War in Afghanistan ends after years of turmoil

by Eric Sese

Staff Writer

The following story was written by a student on the staff of The Jaguar Times as part of Hilliard Bradley High School’s Journalism Production course.

Afghanistan protestors plea for war to stop. Photo by Unsplash.
Afghanistan protestors plea for war to stop. Photo by Unsplash.

The final withdrawal of American troops in Afghanistan concludes the longest war in United States history. In a span of almost twenty years, the War in Afghanistan has become a defining aspect of modern culture. To better understand the United States’ withdrawal, it is important to look back on how and why the United States entered the War in Afghanistan. In the span of four United States Presidents, over $2 trillion dollars, and tens of thousands of lives lost, how did the United States enter into a war that would take a toll on so many?

On September 11, 2001, four American Airline planes were hijacked by Islamic terrorist organization, al-Qaeda. Two planes were flown into the World Trade Center in New York City, killing thousands of people. Two other planes flew towards Washington D.C. One hit their target, the Pentagon, and one unsuccessfully crashed in Southwest Pennsylvania field. In a single day, the tragic attacks took the lives of almost three thousand people.

U.S. Army soldiers on security duty in Paktīkā province, Afghanistan, 2010. (Photo by Sgt. Derec Pierson/U.S. Department of Defense)
U.S. Army soldiers on security duty in Paktīkā province, Afghanistan, 2010. (Photo by Sgt. Derec Pierson/U.S. Department of Defense)

United States intelligence linked the attacks to al-Qaeda leader, Osama bin Laden, who sought refuge with the Taliban, a military group in Afghanistan. Throughout the next few days, the United States took action to bring justice to the perpetrators. Only a week after the attacks, the Authorization for Use of Military Force (AUMF) was passed almost unanimously by Congress. The AUMF granted President George W. Bush the power to utilize "necessary and appropriate force" against those who have "planned, authorized, committed or aided" the September 11th Attacks (S.J.Res.23 - Authorization for Use of Military Force).

In a speech to Congress and to the nation, President Bush publicly delivered a non-negotiable ultimatum to the Taliban to hand over the masterminds of the September 11th Attacks or “pay a price.” In that same speech, Bush declared a War on Terror in an effort to topple international terrorism particularly in the Middle East. Only fifteen days after the September 11th Attacks, CIA covert operatives were deployed in Afghanistan. A CIA field officer named Gary Schroen led these operations. The United States allied with Afghan forces in the north fighting against the Taliban, known as the Northern Alliance.

U.S air strikes on Tora Bora, November or December 2001. Photo by either CIA or US Military.
U.S air strikes on Tora Bora, November or December 2001. Photo by either CIA or US Military.

On October 7th, 2001 The United States and the United Kingdom were reported to have conducted airstrikes in Afghanistan. President Bush confirmed these reports marking the beginning of the War in Afghanistan. What would become the first phase of the war is known as Operation Enduring Freedom. Throughout October 2001, the United States along with its allies waged their War in Afghanistan, seeking to overthrow the Taliban and al-Qaeda. Many minor Taliban cities began to fall. The Taliban and al-Qaeda retreated to the neighboring country of Pakistan and the mountainous areas of Afghanistan.

In early November, the Northern Alliance and United States unexpectedly took the city of Mazar-i-Sharif in the first major offensive of the war. Air strikes and offensive measures in surrounding villages resulted in the Taliban retreating after one day of firefight, despite beliefs that the city would fall within a year. With the fall of Mazar-i-Sharif, the United States now controlled a city of strategic importance. With open supply routes and airstrips for U.S. aircrafts, the city opened a path straight into the capital of Afghanistan, Kabul.

Control of Mazar-i-Sharif positioned the United States to take the Afghan capital of Kabul. The city fell to United States forces without a fight, as the Taliban had evacuated to their spiritual home of Kandahar. Taliban forces quickly surrendered Kandahar. The Fall of Kandahar resulted in the Taliban losing the last of its major cities, and with no city under their control, they sought refuge in the cave complexes of Tora Bora.

With the Taliban collapsing at a fast rate, the future of Afghanistan was to be determined by a United Nations convening in Bonn, Germany. A provisional government was formed to begin a steady transition for the future government of Afghanistan, and politician Hamad Karzai was appointed as Acting President of Afghanistan.

In early December, the cave systems of Tora Bora were believed to be the current hiding place of Osama bin Laden. In an effort to kill bin Laden and any hiding Taliban forces, the caves were bombarded and raided. By December 17, the last of the caves were sieged, but there were no signs of bin Laden. Despite skepticisms regarding whether or not bin Laden was in the caves, it is a well known fact that he did escape from Afghanistan, prolonging the War in Afghanistan.

With the last Taliban forces out of Afghanistan, the Battle of Tora Bora marked the beginning of United States control of Afghanistan. In 2002, Hamad Karzai was officially elected President of Afghanistan. For the next 13 years, Operation Enduring Freedom was the primary mission in Afghanistan. Osama bin Laden would be killed on May 2, 2011, after a search that lasted nearly a decade. At the beginning of 2015, Operation Enduring Freedom would be succeeded by Operation Freedom’s Sentinel, oriented towards military training and assistance rather than combat.

The United States would be involved in Afghanistan for the next twenty years. The end of the War in Afghanistan would not come to fruition until President Trump and President Biden nineteen years later. The gradual decrease of troops under President Trump led to a complete withdrawal under President Biden. On August 30, 2021, the United States would officially leave Afghanistan, and a day later the war would finally come to a close.