article 5 of organization, promising military support. Britain promised its full military support to the United States. Australia and New Zealand invoked Article IV of the Australia, New Zealand, United States Security Treaty (ANZUS treaty), promising similar military support. The whole world mourned for the dead, staring in disbelief at the carnage.
Exactly one week later, after conclusively determining the role of al-Qaeda in the attacks, President Bush delivered an ultimatum to the Mullah Omar led Taliban in Afghanistan, where Osama Bin Laden and the bulk of al-Qaeda forces were hiding;
"The Taliban must act, and act immediately. They will hand over the terrorists or they will share in their fate... Deliver to United States authorities all of the leaders of Al Qaeda who hide in your land. Release all foreign nationals, including American citizens you have unjustly imprisoned. Protect foreign journalists, diplomats and aid workers in your country. Close immediately and permanently every terrorist training camp in Afghanistan, and hand over every terrorist and every person and their support structure to appropriate authorities. Give the United States full access to terrorist training camps, so we can make sure they are no longer operating."
The Taliban refused, and instead suggested that the accused be tried in an Islamic Court to determine the veracity of the accusations against them while inviting the United States to submit evidence of their involvement.
Faced with the refusal of the Taliban the United States launched Operation Enduring Freedom on October 7, 2001, and with the assistance of a British-led a coalition, initiated a bombing campaign of Afghanistan, targeting suspected al-Qaeda hideouts and Taliban army installations. It has been a decade since the world had seen the Americans in combat, and they watched in awe as the United States armed forces pulverized the country into submission.
Five weeks later, the coalition force and the rebel Afghan Northern Alliance captured Kabul and subsequently the country, as al-Qaeda and Taliban fled to the mountainous regions in the east (in some instance, right to Pakistan), helpless in the face of the onslaught. The coalition, as expected, easily triumphed over the battered Afghanis. However, it was a bittersweet victory, as, by and large, they failed to capture any of al-Qaeda's and the Taliban's senior leaders.
Strangely though, American citizens weren't cheering as loudly anymore. Ten years on, the cheers have almost died down...
The expressed objective of Operation Enduring Freedom was "to disrupt the use of Afghanistan as a terrorist base of operations, and to attack the military capability of the Taliban regime," as articulated by former President George W. Bush in his address to the nation on October 7, 2001, just hours before the offensive against Taliban-controlled Afghanistan commenced.
These objectives were met within five weeks of the United States and the coalition's entry into Afghanistan, by employing the strategy advocated by former Secretary of Defense, Donald Rumsfeld. The strategy revolves around the concept of a short term, small-scale deployment of ground-based armed troops, harnessing their superior weaponry and technological advantages, augmented by CIA's intelligence, Air Force assets and the assistance of the coalition and local allies (the Northern Alliance), to neutralize the enemy's threats.
However, the escape of senior al-Qaeda and Taliban figures, most notably Osama Bin Laden and Mullah Omar, as well as other emerging threats, forced a review of the campaign's initial objectives and strategies. The challenge now was to ensure that the Afghan Transitional Administration, in the absence of support from the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF), would not fall under the weight of a sustained and multi-directional assault by insurgents (al-Qaeda and the Taliban), and the still powerful foreign-backed warlords.
There was a very credible fear that, left on their own, the young Afghan government will suffer a similar fate to the 1992 government established after the Peshawar Accord, overrun by foreign-backed local warlords and more critically, turning the country once again, into a haven for international terrorists, and providing the time and space for al-Qaeda and the Taliban to recover.
After several years of uncertainty and the all too obvious decision to prioritize the Iraqi occupation ahead of Afghanistan, President Bush shared his thoughts on the subject in a speech at the National Defense University in Washington on September 9, 2008.
"... It (Afghanistan) has few natural resources and has an under-developed infrastructure. Its democratic institutions are fragile. Its enemies are some of the most hardened terrorists and extremists in the world. With their brutal attacks, the Taliban and terrorists have made some progress in shaking the confidence of the Afghan people. And in the face of all these challenges, the Afghan people are naturally questioning what their future looks like. Afghanistan's success is critical to the security of America and our partners in the free world. And for all the good work we've done in that country, it is clear we must do even more."
President Bush also outlined the administration's new approach to the Afghan issue:
"a quiet surge of troops to provide security for the Afghan people, protect Afghanistan's infrastructure and democratic institutions, and help ensure access to services like education and health care"
"helping Afghans develop additional security forces, and increasing the direct involvement of Afghan tribes. More experts from U.S. government civilian agencies would be deployed to help Afghans improve governance and to jumpstart the economy"
After almost ten years, $427 billion (as at 25 June 2011), and a total of 1,636 American casualties, General David Petraeus, the then Commander of the International Security Assistance Force and U.S. Forces Afghanistan (and since September 2011, Director of the Central Intelligence Agency), acknowledged in 2011 that there is still "a lot of hard work to do," and while the newly trained Afghan forces made "impressive progress," there remains a need to continue "improving quality of the Afghan Army and police." General Petraeus also commended on the significant improvements on Afghanistan's health, legal and educational infrastructure.
A Pentagon report in May 2011 indicated that while the injection of 30,000 additional troops in 2010 authorized by President Barack Obama managed to broadly arrest "the momentum of the insurgency in much of the country and have reversed it in a number of important areas," the improvements are "fragile and reversible."
This was in the face of an exponential increase in insurgent attacks, a trend that became a cause for concern as intelligence sources predicted that the Taliban was attempting to regain their former strongholds in the southern and eastern regions over the summer of 2011. A November 2010 Pentagon report cited "the Taliban's strength lies in the Afghan population's perception that coalition forces will soon leave, giving credence to the belief that a Taliban victory is inevitable," as well as pointing out "combat incidents have increased 300% since 2007."
Even the death of Osama bin Laden on May 2, 2011, following a raid on his hideout (a bungalow located half a block away from a Pakistani army base, no less) by US Navy SEALs in Abbottabad, Pakistan, failed to provide any significant military or political boost. It did not surprise those in the intelligence community though, as Osama has long been suspected to have ceded operational responsibilities within the al-Qaeda hierarchy.
While the Obama administration has largely kept to the same objectives and strategies of the previous administration, the November 24th, 2011 NATO Summit in Lisbon saw the NATO-led coalition in Afghanistan unanimously redefining their objectives and setting a target date for their complete withdrawal from the country.
"Looking to the end of 2014, Afghan forces will be assuming full responsibility for security across the whole of Afghanistan ... transition will be conditions-based, not calendar-driven, and will not equate to withdrawal of ISAF-troops.
Keep in mind we're talking about ten thousand troops by the end of this year, an additional twenty-three thousand by the end of next summer. And we'll still have sixty-eight thousand US troops there, in addition to all the coalition partner troops. So there is still going to be a substantial presence. But what it does signal is, is that Afghans are slowly taking more and more responsibility."
On May 2, 2012, exactly one year after the death of Osama bin Laden, President Obama made a surprise visit to Afghanistan to meet with Afghan President Hamid Karzai. In a speech to American troops several hours later at the Bagram Air Base, about 35 miles north of the capital Kabul, President Obama announced that U.S. Forces would end combat operations in Afghanistan by the end of 2012, and hand off security control to Afghani forces by 2014. In the remaining period, American forces will focus its efforts in transitioning "from a combat role to a training, advice and assist role" (Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta).
" ... there will be difficult days ahead. The enormous sacrifices of our men and women are not over. But tonight, I'd like to tell you how we will complete our mission and end the war in Afghanistan.
First, we've begun a transition to Afghan responsibility for security. Already, nearly half of the Afghan people live in places where Afghan security forces are moving into the lead. This month, at a NATO Summit in Chicago, our coalition will set a goal for Afghan forces to be in the lead for combat operations across the country next year. International troops will continue to train, advise and assist the Afghans, and fight alongside them when needed. But we will shift into a support role as Afghans step forward.
As we do, our troops will be coming home. Last year, we removed 10,000 U.S. troops from Afghanistan. Another 23,000 will leave by the end of the summer. After that, reductions will continue at a steady pace, with more and more of our troops coming home. And as our coalition agreed, by the end of 2014 the Afghans will be fully responsible for the security of their country.
Second, we are training Afghan security forces to get the job done. Those forces have surged, and will peak at 352,000 this year. The Afghans will sustain that level for three years, and then reduce the size of their military. And in Chicago, we will endorse a proposal to support a strong and sustainable long-term Afghan force."
There has been a sharp divisiveness in 2012 when it comes to assessing what has been achieved in Afghanistan. The cautious tripartisan negotiations between Washington, the Taliban and Hamid Karzai were largely marred by a failure by all major players to agree to a cohesive framework of mediation. In an effort to build confidence between the warring factions, it was hoped that a prisoner exchange agreement involving U.S soldier Bowe Bergdahl and five Taliban commanders would be a feasible step in the right direction, yet such a deal quickly disintegrated. The Taliban were quick to accuse Washington of retracting, claiming that they were backtracking on their inceptive agreement to exchange prisoners.
In June 2012, Further strive ensued as Hamid Karzai refused to recognize the legitimacy of the Taliban's inaugurate overseas office in Doha, Qatar. This move caused the negotiation strategy to stagnate to the point where the Taliban broke off all ties towards Hamid Karzai on the notion that he was heading a ‘puppet government’. It was at this time that an internal split ensued between the US military and it’s state department in Washington over their negotiation strategy, with a number of army generals opposing all direct talks with Taliban officials. The sheer lack of a collective bargaining strategy from the Obama administration, and the unwillingness of the Afghan and Taliban representatives to recognize each others legitimacy had led to the breakdown of any fruitful success in the diplomatic arena. When 2012 drew to a close, it became apparent that all vocal means of mediation would not become cohesive.
The following year was to be a challenging one for Afghanistan, as Islamist violence ensued throughout the country causing deep divisions not only domestically but also on the international stage. Notably in March 2013, a suicide bomber hit the Afghan defense ministry resulting in the deaths of nine people, coinciding with the visit of the newly appointed Defense secretary Chuck Hagel. That same day, a secondary attack took place at a police checkpoint in the town of Khost, just south of Kabul killing 8 children and a policeman. Later that month, Secretary of State John Kerry visited Hamid Karzai in Kabul to try and repair the two countries uneasy relationship, which had been strained by Karzai’s anti-American rhetoric utilised in the preceding weeks. Such rhetorical language involved the Afghan president accusing the U.S administration of colluding with the Taliban to keep coalition forces in the country, further fragmenting the already precarious situation.
The start of 2014 was marked by the establishment of the Resolute Support Mission, an assistance proposal manned by 12,500 soldiers in conjunction with NATO. Headed by US commander John F. Campbell, the purpose of the mission is to provide training and guidance to the Afghan security forces in a non-combatant manner.
April was a crucial month for Afghanistan, as the country held it’s third presidential election since it’s democratic inception following the U.S-led invasion. Much like the previous two elections held in 2004 and 2009, the democratic process was marred by accusations of fraud, yet the Independent Election Commission deemed the race to be free and fair. An independent candidate by the name of Ashraf Ghani clinched the election after a run-off with perennial candidate Abdullah Abdullah, promoting a seismic shift away from the Karzai-dominated politics that has marred Afghanistan since the return of democracy. Lukewarm relations between the United States and Afghanistan ensued as the two nations signed a Bilateral Security Agreement (BSA) in September 2014, which primarily concerned the phased withdrawal of US combat troops within the country. The role of NATO in Afghanistan was defined within the BSA, with a greater emphasis placed on supporting and assisting domestic security forces on combating the Taliban.
The more insular predecessor Hamid Karzai had previously declined to sign such a security agreement with the Americans, citing the invasiveness of US troops in entering Afghan homes and the perceived supplanting of authority over local security forces. With the arrival of a slightly more subordinate president, Ashraf Ghani and John Kerry were able to agreement to a more cohesive framework of cooperation with ease. 2014 can be defined as a period of military transition in Afghanistan, with all U.S troops supporting combat operations being withdrawn by the end of the year, yet their presence would ensue in an advisory capacity.
The challenge today rests in keeping a stable relationship with Afghanistan. It can be said that the advent of a new Afghan president has helped this situation dearly, yet the country and the region has new challenges to face. Much like the consequent quagmire in Iraq, the Islamic State (ISIL) may be filling the void of despotism in Afghanistan, as the group has been reported to be growing in influence. Special Inspector General of Afghanistan, John Sopko exemplified the current situation on the ground, citing “These numerous groups and fighters not only affect stability and security, but may also strain any future peace processes with the Taliban, as there is increasingly no single entity with which to negotiate.” The remaining Taliban adherents, weakened by the death of their leader Mullah Omar, are now split on whether to continue pursuing a peace settlement, or to join their Islamist counterparts in challenging the democratic will of the people. The international community will have to keep a close eye on the situation in Afghanistan, as the next step in diplomacy could prove pivotal to the ongoing peace process.
The death of Osama Bin Laden was also a key objective, laid out a week after the September 11 Attacks with former president George W Bush stating “Bin Laden is wanted, Dead or Alive”. Whilst the death of Bin Laden may have been seen as a personal objective for Bush, that honor was given to the incumbent president Barack Obama and his then Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.
Although throughout the 2000’s it had been joked that Bin Laden was ‘hiding in some cave in Afghanistan’, this notion couldn't be further from the truth. Bin Laden’s compound was surprisingly exposed, within the city of Abbottabad in Pakistan, around 60 miles away from the capital Islamabad and in close proximity of a prominent military base. The death was a substantial moral boost for the United States and her allies, yet it has to be determined whether this event has eliminated a commander that still had influence amongst Islamist fighters in Pakistan and Afghanistan.
One of the more emotive objectives in the conflict involved the consequent challenge of ‘winning the hearts and minds’ of Afghan civilians through humanitarian means. Although not a definitive objective at the start of the operation, the callousness of war often meant that the quality of life for many non-combatants were often disrupted. The nature of war often consigns many families to a hardened struggle where security, civilian casualties and societal disintegration take hold, and it came to a point where the U.S, NATO and her allies were determined to improve education and healthcare in particular.
Such amenities had been disrupted continuously during the Soviet Invasion (1979-89) and then through the rule of the Taliban (1996-01). This particular subject matter of humanitarian aid has largely been defined as a foreign policy victory, with around 80% of Afghan civilians now having access to medical clinics and health services, up from a meager 9% back in 2001. 2.5 million girls in Afghanistan are now enrolled within formal education, a notion that the Taliban administration simply failed to believe in.
As the military operations of this conflict draw to a close, it is important to assess the penultimate cost of the War in Afghanistan. The Financial Times recently estimated the overall cost to be around $1 trillion USD, taking into account all humanitarian commitments, armed campaigns and peacekeeping efforts; an astronomical figure for the most lengthy overseas conflict in United States history.
Whilst the precise details in regards to specific departmental spending has never been disclosed, there has been significant controversy about how this money has been spent, and in how effective the spending has been.
A number of analysts have noticed that the figure spent on reconstructing Afghanistan surpassed the cost of rebuilding post war Europe in the 1940’s, yet there has been widespread concern that the pipeline of funds had become susceptible to corruption within the country. Moreover, much of the reconstruction ‘aid’ given to Afghanistan by the United States has been spent to re-arming the training the future security forces that would presumably have to fend off Islamist militants when the U.S and NATO forces eventually withdraw from the arena.
Critics would argue that whilst the actual amount spent on Afghanistan exceeds the cost of the Marshall Plan, the priorities and inflationary factors should be taken into account before we start pandering towards the sensationalist ‘shock and awe’ tactics of a number of economic theorists.
The future costs of managing this operation come not only from Afghanistan itself but also back home in the United States. Political analyst Robert Kluijver has argued that the cost of veteran care within the domestic arena may cost upwards of $836 million USD, and an additional $56 million as a ‘war funding request’ to commit 10,000 troops in Afghanistan for two years; a worrying sum of money given the financial circumstances that currently plague many western economies.
The role of Pakistan within this conflict has remained a rather precarious one. It would be naive to argue that their government is particularly stable, and there have even been encroachments of U.S military forces in an attempt to capture suspected Al-Qaeda and Taliban militants.
Best described as an ‘awkward partner’ within the arena of American allies, it became rather apparent that Pakistan had become an obligatory, yet unremitting partner within the so-called ‘Coalition of the Willing’. Whilst not necessarily a spillover from the conflict in Afghanistan, what came to be known rather vaguely as the ‘War in North West Pakistan’ had become a focal point for Islamist groups finding a safe haven within the region.
Another issue that Pakistan has to contend with involves the insurgency brought about by the establishment of the ‘Islamic Emirate of Waziristan’, an organization claiming close connections with the Taliban across the border in Afghanistan. With Waziristan being a mountainous region deep in the Hindu Kush, the isolation of this particular province has proved to be an advantage towards Islamist forces seeking refuge within Pakistan’s sovereign territory.
Like many jihadist groups of their kind, the ‘Islamic Emirate of Waziristan’ declared an unrecognized de facto Islamic State in February 2006, further causing agitation to Pakistan’s internal security forces having to pander towards the United States expectations of containing the jihadist threat, and also to maintaining a level of domestic harmony within the border regions of their country.
One such priority for the Nation Security Council of Pakistan is to reduce the ‘Talibanization’ taking place within the Afghan/Pakistan border regions, and a strategy was devised using rather contemporary methods. The use of unmanned aerial vehicles were deployed in an attempt to monitor and attack Taliban strongholds, and societal action was taken in order to crack down on madrassas (religious schools) teaching deviant and militant forms of Islam within its institutions. Pakistan in many ways faces the same challenges as Afghanistan, albeit on a less publicized scale, confined to the northwestern limits of the country. With both the United States and Pakistan being reluctant to accept allied incursions across the border from Afghanistan, this is a dilemma that has to be faced without any direct international interventions.