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In his bid to recapture his seat, President Obama argued his case out on the premise that the US foreign policy would be revisited so as to disengage the US from constant military invasions. The campaign message had as a promise the priority of withdrawing the US military from Afghanistan following seizure and murder of bin Laden, an al-Qaeda leader. However, this promise will be the greatest challenge for President Obama to keep. This paper argues that the Afghanistan war was not merely a war against al-Qaeda terror group, but a war with a long history founded on the intention by the US to prove to its rivals and the world that it is the super-power in the international political system. The war in Afghanistan may thus continue beyond 2014 and the US troops might remain there for a prolonged duration.

Historical Background of the War in Afghanistan

The Soviet Invasion of 1979

Dating back to the 1950s, the USSR initiated programs to give aid to Afghanistan (Grasselli, 1996). They built roads, supported irrigation infrastructure, exploitation of oil, and development of pipelines in Afghanistan. The Afghanistan monarchial dynasty was consequently overthrown by the communist party paving way for the institution of social reforms. This move met a lot of resistance from the rural folks, women rights movements, and Islamic movements in the besieged Afghanistan (Kakar, 1997).

There is the school of thought that contends that the Soviets wanted to expand their influence in Asia, which was already under their control so as to shield it against the influence and powers of the West. Iran was also a threat and they wanted to secure their interests in Asia against Iran and other powerful countries from the West (Kakar, 1997). However, the immediate intention of the move was the need to preserve the communist government that had taken over and got established in the 1970s.

The onset of the war saw the Soviet bring over one hundred thousand soldiers who secured Kabul quickly and installed Babrak Karmal as the de-facto leader. This move was met with strong resistance in the countryside. The freedom fighters known as Mujahideen saw atheistic Soviets control Afghanistan in defiance to Islam as well as their traditional culture (Grasselli, 1996). Proclaiming jihad, this group benefited from the support of the Islamic world while the US gave them money and weapons. Kakar (1997) notes that the warriors used all the weapons, which they could steal from the Soviets or those they got from the US using decentralization tricks, and that the mujahidin were scattered across Afghanistan, thus proving to be very difficult for the Soviet to immediately stamp their authority.

American Response to the Afghanistan War

The advent of the Afghan war between the Soviets and the mujahideen attracted the support of the US partly because it was strategic. This war came towards the end of the cold war between the East and the West (Grasselli, 1996). Since the Soviets were great enemies to the US, the latter found it easy to support the mujahideen in the war against their enemies. Besides, the war coincided with the rise of radical Islamic terrorism that was largely supported by the USSR. Thus, the US was simply over-stretching their authority to pacify the terror groups that were linked to the USSR. As long as the mujahideen were not intending to launch terror attacks against the US and the world, it was safe to support their quest, which by this time was to clear their country from communist influence and rule.

The incursion of the Soviet into Afghanistan attracted the response and action of certain countries in the West to implicitly frustrate their efforts to support the establishment of a communist government and influence in Afghanistan. This included the US and the Anglo-American states. Grasselli (1996) asserts that immediately after the Soviet invasion, the US administration under Carter and Reagan launched a significant support and training activities for the Afghan freedom fighters that were fighting against the Soviet. This group had declared a jihad against the Soviet and the communist government. Besides the explicit and implicit funding, the mujahideen also benefited from a myriad of private “aid” agencies and intelligence with the view of empowering these resistant freedom fighters to liberate Afghanistan (Grasselli, 1996).

The source of the policy behind the support of the mujahideen was the British intelligence that mobilized the US Congress. The US thus set up conferences, launched pro-mujahideen propaganda campaigns and even military trainings for the mujahideen freedom fighters. The mujahideen forces consequently caused great casualties in the Soviet forces. Further, their tactics in war made the war very expensive and costly on the part of the Soviet Union. The communist government that the Soviet supported could not thus stably rule in Afghan and the influence of the East in was temporarily halted. With support from the US, the UK, Pakistan, Iran, China, and Saudi Arabia, it became evident that the Soviet was not to find the war very easy and to pacify the country of the Mujahideen rebel group. This insurgent military group was armed with Stinger missiles that enabled them to shoot down many of the Soviet gunships (Kakar, 1997). The mujahideen managed to drive out the Soviet troops from Afghan by 1989 giving room for the mujahideen rule.

Soviet Withdrawal from Afghanistan

The Soviet withdrew from Afghanistan in 1988-1989 (Katz, 2011). This withdrawal led to the fall of the communist regime that it was defending. However, this fall did not occur spontaneously since the Soviet continued to provide economic assistance. The Soviet withdrew from Afghanistan after the signing of the Geneva Accord for mutual relations and the need for non-interference between the states and peace international foreign relations built on the policy of non-intervention (Katz, 2011). The United States and the USSR that had also been historical adversaries also signed a declaration committing that they would keep off from military intervention and interference in Afghanistan (Hilali, 2005).

Although the Soviet army withdrew from Afghanistan, the country was less stable under the rebel mujahedeen since the support they received from friendly Pakistan and the United States was not forthcoming (Grasselli, 1996). The United States and other countries from the West that had offered support to Mujahedeen committed through the Geneva Accord to avoid at all costs any intervention or interference with the state of affairs in Afghanistan. Though in a dragging way, the Soviet finally effected its commitment to pull out from Afghanistan in 1989 (Hilali, 2005).

The Rise of the Taliban – (1994 – 2001)

Taliban is an Islamic extremist group that took power in Afghanistan in 1996 (Bajoria, 2011).  This group was initially part of the Mujahideen rebel group that resisted the invasion and influence of the Soviet Union in Afghanistan in the 1980s. The Taliban emerged strongly with the support from the Afghanistan government defections (Grasselli, 1996). This occurred in 1994 in the course of the civil war that pitted the forces in northern and southern Afghanistan against each other. Consequently, the extremist group gained territorial foothold in Kandahar and began to extend their influence in the next two years.

Initially, Taliban was a group of young students with little political influence and experience. Their significance in Afghanistan politics came as a result of support and guidance that that they received from mature governments including Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, and Gulf states among others (Hilali, 2005). These governments offered the group with trainings and financial support. Scholars contend ironically that Taliban was initially endorsed by the United States.

The United States is alleged to have supported the Taliban group after considering it as a stable group that could facilitate flow of Middle East oil to the West (Kakar, 1997). Although the United States government did not provide them with any weapons, they offered them sympathy since they were campaigning against Iran and Shiite at a time when the United States was coincidentally seeking allies in its confrontation with Iran. Besides, the US was seeking alternative pipeline routes from the Gulf that could be directly under the control of its allies. This objective collapsed with the entry of Osama bin Laden (Hilali, 2005). He was another extremist who used a lot of resources to support the Afghanistan war against the Soviets.

The entry of Osama bin Laden into Afghanistan marked the beginning of the impetus for the transformation and growth of the Taliban group and its ideology. He showered the group with a lot of money in exchange for safety. Thus, it is the advent of Osama bin Laden that saw the Taliban evolve to become a hostile Islamic radical group. This made the group become very brutal (Katz, 2011). They killed many civilians in Afghanistan, burnt many businesses, destroyed crops in the farms, villages, and even towns that it besieged and conquered. Due to the suffering in the hands of this extremist group, the civilians lost their loyalty to the civil government and instead became supportive of the Taliban movement.

Although the Taliban group managed to expand its influence in Afghanistan, it became hesitant to recruit native men into its high ranking positions. Instead, bin Laden launched recruitments from religious schools and political parties in Pakistan. Through heavy funding and training, bin Laden managed to attract Saudis and other Islamic extremists throughout the Middle East, Asia, and Africa (Hilali, 2005). The Taliban group had Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, and the United Arab Emirates as its main supporters. There were also assertions from the United States that the group was receiving military supply in terms of weapons such as deadly roadside bombs to Taliban to support its operation and resistance against the United States and other countries in the West.

September 11, 2001 and the American Invasion of Afghanistan

The September 11 attack was of four terrorism attacks that were coordinated by the Al-Qaeda, an Islamist terror group (Lippold, 2013). This attack was coordinated and affected the New York City and the Washington, D.C. Al-Qaeda extremists hijacked four passenger jets. The hijackers intended to fly the jets in suicide attacks in specified buildings. These led to the collapse of the targeted buildings such as World Trade Centre Complex in the New York City (Kakar, 1997). This led to the collapse of the South and the North towers of the building. Another plane crashed into the Pentagon building, which housed the headquarters of the US Department of Defense. Other planes targeted Washington, but crashed in Pennsylvania. The attack left almost 3000 people dead. These included 227 civilians and the hijackers who were on board in the planes. Al-Qaeda became the first suspect in the attacks.

At first Osama bin Laden denied the claims of their involvement, but later in 2004 claimed responsibility for the attacks on the US. The justification for the attack according to Laden was the fact that the United States was supporting Israel and the presence of troops of the US in Saudi Arabia. They also indicated that the attacks were motivated by the sanctions that the US had put against Iraq (Kakar, 1997). The al-Qaeda terror group thus wanted to caution the United States against their involvement in Iraq and the alleged support they gave to Israel against Afghanistan and Palestine.

The terror attacks on the US led to closure of stock market for four business days following the attacks. This was the first time the stock market was closed since the Great Depression in 1933. Consequently, the stock market only reopened on 17 September, 2001, leading to a fall of the market trading margins by 7.13%t. This was the worst one-day drop in the history of American stock market (Lippold, 2013). The attacks thus had significant economic implications in the United States and successfully leading to the onset of the 2001 economic recession.

The US Invasion of Afghanistan

The United States and Great Britain launched an invasion into Afghanistan on October 7, 2001 (McGrath, 2011). This invasion was a response to the terrorist attacks of 9/11. The rulers in Afghanistan who were known as the Taliban were working with the Al-Qaeda group and provided security for Osama bin Laden who had claimed that he was responsible for the terrorist attacks. This incursion into Afghanistan saw the United States receive support from other countries in terms of troops and other military support that could help pacify Afghanistan of the Taliban control (Sinno, 2008). Great Britain, Canada, Australia, Germany, and France all coalesced to wage war against the Afghanistan-based al-Qaeda and Taliban. The Bush administration had demanded that the Taliban leadership should either hand over Osama bin Laden or face the imminent attack by the United States. However, the Taliban leadership responded saying that they were willing and ready to try Osama bin Laden in the Supreme Court of Afghanistan if the United States provided factual evidence that he was involved in the 9/11 attacks on the United States (Sinno, 2008).  

The US attack dubbed “Operation Enduring Freedom” was founded on the need by the United States to dismantle al-Qaeda organization and destroy its base in Afghanistan. Further, the US intended to topple the regime led by the Taliban fundamentalists in Afghanistan. At the initial stages, the United States managed to topple Taliban government and rule in Kabul and other major towns in Afghanistan (Lippold, 2013). The United Nations Security Assistance Force (ISAF) was then established by the United Nations Security Council towards the end of the year 2001 as NATO became the de-facto leader in control of ISAF in the year 2003 (McGrath, 2011). The ISAF military team was comprised of troops from 42 countries, although the troops of NATO were the majority.

NATO and the US government made strides towards the establishment of a new government in Afghanistan (Meher, 2004). With the support of the United States and allied states, the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan was born with an interim government being instituted and run in an interim basis by Hamid Karzai after his election as the interim president in 2004. Although Taliban rule had been toppled and many of them had fled, the group started again an insurgency campaign and activities in the year 2003. Meher (2004) cited that the main target of the insurgents was the interim Afghan government and the ISAF troops that were occupying the entire Afghanistan. This increased with time and towards 2006 the group found it easy to exploit other opportunities and launch massive attacks in Afghanistan against the NATO troops and the ISAF. The United States responded by increasing the number of its soldiers in Afghanistan (Lippold, 2013).

In the year 2011, the NATO forces continued with their fierce pursuit on Taliban and al-Qaeda groups. The battle against the insurgents became even fiercer as the war shifted to the tribal areas in the North-West Pakistan neighborhood. This led to the killing of Osama bin Laden on 2 May, 2011. The killing of bin Laden was considered as the greatest step in the war against terrorism and defeat of al-Qaeda. Bin Laden was located at one of the compounds in Abbottabad in Pakistan (Lippold, 2013). A team of American soldiers carried out the operation with firefights leading to the killing of bin Laden. The cost of the invasion in Afghanistan was never easy leading to the death of tens of thousands of soldiers and innocent civilians. Besides, the resources that the United States has spent on the war are enormous (Meher, 2004).

In May 2012, leaders of the NATO-member states agreed to sign an exit strategy to withdraw NATO soldiers from Afghanistan. However, this withdrawal would not be instantaneous. The fragile negotiations continue as Jamid Karzai, the Afghan president, pushes for the pull out of the US troops from the country. Karzai seeks to expand control and influence on his country and is thus persuading the US and its allies to end their combat mission in Afghanistan by the end of the year 2014 (Lippold, 2013). On 20 March, 2013, NATO agreed to remove part of its team of commandos still operating in Kabul, the focus of counterinsurgency efforts in the recent past. The NATO commandos intend to hand over security details to the government forces in Wardak’s Nirkh district, which is considered to be the centre of allegations (Lippold, 2013). However, this move would only be selective as the US special operations forces in other provinces would continue as usual. The total withdrawal agreement will only be signed mutually after the confirmation that the Afghans would be able to take over security in the country.

Theoretical Framework of the War in Afghanistan

The war in Afghanistan raises several questions among scholars of international relations and foreign policy. Key among these is the problem of the level of analysis. The war in Afghanistan can thus be understood from different levels of analysis. However, the system level of analysis offers the best explanation.

System Level of Analysis and the War in Afghanistan

The system level of analysis is perhaps the closest to accuracy in terms of analysis of the war in Afghanistan (Burchill, 2013). This level of analysis puts much focus on state behavior in relation to the international system. The international system is thus considered as the cause while state behavior is the effect. The nature of the international system provokes states to behave the way they do. The power of the state within the international system is the key variable in this analysis. Whereas some states are powerful, others are weak.

The international system at the onset of the war between the Soviet and the mujahideen was the existence of the USSR and the US as two powerful states in a system that was bipolar then. The US thus supported the mujahideen against the Soviet to assert its authority against the Soviet. The Soviet Union then lost the war. However, during the US invasion into Afghanistan, the United States wanted to assert its authority as the world super-power. The message was clear that even though al-Qaeda had managed to attack the US, it was still the super power and had the machineries and all that it takes to launch war on terror against any state or terror group that threatens its security and that of the world (Burchill, 2013).

The war in Afghanistan was, to a large extent, shaped by the fact that the United States perceived itself as the super-power. This level of analysis thus better explains the reasons and circumstances of the attack in Afghanistan. The capture and killing of Osama bin Laden was thus a confirmation that the United States had successfully flexed its muscles to police Afghanistan and access its target that was a threat (Burchill, 2013). The system level of analysis explains why the US has also cautioned other countries and terror groups that sympathize and support al-Qaeda and other terror groups. Conclusively, the system level of analysis can be used to closely examine and understand the reasons for the laxity with which the US has heeded calls by the Afghan president to withdraw its troops from Afghanistan (Saikal, 2012). The US can only fully withdraw with certainty that al-Qaeda and Taliban groups will not re-emerge and launch counter-attacks against the United States and its allies (Saikal, 2012).

Classical Realism Theory and the Afghanistan War

This theory is founded on the argument that all states seek to acquire, maintain, or increase their power while decreasing the power and influence of their enemies (Dunne, Kurki, & Smith, 2007). Other powerful states or groups are considered as enemies because power in the hands of rival players is considered to be a threat. Dunne, Kurki, & Smith (2007) assert that peace can only exist if a state thinks that it cannot win a war if it has launched one. This theory is embedded in the assumption that international politics occurs in a state of anarchy with the main actors being the sovereign states that do not recognize any other higher political power over it.

The assumption of the classical realism theory explains the war in Afghanistan. During the Soviet invasion, the United States supported the mujahideen against the Soviet since they considered the USSR and the communists as their rivals in terms of power. The war in Afghanistan against the Taliban and al-Qaeda terror groups was thus considered by the United States as an opportunity to prove Afghanistan and the rest of the world that even though the terror-groups were operating in another country, they were not beyond the reach, control and extermination by the United States (Dunne, Kurki, & Smith, 2007).  This explains the confidence the US had in moving the NATO troops into Afghanistan and sustaining their search for al-Qaeda leadership for almost a decade in Afghanistan. Besides, the war on the al-Qaeda terror group and the consequent capture and killing of Osama bin Laden was a proof of America that it was the super-power since it managed to topple the operations of al-Qaeda in Afghanistan.

Neo-realism Theory and the Afghanistan War

The proponents of this approach argue that states operate within a system that is characteristically anarchical. In order to balance existence in this system, countries must seek ways of enhancing their survival and not exercising their power (Dunne, Kurki, & Smith, 2007). States will therefore only indulge in war if they consider such a move essential to their survival and pursue peace when that option suits them. The onset of the war against al-Qaeda in Afghanistan can thus be understood in the context of the need by the United States to preserve its image and survival following the rising threat of the al-Qaeda and other terror groups. The 9/11 attack is thus considered as an attack on the sovereignty and freedom of the American people (Sabahuddin, 2008). United States thus sought to build its image as a first world country and to secure its borders from any external and internal attacks that could have severe impact on their economy and security. The arrest and murder of Osama bin Laden is thus a proof of U.S ability to protect its sovereignty, economic and political survival.


The history of the war in Afghanistan is founded on America’s deliberate intention to prove the world that it remains to be the super-power and that it shapes the politics and policies of other players in the international system. Although President Obama has expressed his intention to disengage from the state of the war in Afghanistan and withdraw the US troops by 2014, this might take relatively longer. There are several factors that will determine such a move. This includes the state of things in Afghanistan. The re-insurgence of the Taliban and al-Qaeda may make the US to sustain its operations longer. Besides, the United States will always seek for opportunities to demonstrate the world states that it is the super-power. Any state or group that is perceived to be a threat to this state must thus be hit by the American forces.  The system level of analysis and the classical realism theory therefore justifiably support the thesis that the Afghanistan war is far from over as long as the international system remains as it is since the US will forever flex its muscles to any groups or states that appear to challenge its power and influence in the international system. 

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