War in Afghanistan (2001–present)

The War in Afghanistan is an ongoing war following the United States invasion of Afghanistan[59] that began when the United States of America and its allies successfully drove the Taliban from power in order to deny Al-Qaeda a safe base of operations in Afghanistan.[60][61] After the initial objectives were completed, a coalition of over 40 countries (including all NATO members) formed a security mission in the country called International Security Assistance Force (ISAF, succeeded by the Resolute Support Mission (RS) in 2014), of which certain members were involved in military combat allied with Afghanistan’s government.[62] The war has afterward mostly consisted of Taliban insurgents[63] fighting against the Afghan Armed Forces and allied forces; the majority of ISAF/RS soldiers and personnel are American.[62] The war is code-named by the U.S. as Operation Enduring Freedom (2001–14) and Operation Freedom’s Sentinel (2015–present);[64][65] it is the longest war in U.S. history.

Following the September 11 attacks in 2001 on the U.S., which was carried out by the Al-Qaeda terrorist organization led by Osama bin Laden, who was living or hiding in Afghanistan and had already been wanted since the 1998 United States embassy bombings, President George W. Bush demanded that the Taliban, who were de facto ruling Afghanistan, hand over bin Laden.[66] The Taliban declined to extradite him unless they were provided clear evidence of his involvement in the attacks, which the U.S. refused to provide and dismissed as a delaying tactic.[67] On October 7, 2001, the United States, with the United Kingdom, launched Operation Enduring Freedom.[68] The two were later joined by other forces, including the Northern Alliance – the Afghan opposition which had been fighting the Taliban in the ongoing civil war since 1996.[69][70] By December 2001, the Taliban and their Al-Qaeda allies were mostly defeated in the country, and at the Bonn Conference, new Afghan interim authorities (mostly from the Northern Alliance) elected Hamid Karzai to head the Afghan Interim Administration. The United Nations Security Council established the ISAF to assist the new authority with securing Kabul, which after a 2002 loya jirga (grand assembly) became the Afghan Transitional Administration. A nationwide rebuilding effort was also made following the end of the totalitarian Taliban regime.[71][72][73] In the popular elections of 2004, Karzai was elected president of the country, now named the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan.[74] NATO became involved in ISAF in August 2003, and later that year assumed leadership of it. At this stage, ISAF included troops from 43 countries with NATO members providing the majority of the force.[75]

Following defeat in the initial invasion, the Taliban was reorganized by its leader Mullah Omar, and launched an insurgency against the Afghan government and ISAF in 2003.[76][77] Insurgents from the Taliban and other groups waged asymmetric warfare with guerrilla raids and ambushes in the countryside, suicide attacks against urban targets, and turncoat killings against coalition forces. The Taliban exploited weaknesses in the Afghan government to reassert influence across rural areas of southern and eastern Afghanistan. From 2006 the Taliban made significant gains and showed an increased willingness to commit atrocities against civilians – ISAF responded by increasing troops for counter-insurgency operations to “clear and hold” villages.[78][79] Violence sharply escalated from 2007 to 2009.[80] Troop numbers began to surge in 2009 and continued to increase through 2011 when roughly 140,000 foreign troops operated under ISAF and U.S. command in Afghanistan.[81] Of these 100,000 were from the U.S.[82] On 1 May 2011, United States Navy SEALs killed Osama bin Laden in Abbotabad, Pakistan. NATO leaders in 2012 commenced an exit strategy for withdrawing their forces,[83] and later the United States announced that its major combat operations would end in December 2014, leaving a residual force in the country.[84] In October 2014, British forces handed over the last bases in Helmand to the Afghan military, officially ending their combat operations in the war.[85] On 28 December 2014, NATO formally ended ISAF combat operations in Afghanistan and officially transferred full security responsibility to the Afghan government. The NATO-led Operation Resolute Support was formed the same day as a successor to ISAF.[86][87]

At the beginning of Donald Trump‘s presidency in early 2017, there were fewer than 9,000 American troops in Afghanistan.[88] By early summer 2017, troop levels increased by about 50%.[89][90][91] On 29 February 2020, the United States and the Taliban signed a conditional peace deal in Doha, Qatar,[92] which required that U.S. troops withdraw from Afghanistan within 14 months so long as the Taliban cooperated with the terms of the agreement.[93]

According to the U.S. Defense Department, as of May 2021, 2,312 U.S troops have been killed and 20,666 have been wounded in action during the war.[94][95] However, an additional 130 U.S troops have been killed and 56 have been wounded in action during Operation Enduring Freedom, the first phase of the war, in locations outside of Afghanistan.[95]

According to the Costs of War project at Brown University, as of April 2021, the war has killed 171,000 to 174,000 people in Afghanistan; 47,245 Afghan civilians, 66,000 to 69,000 Afghan military and police and at least 51,000 opposition fighters. However, the death toll is possibly higher due to unaccounted deaths by “disease, loss of access to food, water, infrastructure, and/or other indirect consequences of the war.”[96] According to the U.N, since the 2001 Invasion, more than 5.7 million former refugees have returned to Afghanistan,[97] however, as of 2021, 2.7 million Afghans remain refugees or have fled, mostly in Pakistan and Iran, and another 4 million Afghans remain internally displaced persons within the country. Since 2001, Afghanistan has experienced improvements in health, education and women’s rights.[98][99]

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‘Disturbing spike’ in Afghan civilian casualties after peace talks began: UN report

Civilian casualties in Afghanistan witnessed a sharp rise since peace negotiations started in September last year, even though overall deaths and injuries dropped in 2020, compared to the previous year, according to a UN human rights report launched Tuesday. 

In their annual Afghanistan Protection of Civilians in Armed Conflict Annual Report, the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) and the UN Assistance Mission in the country (UNAMA) documented some 8,820 civilian casualties (3,035 deaths and 5,785 injuries) in 2020, about 15 per cent less than in 2019.  

It was also the first time the figure fell below 10,000 since 2013. 

However, the country remains amongst the “deadliest places in the world to be a civilian”, according to Michelle Bachelet, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights. 

“I am particularly appalled by the high numbers of human rights defenders, journalists, and media workers killed since peace negotiations began in September”, she said. 

At least 11 rights defenders, journalists and media workers lost their lives since September, resulting in many professionals exercising self-censorship in their work, quitting their jobs, and even leaving their homes and the country – in hope it will improve their safety. 

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