In the early stages of the 21st century the U.S. (and often its close allies like Great Britain) has been involved in three long-running, concurrent and completely intertwined wars. That is to say, you cannot separate any of these wars from the others; not our reasons for being in them, not our ability to wage them, and not the outcomes we have desired from each one. I’m talking, of course, about the War on Terror, The U.S-Iraq War, and the U.S. Taliban War. More than 15 years after 9/11 set all of these events into action, we are still asking ourselves whether we made the right choice or the smart choice in pursuing any of these wars. And it’s not like the wars are over either- not by a long shot.
Thanks to the rise of the extreme Islamic militant organization Al-Qaeda and its supporters and offshoots, we may never see the end of these wars in our lifetimes. Sure, Al-Qaeda supposedly died with the death of its evil mastermind, Osama bin-Laden at the hands of U.S. Navy SEALS. Sure, we declared the war in Iraq over way back in 2011 and pulled out our troops. Sure we toppled the Taliban regime in Afghanistan in 2001 and “ended” that war in 2014. But did we really? The War on Terror will never end, not as long as any vestige of Al-Qaeda or any other radical Islamic Jihadist organizations survive, thrive and hate us; just look at the random terror events in our own country, like the Orlando, Fort Hood and San Bernardino attacks by U.S. citizens against their fellow countrymen, for proof of that. Look at the continued and frightening presence of ISIL in Iraq and Syria, filling the void left by the U.S. pullout. And look at the never-dying insurgency that is the Taliban and all of their supporters in Afghanistan.
Here are 15 Shocking Images From The US-Taliban War
15 Soviet Invasion Fails
One of the greatest mistakes the Soviet Union ever made was invading Afghanistan and fighting the Mujahedeen “Freedom Fighters.” The U.S.S.R. was the big bad wolf (well, bear) on the block in Eastern and Central Europe and Asia and thought they could take out little Afghanistan. They were wrong and the communists found themselves embroiled in their own “Vietnam,” a conflict that hastened the downfall of the Soviets. In retrospect (you know what they say about hindsight) one of the greatest mistakes the CIA ever made was arming those same Mujahedeen against the Soviets. Why, you ask? Because the Afghans of a militant, Islamic persuasion hate us too- and more. The Mujahedeen became the Taliban in short order and began instilling their intense beliefs on the whole country. The enemy of my enemy is not always my friend. We are still reaping the whirlwind from that mistake.
14 The Taliban Rises
Isn’t it nice when you can count on your friends and neighbors to help you out? The Taliban, that radical Sunni organization that had been running Afghanistan as their own personal anti-American, anti-West, anti-humanity fiefdom since 1996, were well-known supporters of Osama bin-Laden and Al-Qaeda. They were notorious for harboring criminals and being anti- human rights violators of the worst kind. Nobody wanted to interact with Afghanistan on a national level- and they didn’t want to interact with anyone else either. Unless…they were anti-American terrorists. They offered training camps and refuge to terrorists all the time and practiced “Sharia,” which is an insanely strict interpretation of Islam. It’s no wonder that, after the events of 9/11, the U.S. government would send our military into the country to try to take out the Taliban.
13 Buddha Destroyed
Here’s how you can tell what a true bunch of you-know-what the Taliban was and are. The Taliban soldier in this picture is standing in front of a statue that used to be of Buddha. I say used to because obviously it’s not much of a statue anymore in the picture. That’s because the Taliban thought it would be fun to blow up this and other statues like it for target practice. Because they don’t agree with Buddhism- it’s an unclean religion. So…blow up a 2,000 year old statue with your rocket propelled grenade. I’m sure this makes sense in some twisted way to these guys but to me- not so much. In other pictures like this you can see bullet holes everywhere. That’s because jubilant Taliban soldiers fired their weapons at this World Cultural Heritage site every chance they could get. Nice guys.
12 U.S. Decision
So the U.S. decided to head on into Afghanistan, take out the Taliban at the top, install our own free and independent democratic state (i.e. “Puppet Government”), and get to work on shutting down all the Al-Qaeda operatives scuttling all over the country like cockroaches. First the U.N. Security Council adopted a resolution labeling Al-Qaeda and the Taliban partners in terrorism, with Afghanistan specifically charged with harboring terrorists and offering refuge to them. Then President George W. Bush authorized a Joint Resolution (by Congress) to punish those responsible for 9/11- pretty much by any means necessary. U.S. forces were already on their way to the Middle East and were well prepared to dish out what we considered justice to a most deserving group. Unfortunately, the Taliban, which had entrenched its hold on the country after assassinating Ahmad Shah Massoud, the biggest in-country opponent to their reign, was perfectly happy to let the US destroy their country for their radical beliefs.
11 Air War
It was time for the U.S. to put its money where its mouth was. On October 7, 2001, less than a month after the worst terror attack Americans had ever witnessed, Operation Enduring Freedom was launched. When I say launched I mean that quite literally, as the first twelve days of the war in Afghanistan saw a massive bombing raid undertaken by the U.S. Air Force on suspected Taliban positions and strongholds. There weren’t many troops on the ground at this early stage. Instead, the good old B-52 did its thing, as it had done since World War II, dropping high impact, explosive and incendiary bombs all over the hills and mountains of the country. It’s almost always impossible to tell how much good a bombing campaign from the air does in war but from the above photo I certainly wouldn’t have wanted to be on the receiving end of that payload.
10 Special Forces
While the air raids were going on, American Special Forces and advisors were getting busy on the ground. There were only about 1,000 American troops at this point, as many different ethnic, religious, and political groups were primed to take their best shot at the Taliban. That’s the thing when you have a dictatorship that hates and oppresses everybody who even looks the wrong way at you- the minute they sense a weakness, the minute they smell blood, they all come after you. Aligned against the Taliban, with help from those few U.S. troops, were the Northern Coalition again (remember them? The Taliban executed their biggest hero), a bunch of ethnic Pashtun militias (afghans of Eastern Iranian descent whom the Taliban ostracized) and ethnic Uzbeks, who were also oppressed by the Taliban. Which begs the question, was anybody not ruined by them? The Taliban was crumbling, as shown by the fear and shock on this Taliban supporter’s face as U.S. troops break down his front gate.
9 Ground War
The Gulf War in Kuwait and Iraq in 1991 and the major offensives of the Iraq War in 2003- what we Americans called the “Shock & Awe” campaign- showed what a massive modern military buildup looked like on the ground. We saw hundreds of thousands of soldiers, tanks, armored personnel carriers and the other elements of war in action. The war in Afghanistan was slightly different, shall we say, with the initial ground fighting against the Taliban- led by many of the groups previously mentioned- showcasing far fewer troops. In fact, the major battle of the first offensive of the war featured less than 20,000 combatants on each side. It was called the battle of Mazar el-Sharif and resulted in a huge victory over the Taliban, who lost upwards of 500 men and over 1,000 to defection. American General Tommy Franks, later famous for directing the Iraq War, was the commander in chief of American forces. This weirdly shocking photo above shows U.S. Special Forces in a cavalry “charge” toward Mazar el-sharif, jokingly referred to as our “first cavalry charge of the 21st century.”
8 The British Failed First
Look, Afghanistan was a cruel and unusual place long before the Taliban got their hands on it. The British found that out, to their great unhappiness, when they tried to prop up a corrupt and “unmoral” regime way back in the 1830s and ‘40s. By “unmoral,” I of course mean the Islamic extremists, even back then, disapproved of “Western” ideals, such as the British puppet Shah had. Although rebellion simmered for years under British rule, it wasn’t until 1842 (January 1 of that year, in fact), that the British army decided to abandon Afghanistan. A column of almost 17,000 soldiers and their followers (wives and children among them) retreated from Kabul, attempting to leave the country. At the Tangi Tariki Pass, Afghani tribesmen attacked- a few hundred survivors fled the first day, only to be captured. The rest of the army stood and died, except one civilian doctor, who stumbled out of the hills days later. It does not pay for the West to mess with Afghanistan.
7 7. Bye Bye Bin Laden
Although the Taliban was completely falling apart, Osama bin Laden was still on the loose. He and a bunch of Al-Qaeda fighters were tracked to the huge Tora Bora cave complex outside of Kabul. For two weeks the Afghan freedom fighters on our side engaged in another battle with hundreds of these fanatics, who provided the distraction and cover needed to allow bin Laden to slip over the border on horseback into Pakistan. The best part about all of this, you might ask? Well, bin Laden managed to escape one day before the last of his fighters either fell or surrendered. The U.S. faced very heavy criticism for allowing their tribal allies to direct this crucial battle rather than just going in for the kill on Osama. Instead of cutting off the head of one of the world’s most notorious terror groups, bin Laden was allowed to live to direct more murder and mayhem against the West.
With the Taliban in full retreat and bin Laden gone from our grasp, the U.S. finished off the major operations phase of the war all the way back in December 2001. We had the cities, and we had a true Afghani coalition that met in Bonn, Germany to appoint an interim president. That man was Hamid Karzai, who as a former Mujahedeen fighter and Afghan nationalist certainly knew what he was getting into. Karzai served as the interim president for two years and then was elected to the post twice more. During that time he survived at least four (four!) active assassination attempts by Taliban or related insurgents, with everything from automatic weapons to rockets being used to try to kill him. Many more plots have been foiled before the shooting started. Here a member of the infamous U.S. SEAL Team Six stops his own bleeding with his shirt after an attempt on Karzai, whom the SEALs had been guarding.
5 Pat Tillman
One of the things that Americans will often do, when the country is threatened, is drop whatever civilian job they were doing and enlist in the war effort. It happened on a massive scale in the Civil War (on both sides, it should be noted), World War I and World War II. It even happened quite often in Vietnam, the Gulf War and The Iraq and Afghanistan Wars. Perhaps the most famous recruit to serve in Afghanistan was Specialist Pat Tillman, an Army Ranger who also had just happened to be a NFL player for the Arizona Cardinals. Tillman volunteered in 2002 and served multiple combat tours. Unfortunately his selfless volunteerism is somewhat marred by the fact that his death, in the mountains of Afghanistan in 2004, was caused by friendly fire, something the Pentagon had at first tried to cover up. Nonetheless, he was quite the hero and a great role model, even if his death was shocking.
4 The Slow Slog
Here we see what happens when the government breaks down. In 2006 there was a huge resurgence in fighting in Afghanistan, long after President Bush had announced “Mission Accomplished.” It seems that when people don’t get stuff like food, water, basic health services and other human services they’ll turn to alternate forms of leadership. In Afghanistan, as the government became unable to offer these services due to Taliban interference and their “Fifth Column’ efforts, more and more people started turning back to the empty promises of the Taliban. That’s what happens when you have a vicious cycle of oppression and deceit. Here a U.S. soldier at one of the many “Firebases” the U.S. had to man to keep peace in the countryside ducks behind a wall as insurgents shoot into the compound. U.S. troops also had to become used to rocket attacks at any time and being shot at whenever they traveled out from behind their walls. The insurgency is still going on…
3 More Ambushes
How about another one? Here we have a group of American soldiers on “routine” patrol drop and scatter as a bomb goes off nearby. Just like the war in Iraq, militants in Afghanistan learned to use whatever was at hand to mess up the U.S. “occupation.” That included IEDs (improvised explosive devices) attached to cars, dogs and anything else. It also included car bombs, suicide bombers, snipers and even stand-up fights when patrols would be ambushed. By 2009 U.S. involvement had risen back up to almost 70,000 Marines and other soldiers. For a war that seemed to be won just a few years before that’s a lot of personnel! There have been almost 2,400 American service people deaths in the country since 2001. I’m sure that number will continue to rise as long as there are American troops stationed in the nightmare the country has become.
2 Teenagers In Arms
Here’s a terrible and shocking picture. This is a teenaged Afghan boy learning the art of war from a U.S. Special Forces soldier. The boy is part of the Afghan National Army, the main combat infantry segment of the official Afghani government. The National Army is drawn from all over the country and has attempted to control the nation even as its opposition, whatever they want to call themselves nowadays, draws recruits from all over the Middle East. After years of different tribal organizations and ethnic groups working loosely together to fight the Taliban, they are now being asked to send soldiers for a universally recognized army. I’m sure the U.S. troops training them are doing their best but this boy looks about 15-years-old, doesn’t he? This is a war that will take far more casualties before it is ever over.
1 Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan
Of course, groups like the Taliban never really go away. If you cut off their head, two new ones grow in its place. If you try to meet their forces conventionally, they melt into the hills. The U.S. has been finding this out for close to fifteen years. Now they call themselves the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan (IEA) and spend all of their time trying to sustain their insurgency against the legitimate Afghani government. The U.S. still has tons of private contractors on the ground and, as always, there is still a fairly strong U.S. military presence there even though the war has been officially over for years and the U.S. troop withdrawal supposedly occurred in 2014. President Obama signed orders to keep slightly under 10,000 troops in garrisons in the major cities (Kabul, Kandahar, etc.) at least through 2017 to help with the insurgency. You look at frightening pictures like this one of “True Believers” from IEA or ISIL and you know this will be a never-ending war.
Sources: britannica, cfr, bbc, military-history