History of Afghanistan
History of Afghanistan
Located at the crossroads of Central and South Asia, Afghanistan is bordered by Iran, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, China, and Pakistan. Until the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, and Tajikistan were Soviet states. This meant that Afghanistan was located on the edge of the massive Soviet empire.
In order to understand the present situation in Afghanistan, it is necessary to appreciate the consequences that bordering the Soviet empire played in its recent history. In December 1979, the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan. Soviet troops killed the Afghan president, and established a government that few citizens considered legitimate.
This invasion worried the US, which feared the expansion of the Soviet empire into South Asia. With the assistance of Pakistani intelligence services, the US helped the Afghan resistance movement fight their powerful adversary. Resistance fighters from diverse backgrounds, but collectively known as Mujahideen, considered themselves involved in a jihad against the atheist Soviet Union.
Official US funding for the Mujahideen began slowly. US government officials encouraged international donors to give financial support to the Afghan resistance. Money poured in from a variety of sources, including wealthy Yemenis, Egyptians, and especially Saudis (Cooley 104).
While the powerful Soviet army was initially able to take the urban centers of Afghanistan with few problems, it eventually found itself mired in a difficult and expensive war, fighting against determined and adaptive bands of Mujahideen. As funding for these resistance fighters increased, they began to use modern weapons and sophisticated ambush tactics, and pose a more serious threat to the Soviet army.
The morale of Soviet troops withered as the war dragged on. Many Russian soldiers turned to drugs to escape the horrors of war. Intelligence experts from the US saw heroin addiction as a potent weapon against the Soviet adversary, and encouraged the drug trade. As a result, the country became the single largest producer of opium in the world (Cooley 105-134).
The Soviet Union lost an estimated 14,000 troops in the Afghan occupation. Many soldiers came back to the USSR with serious mental health and substance abuse problems. The Soviet government eventually decided to end its role in the conflict. In 1989, the USSR pulled its forces out of Afghanistan (Cooley 136).
After defeating the Soviets, the Mujahideen split up into various factions. Chaos and civil war ensued. In this atmosphere of civil war, the Taliban emerged. The movement spread rapidly. By 1996, the Taliban was in control of most of the country, enforcing its conservative interpretation of Islamic law.
At the same time, Osama bin Laden’s al-Qaeda, comprised of foreign fighters recruited to battle the Soviets, continued to enjoy ample funding from international donors. They used Afghanistan as a base from which to recruit and train other extremists, and expanded the organization into other countries. Refocused on ridding Muslim nations of what they considered to have been corrupting foreign influences, they carried out a series of terrorist attacks. Several of these specifically targeted US interests, including a US military base in Saudi Arabia 1996, US embassies in Kenya and Tanzania in 1998, and the warship USS Cole in Yemen in 2000.
After the massive terrorist attacks in New York and Washington DC on September 11, 2001, the United States demanded that the Taliban turn over al-Qaeda members. The Taliban reiterated its long-standing line that al-Qaeda members were honored guests of the regime, and would be given sanctuary at any cost (BBC News). As a result, the US launched Operation Enduring Freedom on October 7, 2001, and the Taliban was driven from power by December (Johnson and Leslie 11).
Around 2001, Afghani Hamid Karzai began to assume leadership positions in Afghanistan. In December of 2004, Karzai was elected president of the country. However, this new government has not been able to assert control outside of the capital city Kabul, and does not have an independent army capable of protecting it (19).
Meanwhile, Taliban and al-Qaeda forces have regrouped and now assert influence in parts of Afghanistan and over the border in Pakistan. As of early 2009, the Taliban are emerging as a real threat to the continued stability of Pakistan. This development is particularly worrying to international observers because of the historically close relationship between the Pakistani intelligence services and the extremists groups (Cooley 121).
US involvement in Afghanistan since 2001 has been controversial on many levels. After the attacks of September 11, 2001, there was widespread global sympathy for the United States. However, the way the US government conducted Operation Enduring Freedom raised questions about the consequences for Afghan civilians. The invasion strategy, involving massive bombing assaults and poor intelligence, has been blamed for the military’s failure to locate bin Laden and high-level Taliban commanders (USA Today). Many people have also voiced concern that the Bush administration took attention and funds away from Afghanistan when it invaded Iraq and declared it the main front in the War on Terror, allowing the situation in Afghanistan to deteriorate.