Qioptiq logo Raytheon

The War in Afghanistan from 7 October 2001 to 28 December 2014


U.S. invasion of Afghanistan

The United States invasion of Afghanistan occurred after the September 11 attacks in late 2001, supported by allies including the United Kingdom.

U.S. President George W. Bush demanded that the Taliban hand over Osama bin Laden and expel al-Qaeda from Afghanistan. The Taliban declined to extradite him unless the United States provided convincing evidence of his involvement in the 9/11 attacks. They ignored U.S. demands to shut down terrorist bases and hand over other terrorist suspects. The request for proof of bin Laden’s involvement was dismissed by the U.S. as a meaningless delaying tactic.

The U.S. officially launched Operation Enduring Freedom on 7 October 2001 with the assistance of the United Kingdom. The U.S. and its allies drove the Taliban from power and built military bases near major cities across the country. Most al-Qaeda and Taliban were not captured, escaping to neighboring Pakistan or retreating to rural or remote mountainous regions.

On 20 December 2001, the United Nations authorized an International Security Assistance Force (ISAF), with a mandate to help the Afghans maintain security in Kabul and surrounding areas. It was initially established from the headquarters of the British 3rd Mechanised Division under Major General John McColl, and for its first years numbered no more that 5,000. Its mandate did not extend beyond the Kabul area for the first few years. Eighteen countries were contributing to the force in February 2002.

At the Bonn Conference in December 2001, Hamid Karzai was selected to head the Afghan Interim Administration, which after a 2002 loya jirga in Kabul became the Afghan Transitional Administration. In thepopular elections of 2004, Karzai was elected president of the country, now named the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan.

After evading coalition forces throughout mid-2002, Taliban remnants gradually regained confidence and prepared to launch the Taliban insurgency that Omar had promised.   Small mobile training camps were established along the border to train recruits in guerrilla warfare. Most were drawn from tribal area madrassas in Pakistan. To coordinate the strategy, Omar named a 10-man leadership council, with himself as its leader. Five operational zones were assigned to Taliban commanders such as Dadullah, who took charge in Zabul province.

On 11 August 2003, NATO assumed control of ISAF.  On 31 July 2006, ISAF assumed command of the south of the country, and by 5 October 2006, of the east. Once this transition had taken place, ISAF grew to a large coalition involving up to 46 countries, under a U.S. commander.

2006: Southern Afghanistan

dorpic1From January 2006, a multinational ISAF contingent started to replace U.S. troops in southern Afghanistan. The British 16th Air Assault Brigade (later reinforced by Royal Marines) formed the core of the force, along with troops and helicopters from Australia, Canada and the Netherlands. The initial force consisted of roughly 3,300 British, 2,300 Canadian, 1,963 Dutch, 300 Australian, 290 Danish and 150 Estonian troops. Air support was provided by U.S., British, Dutch, Norwegian and French combat aircraft and helicopters.

In January 2006, NATO’s focus in southern Afghanistan was to form Provincial Reconstruction Teams with the British leading in Helmand while the Netherlands and Canada would lead similar deployments in Orūzgān and Kandahar, respectively. Local Taliban figures pledged to resist.

Southern Afghanistan faced in 2006 the deadliest violence since the Taliban’s fall. NATO operations were led by British, Canadian and Dutch commanders. Operation Mountain Thrust was launched on 17 May 2006, with. In July, Canadian Forces, supported by U.S., British, Dutch and Danish forces, launched Operation Medusa.

A combined force of Dutch and Australians launched a successful offensive between late April to mid July 2006 to push the Taliban out of the Chora and Baluchi areas.

On 18 September 2006 Italian special forces of Task Force 45 and airborne troopers of the ‘Trieste’ infantry regiment of the Rapid Reaction Corps composed of Italian and Spanish forces, took part in ‘Wyconda Pincer’ operation in the districts of Bala Buluk and Pusht-i-Rod, in Farah province.

Further NATO operations included the Battle of Panjwaii, Operation Mountain Fury and Operation Falcon Summit. NATO achieved tactical victories and area denial, but the Taliban were not completely defeated. NATO operations continued into 2007.

2007: Coalition offensive

In January and February 2007, British Royal Marines mounted Operation Volcano to clear insurgents from firing-points in the village of Barikju, north of Kajaki.  The UK MoD announced its intention to bring British troop levels in the country up to 7,700 (committed until 2009). Further operations, such as Operation Silver and Operation Silicon, took place to keep up the pressure on the Taliban in the hope of blunting their expected spring offensive.

In February 2007, Combined Forces Command Afghanistan was inactivated. Combined Joint Task Force 76, a two-star U.S. command headquartered on Bagram Airfield, assumed responsibility as the National Command Element for U.S. forces in Afghanistan. Combined Security Transition Command-Afghanistan, or CSTC-A, the other two-star U.S. command, was charged with training and mentoring the Afghan National Security Forces.

Later in March 2007, the US added more than 3,500 troops.

During the summer, NATO forces achieved tactical victories at the Battle of Chora in Orūzgān, where Dutch and Australian ISAF forces were deployed.

Western officials and analysts estimated the strength of Taliban forces at about 10,000 fighters fielded at any given time. Of that number, only 2,000 to 3,000 were highly motivated, full-time insurgents. The rest were part-timers, made up of alienated, young Afghans, angered by bombing raids or responding to payment. In 2007, more foreign fighters came from Pakistan, Uzbekistan, Chechnya, various Arab countries and perhaps even Turkey and western China.

Reassessment and renewed commitment from 2008

Admiral Mike Mullen, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said that while the situation in Afghanistan is “precarious and urgent, the 10,000 additional troops needed there would be unavailable “in any significant manner” unless withdrawals from Iraq are made. The priority was Iraq first, Afghanistan second.

In the first five months of 2008, the number of U.S. troops in Afghanistan increased by over 80% with a surge of 21,643 more troops, bringing the total from 26,607 in January to 48,250 in June. In September 2008, President Bush announced the withdrawal of over 8,000 from Iraq and a further increase of up to 4,500 in Afghanistan.

In June 2008, British prime minister Gordon Brown announced the number of British troops serving in Afghanistan would increase to 8,030 – a rise of 230. The same month, the UK lost its 100th serviceman.

Late August saw one of NATO’s largest operations in Helmand, Operation Eagle’s Summit, aiming to bring electricity to the region. On 3 September, commandos, believed to be U.S. Army Special Forces, landed by helicopter and attacked three houses close to a known enemy stronghold in Pakistan. The attack killed between seven and twenty people. Pakistan condemned the attack, calling the incursion “a gross violation of Pakistan’s territory.

On 6 September, in an apparent reaction, Pakistan announced an indefinite disconnection of supply lines.

On 11 September, militants killed two U.S. troops in the east. This brought the total number of U.S. losses to 113, more than in any prior year. Several European countries set their own records, particularly the UK, who suffered 108 casualties.

Issues with Pakistan

An unnamed senior Pentagon official told the BBC that at some point between 12 July and 12 September 2008, President Bush issued a classified order authorizing raids against militants in Pakistan. Pakistan said it would not allow foreign forces onto its territory and that it would vigorously protect its sovereignty. In September, the Pakistan military stated that it had issued orders to “open fire” on U.S. soldiers who crossed the border in pursuit of militant forces.

On 25 September 2008, Pakistani troops fired on ISAF helicopters. However, despite tensions, the U.S. increased the use of remotely piloted drone aircraft in Pakistan’s border regions, in particular the Federally Administered Tribal Regions (FATA) and Balochistan; as of early 2009, drone attacks were up 183% since 2006.

By the end of 2008, the Taliban apparently had severed remaining ties with al-Qaeda. In a meeting with General Stanley McChrystal, Pakistani military officials urged international forces to remain on the Afghan side of the border and prevent militants from fleeing into Pakistan. Pakistan noted that it had deployed 140,000 soldiers on its side of the border to address militant activities, while the coalition had only 100,000 soldiers to police the Afghanistan side.

2009: Southern AfghanistanIncrease in U.S. troops

dorpic2In mid-February, it was announced that 17,000 additional troops would be deployed in two brigades and support troops; the 2nd Marine Expeditionary Brigade of about 3,500 and the 5th Brigade, 2nd Infantry Division, a Stryker Brigade with about 4,000.ISAF commander General David McKiernan had called for as many as 30,000 additional troops, effectively doubling the number of troops. On 23 September, a classified assessment by General McChrystal included his conclusion that a successful counterinsurgency strategy would require 500,000 troops and five years.

On 26 November, Karzai made a public plea for direct negotiations with the Taliban leadership. Karzai said there is an “urgent need” for negotiations and made it clear that the Obama administration had opposed such talks. There was no formal US response. On 1 December, Obama announced that the U.S. would send 30,000 more troops.

Operation Khanjar and Operation Panther’s Claw

On 25 June US officials announced the launch of Operation Khanjar (‘strike of the sword’). About 4000 U.S. Marines from the 2nd Marine Expeditionary Brigade and 650 Afghan soldiers participated. Khanjar followed a British-led operation named Operation Panther’s Claw in the same region. Officials called it the Marines’ largest operation since the 2004 invasion of Fallujah, Iraq. Operation Panther’s Claw was aimed to secure various canal and river crossings to establish a long-term ISAF presence.

Taliban gains

The Taliban’s claim that the over 135 violet incidents disrupting elections was largely disputed. The chief observer of the European Union election mission, General Philippe Morillon, said the election was “generally fair” but “not free. After Karzai’s alleged win of 54 per cent, which would prevent a runoff, over 400,000 Karzai votes had to be disallowed after accusations of fraud. Some nations criticized the elections as “free but not fair.

2010: American–British offensive and Afghan peace initiative

Karzai started peace talks with Haqqani network groups in March 2010, and there were other peace initiatives including the Afghan Peace Jirga 2010. Beginning in May 2010 NATO special forces began to concentrate on operations to capture or kill specific Taliban leaders. As of March 2011, the U.S. military claimed that the effort had resulted in the capture or killing of more than 900 low- to mid-level Taliban commanders. Overall, 2010 saw the most insurgent attacks of any year since the war began, peaking in September at more than 1,500.

Troop surge

Deployment of additional U.S. troops continued in early 2010, with 9,000 of the planned 30,000 in place before the end of March and another 18,000 expected by June, with the 101st Airborne Division as the main source. U.S. troops in Afghanistan outnumbered those in Iraq for the first time since 2003.

The CIA, following a request by General McChrystal, planned to increase teams of operatives, including elite SAD officers, with U.S. military special operations forces. The CIA also increased its campaign using Hellfire missile strikes on Al-Qaeda in Pakistan.

The CIA created Counter-terrorism Pursuit Teams (CTPT) staffed by Afghans at the war’s beginning. This force grew to over 3,000 by 2010 and was considered one of the “best Afghan fighting forces.

2011: U.S. and NATO drawdown

binladenDeath of Osama bin Laden

In 2 May U.S. officials announced that al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden had been killed in Operation Neptune Spear, conducted by the CIA and U.S. Navy SEALs, in Pakistan.


On 22 June President Obama announced that 10,000 troops would be withdrawn by the end of 2011 and an additional 23,000 troops would return by the summer of 2012. After the withdrawal of 10,000 U.S. troops, only 80,000 remained. In July 2011 Canada withdrew its combat troops, transitioning to a training role.

Following suit, other NATO countries announced troop reductions. The United Kingdom stated that it would gradually withdraw its troops, however it did not specify numbers or dates. France announced that it would withdraw roughly 1,000 soldiers by the end of 2012, with 3,000 soldiers remaining. Hundreds would come back at the end of 2011 and in the beginning of 2012, when the Afghan National Army took control of Surobi district. The remaining troops would continue to operate in Kapisa. Their complete withdrawal was expected by the end of 2014 or earlier given adequate security.

Belgium announced that half of their force would withdraw starting in January 2012. Norway announced it had started a withdrawal of its near 500 troops and would be completely out by 2014. Equally, the Spanish Prime Minister announced the withdrawal of troops beginning in 2012, including up to 40 percent by the end of the first half of 2013, and complete withdrawal by 2014.

2012 -13: Strategic Agreement

Taliban attacks continued at the same rate as they did in 2011, around 28,000 attacks. In September 2012, the surge of American personnel that began in late 2009 ended.

On 2 May 2012, Presidents Karzai and Obama signed a strategic partnership agreement between the two countries, after the US president had arrived unannounced in Kabul on the first anniversary of Osama bin Laden’s death. The U.S.-Afghanistan Strategic Partnership Agreement, officially entitled the ‘Enduring Strategic Partnership Agreement between the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan and the United States of America’, provided the long-term framework for the two countries’ relationship after the drawdown of U.S. forces. The Strategic Partnership Agreement went into effect on 4 July 2012, according to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on 8 July 2012 at the Tokyo Conference on Afghanistan. On 7 July 2012, as part of the agreement, the U.S. designated Afghanistan a major non-NATO ally after Karzai and Clinton met in Kabul. On 11 November 2012, as part of the agreement, the two countries launched negotiations for a bilateral security agreement.

 On 21 May 2012 the leaders of NATO-member countries endorsed an exit strategy during the NATO Summit. ISAF Forces would transfer command of all combat missions to Afghan forces by the middle of 2013, while shifting from combat to advising, training and assisting Afghan security forces. Most of the 130,000 ISAF troops would depart by the end of December 2014. A new NATO mission would then assume the support role.

Karzai–Obama meeting

Karzai visited the U.S. in January 2012. At the time the U.S. Government stated its openness to withdrawing all of its troops by the end of 2014. On 11 January 2012 Karzai and Obama agreed to transfer combat operations from NATO to Afghan forces by spring 2013 rather than summer 2013.  On 18 June 2013 the transfer of security responsibilities was completed. The last step was to transfer control of 95 remaining districts.

2014: Withdrawal continues

On 27 May 2014, President Barack Obama announced that U.S. combat operations in Afghanistan would end in December 2014 . 9,800 troops were to remain, training Afghan security forces and supporting counterterrorism operations against remnants of al-Qaeda.

After 13 years Britain and the United States officially ended their combat operation in Afghanistan on October 26, 2014. On that day Britain handed over its last base in Afghanistan, Camp Bastion, while the United States handed over its last base, Camp Leatherneck, to Afghan forces. The final phase of the UK’s combat operations in Afghanistan, known as Operation Herrick, came to an end on 31 December 2014.

On 28 December 2014 NATO officially ended combat operations in a ceremony held in Kabul. Continued operations by United States forces within Afghanistan continue under the name Operation Freedom’s Sentinel; this was joined by a new NATO mission under the name of Operation Resolute Support. Operation Resolute Support, will involve 28 NATO nations, 14 partner nations, eleven thousand American troops, and eight hundred fifty German troops.

As of 2015, tens of thousands of people have been killed in the war. Over 4,000 ISAF soldiers and civilian contractors as well as over 15,000 Afghan national security forces members have been killed, as well as nearly 20 thousand civilians. In October 2014, British forces handed over the last bases in Helmand to the Afghan military, officially ending their combat operations in the war. The war in Afghanistan is the second longest war in United States history.

British casualties in Afghanistan

For the period 7 October 2001 to 31 December 2014

Centrally available records show that:

  • 2,188 UK military and civilian personnel were admitted to UK field hospitals and categorised as Wounded in Action.
  • 5,255 UK military and civilian personnel were admitted to UK field hospitals for disease or non-battle injuries.
  • 306 UK personnel were categorised as Very Seriously Injured from all causes excluding disease.
  • 310 UK personnel were categorised as Seriously Injured from all causes excluding disease.
  • 7,400 aeromedical evacuations have taken place for UK military and civilian personnel injured or ill in Afghanistan.

(Sources: UK MoD; Wikipedia)

Paintings Exhibited in this Feature by Arabella Dorman

Arabella Dorman was accredited by the MoD as an official war artist with British forces in Afghanistan. The specific brief however came down to each regiment that Arabella was with in theatre but was largely just that of documenting a visual record of what was going on with a view to painting paintings to commemorate our operations in Afghanistan. Sometimes working in body armour on the front line she calmly drew and painted the actions of the soldiers in the front line.

Before the Dawn – An Artist’s Journey through Afghanistan – opened in November 2014, at a time of national remembrance and reflection as British forces marked an end to combat operations in Afghanistan. This major exhibitionwas a response to the unfolding narrative that Arabella witnessed during several journeys to Afghanistan over the previous five years, both as an embedded war artist and as an independent traveller.

The exhibition was sponsored by a young Afghan entrepreneur, Mirwais Alizai, founder, CEO and President of international ICT company GTR, who was born in Helmand province and has a deep personal commitment to the prosperity and representation of his country and culture.

The exhibition reached 720 million people through print and broadcast media. Arabella worked in partnership withAfghanaid and Walking With The Wounded raising over £30,000 through a series of fundraising events during the exhibition.


Back to article list