After the 9/11 terrorist attacks in the U.S. in 2001, it was identified by the U.S. that Islamist militant group al-Qaeda, and its leader Osama Bin Laden, was responsible. It was the largest terrorist attack conducted on U.S. soil, killing nearly 3,000 people. Immediately following the attack, Bin Laden was in Afghanistan and under the protection of the Taliban and they refused to hand him over.
The U.S., under President George W. Bush, along with allied countries (including Australia) invaded Afghanistan, removing the Taliban from power and vowing to dismantle al-Qaeda and remove terrorist threats. After the U.S. invaded, the Taliban fled and regrouped throughout the duration of the war. A new interim government in Afghanistan, headed by Hamid Karzai, was formed in December 2001. By 2004, NATO allies had joined the U.S., a constitution was introduced and a new Afghan government took over in 2004.
In 2009, U.S. President Barack Obama approved a major increase in the number of troops sent to Afghanistan, peaking at around 140,000 troops.
In 2011, Bin Laden was killed by U.S. Navy Seals.
In 2015, there was a Taliban resurgence, leading to a series of suicide attacks, car bombings and other assaults.
The war lasted nearly 20 years, and led to the displacement of millions of Afghan people and killed tens of thousands, including Afghan citizens. The war also resulted in 2,312 U.S. and 41 Australian military deaths.
What has this got to do with what is happening in Afghanistan now?
In February 2020, the Taliban and the U.S. Government (under former President Donald Trump) signed a peace deal – the U.S. was to gradually withdraw its 12,000 troops from the war in exchange for a Taliban commitment not to assist or protect terrorists. The two parties agreed to support a democratic government, led by President Ashraf Ghani.
In May this year, the U.S. announced the withdrawal of all U.S. troops, with President Joe Biden labelling the 20-year conflict “the forever war”. It was hoped the Afghan government and security forces would defend themselves, and that peace talks initiated with the Taliban would find a long-term resolution. However, once the U.S. and other Western nations withdrew their forces, the Taliban was able to seize cities and face limited resistance.
Earlier this week, the Taliban entered the presidential palace, retaking Afghanistan 20 years after they were driven out of power.