Afghanistan has experienced many armed conflicts in its historical developments. The terms ‘war in Afghanistan’ may refer to Afghanistan’s Islamic conquest between 637 and 709, the subjugation of Afghanistan during 330 BCE and 327 BCE by Alexander the great, Mongol empire downfall of Afghanistan in the13th century, or a myriad of Mughal Empire campaigns against Persians in the effort to gain control of Afghanistan.
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Studying war in Afghanistan may also focus on the Anglo-afghan war, which occurred between 1839 and 1881 (first and second Anglo-Afghan wars), third Anglo-afghan war (1919), Soviet Afghanistan war of 1979 and 1989, and even various Afghan civil wars lasting until 2001.
Although different scenarios in which the war was experienced in Afghanistan may be deployed in the discussions of this paper, the main focus is on Afghanistan war that resulted in the collapsing of Taliban, which is still ongoing since 2001.
The war that began in Afghanistan from 2001 up to the present time rose following the attacks of September 2001 in the World Trade Center twin towers in the United States of America. The war involves the US, NATO forces, and the allied forces that aimed to politically liberate Afghanistan by toppling the Taliban government. Taliban government was allied to the al-Qaida, which is the group that is held responsible for the September 2001 attacks.
Gorge W. Bush of the US had made an order to that terrorist group to bring Osama Bin Laden in the hands of the United States while also banishing any links of the Al-Qaida, which boosted the group’s control in the fight involving Afghanistan’s Northern treaty. However, instead of extraditing bin Laden, Taliban recommended that he should depart from Afghanistan due to lack of evidence that he was the main architect behind the September 11 attacks.
The move by the Taliban prompted America to initiate operations in Afghanistan without necessarily having to engage in negotiations. The United Kingdom, together with Germany, joined in the war later to topple the Taliban government, thus raising heavy attacks on the Northern Alliance (Keppel, Jean-Pierre, and Ghazaleh 32).
The US and the associated troops forced the Taliban government out of supremacy and put in place martial camps within the main town of Afghanistan. However, this did not end the operations of the Taliban and al-Qaeda. The groups retreated to rural mountainous regions and in Pakistan. While operating from these bases, Mullar Omar reorganized the Taliban in 2003.
The group initiated insurgency attacks against ISAF and the Afghanistan government. In this context, Keppel, Jean-Pierre, and Ghazaleh note, “though vastly outgunned and outnumbered by NATO forces and the Afghan National Army, the Taliban insurgents have waged asymmetric warfare with guerilla raids and ambushes in the countryside, suicide attacks against urban targets, and turncoat killings against coalition forces” (45).
The government felt the impacts of the Taliban on the war. The gang subjugated the flaws of the government, such as fraud to gain control in the southern regions of Afghanistan. In 2006, NATO responded to the progress made by the Taliban through the initiation of projects for nation-building in the effort to win the confidence of the Afghans together with increasing the number of troops operating in Afghanistan.
The efforts of NATO to engage Taliban and al-Qaida insurgents in the war resulted in the spreading of the war into the North West parts of Pakistan. In 2004, NATO forces launched attacks to flush out and kill Taliban militia and al-Qaida insurgents seeking refuge in Pakistan. This led to the emergence of Waziristan insurgency in the year 2007. In May 2011, the US Navy SEALs managed to kill the kingpin of al-Qaida, Osama bin Laden.
In the three weeks following his killing, NATO began working on a strategy to exit from Afghanistan. During this time, the UN sought to engage the Afghanistan government and the Taliban insurgents in peace talks (Keppel, Jean-Pierre, and Ghazaleh 2008 62).
Since the war emerged between the US and the allied troops in Afghanistan and later to include the Afghanistan government that took place after the Taliban government was toppled, with tens of thousands of ordinary civilians having lost their lives, also, “over 4,000 ISAF soldiers and civilian contractors, as well as over 10,000 Afghan National Security Forces, also died” (Keppel, Jean-Pierre, and Ghazaleh 63).
Although many of the people who have perished in the war are Taliban insurgents and ordinary civilians, statistical findings on the number of deaths of security forces from both the Afghanistan government and ISAF indicate that the Afghanistan war had negative ramification on both civilians and the security forces.
The main question that emerges here is whether it is necessary to take the lives of thousands of innocent people in the name of pursuing a small group of terrorists.
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Although deaths and casualties encountered in the Afghanistan war from 2001 to date are due to the operations of both Taliban and the US and NATO forces, international reactions point the largest finger of blame to Taliban and al-Qaida insurgents. For instance, the United Nations attributes 76% of all civilian casualties in the Afghanistan war from 2001 to 2009 to Taliban (Keppel, Jean-Pierre, and Ghazaleh 124).
The AIGRC (Afghanistan sovereign human rights body) viewed the intimidation deeds of the Taliban’s in opposition to their fellow people as combat. Official pardoning was built on this line of argument claiming that Taliban combat offenses involved turning against civilians, butchering of tutors, employee kidnappings, and burning of learning institutions.
A major concern of the international community on the war in Afghanistan is the use of phosphorus. Human rights bodies across the globe denounce the application of phosphorus in combat since it causes ruthless injuries. Several remains of people who perished during the actions of the Taliban and the US army have been discovered having white phosphorus injuries.
In May 2009, the US and NATO spokesperson confirmed that the forces used white phosphorus as a mechanism of illuminating its targets. Alternatively, they deployed it as an incendiary in the effort to destroy the enemy’s equipment together with bunkers.
International Agreements and Contributions of the UN and Non-Governmental Organizations in the Afghanistan War
In the Afghanistan war against terrorism between 2001 and beyond, various non-governmental organizations, including the UN, played significant roles in the provision of humanitarian aid to the war victims. The involvement of the UN in the war was initiated by the pleading of humanitarian aid amounting to $584 million by the then secretary general of the UN Kofi Annan on October 1, 2001.
The aid was planned to enhance the supply of foods stuff to an excess of 7.5 million citizens of Afghans over six months (Porter 19). However, the roles of the UN and non-governmental organizations in ensuring that the conflicts between the US’ forces and the Taliban did not result in humanitarian crises were incredibly impaired following the escalation of confrontations.
Indeed, according to the UN News Center, the increased confrontations between the US and the Taliban “compelled the UN agencies to withdraw international staff from the country, as the flow of food and other essentials into the country was slowed or halted” (4).
Nevertheless, this did not stop the efforts of the UN to promote talks between various Afghanistan’s parties in the effort to establish an all-inclusive government. This effort led to the reappointment of Lakhdar Brahimi as the UN special envoy to Afghanistan.
According to the (UN News Center, “UNDP, World Bank, and the Asian development bank opened a conference with the theme of reconstruction of Afghanistan in Islamabad on 27 November” (5). Following the institution of the Afghan interim power and the ISAF, safety measures improved in Kabul. Due to the eased hostilities, the World Food Program managed to deliver 114, 000 metric tons of food.
This food was adequate to meet the needs of about 6 million people for two months (UN News Center 5). As the conflicts in Afghanistan have not yet ended, through the UN population funds (UNFPA), WFP, and UNHCR, the UN continues to play significant roles in enhancing rehabilitation together with a reconstruction of post-war Afghanistan.
Since the initiation of war on the Taliban, several agreements have been made between the US and the government of Afghanistan. One of the earliest agreements was the Bonn Agreement. It formed the basis of announcement of the “composition of the Special Independent Commission for the Convening of the Emergency Loya Jirga (Pashto for the grand council -a traditional forum in which tribal elders can come together and settle affairs)” (UN News Center 8).
The pacts provided that Loya Jirga would be composed of 21 members. Its tasks included the election of the head of the transitional administration together with making decisions on the structuring of the key personnel comprising the transitional administration. The Bonn accord also provided for just, open, and autonomous voting after twenty-four months following the enactment of Loya Jirga.
Other pacts include the status of forces’ agreement and the agreement for the SOF (special operations forces) to continue executing night raids. The status of forces’ agreement gave the US’ army operating in Afghanistan immunity against prosecutions.
It also “imposed no limitations on the US’ forces about military operations” (Porter 17). The agreement on the Special Forces to continue executing night raids attracted immense disagreements between the US government and the Afghanistan government, with president Karzai claiming the power to execute the raids.
Nations involved in Afghanistan’s Conflict and their Interest
Although other nations were involved in the Afghanistan war, the US carries the major stake. The war began as a response to the September 11 attacks. According to Keppel, Jean-Pierre, and Ghazaleh, the main aim of the war was to “ find Osama bin Laden and other high-ranking al-Qaeda members to be put on trial, to destroy the organization of al-Qaida, and to remove the Taliban regime, which supported and gave safe harbor to it” (13).
Other nations involved in the war through the provision of NATO forces, such as Demark, Spain, France, Germany, Canada, Netherland, Italy, Poland, Australia, and the United Kingdom argue that their main interest is to ensure that terrorism is defeated.
The main concern of all nations involved in the Afghanistan war is to enhance security within their borders by ensuring that terrorists’ groups such as al-Qaida and others do not gain safe operational zones. However, political critics argue that the interest of the US in the Afghanistan war is beyond their stated interest in the war.
The US navy managed to kill Osama bin Laden, who was the main person the US labeled as a terrorist who was responsible for the September 11 attacks. Why then is the continued stay of the US and NATO troops in Afghanistan soil?
The interest of the US and NATO forces in the Afghanistan war is also questionable considering that the US has insisted on carrying the roles of night raids on the Afghanistan citizens in the name of flushing out the Taliban insurgents from their sympathizers.
The US has a history of supporting resistant groups later to turn against them once they develop into terrorist groups. In 1997, the US recognized the Taliban as the legitimate government of Afghanistan. Indeed, Robin Raphael instructed Ahmad Shah Massoud to consider surrendering to the Taliban government.
Sometimes later, “top foreign policy officials in the Clinton administration flew to northern Afghanistan to try to persuade the United Front not to take advantage of a chance to make crucial gains against the Taliban” (Keppel, Jean-Pierre, and Ghazaleh 89).
The officials insisted that time for cease-fire had arrived. On the other hand, Pakistan initiated its efforts to re-equip the Taliban. Following the killings of the US task forces in 1998, the US distorted its course of actions for the Taliban.
The UN and the US developed sanctions against the Taliban through resolutions of the United Nations Security Council no. 1267. The resolution required the Taliban to surrender Osama bin Laden to the US while also ensuring that all terrorist training camps operating within Afghanistan were closed.
In fact, instead of condemning Massoud, the camps collaborated with him in the attempt to trace Osama bin Laden. However, during this time, the EU and the US offered no monetary or any other form of support to Massoud forces.
In case the groups failed to topple the Taliban in their failure to honor an ultimatum to surrender bin Laden, the US was to engage Afghanistan in direct military combat. These changes of policies raise the question of whether the US attacked Afghanistan in the quest to eliminate terrorism or to enhance its policy of remaining the world’s superpower.
The nations that support the US war against terror, which have also provided troops to NATO, are also among the most powerful nations in the world.
Upon considering that the US and NATO forces, even after the defeat of the Taliban, have continued their stay in Afghanistan with no clear policy on when the troops will be withdrawn fully, a critical question is whether the main interest of the nations involved in the war is to fight terrorism or to fight persons opposed to their quest to control the world.
Realist and Liberal Perspectives of the Afghanistan War
The concepts of interest in international peace and security as manifested in the perspectives of power constitute a central driver of the war against terrorism. The US considers itself a world superpower. Hence, it endeavors to portray its ability to compel nations to subscribe to the principal place of international relations.
This extent of expression of power together with the portrayal of power relationships defines the realist school of thought in the international relations approaches, and hence counterterrorism. Meyer reveals, “Power in realism occupies the central place for projecting the country’s influence abroad by statesmen” (653).
From the realist school of thought, the influence of nations in fostering international relations is showcased through diplomatic efforts, military interventions, and information intelligence. From the previous discussions, the US effort to engage Taliban diplomatically through requests and subsequently an ultimatum to surrender bin Laden failed, thus prompting military interventions.
These alternatives are valid and anchored within the school of realism in matters of international relations. President Bush viewed terrorism as an issue presenting major threats to international peace. In the words of Meyer, he adopted a realistic approach to intervening it “because the international system did more to hamper the US efforts at combating a sophisticated actor from outside the state system than it did to prevent the attacks of multiple US targets in the first place” (648).
Thus, America had no options other than utilizing its power to influence the international system to promote democracy and freedom from external threats.
Liberalism focuses more on the factors residing outside a given nation in shaping international relations. Power is an important aspect of the liberalist school of thought. However, opposed to realism, liberalist perspectives of power concentrate on the political hu, man rights protection, energy security, economic sanctions, and even environmental protection.
This implies that international groups pushing for this freedom have the biggest impacts on international relations. In case e of the Afghanistan war, NATO plays significant roles in fostering peace and fights against terrorism.
President Obama administration’s engagement in the Afghanistan war assumed the liberalist perspectives in the approaches of international relations. The administration has been seeking aid from multilateral institutions, allies, and even partners to harness the American political power to shape democracy in Afghanistan.
The Future of Afghanistan
The future of the war in Afghanistan remains unknown. The US has been postponing its decision to withdraw all its troops from Afghanistan. In January 2102, the US stated that withdrawing all the troops from the Afghanistan soil by 2014 was a major consideration. At the dawn of 2012, President Karzai and his US counterpart accepted to increase the pace of handing over NATO’s operation to the forces of Afghanistan.
This meant that the Afghan forces would assume the forefront in war engagements, with NATO and the US troops providing the required training and advice. Until now, it is not known when NATO and the US will consider giving President Karzai’s government full control of the Afghanistan affairs.
Hence, it is impossible to forecast or speculate the presence of post-NATO and the US troops in Afghanistan in terms of the stability of the democratic government of Afghanistan. The US only hopes that the Afghanistan security forces will be able to maintain security in the nation at some point in the future. Perhaps when such a time comes, NATO and the US will withdraw all their troops from Afghanistan.
Keppel, Gilles, Jean-Pierre Milelli and Pascale Ghazaleh. Al Qaeda in its own Words. Harvard: Harvard University Press, 2008. Print.
Meyer, Christoph. “International terrorism as a force of homogenization? A constructivist Approach to understanding cross-national threat perceptions and responses.”
Cambridge Review of International Affairs 22.4(2010): 647-666. Print.
Porter, Gareth. “US-Afghan Pact Won’t End War-Or Special Operations Forces Night Raids.” Washington Report on Middle East Affairs 31.4(2012): 17-19. Print.
UN News Center. Afghanistan and United Nations. Geneva: UN News Service, 2013. Print.