Click here for a map of the region
Click here for a map of the region
A Brief History of Afghanistan
Back in 1839 Britain and Afghanistan went to war. After some resistance, Amir Dost Mohammad Khan surrendered to the British and was deported to India. The British installed Shah Shuja as a puppet king, but, as is often the case, huge pockets of resistance remained. In April 1842, the Shah was killed by the Afghans and Akbar Khan routed the British.
The following year, Afghanistan became independent once again and Dost Mohammad Khan returned to the throne. In 1859, the British took Baluchistan, Afghanistan's southern portion, making the country completely landlocked. Six years later, Russia took Bukhara, Tashkent, and Samarkand (now in Uzbekistan) and in 1873 established a fixed boundary between Afghanistan and it's new territories, but they did promise to respect Afghanistan's territorial integrity, such as they had left it.
In 1878, the second Anglo-Afghan War began; the British invaded, forcing Afghanistan to give up the territories of Kurram, Khyber, Michni, Pishin and Sibi. The world powers were slowly nicking bits of a formerly grand country. Just helping ourselves!
In 1880, Abdur Rahman took the throne of Afghanistan as Amir. Shortly after his accession, the British withdrew from Afghanistan, although retaining the right to handle Afghanistan's foreign relations.
In 1885; Russian forces seized the Panjdeh Oasis, a piece of Afghan territory north of the Oxus River. The Afghans tried to retake it, but failed and the Russians promised (once again) to honour Afghan territorial integrity in the future. I think I'm starting to see a pattern here. The Durand Line fixed the borders of Afghanistan with British India in 1893. However, this randomly split Afghan tribal areas and left half of the Afghans in that region in what is now Pakistan. Remember that the peoples in these two regions are related.
In 1907 Russia and Great Britain signed the Convention of St. Petersburg, in which Afghanistan was declared outside Russia's sphere of influence.
The third Anglo-Afghan war began in 1921 but, once again, the British were eventually defeated, and Afghanistan regained full control of her foreign affairs. In 1934, the United States of America formally recognized Afghanistan. I always love diplomatic speak; this would be like seeing an old friend in the street and saying, "Hi, I know you, don't I?"). In 1947 Britain withdrew from India and Pakistan was carved out of former Indian and Afghan lands. Two years later, Afghanistan's Parliament denounced the Durand Treaty and refused to recognize the Durand Line as a legal boundary between Pakistan and Afghanistan.
The Afghans attempted to modernize their army during 1954, but their request to buy military equipment from the U.S. was rejected. So, the following year, the Afghans turned to the Soviet Union for military aid. Kruschev eagerly agreed to help, thus forming close ties between Afghanistan and USSR and bringing it back into the Russian sphere of influence.
By the late 1950s, Afghanistan was making real progress towards becoming a modern state. The Purdah became optional and women began to enrol in their co-educational University and to enter the workforce and Government. During the '70s, Daoud Khan abolished the monarchy and declared himself President, establishing the Republic of Afghanistan, and in 1975, he presented a new constitution confirming women's rights. However, Daoud was killed three years later, during a bloody Communist coup, and Nur Muhammad Taraki was named President.
There followed a tense period of mass arrests and torture during which Taraki signed a treaty of friendship with the Soviet Union. That June, the Afghan guerrilla movement, the Mujahideen, was born.
The following year saw further, mass killings, including the US ambassador and Taraki himself. Hafizullah Amin took over the Presidency, but he too was executed and replaced by Babrak Karmal. That December, the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan. The Mujahideen fought keenly against the Soviets, killing some 40-50,000 of them until, in 1989, a peace accord was signed in Geneva. The Soviet Union was defeated by Afghanistan after 10 years of fighting and the Soviets withdrew on 15th February 1989. The Soviet retreat did not bring peace. The Mujahideen continued to fight against the Government and took Kabul on 15 April 1992 'liberating' Afghanistan and forming an Islamic State.
Then, in 1994, the Taliban militia was born and rose up against the government. Tribal warlords (Dostum and Hekmatyar) rose against the government and the capital, Kabul, was effectively reduced to rubble in the fighting. The Taliban made massive gains and on 27th September they forced the government out of Kabul and the harsh Taliban era began. Women had to be fully veiled, were no longer allowed to work, go out alone or even wear white socks, assuming they wanted to. Men were forced to grow beards and Buzkashi, the Afghan national sport, was outlawed. The trappings of a modern state were taken away – television, radio and basic human rights. Crucially, Al Qa'ida were given support by the Taliban and total freedom of action within Afghanistan.
On the 20th August 1999, the United States launched cruise missiles hitting Afghanistan's Khowst region, with the intention of destroying terrorist bases and training facilities used by Usama bin Laden and his followers. In September the ex-king of Afghanistan, Mohammad Zahir Shah, called for a grand assembly, or Loya Jirga, to discuss ways of bringing peace to the country. The United Front welcomed the idea, but the Taliban simply ridiculed his attempts. That October, UN Security Council Resolution 1267 was adopted, establishing sanctions against the Taliban on grounds that they offered sanctuary to Usama bin Laden.
One of the Bamiyan Buddhas, Afghanistan, 1997
In December 2000, UN Security Council Resolution 1333 imposed further sanctions against the Taliban for their continuing support of terrorism and cultivation of narcotics. Then, in March 2001, despite pleas and requests from various international diplomats and Islamic scholars, the Taliban destroyed the famous, ancient statues in the Kabul Museum, historical sites in Ghazni, and blew up the giant Bamiyan Buddhas that dated back to the 5th century. The World expressed outrage and disgust. By this stage, virtually every aspect of Afghanistan's social and economic structure had been dismantled. The Taliban had effectively destroyed the police force, the mainstay of the economy revolved around the opium harvest and the country existed only as a loose group of factions, headed by warlords and their private militias.
After our Coalition forces had liberated the people from the Taliban regime in late 2001, there was little left in the way of a government, economy, social structure, infrastructure or rule of law. The country was riddled with land mines, which were injuring and killing people on a daily basis. Under the Bonn Agreement, Afghanistan was run by an interim administration headed by Hamid Karzai. The administration took power on 22nd December 2001 and was to rule for 6 months, after which an emergency Loya Jirga would be convened to appoint a transitional authority. This was to govern Afghanistan under the leadership of Hamid Karzai, until the people could elect a permanent government, to be in place within 2 years of the emergency Loya Jirga. Rebuilding the country was to be a long and difficult process and had to be achieved through the consent of the Afghan leadership – including the numerous, powerful Warlords. To quote an ancient Afghan proverb, 'Community is not created by force.'
There were so many obstacles to navigate in Afghanistan, so much to understand about the Afghans, so much reconstruction to do and so many hearts and minds to win. It was also clear that there were a lot of insurgents left in the country, particularly in the South and this was difficult land in which to undertake security operations. It looked like we would be there a very long time.
Trailer City at CENTCOM, MacDill Air Force Base, Tampa, Florida. Look closely at some of the flags flying from the trailers.