The War in Afghanistan


President Obama’s statement during his re-election that he would withdraw American troops from Afghanistan by 2014 led to speculation and generated intrigue among political analysts. The consequences of withdrawing the troops lingered on the mind of every analyst and why American troops may have to stay in Afghanistan beyond 2014 lingered on the mind of every analyst. This paper discusses the history behind the conflict in Afghanistan from the days of the invasion by The Soviet Union in 1979 to the days of the invasion by The United States of America in September 2009 after the terrorist attack on the world trade center. The case-scenario if President Obama’s campaign promise becomes a reality is discussed as well as exploration of possible theories why the conflict in Afghanistan may continue beyond 2014 justifying the need for American troops to remain in the country.

I.   Introduction

During his re-election bid, president Obama promised to reduce military activity of The United State of America in Afghanistan and promised to bring an end to the international security mission by 2014. In order to prove his commitment, he met with Afghan President and the two leaders made a declaration on 11th January 2013 that US forces will only play a support role in Afghanistan while Afghan forces would play the lead security role (Anderson, 2013). In June 2011, there were about 100000 thousand US soldiers in Afghanistan, which reduced to 66 thousand by September 2012. President Obama opined that by 2014, 34 thousand more soldiers would have left Afghanistan and the number of soldiers set to remain under an agreement between the two countries would be approximately 8 thousand to 12 thousand soldiers. The responsibility of the forces that are projected to remain would be training of the Afghanistan National Security Forces and to spearhead counter-terrorism missions (Anderson, 2013). There are concerns that if U.S. forces leave, the administration that will be left in Afghanistan will become a safe haven for Pakistan insurgents and it would be ran by corrupt and weak Afghan officials who will ruin the fragile stability that Afghanistan is currently enjoying. The 2009 and 2010 elections were fraudulent for stability to continue in the country, the Afghan government must make a peace pact with the Taliban (Lansford, 2012). The destruction of infrastructure and the relatively weak economy also mean that Afghanistan will have to rely on foreign aid from donors and friendly states. A settlement with the Taliban will result in erosion of human rights and suppression of minorities and women

II. Body

1.   Historical Background to the Conflict

Throughout history, Afghanistan has always resisted foreign occupation and invasion. The country was conquered by Alexander the Great in the year 327 B.C.E. The country was, however, decentralized and he was unable to conquer some regions. The country won independence from Britain on August 18, 1919, under the leadership of King Amanullah Khan (Coll, 2005). The Cold War period was a particularly defining moment for Afghanistan. The United States sought to do the best it could in order to prevent Afghanistan from falling under the influence of the Soviet Union. The United States used mechanisms such as offering developmental assistance to Afghanistan in important sectors such as agriculture. The U.S. funded hydroelectric and irrigation dams and both President Eisenhower and Deputy President Richard Nixon visited the country.

It was during President Nixon’s administration in the 1970s, that Afghanistan’s stability began to slide (Goharo, 2009). The Islamic and communist movements in the country grew by leaps and bounds. The American friendly King Zahir Shaw was overthrown by Mohammed Daoud, a cousin who was a military leader and established a tyrannical regime in the country. Daoud was later overthrown and killed in 1978 by communist party officials. Daoud was succeeded by Mohammed Taraki who was replaced by Hazifullah Amin in 1979 (Coll, 2005). The communist leaders drew support from members of their ethnic group and imposed radical changes such as land redistribution and inclusion of women in government. Their attempts at modernization were met with fierce Islamic opposition (Herold, 2010).

a.   The Soviet Invasion of 1979

On December 27, 1979, the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan to weaken the progress made by Islamic militias (the mujahedin). Upon sending troops to the country Minh was replaced by another communist leader known as Barak Karmal who had been sent to exile by Amin and Taraki (Jones, 2009). The Soviet occupation troops compromised of about 120,00 soldiers and were assisted in their occupation by about 40,000 Military forces of the Democratic Republic of Afghanistan military forces and several militia and tribal forces. The United States on its part funded the mujahedin with weapons and provided intelligence through the Central Intelligence agency. The Pakistan Inter-Service Intelligence directorate also assisted the mujahedin with intelligence information (Rashid, 2008).

b.   American Response to the Soviet Invasion; Funding the Muhajedin

The Mujahedin was a force to reckon with and the assistance by the United States further boosted its strength. The mujahedin was coordinated and organized by seven parties, which united later in 1989 to form the Afghan Interim Government (Jones, 2009). Their high-tech weaponry included portable fired anti-aircraft systems that were supplied by the United States and which out-performed Soviet aircraft with a huge margin. The U.S. approved the supply of the aircraft in congress during Reagan’s administration. The mujahedin stored and hid their weapons in man-made and natural tunnels in the whole country (Goharo, 2009). Analysts warned that funding the mujahedin would not be beneficial to the interests of the United States if the Soviet Union ceased occupying Afghanistan, because the Islamists groups would not offer their support to The United States.

The use of the highly-powerful US aircraft known as Stingers resulted in heavy losses for the Soviet Union as most of their helicopters were shot down resulting in massive deaths and injuries (Marsden, 2010). Approximately 13,400 soviet soldiers were killed turning public opinion in the Soviet Union against the occupation. In 1986, reform-inclined Mikhail Gorbachev became the ruler of the Soviet Union and replaced president Karmal with Najibullah Ahmedzai. Najibullah had served under the Karmal administration as a director of intelligence. Afghans commended the leadership style of Najibullah as admirable (Goharo, 2009).

c.   Withdrawal of the Soviet Union in 1989

On 14th April, 1988, the UN brokered the Geneva accord, which required the Soviet Union to withdraw from Afghanistan. Gorbachev agreed with the accord and assented to it. By 15th February 1989, the withdrawal was completed leaving behind a weak Najibullah-led government. The Soviet Union and the United States improved their relations with each other and resolved to come together to draft a political statement that would bring the Afghan conflict to an end (Marsden, 2010). Unfortunately, the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991 and Moscow’s capacity to support communist regimes in third world countries was grossly reduced. In 1991, Washington and Moscow agreed to cutoff the military support they offered to combatants in Afghanistan. Under the deal, they would completely cut off military aid by 1st January 1992 (Berlatsky, 2011).

Between 1980 and 1989, the state department of the United States reported that almost $3 billion has been used in providing the Muhajedin with both military and economic aid (Hodes & Sedra, 2011). The withdrawal of the Soviet Union was viewed as a victory for the United States and led to a reduction of funding for the Muhajedin. The United States was at the fore-front in leading efforts to reconstruct the Afghan society and economy, but the move was met with a lot of cynicism from the rest of the world. As the Soviet Union completed its pull out from Afghanistan, the United States closed its embassy in Kabul. The embassy was to be re-opened during the 2001 invasion (Lansford, 2012).

Even after the Soviet Union withdrew from Afghanistan, it still continued supporting the Najibullah government both financially and through provision of intelligence information and advice. Soviet support helped Najibullah to defy popular expectations that his government would collapse after the departure of the Soviet troops (Saikal, Farhadi, & Nourzhanov, 2012). Afghan national forces were able to counter offensives by the mujahedin. However, defections from the Afghan national military forces began occurring at an alarming rate. Najibulah’s power and positioned began weakening gradually. The government suffered the last blow when Soviet cut off its advisory support and financial aid in January 1992 as stipulated under its agreement with the United States (Rashid, 2008). On 18th March 1992, Najibullah agreed to step down in public upon formation of an interim government. His announcement triggered rebellion in the Northern Afghanistan from Tajik and Uzbek militia leaders. The militia leaders joined forces with the Muhajedin leader, Ahmad Shah, and the Najibullah regime crumbled down. On 18th April 1992, the Muhajedin took over and began ruling Afghanistan (Marsden, 2010).

d.   Rise of the Taliban (1994 -2001)

The collapse of the Najibullah regime revealed the differences that existed among the major parties that formed the Muhajedin. Between April and May 1992, the leader of The Afghan National Liberation Front, one of the small parties in the union, became the president (Tomsen, 2011). This created rifts within the parties and the major parties backed Rabbani for presidency from June 1992 and agreed that he would step down in December 1994. Rabbani failed to honor the agreement and refused to step down in December 1994 arguing that he would leave a power vacuum and disintegration as there was no identifiable successor (Cordovez & Harrison, 2007). The leaders of the other major parties that formed the Muhajedin strongly opposed his decision. Several factions within the Muhajedin united and began to strategize on removal of Rabbani. Gulbuddin Hikmatyar, the leader of a conservative Islamist party within the Muhajedin began shelling the Western part of Kabul massively destroying the city. Rabbani made a concession and agreed to make Hikmatyar the prime minister, if Hikmatyar would stop the destructive offences (McDonnell, 2011). Hikmatyar distrusted Rabbani and never assumed the prime ministerial position officially.

The pashtun ethnic group is one of the major groups in Afghanistan and thus wields a lot of political influence. Between 1993 and 1944, Islamic students and clerics of Pashtun ethnic origin came together and formed the Taliban movement (Coll, 2005). Most of the Taliban members were former Muhajedin members who had become disillusioned with the conflicts and bickering among the major parties that formed the Muhajedin. Most of them had also crossed the border into Pakistan and had become students in Islamic seminaries. They studied the Deobandi brand of Islam, which is similar to the “Wahhabism” that is popular in Saudi Arabia (Goharo, 2009). The Taliban also followed Pashtun ethnic traditions, which were strictly conservative.

Mullah Muhammad Umar became the leader of the Taliban. He had been in the Hezb-i-Islam party, which was considered to be moderate during the Soviet occupation. In the mid 1990s, the party turned against the United States and Mullah Umar lost his eye during the battle (Berlatsky, 2011). The Taliban viewed President’s government as anti-Pashtun and corrupt. Civil war continued for four consecutive years, between 1992-1996, turning public sentiment against Rabbani and creating support for the Taliban as capable of restoring Afghanistan’s stability. Several leaders defected from Rabbani’s government and from the army making it easy for Taliban to capture and control the city of Qandahar located in the South of the country (Jones, 2009). Mullah Umar gave orders for a shrine in the city that was purported to contain a cloak won by Prophet Mohammad to be opened. He then wore the cloak in front of millions of his followers. In 1995, the Taliban captured Heart Province, which borders Iran and imprisoned its governor who was a key Rabbani ally. In 1996, Taliban captured more cities that were close to Kabul forcing the Muhajedin defacto leader Masoud and Rabbani to move from Kabul’s city centre to the northern part (Marsden, 2010). On 27th September 1996, the Taliban took control of Kabul. Najibullah, his relatives and aides were hiding in a UN facility, which was attacked by Taliban gunmen. The gunmen hanged them (Coll, 2005).

In the Taliban regime, Mullah Muhammad Umar held the title “Commander of the Faithful” and “Head of State”. He ruled from the Southern city of Qandahar and never made any public appearances though he occasionally met with high-level officials from foreign governments. It was under the Taliban regime that Osama bin Laden, leader of the Al Qaeda moved back to the Afghanistan from Sudan (Marsden, 2010). He had been an active recruiter of fighters during the war against the occupation of the Soviet Union. Since the Taliban had captured the entire Afghanistan, Osama Bin laden could operate from anywhere. Umar grew fond of Osama and developed a personal and a political bond with him. Umar and other Taliban officials refused requests from the United States to extradite Osama (Lansford, 2012).

The Taliban imposed Islamic and harsh traditional customs in areas under its control including execution as a form of punishment. Thus, it lost both domestic and international support. The Taliban created a “Ministry of Promotion of Virtue and Suppression of Vice” and authorized it to use any punishment it deemed fit to enforce Islamic principles, and ban Western dances, music and television (Goharo, 2009). Women were prohibited from working outside their homes or attending school. Women who committed adultery were executed in public. Buddha statutes were considered by the regime to be idles and were blown up by Taliban foot soldiers. This was a gross atrocity since Buddhism was the first religion in Afghanistan before the advent of Islam (Tomsen, 2011).

e.   US Policy Towards the Taliban

Clinton’s administration started holding talks with the Taliban as soon as the city of Qandahar was captured. The talks continued after the movement took control of the country but it became impossible to regulate the Taliban’s policies and the relations between the two nations worsened (Hodes & Sedra, 2011). The United States failed to recognize the Taliban as the legitimate government of Afghanistan. In the United nation’s assembly, Afghanistan was represented by representatives of the Rabbani government which was recognized as the legitimate government while representatives of the Taliban were ignored (Herold, 2010). The UN Security Council passed several resolutions calling on the Taliban government to end suppression and discrimination of women. The United States passed a resolution in 1999, urging President Clinton not to recognize the Taliban government due to the blatant discrimination of women.

Hosting of Osama bin Laden made the relationship between the Taliban and the United States more hostile. The US ambassador to the United Nations made a state visit to Afghanistan to negotiate with the Taliban, but they still declined to release Osama bin Laden (Cordovez & Harrison, 2007). In August 1998, the Al-Qaida bombed the United States embassies in Tanzania and Kenya. The United States imposed sanctions on the Taliban government in order to put pressure for his extradition (Marsden, 2010). The United Nations also enforced sanctions. The United States bombed Al-Qaida training camps with missiles, but none of the missiles hit Osama. The Clinton administration missed several other opportunities to strike Osama. It attributed the failure to the fact that there was no international or domestic support to capture Osama or oust the Taliban regime (Jones, 2009).

The totalitarian policies perpetuated by the Taliban caused various opposition factions to spring up. They included Ahmoud Masoud and former President Rabbani’s Tajiks, Uzbeks, Hazara Shiites and pashtun Islamists (Rashid, 2008). Even though they share the same ethnic origin with the Taliban; Pashtun Islamists joined the opposition because the Taliban was destroying Afghanistan due to association with the Al-Qaida. Before the September 2011 attack, the Bush administration conducted relations with Afghanistan on basis of a policy similar to that of the Clinton administration (McDonnell, 2011). It continued applying economic sanctions and putting political pressure on the Taliban to extradite Obama while maintaining negotiations with the movement. The United States began conducting covert operations in the country through initiatives such as providing aid and assistance to the opposition factions particularly the Pashtun Islamists (Coll, 2005). In February 2001, the State Department ordered closure of the Taliban representative office in New York. The Bush administration improved relations with Pakistan as a way of reducing Pakistan’s support for Afghanistan as it was perceived that Pakistan was helping the Taliban in the fight against the opposition factions. The opposition factions were collectively known as the Northern Alliance and in spite of receiving military support from India, Russia, and Iran; they could not counter the Taliban who continued controlling 75% of the country (Herold, 2010). Al Qaeda operatives posed as journalists and murdered Ahmad Masoud on 9th September 2001, dealing the Northern Alliance a major blow.

2.   September 11, 2001 and the American Invasion

They say one bitten twice shy and The Bush administration was not an exception to the maxim. After the bombing of the twin towers in September, 2001, the administration decided that time was ripe to overthrow the Taliban. President Bush argued that to bring Al-Qaida to book, there had to be a friendly regime in Afghanistan (Berlatsky, 2011). The UN Security Council endorsed the move by the United States to respond to the September 2011 bomb attacks. The resolution by the Security Council was seen by many as UN authorization for military action in Afghanistan (Goharo, 2009).

The US invasion of Afghanistan was dubbed “Operation Enduring Freedom” and commenced on 7th October 2001. It was characterized by the US air-strikes on Al Qaeda and Taliban foot soldiers.  It involved the Central Intelligence Agency and about 1000 of special operation forces. The main objective of the operations was to help the opposition factions by giving them information on the airstrikes ahead in order to weaken Taliban defenses (Hodes & Sedra, 2011). They were few running battles between the Taliban soldiers and the United States.

On 9th November 2001, the Taliban regime lost Mazar-e-Sharif to the Northern Alliance forces and from then on the regime crumbled rapidly (Tomsen, 2011). The Northern Alliance forces had promised Washington that they would not enter Kabal but they ignored their promise and entered Kabal. The Taliban eventually lost the east and the South to Pashtun leaders who were backed by The United States. On 9th December 2001, Taliban surrendered the city of Qandahar and Mullah Umar fled. On March 2002, a raid was conducted against 800 Taliban and Al Qaeda fighters. In March 2003, United States troops raided Al-Qaida and Taliban fighters in the outskirts of Qandahar. The secretary of State to the United States announced an end to the combat on 1st May 2003 (Saikal, Farhadi, & Nourzhanov, 2012).

3.   Theoretical Construct

The Bush administration opined that departure from Afghanistan n 1989 was responsible for degeneration of stability and anarchy in Afghanistan. Absolute departure would never be practiced again after the defeat of the Taliban; international development partners in collaboration with the United States, began to dismantle militias and tried to reconstruct a democratic government, infrastructure; and a sound economy (Lansford, 2012). Upon taking over in 2009, the Obama administration, limited the objectives of presence of United States forces to ensuring that Afghanistan did not turn into a safe haven of terrorists. The strategy was expanded to include national-building policy. The Obama government indicated its position in all communiqués and military statements that it has issued (Lansford, 2012).

a.   Levels of Analysis

Assessment of the post-Taliban Afghanistan indicates that the capacity and effectiveness of the Central government has increased. The local government is however very weak and corrupt officials have infiltrated the government at all levels. The deficiencies and weaknesses in governments could result in instability in the country after the withdrawal of the United States in 2014 (Anderson, 2013). The Obama administration is set to ensure that Afghanistan becomes independent and runs its own affairs by February 2014; with only few United States soldiers being left behind to play a support role. Presidential elections will be held in Afghanistan in April 2014. There are signs that military involvement of the United States in Afghanistan is coming to an end as US aircrafts have left the country and army bases are being handed over to the Afghan forces. In congress there has been enormous of the move by The United States to sop military occupation of Afghanistan (Anderson, 2013). The statements made during NATO’s May 2012 Chicago summit made it clear that there will not be a complete pull out of the United States in 2014. There are fears that other insurgents and the Taliban may overthrow the Afghan government once international soldiers are reduced substantially (Lansford, 2012). Some of the militia functions are already warning of civil war after 2014 and most international businesses are moving their businesses out of the country for fear of the consequences of departure o international forces from the country.

4.   Conclusion and Theory Describing Continuation of the Conflict Beyond 2014

The theory that best addresses the Afghanistan conflict is the just war theory. According to the theory, a just war is a war that is started to put a stop to evil activities or to redress grievous wrongs committed against human beings. The concept originates from theological and classical philosophy (Berlatsky, 2011). The means used to fights a just war justify the end. A just war may involve covert operations such as the funding of militia groups and use of other demanding sometimes unjust techniques. According to the theory, war is an inevitable instrument and is sometimes justified in order to achieve the national objectives as stipulated in the national policy (McDonnell, 2011). The United Nation’s charter itself makes a distinction between unjustified wars that are unacceptable due to the fact that they are based on aggression and justified wars that are justifiable because they are for purposes of self defense (Goharo, 2009). The principles of the just war theory are fully applicable in Afghanistan.

While the Obama administration has agreed with Afghanistan that it will withdraw from the country by 2014, 20,000 of its troops in Afghanistan are likely to be left in the country together with other troops from NATO countries (Saikal, Farhadi, & Nourzhanov, 2012). The troops will have to remain behind to train the country’s national security forces; provide intelligence and surveillance for the Afghanistan government; provide medical evaluation for the troops; and provide air transport logistics (Lansford, 2012). Armed American drones will have to be retained in the country to monitor Pakistan in order to ensure that Al Qaeda’s leaders do not regroup in Pakistan and to ensure that they don’t return to their former training grounds in Afghanistan.

America would still be interested in retaining its influence in the Middle East particularly in Iran and Pakistan due to threats to security and terrorist activities. The United States would like to retain Afghanistan as a base for monitoring terror activities in the neighboring countries (Anderson, 2013). Iran is also fully armed with nuclear arms posing a considerable threat to American security. The West is also not willing to sit back and watch Afghanistan descend into instability and chaos again (Anderson, 2013).

Afghan leaders including President Karzai are very sensitive about maintaining their country’s sovereignty but they are careful not to end up like Iraq where the presence of American forces was brought to an end by the country’s failure to sign an agreement that would have provided foreign soldiers with immunity from prosecution (Berlatsky, 2011). The Obama administration seems to be laidback about maintaining military intervention in The Afghanistan, a situation that is sending down shivers in the stomachs of Afghan political leaders who fear that their country will degenerate back to anarchy if The American troops leave (Saikal, Farhadi, & Nourzhanov, 2012). Both President Obama and Biden confirmed during the bids for re-election that they have no option but to leave Afghanistan by 2014. However, Pentagon officials do not agree with the strategy, and would prefer a slow withdrawal of troops over a period of two years or more ensuring that there is a force of 15,000 in the Afghanistan to protect  American interests and Afghan civilians from civil wars by insurgents(Anderson, 2013).The just war theory to protect interests of the United States and the lives of civilians in Afghanistan justifies the need for American troops to stay beyond 2014 as the insurgents and militias may wage a civil war if American troops leave.

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