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Context of 'November 11, 2001-December 2001: US Allows Warlords to Establish Control Over Most of Afghanistan'

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Gul Agha with US General D. K. McNeill.Gul Agha with US General D. K. McNeill. [Source: Rob Curtis/ Agence France-Presse]On November 11, 2001, top Taliban leader Mullah Omar concedes defeat and orders thousands of Taliban to retreat to Pakistan. Within a week, large sections of Afghanistan are abandoned by the Taliban. The Northern Alliance, however, does not have the means or the support to occupy those areas, and warlords take effective control of most of the country. On November 19, the New York Times reports, “The galaxy of warlords who tore Afghanistan apart in the early 1990s and who were vanquished by the Taliban because of their corruption and perfidy are back on their thrones, poised to exercise power in the ways they always have.” The warlords all claim some form of loyalty to the Northern Alliance, but some of the same warlords had previously been allied with the Taliban and bin Laden. For instance, the new ruler of Jalalabad let bin Laden move from Sudan to Jalalabad in 1996. [New York Times, 11/15/2001; Guardian, 11/15/2001; New York Times, 11/19/2001] For the next few weeks, there is widespread “chaos, rape, murder, and pillaging” in most of Afghanistan as old scores are settled. The Western media does little reporting on the brutality of the situation. [Observer, 12/2/2001] The central Afghanistan government will later officially confirm the warlords’ positions with governor and minister titles (see June 20, 2002). In late 2005, it will be reported that warlords generally still retain their positions and power, even after regional elections. [Independent, 10/8/2005] The US made a conscious decision shortly after 9/11 not to allow peacekeepers outside of the capital city of Kabul, creating a power vacuum that was filled by the warlords (see Late 2001). Further, in some cases the US military facilitates the return of former warlords. For instance, Gul Agha Sherzai ruled the Kandahar area in the early 1990s; his rule was notorious for bribery, extortion, drug dealing, and widespread theft. Yet the US arms his militia and US Special Forces personally escort him back to Kandahar, and he will become governor of Kandahar province. [New York Times, 1/6/2002; GlobalSecurity (.org), 4/27/2005] In 2003, Jane’s Terrorism and Security Monitor will look back at the US decisions in late 2001 and opine, “Perhaps the most serious tactical error was the restoration of warlords in Afghanistan. The common people were disaffected by the proteges and stooges of foreign occupiers who had carved Afghanistan into fiefdoms. Most or all of them were driven out by the Taliban and Pakistan and the remainder were on the verge of collapse or on the run.… US forces brought the warlords back, arming, financing and guiding them back to their lost thrones.” [Jane's Terrorism and Security Monitor, 2/24/2003] Journalist Kathy Gannon will later write, “At the heart of these misguided machinations was Zalmay Khalilzad, the US president’s hand-picked envoy to Afghanistan, who choreographed the early US decisions” in the country. [Gannon, 2005, pp. 113]

Entity Tags: Bush administration (43), Gul Agha Sherzai, Taliban, Mullah Omar, Zalmay M. Khalilzad, Northern Alliance

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

James Dobbins, the Bush Administration’s special envoy for Afghanistan, later will say that three decisions in late 2001 “really shaped” the future of Afghanistan. “One was that US forces were not going to do peacekeeping of any sort, under any circumstances. They would remain available to hunt down Osama bin Laden and find renegade Taliban, but they were not going to have any role in providing security for the country at large. The second was that we would oppose anybody else playing this role outside Kabul. And this was at a time when there was a good deal of interest from other countries in doing so.” The main reason for this is because it is felt this would tie up more US resources as well, for instance US airlifts to drop supplies. The third decision is that US forces would not engage in any counter-narcotics activities. The Atlantic Monthly will later note, “One effect these policies had was to prolong the disorder in Afghanistan and increase the odds against a stable government. The absence of American or international peacekeepers guaranteed that the writ of the new [Hamid] Karzai government would extend, at best, to Kabul itself.” [Atlantic Monthly, 10/2004]

Entity Tags: Bush administration (43), Hamid Karzai, Taliban, Osama bin Laden

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, War in Afghanistan

The long-awaited loya jirga, or grand council, is concluded in Afghanistan. This council was supposed to be a traditional method for the Afghan people to select their leaders, but most experts conclude that the council is clearly rigged. [BBC, 8/1/2002] Half of the delegates walk out in protest. [CNN, 6/18/2002] One delegate states, “This is worse than our worst expectations. The warlords have been promoted and the professionals kicked out. Who calls this democracy?” Delegates complain, “This is interference by foreign countries,” obviously meaning the US. The New York Times publishes an article (“The Warlords Win in Kabul”) pointing out that the “very forces responsible for countless brutalities” in past governments are back in power. [New York Times, 6/21/2002]

Entity Tags: Afghanistan, United States

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, War in Afghanistan

Mullah Akhter Mohammed Osmani’s appearance on Pakistani television, June 15, 2005. Mullah Akhter Mohammed Osmani’s appearance on Pakistani television, June 15, 2005. [Source: Agence France-Presse]Mullah Akhter Mohammed Osmani, a senior Taliban commander, gives an interview on Pakistani television, and says Osama bin Laden is in good health and Mullah Omar remains in direct command of the Taliban. [Reuters, 6/18/2005] Several days later, US ambassador to Afghanistan Zalmay Khalilzad will criticize Pakistan, pointing out that if a TV station could get in contact with a top Taliban leader, Pakistani intelligence should be able to find them too (see June 18, 2005).

Entity Tags: Mullah Omar, Taliban, Mullah Akhter Mohammed Osmani, Osama bin Laden

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, War in Afghanistan

US ambassador to Afghanistan Zalmay Khalilzad criticizes Pakistan’s failure to act against Taliban leaders living in Pakistan. Mullah Akhter Mohammed Osmani, a senior Taliban commander, recently gave an interview on Pakistani television in which he said Osama bin Laden is in good health and Mullah Omar remains in direct command of the Taliban (see June 15, 2005). Khalilzad further points out that Taliban spokesman Abdul Latif Hakimi frequently gives interviews from the Pakistani city of Quetta, and asks, “If a TV station can get in touch with them, how can the intelligence service of a country, which has nuclear bombs and a lot of security and military forces, not find them?” [Reuters, 6/18/2005]

Entity Tags: Zalmay M. Khalilzad, Mullah Akhter Mohammed Osmani, Abdul Latif Hakimi, Pakistan Directorate for Inter-Services Intelligence

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, War in Afghanistan

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