A timeline of what went wrong as Taliban reclaims Afghanistan after 20 years

President Biden grilled on USA's withdrawal from Afghanistan

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On Sunday, Afghanistan’s capital of Kabul fell to the Taliban, meaning the group is now back in control of the country for the first time in 20 years. The UK and the US are now completing their evacuations, leaving America’s “longest war” behind. How did the US military involvement in Afghanistan begin?

2001: The start of the conflict

In 2001, the Taliban had been in control in Afghanistan for five years.

Under Taliban rule, Afghanistan had become a haven for terrorist groups, including Al-Qaeda.

From Afghanistan, Al-Qaeda planned the 9/11 attacks – the deadliest terrorist attacks in American history which killed almost 3,000 people.

Al-Qaeda terrorists hijacked four commercial flights, and two of the planes were crashed into the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center in New York.

The US ordered the Taliban to turn in Al-Qaeda’s leader, Osama bin Laden. The request was refused.

With British support, the US began its bombing campaign against the Taliban in Afghanistan in October 2001.

The first British troops were deployed to Afghanistan in November 2001.

Bin Laden was tracked down to a cave complex near Kabul, but he managed to escape.

In December 2001, major Afghan groups were invited to a conference in Germany to set up an interim government in Afghanistan.

Hamid Karzai was sworn in as head of the interim administration, and the Taliban were overrun.

2002 to 2006: Developments in Afghanistan

From 2002, the US worked to establish an Afghan government.

In 2004, 502 Afghan delegates agreed on a constitution for Afghanistan.

Hamid Karzai went on to win Afghanistan’s presidential election in 2004, and the first parliamentary election took place in 30 years in 2005.

But violence in Afghanistan begins to increase during the summer months of 2006.

In October 2006, NATO assumed responsibility for security across the whole of Afghanistan.

In 2008, President George W. Bush sent an extra 4,500 US troops to Afghanistan before his tenure as president ended.

2009 to 2011: The Obama administration

Newly-elected President Barack Obama announced that 17,000 US troops would be sent to Afghanistan in 2009.

In Afghanistan, Mr Karzai won another presidential election held in August 2009.

Mr Obama unveiled a new strategy for Afghanistan and Pakistan, stating in 2009: “So I want the American people to understand that we have a clear and focused goal: to disrupt, dismantle and defeat al Qaeda in Pakistan and Afghanistan, and to prevent their return to either country in the future. That’s the goal that must be achieved.”

And at the end of 2009, Mr Obama increased US troop presence in Afghanistan to some 100,000, stating US forces would start to withdraw from the country by 2011.

In February 2010, NATO-led forces began their offensive known as Operation Moshtarak to secure control of southern Helmand province in Afghanistan.

Then in November 2010, NATO countries agreed to hand over responsibility for Afghanistan’s security to Afghan forces by the end of 2014.

In May 2011, Osama bin Laden was killed by US forces in Pakistan.

In the same year, Mr Obama faced significant pressure in the US to start withdrawing troops from Afghanistan.

In December 2011, at least 58 people died in attacks at a Shia shrine in Kabul and a Shia mosque in Mazar-i-Sharif.

The Taliban and Pakistan did not attend a conference in Bonn, Germany, on the future of Afghanistan.

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2012 to 2018: The emergence of IS

In 2013, the Afghan army took command of all the military operations under NATO forces.

And in 2014, both the US and Britain ended combat operations in Afghanistan.

The Islamic State (IS) group captured Taliban-controlled areas in Nangarhar province in 2015.

In March 2015, Mr Obama announced the planned withdrawal of troops from Afghanistan would be delayed.

In September 2015, the Taliban gained significant momentum, regaining the northern city of Kunduz for a brief time.

In 2017, the Islamic State group increased its activity in some northern and southern provinces of Afghanistan.

IS attacks on a military hospital in the Afghan capital of Kabul in March 2017 saw 30 people killed and several others injured.

Newly elected President Donald Trump announced plans to send more troops to Afghanistan in August 2017.

During this period, the Taliban brought several areas under its control.

2018 to present: Afghanistan returns to Taliban control

The Taliban carried out several terror attacks in 2018, including attacks in Kabul that killed more than 115 people.

Lengthy ongoing peace talks between the US and the Taliban broke down in 2019.

But in Doha, Qatar, the Taliban and the US reached a deal in February 2020.

The deal agreed that the US would withdraw from Afghanistan, while the Taliban agreed the country would not be used as a haven for terrorist groups.

The newly elected President, Joe Biden, announced in April 2021 that all troops would leave Afghanistan by September 2021.

As the US and allied forces prepared to leave Afghanistan, the Taliban gained momentum in the months leading up to August 2021.

The Taliban succeeded in reclaiming back swathes of territories, before eventually claiming the Afghan capital of Kabul on August 15, 2021.

What’s next for Afghanistan?

The US and allied forces are currently scrambling to withdraw remaining personnel and evacuees from Afghanistan.

After 20 years of presence in the region, the failure to prevent the Taliban from regaining control of Afghanistan has significant global scrutiny for the US and its allies.

So what could this mean for America’s future foreign policy?

Dr Sean Fear, a lecturer in International History at the University of Leeds, said: “Although it is still too early to do much more than speculate, the United States’ humiliating withdrawal after 20 years of conflict in Afghanistan, as well as in Libya and Iraq, will likely further dampen American public enthusiasm for overseas military intervention.

“The United States will continue to play an aggressive role intervening overseas to pursue its interests, but the use of drone warfare, clandestine special forces units and private military contractors to obscure foreign policy from public scrutiny seems likely to accelerate.

“However, the rapid and shambolic collapse of the Afghan state combined with American inability or disinterest in guaranteeing the safety of Afghan partners and their families has weakened American strategic credibility and moral authority, even if few heads of state regarded an indefinite American military presence in Afghanistan as plausible.”

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