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Table of Contents Introduction: The War Against Terrorism Begins in Afghanistan Chapter 1: Afghanistan: A Land of Great Chaos and Conflict Chapter 2: Osama bin Laden and the al-Qaeda Terror Network Chapter 3: The United States Mobilizes for War Chapter 4: Operation Enduring Freedom Begins with Lightning Air Offenses Chapter 5: The Sudden Taliban Collapse Chapter 6: The Hunt for Osama bin Laden Chapter 7: The Struggle for Peace For Further Reading Works Consulted About the Author Notes </toc Introduction: The War Against Terrorism Begins in Afghanistan The United States and Afghanistan are not traditional enemies. They were for a time Cold War allies, particularly during the Soviet Union's military occupation of Afghanistan from 1979 to 1989, when the United States supplied aid, training, and weapons to an Afghan resistance group. But after September 11, 2001, when Middle Eastern terrorists trained in Afghanistan flew commercial airliners into the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, the remote South Asian nation became the initial battlefield in the U.S.-led war against terrorism. The terrorists were members of Saudi-dissident Osama bin Laden's al-Qaeda (the base) network. Al-Qaeda, a loose makeup of terrorist groups primarily from the Middle East, had operated in Afghanistan since 1996 under the protection of the hard-line Islamic regime known as the Taliban (students). Bin Laden was a fierce critic of American foreign policy in the Middle East, and he issued a declaration of war against the United States the same year from his Afghanistan hideout. His network of terrorists carried out a string of attacks against U.S. interests overseas, including the 1998 American embassy bombings in Kenya and Tanzania. And in 2000 al-Qaeda terrorists struck the USS Cole while docked in Yemen. But the attacks of September 11 were on another scale altogether. President George W. Bush, in office just under nine months when America came under attack, called the coordinated strikes an act of war and vowed to hunt down the terrorists who were responsible. America's traditional allies including Australia, Britain, Canada, France, and Germany quickly joined the coalition against terror, but so did non-traditional allies like Pakistan and Uzbekistan, who became key players in the Afghan campaign. On October 7, 2001 the United States launched Operation Enduring Freedom by initiating air strikes against the Taliban regime. The opposition weathered the initial storm, but an overwhelming air campaign eventually led to their downfall a little more than two months later. The focus of the battle then turned to eastern Afghanistan, where coalition forces launched joint operations to track down bin Laden and disable his terrorist network. But the fight was difficult. The United States was facing an unknown and unpredictable enemy willing to die to for his religion. Taliban and al-Qaeda fighters hid in shadowy mountain hideouts from which they launched secret-and often suicidal-guerrilla-style attacks, the very tactics Afghan fighters had used to defeat the Soviets two decades earlier. The operation was also complicated because innocent civilians became caught in the crossfire. A battle for the hearts and minds of the Afghan peoples was waged in concert with the main fight. The U.S.-led coalition dropped food packets, blankets, and other propaganda materials. And in an extraordinary effort to limit civilian casualties, the United States relied on an arsenal of precision weapons using some of the most advanced technology in the history of warfare. In Operation Desert Storm in Iraq, for example, only 10 percent of the bombs dropped were precision-guided, and they had just a 50-percent success rate. More than half of all munitions dropped in Afghanistan were "smart bombs," many guided by Global Positioning System (GPS) technology, which raised the success rate to 80 percent. Perhaps the most striking difference between Operation Enduring Freedom and previous U.S. wars, however, was the relatively small number of ground troops deployed, at least initially. Time constraints made training a massive ground force for a ground war in Afghanistan all but impossible. But there were other reasons for a lighter force. The rugged terrain in Afghanistan made travel by foot extremely difficult. The snowy mountains simply could not accommodate hundreds of thousands of troops in a way the deserts of Iraq could. The Bush administration also drew on history when determining the size and strength of U.S. troops. Large armies that had invaded Afghanistan in the past were met with anger, resentment, and eventually expulsion. But the most important factor in holding back a large conventional ground force was that anti-Taliban factions in Afghanistan could be used do to most of the heavy fighting. The Northern Alliance had been eager to reclaim lost power to the Taliban, and September 11 provided them with the opportunity. They were a ragtag group in need of organization and weapons. The task of filling that role went to America's most elite soldiers, U.S. Special Forces. They organized, trained, and restocked the Northern Alliance. Special operators on the ground also teamed with intelligence operatives and used surveillance to track the enemy's position, then called in air strikes. Commandos went in and out of battle quickly, usually by helicopter but sometimes on horseback. Never before had the U.S. military relied on Special Forces so heavily in battle as they did in Afghanistan. The strategy seemed to work when the Taliban fell from power rather easily, but when bin Laden remained free after a determined effort to find him, military experts and critics pointed to the lack of U.S. ground troops as the main reason. According to military historian Stephen Tanner, It was a serious mistake, in my opinion, for America not to have used ground troops more aggressively in response to September 11. Its reliance, as in the previous decade, on stand-off missiles, high-level bombers, and other aircraft reaffirmed that the United States military cannot be fought but can only be circumvented. The success of U.S. air power and the participation of a few courageous elites in Afghanistan has perhaps made less impression on the world than the fact that given the most heinous provocation in modern times [the attacks of 9/11], the bulk of the U.S. forces hesitated to engage. The reluctance of the United States to risk military casualties-enforced during the 1990s and inexplicably continued after September 11-is a hidden drain on its authority and respect with which the world normally views a great power. This opinion could not be held without the parallel conviction that Americans, individually, are unsurpassed in courage and combat skill. The problem seems to lie in cautious command tied to political or media obsessions.1 Despite the criticism of how the campaign was planned and conducted, the United States accomplished what it set out to do in Afghanistan. The Taliban regime was removed from power and the al-Qaeda terrorist network was left in chaos. More important, though, was the fact that terrorists throughout the world were officially put on notice: The United States would act forcefully when its cities, symbols, and people were attacked.
Library of Congress Subject Headings for this publication: Afghanistan History 2001- Juvenile literature, War on Terrorism, 2001- Juvenile literature