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Context of 'Late 2001: US Opposes Peacekeeping and Counter-narcotics in 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

Afghan President Hamid Karzai says that Osama bin Laden is “probably” dead, but former Taliban leader Mullah Omar is alive. Karzai makes the comments in a CNN interview on the eve of the anniversary of the start of the US-led military campaign in Afghanistan. “I would come to believe that [bin Laden] probably is dead,” Karzai says. “But still, you never know. He might be alive. Five months ago, six months ago, I was thinking that he was alive. The more we don’t hear of him, and the more time passes, there is the likelihood that he probably is either dead or seriously wounded somewhere.” However, Mullah Omar is alive. “We know of that,” he says. “And we have come close to arresting him several times, but he’s been able to escape.” Karzai adds: “I believe he is most of the time inside Afghanistan. He could go, from time to time, toward our borders, but he stays around the Afghan area, sometimes close to the borders.” [CNN, 10/6/2002]

Entity Tags: Mullah Omar, Al-Qaeda, Hamid Karzai, Taliban, Osama bin Laden

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

A US military newspaper reports that continued resurgence of the Taliban has led residents in Kabul to surmise that the US is supporting the Taliban. US support for the Taliban is “virtually ubiquitous” in Kabul, according to Stars and Stripes. “Now we think America is supporting both the Taliban and the Afghan government. That’s what everyone says,” states Kabul shopkeeper Qand Mohmadi. “We don’t know for sure why they are doing it,” says real estate broker Daoud Zadran. “Politics is bigger than our thoughts. But maybe America wants to build up the Taliban so they have an excuse to remain in Afghanistan because of the Iranian issue.” Stars and Stripes also reports that many residents suspect that the US and Western companies are colluding with Afghan officials to pilfer the economy. [Stars and Stripes, 2/15/2009]
National Opinion Survey Reveals Public Alarm, Plummeting Confidence - A public opinion survey conducted by ABC News, the BBC, and the German TV station ARD finds plummeting public confidence in and support for the Afghan government and its Western allies. Just 40 percent of those surveyed say they feel the country is heading in the right direction, down from 77 percent in 2005. Approval of overall US efforts in Afghanistan is only 32 percent, compared to 68 percent three years ago. The poll also shows falling support for the government of Afghan President Hamid Karzai. In 2005, 80 percent of Afghans said they supported the Karzai regime, but just 49 percent say the same thing today. In addition to corruption and complaints about food, fuel, and the economy, the resurgence of the Taliban is a key element of the public’s alarm: 58 percent of Afghans see the Taliban as the biggest danger to the country. 43 percent say the Taliban have grown stronger in the past year in comparison to 24 percent who think the movement has weakened. [ABC News, 2/9/2009]
Police Chief Doubts Veracity of Public Suspicions - One district police chief in Kabul expresses frustration with American efforts, but finds it hard to believe that the US is supporting the Taliban. “People see that America is so strong and they wonder—why can’t it wipe out the Taliban?” says Col. Najeeb Ullah Samsour, adding that he does not personally think the US is supporting the insurgents. “People are saying that for six or seven years we have all these international troops, but everything is getting worse… security, the economy, everything. So they think America must be supporting the Taliban.”
Osama bin Laden - “This government is so corrupt that if Osama bin Laden and Mullah Omar were crossing the street together right outside, no one would call the police because they know the police would just take a bribe to let them go,” says resident Habib Rahman. “A lot of people say that Osama is really from America,” according to Nasrallah Wazidi. “They say he’s just playing a role like a movie star.” [Stars and Stripes, 2/15/2009]

Entity Tags: Osama bin Laden, Afghan Government, Mullah Omar, North Atlantic Treaty Organization, Taliban, Najeeb Ullah Samsour, United States

Timeline Tags: War in Afghanistan

Saudi Prince Turki al-Faisal, former intelligence chief and ambassador to Washington (see May 1998), recommends the Obama administration emulate earlier administrations and work with insurgent leader Jalaluddin Haqqani, a key Pakistan-based Taliban ally who has had ties to the ISI, CIA, and Osama bin Laden (see Early October 2001). Haqqani is “someone who could be reached out to… to negotiate and bring [the Taliban] into the fold,” Prince Turki tells a group of government and business leaders and journalists over a dinner in Washington organized by blogger Steve Clemons. Haqqani is thought to be behind recent suicide attacks in Afghanistan, and is suspected to have been behind the attempted assassination of Hamid Karzai (see April 27, 2008). Brent Scowcroft, national security adviser to President Gerald Ford and President George H. W. Bush, also urges the US to negotiate with some members of the Taliban in Afghanistan and Pakistan in remarks following Prince Turki’s. [Washington Times, 4/27/2009]

Entity Tags: Jalaluddin Haqqani, Turki al-Faisal, Taliban, Obama administration, Brent Scowcroft

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, War in Afghanistan

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