President Obama's new strategy in Afghanistan, which calls for an increase of 30,000 U.S. troops beginning in January, 2010, with an expected pullout 18 months later, has sparked a lively debate about whether the president has committed political suicide for embracing a line of attack that is riddled with all kinds of political mines and traps.
Others, however, are solidly behind the administration in their belief that putting an end to any more significant Taliban gains in the region might be the boldest move yet in smothering Al Qaeda and Islamic extremism.
Unquestionably, the United States' new surge marks a crucial juncture that will largely determine whether the war on terror is moving in the right direction, or has instead been disillusioned (again) by recklessly pursuing a complex operation in a troublesome region of the world in too short a time.
I have compiled a timeline of some key events of the United States/Afghanistan relations, dating back to the Soviet Union's invasion in 1979, along with dates on the rise, fall, and rise again of the Taliban.
• December, 1979: To prevent the seizure of power by mujahedin (a loose alliance of Afghan opposition groups trained and funded by the CIA and the American government) from the Marxist Democratic Republic of Afghanistan, the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan.
• April, 1988: In the Geneva Accords (administered by the UN), Mikhail Gorbachev agrees to pull Soviet troops out of Afghanistan after incurring 13,400 casualties. The Soviet withdrawal was completed on February 15, 1989.
• January, 1989: The United States closed its embassy in Kabul.
• September 13, 1991: Governments in Washington and Moscow agree to cut off aid to Afghan combatants.
• April, 1992: The Soviet-backed Afghan regime fell to the mujahedin who established a rotating presidency.
• 1993-94: The Taliban movement is created by Afghan Islamic clerics and students, mostly of Pashtun origin.
• November, 1994: The Taliban (primarily Pashtun) headed by Mullah Omar, seized the city of Kandahar in southern Afghanistan.
• September 27, 1996: The Taliban attack Kabul, the Afghan capital, and take control of the government. During its time in power, the Taliban occupied 90 percent of the country.
• May 25, 1997: Islamabad, the capital of Pakistan, recognizes the Taliban as the legitimate government of Afghanistan.
• May 27, 1997: Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates joined Pakistan in recognizing the Taliban in Afghanistan.
• August, 1997: The U.S. State Department orders the closing of the Afghanistan Embassy in Washington.
• August 7, 1998: Al Qaeda bombs U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania.
• August 20, 1998: The U.S. fires missiles at presumed al Qaeda training camps in eastern Afghanistan. Osama bin laden escaped unharmed.
• October, 1999: The UN Security Council imposes a number of sanctions against the Taliban and al-Qaeda, including the freezing of funds and restricting travel of the groups' members.
• 2000: President Pervez Musharraf publicly declares Pakistan's support for the Taliban.
• February 2001: The George W. Bush administration, in accordance with U.N. Security Council Resolution 1333, begins talks with Pakistan in hopes that it will end its support with the Taliban.
• September 9, 2001: Ahmad Shah Masud, leader of the Northern Alliance (a group which unified anti-Taliban factions in Afghanistan) is assassinated by a suicide bomber, believed to have been linked to al-Qaeda operatives.
• By the time of the attacks on September 11, 2001, the Taliban controlled 75 percent of Afghanistan.
• September 12, 2001: United Nations Security Council Resolution 1368 is adopted, interpreted by many as authorizing military action in response to the attacks; though the council lacked such authoritative powers.
• October 7, 2001: The United State launches ``Operation Enduring Freedom'', which calls for air strikes in Afghanistan against Taliban and al Qaeda forces.
• November 9, 2001: Mazar-e-Sharif, an Afghan city, falls to the Northern Alliance, dealing a swift blow to the Taliban.
• December, 2001: The Bonn Agreement creates an Afghan Interim Authority to serve as the "repository of Afghan sovereignty'', while outlining a political process for producing a new constitution and choosing a new Afghan government.
• December, 2001: The CIA narrowed bin Laden's location to the Tora Bora Mountains of eastern Afghanistan, but Afghan militia fighters let him slip away without a struggle.
• December 9, 2001: The Taliban regime is officially overthrown, when Qandahar, the last major Taliban stronghold in Afghan, falls; Mullah Mohammed Omar, leader of the Taliban in Afghanistan flees the country and remains at large to this day.
• March 2-19. 2002: U.S. and Afghan forces launch: ``Operation Anaconda" in the Shah-i-Kot Valley, south of Gardez (Paktia Province) against 800 al Qaeda and Taliban fighters.
• June, 2002: Delegates of the Bonn Accords elect Hamid Karzai president of Afghanistan.
• March, 2003: ``Operation Valiant Strike'' is carried out when 1,000 U.S forces raid suspected Taliban or al-Qaeda fighters in villages around Qandahar in the southern region of Afghanistan.
• May 1, 2003: Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld announces an end to major combat in Afghanistan.
• December, 2003: Delegates of the Constitutional Loya Jirga approve a new constitution, paving the way for a presidential election in Afghanistan.
• October 9, 2004: Afghanistan holds its first presidential election with 80 percent of the population turning out to vote.
• November 3, 2004: Hamid Karzai is declared president of Afghanistan, winning 55.4 percent of the vote over his 17 challengers and thereby avoiding a runoff.
• 2007: The Taliban seize Musa Qala in the north of Helmand Province, where, according to the UN, the Taliban were believed to have formed their post-9/11 administration and judiciary.
• November 2007: The International Council on Security and Development, or ICOS, estimates the Taliban maintains a permanent presence in 54 percent of Afghanistan.
• January, 2008: An airstrike near Damadola, a village in Pakistan, approximately five miles from the Afghan border, kills Abu Laith al-Libi, believed to be a senior al-Qaeda operative.
• December, 2008: ICOS estimates the Taliban maintains a permanent presence in 72 percent of the country.
• February, 2009: Some independent U.S. scientists, using geographic mapping, speculate bin Laden might be residing across the border from his former Afghan stronghold at Tora Bora.
• April, 2009: U.S. troop levels in Afghanistan reaches 39.,000
• July, 2009: Newsweek reports Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar has assumed command of the Taliban operations in Afghanistan.
• August, 2009: According to Afghan Interior Ministry figures, 13 districts in Afghanistan are under Taliban control, while another 133 of the 364 districts are in danger of being attacked by the Taliban, primarily in the Helmand or Qandahar Provinces.
• August 20, 2009: The Afghanistan presidential election takes place, an election stained by complaints of voting irregularities and ballot fraud.
• October 20, 2009: The Election Complaints Commission (EEC) determined approximately one million Karzai votes were fraudulent.
• October 21, 2009: Karzai accepts the EEC's findings and agrees to a runoff election, scheduled for November 7th.
• November 1, 2009: Karzai's rival, Dr. Abdullah Abdullah, told supporters assembled at Kabul University that a runoff election would be pointless since the same voter fraud would in all likelihood take place again.
• November 2, 2009: With only one candidate on the runoff ballot, the Independent Election Commission (IEC) rules Kazari the winner of the presidential election
• August 30, 2009: Major General Herbert McChrystal submitted his review of the U.S. military strategy in which he recommends a comprehensive counter-insurgency and a troop increase of 44,000 additional U.S. combat forces in Afghanistan.
• December 1, 2009: President Obama announces 30,000 additional troops will be deployed to Afghanistan, beginning in January, 2010, in order to reverse the troublesome Taliban momentum and strengthen Afghanistan's security forces and government. The troop increase brings the total number of U.S. troops in Afghanistan to 68,000; 56,000 of which is part of the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) that operates throughout Afghanistan, with the remainder belonging to the U.S.-led Operation Enduring Freedom.
Afghanistan by the Numbers:
• 35 suicide bombings in 2009; 200 in 2008; 160 in 2007; 123 in 2006; 21 in 2005
• 51 percent of $40 billion U.S. assistance in Afghanistan has gone toward the training and equipping of Afghan forces, with the remaining devoted to infrastructure, humanitarian activities, and counter- narcotic programs.
• 100,000, total foreign force in Afghanistan, 88,000 of which are NATO/ISAF- International Security Assistance Force.
• 852 U.S. casualties in Afghanistan, 659 by hostile action
• 94,000 members of the Afghan National Army (ANA), which includes civilian support.
• 11,000 total U.S and Partner trainers in Afghanistan; 66,200 U.S. military trainers as Embedded Training Troops and Police Mentoring Teams. 3,000 civilian trainers. 800 coalition trainers, including EUPOL for ANP (European Union contingent of 190 trainers, organized as OMLTs), and 41 German trainers of senior ANP.
• 10,000-15,000 Taliban fighters, according to U.S military and Afghan estimates.
• 2,100 Afghan civilians killed in 2008; 1,523 killed in 2007. 6,340 Afghans killed in 2008, including 6,500 Taliban killed in 2007.
• Average attacks per day in Afghanistan: 1,100 per month in 2009; 1,000 per month in 2008; 800 per month in 2007 and 2006; 400 in 2005. 2,000 roadside bombs in 2008, the highest its ever been.
Source: Congressional Research Service, Council on Foreign Relations, "The Taliban and The Crisis of Afghanistan" Edited by Robert D. Crews and Amin Tarzi