On Tuesday September 11th, 2001 at about 8:45AM Eastern Daylight Time, a commercial airplane (American Airlines flight 11) which had been hijacked by members of Al-Qaeda crashed into one of the towers of the World Trade Center in New York. Eighteen minutes later, the other tower was hit by another plane (United Airlines flight 175) and at around 10:00AM reports were emerging that a plane had crashed into the Pentagon (American Airlines flight 77). Over Somerset County, PA, Todd Beamer cried "Let's roll!" and with other passengers overpowered the hijackers and forced another plane (United Airlines flight 93) into a crash-landing. It has been speculated that this plane was headed for the White House.
Inside the buildings, citizens of eighty nations perished. But the American public felt the pain most of all, and George W. Bush soon declared that "freedom itself is under attack." Addressing a Joint Session of Congress on September 20, 2001, President Bush began to make the case for war against Afghanistan, which at the time was ruled by the Taliban. That day, the United States of America made the following demands to the Taliban:
"Deliver to United States authorities all the leaders of al-Qaeda who
hide in your land."
"Release all foreign nationals -- including American citizens -- you
have unjustly imprisoned, and protect foreign journalists, diplomats,
and aid workers in your country."
"Close immediately and permanently every terrorist training camp in
Afghanistan and hand over every terrorist, and every person in their
support structure, to appropriate authorities."
"Give the United States full access to terrorist training camps, so we
can make sure they are no longer operating."
The cause for war against Afghanistan was of course that they hosted Osama bin Laden and his network of terrorist training camps in the country (six of which had been bombed in Afghanistan and Sudan in Operation Infinite Reach, of which more in its node). Bush also mentioned the other organizations "Egyptian Islamic Jihad and the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan" which al-Qaeda was, he said, linked to.
The Taliban failed to respond positively to the U.S. demands, and on October 7, 2001, President Bush addressed the United States to announce that military action would commence. Interestingly, Bush was already starting to talk about the wider war on terrorism and define the Bush doctrine, with comments such as -
"Today we focus on Afghanistan, but the battle is broader. Every nation has a choice to make. In this conflict, there is no neutral ground. If any government sponsors the outlaws and killers of innocents, they have become outlaws and murderers, themselves. And they will take that lonely path at their own peril."
Whilst the war on Afghanistan could hardly be described as pre-emptive, this "with us or against us" attitude is what led to the Bush Doctrine and the neo-conservative definition of World War IV. States sponsoring international terrorism (and later producing weapons of mass destruction, which some sections of the media prefer to label "non-conventional weapons") would be targetted because of the threat they posed to broader international security. The War on Iraq 2003 was the first manifestation of the Bush doctrine in action.
At about 5:00PM local time on October 7, 2001 U.S. and British forces struck at Taliban and al-Qaeda targets inside Afghanistan. This was 26 days after the attacks on the World Trade Center. General Tommy Franks outlined the objective of the strikes to be "destroying the Al Qaida network inside Afghanistan along with the illegitimate Taliban regime which was harboring and protecting the terrorists." The various lines of the military operation included the provision of humanitarian aid to the Afghan people, the targetting of enemy leadership targets, and the destruction of the Taliban's military. This would be accomplished in tandem with Afghan opposition forces whose interests coincided with those of the United States - as it turned out, mainly the group known as the Northern Alliance.
The Northern Alliance controlled just 20% of Afghanistan on October 7, but by mid-December Mazar-e Sharif (November 9), Kabul (November 13) and Qandahar (December 7) were all in Anti-Taliban hands and the enemy had been reduced to isolated pockets of resistance. Quick success was attributed to the success of Special Forces operating alongside Anti-Taliban opposition groups. In some areas Taliban forces had defected to prevent their own destruction and in many areas citizens were quick to oppose the Taliban and welcome the invading forces. Coalition air power was also taken to be a major factor. The isolated pockets of enemy resistance remain a problem to this day, but the largest battle of the war occured March 1 - 17, 2002, designated Operation Anaconda. Fierce fighting between the coalition (Allied Afghan, American, German, Canadian, Danish, Norwegian and Australian) and al-Qaeda troops cost eight American lives and an unknown number of enemy (the Pentagon stopped keeping body counts after the Vietnam debacle). Seven of the servicemen died in a downed helicopter.
The air war
The Allied air war was controlled from an air base in Saudi Arabia. In Desert Storm 3,000 sorties had been flown each day, but increased efficiency and the capability to hit targets with fewer aircraft meant about 200 sorties were flown each day in Enduring Freedom. B-1, B-2 and B-52 bombers accounted for most of the tonnage dropped during the war. In September 2002 it was reported that 24,000 munitions had been dropped on Afghanistan, of which half were precision-guided. In the Summer of 2002 Western journalists reported civilian deaths from American airstrikes in eleven locations -
Gardez -- (Nov. 14, 2001, 23 dead)
Khost -- (Nov. 16, 2001, at least 65 dead)
Zani Khel -- (Nov. 16, 2001, 20 dead)
Madoo -- (Dec. 1, 2001, 55 dead)
Khan-i-Merjahuddin -- (Dec. 1, 2001, 48 dead)
Asmani and Pokharai -- (Dec. 20, 2001, about 50 dead)
Niazi Qala -- (Late December 2001, 52 dead)
Zhawara -- (Feb. 4, 2002, 3 dead)
Char Chine -- (May 12, 2002, 5 dead)
Kakrak -- (July 1, 2002, 54 dead)
The Tomahawk targetting cycle had reportedly been reduced to only 19 minutes in Operation Enduring Freedom, whereas in Operation Allied Force it had been 101 minutes. They had flown the longest combat mission in U.S. history (15 hours) and the longest surveillance mission (26 hours). Unmanned Aerial Vehicles allowed the constant surveillance of troop movements and concentrations and damage assessments from aerial strikes.
As well as combat and combat support missions the USAF engaged in psychological operations and humanitarian relief missions. The former involved the dropping of over fifty million leaflets instructing the people of Afghanistan to welcome the Anti-Taliban forces and informing them of the humanitarian efforts. Before the war commenced America was the biggest international aid doner to Afghanistan, and when it began they started to drop Humanitarian Daily Rations (HDR) into Afghanistan. By December 21, 2001 almost 2.5 million had been delivered. These meals have a shelf-life of eighteen months and are intended to provide a malnourished individual with one day's nutrition. They're dropped from C-17 Globemasters which can carry 17,500 HDRs per flight.
Since the War on Terrorism began coalition forces have been stationed in the Horn of Africa, in Djibouti. Anti-terror campaigns in Yemen and parts of the Horn are being carried out from this base which is also being used as a port and staging post for U.S. forces. Humanitarian operations which include building structures for the local Kenyans are also being conducted from the base. Djibouti has been very welcoming to U.S. forces and stands up for their right to fight the War on Terrorism from their ground, saying "our doors will always be open to coalition forces." CENTCOM looks to be setting up a new regional headquarters in the country.
Marines and Special Forces are conducting reconnaisance using UAVs around the Horn and other parts of Africa, gathering intelligence which can be used to engage in quick strikes such as the one that killed a bin Laden associate in Yemen in November 2002. Coalition forces (including German and Spanish) have been carrying out patrols of waterways to deny potential terrorists access. U.S. troops say they don't know how long the people of the country will welcome them, but the government says it recognizes the threat posed "to the world" and "regional stability" by terrorists. It is also hopeful of economic assistance, as it is one of the poorest countries in Africa.