War on Terrorism

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War on Terrorism



September 11, 2001, Terrorist Attack

The events of September 11, 2001, were directly responsible for propelling the United States into the War on Terrorism. Over the course of a single morning the largest attack on American soil in U.S. history unfolded as three hijacked commercial airplanes were flown into each of the two towers of the World Trade Center in New York City and the Pentagon Building in Arlington, Virginia. These attacks were carried out not by a government or an army but by nineteen men affiliated with an international terrorist network known as al-Qaeda. Referred to as the “Pearl Harbor of the twenty-first century,” the events of 9/11 (as the attack came to be called) were a defining moment in post–Cold War America, earning the United States an outpouring of international sympathy and inaugurating major shifts in American domestic and international policy.


The September 11 attacks were the product of years of planning. Al-Qaeda terrorist Khalid Shaikh Mohammed first proposed the idea of hijacking planes and flying them into buildings in 1996. Over the next five years, the plan was refined and further developed. A cadre of trusted al-Qaeda operatives entered the United States and began training in the piloting of civilian jumbo jets. Meanwhile, Khalid Mohammed worked with al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden to select the targets for the attacks.

The World Trade Center had already been the target of an al-Qaeda terrorist attack in 1993—a truck packed with explosives was detonated in the basement of Tower One with the aim of collapsing the building onto Tower Two, bringing both towers down. The attack caused extensive damage and killed six people, but the towers did not collapse. The failure prompted al-Qaeda to increase its efforts to bring down the Twin Towers. Two other targets—the Pentagon and, allegedly, the U.S. Capitol, both in the Washington, D.C., area—were also selected as targets.

The Attacks on the World Trade Center

September 11, 2001 fell on a Tuesday. At Logan International Airport in Boston, Washington Dulles International Airport in Washington, D.C., and Newark Liberty International Airport in Newark, NJ, nineteen men boarded, respectively, United Airlines Flight 175 and American Airlines Flight 11, American Flight 77, and United Flight 93. On their persons they carried small knives (most likely box cutters), which had passed through airport security unnoticed, as well as pepper spray.

The planes were all destined for cities on the west coast and were fully loaded with jet fuel for their cross-country flights. Over approximately the next ninety minutes, starting with Flight 11 at 8:14 a.m. Eastern Daylight Time, the four planes were hijacked by the terrorists onboard. Although exact details varied by plane, the general pattern of events saw the terrorists subduing or killing the flight crew, then herding the passengers and flight attendants to the back of the plane, claiming there was a bomb on the plane and warning against any attempts at heroics. Under the guise of flying the hijacked planes toward a nearby airport, the hijackers instead turned the aircraft toward their assigned targets.

Flight 11 was the first plane to hit, striking Tower One of the World Trade Center at 8:46 a.m. The fuel-laden plane exploded between floors 94 and 98 killing all 92 people aboard the plane and hundreds inside the tower itself, which immediately began burning.

Initially thought to be a horrible accident, the deliberate nature of the crash became increasingly clear when, eighteen minutes later, Flight 175 crashed into Tower Two. Like Flight 11, Flight 175 hit its target traveling at hundreds of miles per hour, laden with more than ten thousand gallons of jet fuel. Unlike the first crash, this second crash was captured by dozens of amateur and professional videographers, who had had their cameras trained on Tower One. The haunting image of a silhouetted plane exploding into the side of Tower Two went out live nationwide as the story morphed from one of a tragic accident to that of a deliberate attack.

As massive evacuations of the two World Trade Center towers began, President George W. Bush, who had just sat down in a Florida classroom to read to a room full of elementary school students, was informed by his Chief of Staff that “America [was] under attack.” In a move later praised by his supporters and condemned by his critics, President Bush remained in the classroom for another ten minutes before meeting with advisors, issuing a brief public statement, and departing the school for a nearby airport to board Air Force One.

The Attack on the Pentagon and Flight 93

As F-15 fighter jets scrambled to protect New York City airspace, two more planes were hijacked. Flights 77 and 93 were soon turning around and heading toward their Washington, D.C., targets. At 9:37 a.m., Flight 77 slammed into the side of the Pentagon, killing all aboard, along with 125 personnel inside the building—a relatively small death toll owing to the fact that the stricken wing of the building was largely unoccupied at the time thanks to recent renovation work.

After the Pentagon strike all U.S. airspace was shut down—incoming flights from overseas were diverted to Canadian airports. As the 10:00 hour neared along the Eastern seaboard, the only planes in the air were military aircraft, scrambled to protect New York and Washington, D.C., airspace; Air Force One, carrying the president and his staff; and Flight 93, which was approximately twenty minutes from its intended target when a passenger revolt forced the hijackers to roll the plane and deliberately crash it into a Pennsylvania field.

Collapse of the Two Towers

Meanwhile, the situation at the World Trade Center had grown increasingly desperate. Thousands of workers were trapped in both towers above the respective crash zones. Many attempted to reach the roofs of the towers in the hope of a helicopter rescue while around two hundred others, driven to desperation by the flames that were quickly spreading through the floors of the two towers, leapt to their deaths, much to the horror of onlookers. Meanwhile, city emergency personnel (the first responders, such as firefighters and police officers) were coordinating evacuation and fire-fighting efforts around and inside the entire World Trade Center complex.

Suddenly, at 9:59 a.m., not quite an hour after it was struck, Tower Two collapsed, “pancaking” more-or-less straight down and unleashing a massive debris cloud of powdered glass and concrete across lower Manhattan. Half an hour later, Tower One followed suit.

Death Toll and Impact

The majority of the deaths sustained on 9/11 occurred when the towers collapsed. In all, counting both the airplane passengers and those victims on the ground, the attacks claimed at least 2,973 lives in addition to the 19 hijackers.

As the full impact of the attacks began to sink into the nation’s stunned consciousness, messages of sympathy poured in from the international community. Although no claims of responsibility were immediately forthcoming, connections were quickly drawn both in the media and among government agencies between the attacks and al-Qaeda.

When reports of missile attacks around the Afghan city of Kabul were reported on the afternoon of September 11, many assumed it was in retaliation for the terrorist attacks. Al-Qaeda’s connections to the Taliban, Afghanistan’s ruling party, were well known. Although the attacks were soon attributed to internecine warfare, the implications of the day’s events were clear. Indeed, within a month of the attacks the United States and its allies were engaged in open warfare with the Taliban and al-Qaeda. The War on Terrorism had begun.

Major Figures

George W. Bush

In the first year of his first term as American president, George W. Bush (1946–) dealt with terrorist attacks on the United States. The attacks of September 11, 2001, on New York City and Washington, D.C., compelled him to launch the War on Terrorism with American military in Afghanistan and Iraq. Over time, public support for these initiatives eroded.

Born July 6, 1946, in New Haven, Connecticut, Bush was the eldest child of George H.W. Bush and his wife, Barbara. His father went on to make a fortune in the oil business in Texas. The family moved to Texas when the younger Bush was two years old. George H.W. Bush later served as vice president in the Ronald Regan administration and became a one-term president in 1988.

Education at Phillips Academy and Yale

Bush attended elementary and part of middle school in Texas, where he was a talented athlete but a mediocre student. He had early political experience as a seventh grader by running for class president and winning. For the rest of his education, Bush was sent to an East Coast preparatory school, Phillips Academy. Again shining by playing three sports—baseball, basketball, and football—Bush continued to struggle academically.

Like his father, the younger Bush attended Yale University, where he became president of his fraternity, Delta Kappa Epsilon. Bush graduated in 1968 with an undergraduate degree in history. Returning to Texas, Bush settled in Houston, where his family lived. His first job was working for an agribusiness company. During the Vietnam War, Bush served in the Texas National Air Guard. He was never on combat duty.

Oil Business

Bush applied to and was rejected by the University of Texas Law School. Later, he entered Harvard Business School. Upon completing his M.B.A., Bush returned to Texas in 1975 and went into the oil business. Changing course for a time, Bush ran for a seat in the U.S. House of Representatives in 1978; he lost the election by a small margin and returned to his oil business, Bush Exploration. Bush spent the next few years in the oil industry before selling out his shares in the company that had bought his business, Harken Energy, in 1990.

The Texas Rangers

Politics remained important to Bush, who worked on his father’s presidential campaign in 1988. He primarily helped the senior Bush with fundraising. After his father’s victory, Bush went back to Texas. He put together a group of seventy investors to buy the Texas Rangers, a Major League Baseball team. Though the Rangers were struggling when the group bought the team in 1988, their fortunes soon began turning around. In 1998, the group sold the Rangers for a tidy profit. Bush himself gained $14 million by the sale.

Texas Governor

In 1994, Bush again sought political office. He ran as a Republican for the governorship in Texas, promising to cut down on crime, institute welfare reform, and achieve autonomy for public school districts. Bush won, defeating incumbent Democrat Ann Richards.

As Texas governor, Bush appealed to both moderates and conservatives. Though still politically untutored—he stated he did not like briefings and meetings—Bush was a popular two-term governor. He gained national attention for his accomplishments in Texas, especially in his second term.

Two Terms as President

In the late 1990s, Bush decided to make a run for the presidency. In 2000, he secured the Republican nomination. With running mate Dick Cheney, who had been Secretary of Defense during Bush’s father’s administration, Bush eked out a hotly contested victory over Democrat Albert Gore, who had been vice president during Bill Clinton’s two terms as president. The race between the two candidates was so close there was no definite winner on election day, and problems with ballots in parts of Florida led to recounts. The controversy dragged on for a month. The recounts were ended by the U.S. Supreme Court, and Bush was declared the winner in early December 2000. Though it was determined that Gore had won the popular vote, Bush had enough electoral votes to win the presidency. Bush won re-election in 2004.

As president, Bush dealt with domestic issues like education reform, pushing his No Child Life Behind legislation through Congress in 2001. What essentially defined his presidency, however, was the War on Terrorism. Less than nine months after Bush took office, terrorists hijacked four jet liners. Two were crashed into the World Trade Center, one into the Pentagon, and the fourth crashed in rural Pennsylvania after passengers fought the hijackers. Among Bush’s responses to this attack were creating the Office of Homeland Security and improving security in American airports.

Response to Terrorist Attacks

After the Islamic extremist group al-Qaeda took responsibility for the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks against U.S. targets, Bush authorized the launching of an offensive against the ruling Taliban in Afghanistan later in 2001. The Taliban had harbored al-Qaeda ’s leader, Osama bin Laden, and many members of his organization. Though the Taliban were soon removed from power, efforts to locate bin Laden ended in failure. Bush remained committed to rebuilding Afghanistan and supporting their efforts to become a more democratic nation.

By 2002, Bush was calling for similar action in Iraq. In a September 2002 address to the United Nations, he demanded military intervention in Iraq because he believed Iraq and its leader, Saddam Hussein, possessed weapons of mass destruction. Though the United Nations declined to get involved or support the American position, Bush gained the support of the Republican-controlled Congress for military intervention in Iraq in October 2002.

Iraq Invasion

In mid-March 2003, the United States and a few of its allies, including Great Britain, invaded Iraq. Within a few months, Bush declared victory as Saddam and his political party had been removed from power and Iraq was thought secured. Though Bush said that this victory marked the end of military action in Iraq, the conflict dragged on for years as the American forces struggled to impose order in a country beset by warring religious and political factions.

As his second term in office progressed, Bush faced increasing domestic, even international pressure, about continued American involvement in Iraq. Though he promised Iraqis that he would not pull out troops before their new government was secure, more and more Americans expressed discontent over the situation. By June 2007, Bush’s approval rating had reached an all-time low at 26 percent, according to a Newsweek poll. The war was a primary reason for the low rating as 73 percent of those polled stated they did not approve of how Bush was managing the war in Iraq.

Despite low ratings, Bush believed in his course. Speaking to the nation in a televised address in January 2007, he proclaimed, “America is engaged in a new struggle that will set the course for a new century. We can and will prevail.”

Osama bin Laden

Osama bin Laden is the mastermind behind the Islamic terrorist organization, al-Qaeda, and the group’s terrorist attacks on the United States on September 11, 2001. His actions began the War on Terrorism in the 1990s. Despite ongoing efforts to locate him, bin Laden has remained elusive.

Bin Laden was born on March 10, 1957, in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, the son of Mohammad bin Laden and one of his several wives. His father was a wealthy business owner of a construction company, the Bin Laden Group, which built roads, infrastruce, and mosques in Saudi Arabia. Bin Laden and his fifty siblings split their father’s multi-billion dollar estate after his death in 1968 in a helicopter accident.

Educated in Mecca and Jedda and raised in privilege, bin Laden was a dedicated Muslim from earliest childhood. After marrying his first wife at the age of seventeen, he entered King Abd al-Aziz University and studied public management. While a student, he became influenced by a professor, Sheik Abdullah Azzam, who was also a well-known radical Muslim. Bin Laden completed his degree in 1978.

Osama Enters the Fray

Bin Laden went to Afghanistan in late 1979 to join the jihad to defend the country against the Soviet Union, which had invaded it. He used his considerable wealth to fund the activities of the mujahideen (Muslim fighters) in Afghanistan. Bin Laden ensured they were trained, equipped, and fed, as well as had their medical needs met. Bin Laden himself even participated in several battles and demonstrated bravery.

While the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan lasted for a decade, bin Laden continued his activities in support of the jihad fighters. One situation eventually led to the founding of al-Qaeda. In 1984, bin Laden was the co-founder of the Maktab al-Khidmat (“Services Office”) with Azzam, a member of the Muslim Brotherhood. Despite its innocuous name, Maktab al-Khidmat recruited and trained jihad fighters from around the world.

Founded al-Qaeda

About six months after the Soviets retreated from Afghanistan in 1989, Azzam was killed in a car bombing. Though dejected by Azzam’s death, bin Laden was also inspired to carry on with what they started. To that end, he launched al-Qaeda, a militant network of jihad fighters, with members of the Egyptian Islamic Jihad. al-Qaeda consisted of thousands of radical Muslims who had been trained and financed through the Maktab al-Khidmat. Still committed to the cause, they were organized into secret cells around the world in their home countries. Led by bin Laden, al-Qaeda launched guerilla attacks against selected targets deemed heretical.

Bin Laden’s activities put him in opposition to his home country. He returned to Saudi Arabia in 1990 and began speaking out against the Saudi royal family as well as Saudi foreign policies. Bin Laden’s criticisms increased during the Gulf War, when Saudi Arabia invited American troops into the country as part of the war effort in 1990. He was placed under house arrest and later had his passport revoked.


As bin Laden came to be seen as a threat in Saudi Arabia, he was asked to leave the country. He left with his family, which included more wives and a number of children. They moved to Sudan, which had a militant Islamic government. While there, bin Laden founded a few businesses, including a construction company. Bin Laden also established terrorist training camps in the country, which trained a number of established militant Muslim groups and sent them to participate in conflicts involving Muslims.

While living in Sudan, bin Laden remained critical of the Saudi government and actively worked to bring it down. His actions included organizing assassination attempts on Saudis. In response, the Saudi government froze his assests—at least $200 million—in 1993. The following year, bin Laden renounced his citizenship and soon began using the Internet to organize his attacks as well as launder funds to fund them.

As bin Laden was working against Saudi Arabia, he was also targeting the United States and Americans abroad through al-Qaeda. The network was directly or indirectly responsible for killing Americans at a hotel in Yemen, shooting down American soldiers in Somalia, and the World Trade Center bombing, all in 1993. Bin Laden and al-Qaeda also aimed at others in this time period, including the attempted destruction of an airliner on its way to Japan in 1994 and an assassination attempt on the Egyptian president, Hosni Mubarak, in 1995.

Back to Afghanistan

Pressured by the United States, Sudan ended its protection of bin Laden in 1996. In response, he moved his family and followers to Afghanistan that May, though his camps continued to operate in Sudan. At the time, Afghanistan was controlled by the Taliban, a strict, fundamentalist Islamic group led by Mullah Mohammed Omar. As in Sudan, bin Laden gave the Taliban financial support and helped rebuild Afghanistan’s infrastructure, which had been severely damaged during the Soviet occupation. In return, the Taliban supported the terrorist work of bin Laden and al-Qaeda, and allowed him to found more training camps for al-Qaeda terrorists.

In August 1996, bin Laden declared jihad against both Americans and Jews and called for Muslims to expel them from Saudi Arabia and Israel. Later that year, nineteen Americans died in a suspected al-Qaeda attack on a military complex in Saudi Arabia. Bin Laden took his attack on Americans a step further in 1998 when he issued a fatwa (a religious proclamation) that demanded the death of all Americans. al-Qaeda’s jihad fighters responded by bombing two U.S. embassies located in East Africa resulting in death or injury to thousands.

An Enemy of the United States

Recognizing that bin Laden was a significant threat, the U.S. government moved from labeling him an extremist to watch to indicting him on charges, including for the embassy bombings in November 1998. A $5 million reward was offered for information leading to his arrest at the same time. The following year, he was placed on the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s “most wanted terrorist” list.

The Taliban grew tired of bin Laden by the late 1990s because of the international attention and anger he drew to Afghanistan, and they asked him to stop his military and political activities. Despite being kept under watch by Taliban soldiers, bin Laden played a role in the failed campaign to bomb major New Year’s Eve celebrations in 1999. More successful was his alleged role in the suicide bomber attack on the U.S.S. Cole in Yemen in 2000 in which at least twelve soldiers lost their lives.

Orchestrated 9/11 Attacks

On September 11, 2001, al-Qaeda operatives hijacked four major airliners in the United States. Two were crashed into the World Trade Center in New York City, and another hit the Pentagon. A fourth hijacked plane was taken over by the passengers who thwarted the attack by crashing it in Pennsylvania. About 3,000 people died as a direct result of these attacks.

After September 11, President George W. Bush presented requested proof of bin Laden’s involvement in the attacks and demanded the Taliban turn him over. Because of the Taliban’s continued refusal, the U.S. government attacked Afghanistan in what was known as Operation Enduring Freedom. Beginning with air strikes and later including ground troops, Americans and non-Taliban Afghanis fought against the Taliban as well as al-Qaeda. Despite efforts to secure bin Laden, it is believed he escaped from Afghanistan during a battle at the Tora Bora cave complex.

After 2001, bin Laden’s whereabouts were unclear as he remained in hiding in remote areas. He irregularly issued videotapes and missives in support of al-Qaeda activities in the years after the attack. While it is believed bin Laden could be in Pakistan or even dead, the truth is unknown, though the United States upped the bounty on his head to $25 million.

Tony Blair

The prime minister of Great Britain until June 27, 2007, Tony Blair (1953–) oversaw British involvement in the War on Terrorism. He supported American president George W. Bush’s military actions in Afghanistan and Iraq with British troops and funding, sparking much controversy in his own country.

Anthony Charles Lynton Blair was born on May 6, 1953, in Edinburgh, Scotland. He was the son of Leo and Hazel Blair. The family lived in Australia for a time during Blair’s childhood before eventually settling in Durham, England. There, Leo Blair worked as a lawyer and as a law lecturer at Durham University.

Leo Blair was running for a seat in Parliament as a member of the Conservative Party in 1963 when he suffered a stroke shortly before the election. Because Blair’s father took an extended amount of time to recover, including three years to learn to speak again, Blair and his two siblings were forced to learn how to take care of themselves. Leo Blair also encouraged his children to become involved in politics.

Law Career

While a scholarship student at Edinburgh’s Fettes College, Blair questioned authority, showed a talent for acting, and booked engagements for rock bands. He went on to study law at St. John’s College, Oxford University. After completing his degree in 1975, Blair served as an intern for Queen’s Counsel Alexander Irvine and focused on employment law cases. He then worked as a lawyer until the early 1980s.

Early Political Career

After joining the Labour Party, Blair soon became involved in politics. In 1983, he won his first seat in Parliament. Blair was, however, a member of the official opposition (the party with the second most number of seats in the House of Commons) as the Conservative Party held a vast majority in Parliament. Neil Kinnock became the leader of the Labour Party at the same time, and he soon got Blair involved in the national party.

From 1984 to 1987, Blair served as the spokesperson of treasury and economic affairs. He then became the trade and industry spokesperson, and investigated the stock market crash of October 1987. Blair was then a member of the shadow cabinet in 1988, first as shadow energy secretary then as a shadow employment secretary to 1991. (A shadow cabinet is made up of members of the official opposition party in Parliament, who “shadow” or criticize and respond to, the actions of the cabinet.)

When John Smith became leader of the Labour Party in 1992, he named Blair his home secretary. Smith died in 1994, and Blair himself was elected the leader of the Labour Party. When Blair took over, he shifted the message and focus of the Labour Party.

While Labour had traditionally supported unions, nationalized industry, and the welfare state, Blair emphasized greater empowerment of regional and local governments. He also compelled the party to make changes in its charter to move it away from its leftist and socialist-leaning economic and social philosophies. This “New Labour.” Party supported free enterprise while emphasizing the importance of controlling inflation and lowering budget deficits.

Prime Minister

When national elections were held in May 1997, the Labour Party won a majority of seats in Parliament and Blair became Great Britain’s prime minister. He was initially extremely popular with an 82 percent approval rating. Soon after taking office, he instituted reforms to social programs, the National Health Service, and welfare spending. One program gave young welfare recipients access to education to expand their employment opportunities. Blair also encouraged legislation that reduced government restrictions on business and inhibited crime.

By 1998, Blair also helped end the three-decade conflict in Northern Ireland between the Protestant majority and Catholic minority by supporting peaceful Northern Ireland. With solid support from the middle class, Blair was re-elected in June 2001, though with a reduced Labour majority in Parliament. He became the first Labour Party leader to win and complete a second full term. Within a few months after this victory, he became involved in the War on Terrorism after the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on New York City and Washington, D.C., were launched by the terrorist organization al-Qaeda. Actively supporting President George W. Bush’s efforts in this area, Blair talked to numerous world leaders to gain more backing for fighting the terrorists.

The Cost of Supporting America

Blair did much more than talk. He sent British troops to join American forces in removing the Taliban from power in Afghanistan in the fall of 2001. That government had harbored al-Qaeda members and its leader, Osama bin Laden, and allowed the group to train in Afghanistan. While Blair’s military actions in Afghanistan were generally supported by the British, his backing of the United States’ invasion of Iraq provoked controversy.

By 2002, Blair and other British officials joined the chorus of Americans, led by President Bush, who claimed that Iraq’s leader, Saddam Hussein, had weapons of mass destruction as well as an active weapons program. Labeling Saddam a threat to world peace, Bush argued that the Iraqi government supported terrorists. Like Bush, Blair called for a military intervention in Iraq, but found few international supporters. The United Nations did not back military action against Iraq, and many people in Great Britain wanted no part of what they viewed as unwarranted American aggression.

Despite this situation, Blair stuck with Bush and committed a number of British troops to the war when the United States led an invasion of Iraq in March 2003. While Saddam’s government was quickly removed from power, the conflict dragged on for years as Iraq was reduced to chaos amidst insurrections and internal power struggles. Because the ostensible cause for the invasion—Saddam’ weapons of mass destruction—were never found, public support for both Blair and Bush withered in their respective countries. Blair was accused of exaggerating intelligence to justify British actions in the war. The number of deaths of British soldiers also resulted in less popularity for Blair among his people.

Leaving Office

Though the Labour Party’s majority eroded further in the September 2005 elections, Blair retained his post as prime minister, becoming his party’s longest-serving Labour prime minister. His domestic programs were generally still popular, but his foreign policy, particularly in Iraq, drew wide criticism.

After the national elections in 2005, Blair announced he would step down before the next election cycle. Blair continued to back Bush’s actions in Iraq before resigning as Labour Party leader and prime minister on June 27, 2007. He was replaced by Gordon Brown, who had been Blair’s chancellor of the exchequer. Blair then became the Middle East peace envoy for the United States, Russia, the European Union, and the United Nations (collectively known as the Quartet).

Mullah Mohammad Omar

The leader of the Taliban regime in Afghanistan, Mullah Mohammad Omar (c. 1959–) was forced out of power in 2001. His oppressive Islamic regime sheltered Osama bin Laden, the founder and leader of al-Qaeda, the group behind the terrorist attacks against the United States on September 11, 2001. After being forced out by the United States and its allies, including anti-Taliban Afghanis, Omar remained a wanted fugitive for many years.

Fought Soviets

Omar was born in 1958 or 1959 in the village of Singesar, near Kandahar, a member of the Pashtun tribe. He was educated at a religious school. When he was a young adult, Afghanistan was invaded by the Soviet Union in 1979. Omar joined the mujahedeen, Afghan rebels who fought against the Soviet invaders. During one battle, Omar lost one eye. He eventually became commander of a guerrilla unit.

After seeing fellow members of the mujahedeen terrorizing Afghan villagers, Omar resigned and resumed his studies to be a mullah (a Muslim cleric) at a radical Islamic school that was funded by Saudis. These schools resented the mujahedeen and trained their students to work against them. Omar then became a religious teacher and village cleric.

Founding the Taliban

The Soviets left Afghanistan in 1989, and the mujahedeen gained control of the government by the mid-1990s. By this time, Omar was working as a religious teacher in Singesar, an Afghan village. There, he took action against the mujahedeen when he was told two teenaged girls had been kidnapped by certain mujahedeen soldiers, had their heads shaved, and were being raped at a military checkpoint. Gathering other former soldiers and using Soviet rifles, they stormed the checkpoint and freed the girls. The mujahedeen commander was hanged.

Over time, the Taliban emerged as a group organized to resist mujahedeen rule. Omar emerged as the Taliban’s leader, proposing that the group follow Islam in its purest form. Their developing ideology was also influenced by the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood and the Jamaati Isami, which both fought against Western influences in favor of an Islamic state. Omar and the Taliban received support from Pakistan as well as from other Pashtuns.

The Taliban Take Afghanistan

Originally locating their power base in Kandahar, the Taliban gained other territories in the mid-1990s as the people looked to them for freedom from the oppressive mujahedeen rulers. By 1996, the Taliban had captured Kabul, the capital of Afghanistan and declared themselves in control of the government.

Led by Omar, the Taliban was initially embraced by the people of Afghanistan as a force of stability after years of warfare. However, Omar and the other mullahs who led the regime soon put oppressive laws and practices into place which were based on their interpretation of Islam. For example, women were no longer allowed to work outside of the home and girls were not allowed to attend school after the age of eight. Non-religious music was banned and television stations were shut down. There were public executions and actions against those deemed criminal or deviant. Thieves underwent public amputations of limbs, while accused homosexuals were killed. Such human rights violations led to international condemnation. Only three countries recognized the Taliban as the legitimate government of Afghanistan: Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates.

Omar and the Taliban harbored bin Laden and his al-Qaeda followers as the group gave the Taliban much needed financial support. The two men are also connected by family ties: Omar’s sister is one of bin Laden’s four wives. Bin Laden was believed to be behind a number of terrorist attacks on Americans beginning in 1993, including the bombings of American embassies in east Africa in 1998 and the U.S.S. Cole in Yemen in 2000. Though the United States demanded that Omar turn over bin Laden, he refused.

Removal from Power

Omar’s support of bin Laden eventually led to his own downfall. After bin Laden proved to be the mastermind behind al-Qaeda’s terrorist attacks on the United States on September 11, 2001, the United States invaded Afghanistan a month later. As the Taliban was forced to cede power to newly elected Afghan president Hamid Karzai in December 2001, Omar and the other leaders went into hiding. Despite a massive hunt for him, he was not found and American forces were even unsure if he was alive for a time.

Eventually, it became clear that Omar had escaped. Since 2004, he has tried to launch a Taliban insurgency and regain control of Afghanistan.

Pervez Musharraf

The self-appointed president of Pakistan beginning in 2001, Pervez Musharraf (1943–) allied his country with the United States after the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. He supported the American invasion of Afghanistan and took strong action against Muslim terrorists living in his country.

Pervez Musharraf was born August 11, 1943, in Delhi, India. His father was a career diplomat while his mother was employed by the International Labour Organization. When the Muslim country of Pakistan was founded as India gained its independence in 1947, the family moved to Karachi, the country’s largest city. Because of his father’s career, Musharraf spent 1949 to 1956 living in Turkey. Musharraf received his education at Christian schools in Turkey and Pakistan, including Karachi’s St. Patrick’s High School and Lahore’s Forman Christian College. Moving on to the Pakistani Military Academy in 1961, he graduated in 1964.

Early Military Career

After completing his education, Musharraf joined the Pakistani Army. He spent the next few decades in the service, beginning with a stint in an artillery regiment. In 1965, Musharraf saw combat in an armed conflict with India and was awarded the Imtiazi Sanad (a medal) for gallantry. He then volunteered for a commando outfit. Later a company commander, he fought in the Pakistani civil war in 1971, which saw the western part of the country split off to form Bangladesh. Throughout his career, Musharraf also held staff and instructional positions.

By 1991, Musharraf was named a major general. He continued his education in the early 1990s as well, studying at the Command and Staff College and the National Defense College, both in Pakistan, as well as the British-based Royal College of Defense Studies. Musharraf went on to teach at both Pakistan-based schools. He later was named the director of general military operations at the Pakistani Army’s general headquarters.

Promoted to General

Reaching the rank of full general in 1998, Musharraf was appointed the army’s chief of staff by Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif. Musharraf’s predecessor, General Jehangir Karmat, was removed because he advocated the military sharing governmental power through a joint national security council. Though Musharraf promised the prime minister he would not concern himself with politics, he soon broke this vow.

Musharraf gained more power in 1999 when he was appointed chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Committee. Later that year, Musharraf came into conflict with Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif over his policies. Musharraf was on official business in Sri Lanka in October 1999 when he learned that Sharif had fired him. Musharraf quickly returned to Pakistan to address the situation.

Sharif Deposed

On October 12, 1999, Musharraf was able to depose Sharif in a bloodless coup and take over as Pakistan’s chief executive. Musharraf had the support and backing of a number of senior military officers as well as the armed forces. After dismissing parliament and imposing martial law in violation of his country’s constitution, he soon promised the Pakistani people that he would stabilize the country by improving the weak economy and dealing with the widespread corruption in the government. Then, civil rule would be allowed to return.

After the coup, Musharraf also kept his positions as the army chief of staff and chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. He added a fourth title on June 20, 2001, when he appointed himself president and head of state as well. Musharraf initially proved a popular leader with widespread appeal, though Islamic fundamentalists and the Indian government were leery of him and his intentions.

As leader, Musharraf tried to deal with the long-standing dispute with India over control of the disputed Kashmir region. He also promised to strengthen protections of human rights. For example, he condemned the practice of honor killings of Pakistani women. (An honor killing is the murder of a family member, usually a woman, who is believed to have dishonored the family.) Musharraf appeased fundamentalists by allowing the Islamic provisions of Pakistan’s constitution to be revived and by supporting the rule of the Taliban in Afghanistan.

The Red Mosque

Lal Masjid (Red Mosque) in Islamabad, Pakistan’s capital city, had a reputation for radicalism for many years and openly supported the Taliban’s extremist regime in Afghanistan. The Red Mosque was attached to seminaries for both men and women, and students there received a fundamentalist Islamic education. The students and clerics associated with the mosque often called for the overthrow—or even assassination—of Pakistan’s president Pervez Musharraf, unpopular with Islamic extremists since lending his support to America’s War on Terror. The protestors called for the establishment of a religious government.

After Musharraf began destroying many mosques in Islamabad in an effort to quash Islamic extremism, armed female students set up a vigil at the Red Mosque, vowing to fight to the death to protect it. After negotiations with the mosque’s occupiers failed, Musharraf order an elite force of army commandos to lay siege to the building in early July 2007. On July 10, 2007, the soldiers stormed the mosque in a blaze of gunfire, but not before approximately 1,300 of those within had fled. About eighty people, ten of them soldiers, were killed in the raid, as fighters within the mosque attacked the soldiers with rocket launchers and machine guns. It took more than a day, but the soldiers were finally able to secure the Red Mosque. Musharraf declared the operation successful, claiming that there were few civilian casualties and that those killed had been violent extremists, many of them foreigners. Though Musharraf’s decision to storm the mosque was praised by some, who said it showed he was prepared to be tough with radical Islamic groups within his country, many were outraged by the violence. Some fundamentalist clerics in the region have called for a jihad, or holy war, against Musharraf’s regime.

American Ally

While Musharraf’s actions often stymied Pakistan’s continued movement toward democracy, he assured the Pakistani people that civilian rule would resume in 2002 when national elections were to be held. Before this could happen, world events affected his country and how he was perceived. The United States depended on him and Pakistan after the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on American targets by the al-Qaeda—a terrorist organization supported by the Taliban regime.

Backing the anti-terrorism cause, Musharraf provided support for Americans as they launched Operation Enduring Freedom and invaded Afghanistan to dislodge the Taliban. At the same time, Pakistan was known for harboring Muslim terrorists, a situation Musharraf worked to change. He even attempted to get the Taliban to hand over al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden so that Afghanistan might avoid American military reprisals and closed the border with Afghanistan. Musharraf was widely criticized in his own country for supporting the United States, and there was a call to overthrow him.

Challenges Continue

While Musharraf remained in office even after national elections were held in October 2002, he faced significant challenges. In addition to dealing with ongoing disapproval from fundamentalists inside the country, Musharraf had to deal with domestic crises as well. On October 8, 2005, a magnitude 7.6 earthquake struck Pakistan. Musharraf was criticized for the delay in getting aid to devastated areas.

Musharraf also continued to address corruption within his government. In March 2007, he suspended the chief justice of the supreme court of Pakistan, Ifikhar Chaudhry, accusing him of transgressions and the misuse of authority. Musharraf’s actions compelled two hundred lawyers in Pakistan to burn him in effigy. Chaudhry was later reinstated. It was not the only problem faced by Musharraf, as there were widespread violent protests in the country. In the summer of 2007, Musharraf faced several challenges from political rivals determined to wrest power from the unpopular president. Elections have been called for to determine the future leadership of Pakistan.

Donald Rumsfeld

The U.S. Secretary of Defense under both President Gerald R. Ford and President George W. Bush, Donald Rumsfeld (1932–) played a significant, often controversial, role in shaping policy related to the War on Terrorism.

Born Donald Harold Rumsfeld, on July 9, 1932, in Chicago, Illinois, he was the son of George Donald Rumsfeld and his wife, Jeannette. His father worked in real estate sales and served in the U.S. Navy during World War II.

Raised in Winnetka, Illinois, Rumsfeld attended New Tier High School where he was both an exceptional student and champion wrestler. He also worked hard in his spare time, holding down at least twenty part-time jobs over the course of his teen years. With both an academic and a Naval Reserve Officer Training Corps scholarship, Rumsfeld studied political science at Princeton University. He also played football, serving as captain of Princeton’s team, and continued to wrestle. Rumsfeld earned his bachelor’s degree in 1954.

Naval Career

After completing his degree, Rumsfeld began serving in the U.S. Navy. He spent his three-year tour of duty as an aviator and flight instructor. In 1957, Rumsfeld was transferred to the Navy’s Ready Reserve. He continued to participate in flying drills and administrative assignments for nearly two more decades. When he left active duty, Rumsfeld spent several years working in politics in Washington. He became employed by a Congressman as an administrative assistant. In 1959, he began working as a Congressional staff assistant.

Political Office

Rumsfeld took a two-year break from politics and returned to Chicago. There, he was employed at A.G. Becker and Company as an investment broker. Politics, however, still had an allure for Rumsfeld. He ran for a seat representing Illinois’s thirteenth district in the House of Representatives in 1962. Rumsfeld won, and the popular representative was re-elected three more times.

In 1969, Rumsfeld resigned from Congress to join the administration of the newly elected Republican President Richard M. Nixon. Rumsfeld served as the Office of Economic Opportunity’s director. He was also a member of the president’s cabinet and served as an assistant to the president.

Two years later, Rumsfeld took on new positions in the Nixon administration. He became the Economic Stabilization Program’s director as well as a counselor to the president. In 1973, Rumsfeld went abroad for Nixon when he was appointed the American ambassador to the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO).

Service in the Ford Administration

Rumsfeld went back to Washington, D.C., in 1974. After Nixon resigned (due to political pressure resulting from the Watergate scandal) and Gerald R. Ford took office, Rumsfeld was named the head of the new president’s transition team. When the transition was completed, Rumsfeld continued to serve the new president. Ford initially named him the chief of staff in the White House as well as a member of his cabinet.

Late in 1975, Rumsfeld was appointed to a position of considerable power: Secretary of Defense. When Rumsfeld took office on November 20, 1975, he became the youngest defense secretary in the history of the United States. Rumsfeld retained the defense secretary post until early 1977, when the new Democratic administration of Jimmy Carter took office.

Work in the Private Sector

Leaving politics behind for a time, Rumsfeld worked in the private sector as a business executive. He became the president and chief executive officer (CEO) of G.D. Searle & Company, an international pharmaceutical corporation, in 1977. Remaining with Searle until 1985, Rumsfeld introduced two new popular flavors of Metamucil® as well as the artificial sweetener Nutrasweet® to the market during his tenure. In 1985, he became Searle’s chairman of the board for a time, then served as advisor to William Blair & Company from 1985 to 1990.

While Rumsfeld was working in business, he became politically active again after Republican Ronald Reagan took office as president in 1981. From 1982 to 1986, Rumsfeld served as a member of the president’s General Advisory Committee on Arms Control.

Rumsfeld also harbored presidential aspirations of his own. In the spring of 1986, he stated that he planned to run for the Republican nomination for president in 1988, but changed his mind in early 1987. Instead, Rumsfeld continued to serve in the administrations of Reagan and his Republican successor, George H.W. Bush. Rumsfeld was a member of the National Commission on the Public Service, the National Economic Commission, and the National Defense University Board of Visitors.

As the 1990s dawned, Rumsfeld’s professional focus was again as an executive. He became the chairman and CEO of General Instrument Corporation, which was involved with broadband technology, in 1990. Three years later, Rumsfeld joined Gilead Sciences as the chairman of its board of directors. He also began serving as an advisor for many companies, such as Sweden’s Investor AB.

Rumsfeld continued his public sector work as well. During the first term of President Bill Clinton, he was a member of the High Definition Television Advisory Committee for the U.S. Federal Communication Commission. Rumsfeld later served as the chairman on the Commission to Assess National Security Space Management and Organization as well as the Commission to Assess the Ballistic Missile Threat to the United States. Still a loyal Republican, he campaigned for Republican presidential candidate Bob Dole in 1996.

Return to Defense Department

When Republican George W. Bush was elected president in 2000, he selected Rumsfeld to be his Secretary of Defense. Soon after taking office, Rumsfeld was charged with reducing the Pentagon’s $300 million budget by trimming down the amount of wasted and excess spending as well as modernizing the military. The military establishment criticized Rumsfeld’s efforts, and he had little support outside of the administration.

After the terrorist attacks on the United States on September 11, 2001, however, Rumsfeld became important to Bush’s War on Terrorism. When the United States launched an attack on the Taliban in Afghanistan, Rumsfeld sometimes tried to interfere with military decisions—telling Central Command to use more ground troops, for example—but soon backed off.

Forced out of Office

While criticism of Rumsfeld was minimal during the first two years of the War on Terrorism, the situation changed after the war in Iraq was launched in 2003. His perceived arrogance and abrasive directness in public statements and press conferences about the war was regularly derided. Rumsfeld also was accused of concealing the whole truth about military matters and defending American actions in Iraq despite many obvious failures and poor planning. In addition, military leaders did not generally support Rumsfeld because he dismissed their advice and ignored the insurgency which later grew in Iraq.

Despite widespread disapproval at home and abroad, Rumsfeld continued to enjoy the support of President Bush. He retained his position for two more years. But when Republicans lost their majority in Congress in midterm elections in 2006, Bush took it as a sign that the people wanted change: he ousted Rumsfeld in November 2006. Rumsfeld was replaced as Secretary of Defense by Robert Gates.

Condoleeza Rice

During the presidency of George W. Bush, Condoleezza Rice (1954–) served first as national security advisor then as Secretary of State. She helped shape American foreign policy after the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on the United States, including the launch of the War on Terrorism in Afghanistan and Iraq.

Born November 15, 1954, in Birmingham, Alabama, Rice was the daughter and only child of John Wesley Rice, Jr., and his wife, Angelena. Her father was a guidance counselor and football coach at a black public high school in Birmingham as well as an ordained Presbyterian minister. Her mother was a teacher and church organist. Rice’s parents wanted her to have wide horizons and emphasized achievement. She studied piano, languages, and became a competitive figure skater.

A Gifted Student

An excellent student from an early age, Rice skipped both first and seventh grades while attending segregated public schools in Birmingham. When she was eleven years old, the family moved to Tuscaloosa, Alabama, where her father had a new position as a college administrator. Rice moved to Denver, Colorado, when she was entering tenth grade and attended integrated public schools for the first time. She completed her last year of high school while beginning her first year of college at the University of Denver.

Having studied piano since the age of three, Rice majored in music and planned on a career as a concert pianist. However, she changed her focus and began studying Russian history and language as well as political science.

Rice earned her undergraduate degree in political science in 1974, then entered Notre Dame University. She earned a master’s degree in government and international studies, then planned on joining the private sector. A prospective position as an executive assistant at Honeywell fell through, so Rice became a piano teacher for a time. A former professor and mentor suggested she go back to school, so she returned to the University of Denver’s Graduate School of International Studies. She completed her doctorate in 1981 with a dissertation on the Czechoslovak Communist Party and its army.

Academic Career

After earning her Ph.D, Rice was offered a fellowship to the Stanford University’s Center for International Security and Arms Control. She was the first woman to be offered a fellowship to the center. By 1983, Rice was working at Stanford as a professor of political science, gaining tenure in 1987.

As her professional career was taking off, Rice became politically active and soon went to Washington. When Gary Hart ran for the Democratic nomination in 1984, she served as his advisor. Five years later, Rice joined the staff of the National Security Council, on the recommendation of new national security advisor Brent Scowcroft in the administration of George H.W. Bush. Rice eventually became Bush’s advisor on the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe. She helped shape American foreign policy as Communism fell in Eastern Europe.

Resigning from her position in the Bush administration in 1991, Rice returned to California and her teaching career at Stanford. In 1993, she became the provost of Stanford, the first woman to hold the position. Rice faced challenges in the position, including a budget deficit and conflicts with faculty. She remained in the position at Stanford until 1999.

Became Bush Advisor

In 1999, Rice joined the staff of George W. Bush, the governor of Texas who was seeking the Republican nomination for president in 2000. Rice served as the leader of his group of foreign policy advisors. After Bush won the nomination and general election, he selected Rice to be his national security advisor and shape the direction of American foreign policy. It marked the first time a woman held the post.

Within a few months, Rice faced significant challenges. The terrorist attacks on New York City and Washington, D.C., on September 11, 2001, put Rice in a key position in Bush’s government. She helped advise the president as he launched his first offensive on Afghanistan, where the Taliban regime had harbored the mastermind behind the attacks, Osama bin Laden, in 2001. Rice also helped create the policies for dealing with Iraqi President Saddam Hussein. The United States invaded Iraq based on the belief that Saddam had weapons of mass destruction at his disposal. The invasion was launched in early 2003 without the support of the United Nations. Rice vocally supported Bush’s actions, despite a lack of convincing evidence that such weapons existed. (No weapons of mass destruction were found by the U.S. invasion forces.) She also put together documents explaining the new direction in American foreign policy.

Named Secretary of State

After President Bush was elected to a second term in 2004, Rice took on new responsibilities in his administration. Bush named her his Secretary of State, replacing Colin Powell (who resigned on November 15, 2004). In this position, she was the leading diplomat representing the United States. Rice served as the primary advocate of American foreign policy both in the United States and abroad, spending much time traveling to achieve more realistic diplomatic goals. She dealt with nuclear issues in North Korea and Iran as well as tensions in the Middle East, among other concerns.

Rice continued to have to answer questions related to American involvement in Afghanistan and Iraq. Though the United States had quickly toppled both the Taliban and the regime of Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein, both conflicts had dragged on as reconstruction was taking place and Iraq, especially, had to deal with a long-running insurgency. Rice defended American involvement as necessary to Congress and the American people.

After leaving office when Bush’s term ends in early 2009, Rice’s plans are unclear. She has been mentioned as a potential presidential or vice presidential candidate.

Richard Myers

During the early twenty-first century War on Terrorism, Air Force General Richard B. Myers (1942–) served as the chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff and as a senior military advisor to President George W. Bush. Myers was born on March 1, 1942, in Kansas City, Missouri, and raised in Merriam, Kansas. There, his family owned and operated a hardware store.

As a child, Myers was afraid of airplanes for many years because he saw one crash in his neighborhood. His parents tried to help him overcome his fear by taking him to watch airplanes take off and land at a local airport. After graduating from Shawnee Mission North High School, he entered Kansas State University (KSU). By college, Myers had conquered his fear of planes enough to join the Air Force Reserve Officer Training Corps at KSU. In 1965, Myers earned his B.S. in mechanical engineering.

Early Air Force Career

After completing his degree, he joined the Air Force. He was trained as a command pilot at Vance Air Force Base in Oklahoma and was promoted to first lieutenant by 1966. Myers was stationed at Ramstein Air Force Base in West Germany for several years before being transferred to Indochina to participate in the Vietnam War. By 1969, Myers was stationed at the Udorn Royal Thai Air Force Base in Thailand. From there, he flew combat missions in F-4 Phantoms. Myers logged about six hundred combat hours during his time in Vietnam.

Returning in the United States in the 1970s, Myers took on more support roles in the Air Force, which took him away from flying. Before ending his flying days, he logged more than 4100 flying hours. He also continued his education by earning an M.B.A. from Auburn University in 1977. That same year, he attended Maxwell Air Force Base’s Air Command and Staff College in Montgomery, Alabama. Myers continued his education in the early 1980s by earning a diploma from the U.S. Army War College in 1981.

Military Leadership Positions

Myers did post-graduate work at Harvard University in 1991, then was the director of tactical weapons and command and control acquisition programs for the Air Force for two years. In 1993, Myers was sent to Japan, where he commanded U.S. Forces Japan and the 5th Air Force at Yokota Air Force Base for nearly three years. Returning to the United States in 1996, Myers was sent to Washington where he served as the assistant to the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff for a year.

In 1997, Myers began serving as commander of Pacific Air Forces at Hickman Air Force Base in Hawaii and was promoted to general that same year. Returning to the mainland of the United States in 1998, Myers was named the head of the U.S. Space Command and the North American Aerospace Defense Command at Peterson Air Force Base in Colorado. There, he offered vocal support for the development of space-based weapons. Satellites were especially appealing to Myers because they could provide constant surveillance.

Joint Chiefs of Staff

Myers left Colorado for Washington, D.C., in 2000 when he was named vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. When chairman Army General Hugh Shelton retired in the fall of 2001, Myers took his place and became the head of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Myers officially became the fifteenth chairman of the Joint Chiefs on October 1, 2001, shortly after the terrorist attacks on New York City and the Pentagon on September 11, 2001. Myers had been in the Pentagon that day, but survived the attacks.

As President Bush launched the War on Terrorism in Afghanistan and Iraq, Myers advised him, the Secretary of Defense, and the National Security Council on military-related matters. He also pressed Congress for sufficient military budget to fight the costly war on several fronts. Summarizing Myers’ accomplishments as the head of Joint Chiefs, UPI NewsTrack quoted the president as saying “He helped design a broad and innovative military strategy to win the war on terror. His leadership and flexibility were essential to the liberation of Iraq, and to adapting our tactics to defeat the terrorists and help Iraqis build a peaceful democracy.”

Activities in Retirement

Myers retired from the Air Force and as Joint Chiefs head on September 30, 2005. Before leaving office, he emphasized the importance of winning the war in Iraq and neutralizing al-Qaeda and other terrorists operating there (al-Qaeda is the terrorist organization behind the September 11, 2001, attacks on U.S. targets). Myers was awarded a Presidential Medal of Freedom by President Bush several months after leaving office for his accomplishments.

After retiring, Myers took a job as a professor of military history at Kansas State University beginning in 2006. He also joined the board of directors of several companies that same year, including Northrop Grumman Corporation, Deere & Company, and United Technologies Corporation.

Tommy Franks

Four-star General Tommy Franks (1945–) served as the commander of the United States Central Command during the United States’ military action in Afghanistan in 2001 and invasion of Iraq in 2003. Franks is known for his common touch and affinity for the everyday soldier.

Tommy Ray Franks was born on June 17, 1945, in Wynnewood, Oklahoma, the adopted son of Ray, an auto mechanic, and Lorene Franks. The family moved to Midland, Texas, when Franks, their only child, was quite young. While attending Midland’s Robert E. Lee High School, he distinguished himself as an outstanding athlete. He entered the University of Texas at Austin in 1963 but dropped out after two years.

Early Military Career

Hoping to improve his prospects, Franks joined the U.S. Army and found his calling. Already a skilled shooter (Franks enjoyed hunting as a youngster), Franks’ talent led the army to send him to Artillery Officer Candidate School at Fort Sill in Oklahoma. Upon graduation in 1967, he was commissioned as a second lieutenant and briefly stationed at Fort Sill as a battery assistant executive officer.

Franks was deployed to Vietnam in 1967. He served with honor in the Ninth Infantry Division, the 60th Infantry Division, the Second Battalion, and Fourth Field Artillery as a forward observer, aerial observer, an S-3 assistant, and fire support officer. During his tour in Vietnam, he was wounded three times and earned three Purple Hearts.

In 1968, Franks was sent back to Fort Sill and intended to leave the military when his commitment ended. The service chose him to participate in their degree completion program. Franks changed his mind about the military and re-enlisted. A year later, he was a student at the University of Texas at Arlington. A better student this time around, Franks earned an undergraduate degree in business administration in 1971, then completed the Artillery Advance Course offered by the army.

Served as Commander

In 1973, Franks was sent to West Germany and named commander and operations manager of the First Squadron Howitzer Battery. While still stationed in Germany, he later was named head of the 84th Armored Engineer Company as well as regimental assistant of operations. The U.S. Army then sent him back to the United States to continue his education. Franks attended the Armed Forces Staff College, graduating in 1976.

Franks was assigned to the Pentagon later that year. He was named the Investigative Division’s inspector general. In 1977, Franks was moved to the office of the Army Chief of Staff. He first served on the Congressional Activities Committee, and later served as an executive assistant. Returning to West Germany in 1981, Franks served as the commander of the Second Battalion, 78th Field Artillery for several years.

Brought back to the United States in 1984, Franks continued his education at the Army War College. He then completed his master’s degree in public administration at Shippensburg University in Pennsylvania. Franks graduated with the degree in 1985, and was stationed at Fort Hood in Texas. He became the deputy assistant operations officer of III Corps there. In 1987, Franks was promoted to commander of the Division Artillery, First Cavalry Division. Franks was later named the First Cavalry Division’s chief of staff.

Combat General

By now a general, Franks took part in Operation Desert Shield and Operation Desert Storm as the assistant commander (maneuver) for the First Cavalry Division in the early 1990s. He then held a series of high-power positions in the United States and Asia. After serving as the assistant commandant of Fort Sill’s Field Artillery School in 1991, he was named the first director of the Louisiana Maneuvers Task Force for the Office of the Chief of Staff of the Army at Fort Monroe in 1992.

In 1994, Franks went to Korea, where he was the operations officer for the Combined Forces Command and United States Forces Korea. A year later, he was put in charge of the Second Infantry (Warrior) Division in Korea. Franks spent two years in the post before returning to the United States in 1997. He then was named commander of the Third U.S. Army at Army Forces Central Command.

Leading Troops in the War on Terrorism

Promoted to four-star general, Franks became commander in chief of the United States Central Command in June 2000. In this position, he was in charge of military operations in twenty-five countries across Asia, Africa, and the Middle East. Thus, Franks was in a key position when the al-Qaeda terrorist attacks on New York City occurred on September 11, 2001.

The day after the attacks, Franks was asked to prepare the United States’ military options for presentation to President George W. Bush. Within a week, Franks offered his plan to attack both the terrorists and the Taliban that supported them in Afghanistan in Operation Enduring Freedom. In October 2001, the air strikes suggested by Franks began, and within a month, the Taliban had been defeated. As commander of American forces in Afghanistan, Franks used special operations forces, air support, local militia, and CIA (Central Intelligence Agency) operations to complete his mission.

Though Franks’ strategy in Afghanistan was successful, he was criticized by some, including U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, during the operation. But his triumph gave Franks the support of the Bush administration. Franks was allowed to employ a unique strategy when the United States invaded Iraq in Operation Iraqi Freedom in the spring of 2003.

In Iraq, Franks used small forces to move quickly throughout the country instead of mass ground forces, which gave the U.S. invasion force an element of surprise. The agile special operations forces proved important to his strategy, as did technologically advanced weapons such as precision bombs. Franks also integrated the four branches of the military, making them more effective.


As in Afghanistan, Franks’ strategy paid off in the short term. The United States took Iraq’s capital, Baghdad, in three weeks and soon successfully ousted Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein. Franks remained in charge of the operation for several months and turned down a chance to be the Army Chief of Staff. He retired from the U.S. Army on August 1, 2003.

Franks then penned his memoir, American Soldier, which was published the following year. The war in Iraq dragged on, and some critics believed Franks’ initial success in Iraq was not as great as initially believed because he did not make adequate provisions for post-invasion Iraq. Franks defended his initial attack strategy and remained convinced that removing Saddam from power was the right thing to do.

Hamid Karzai

Hamid Karzai (1957–) was elected president of Afghanistan after the United States toppled the Taliban regime in 2001.

He was born on December 24, 1957, in Karz, a village near Kandahar, Afghanistan, the son of a Populzai tribal clan chief and the descendent of many rulers of his country. Karzai received his education first in Kandahar, then in Kabul, Afghanistan. Remaining in Kabul, Karzai attended the Habibia School from which he earned his bachelor’s degree in political science.

After the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan in 1979, the Karzai family fled from their home country and settled in Quetta, Pakistan. He continued his education in India, where he earned another degree in political science from Himachal Pradesh University. Karzai then studied journalism at the École Supérieure de Journalisme in Paris, France, in 1985, among other educational experiences.

Efforts Against the Soviets

Though living in exile, Karzai actively supported efforts to overthrow the Soviets. Working with anti-Soviet guerillas called the mujahedeen, he helped funnel weapons and supplies from the United States to Afghanistan. Karzai also served as a political adviser to key resistance leaders he supported.

After the government of Burhanuddin Rabbani was established in the post-Soviet period, Karzai served as his deputy foreign minister. However, chaos, corruption, and infighting were hallmarks of the Rabbani regime, prompting Karzai to resign in 1994. He went back to Pakistan and began supporting the Taliban with funds and weapons. Though the Taliban were conservative Muslims, many people already believed they were extremists. Karzai backed them at this time because many were members of his Pashtun tribe (of which the Populzai clan was a part), and he hoped they would address the problematic issues of the Rabbani administration.

Opposition to the Taliban

When the Taliban gained control of the Afghan government in 1996, Karzai realized his error. Their regime was restrictive and oppressive and soon began allowing non-Afghani members of the Taliban to establish terrorist training camps throughout the country. Though the Taliban soon wanted him to be their United Nations envoy, Karzai refused.

Leaving Afghanistan to join his family in Quetta in 1997, Karzai worked against the Taliban government. He initially supported efforts to restore Afghanistan’s former king, Mohammad Zahir, into power. A year later, he began working with Pashtun chiefs to launch a movement against the Taliban in Afghanistan.

Elected Tribal Chief

Karzai suffered a personal loss when the Taliban killed his father in 1999 in retribution for his actions. Karzai was elected the Populzai tribal chief in his father’s place. Despite continued threats from the Taliban, Karzai arranged for a massive funeral procession to take his father’s body for burial in Kandahar. His actions garnered him admiration, especially from anti-Taliban supporters, and he vowed to create a government in which all its clans, tribes, and ethnicities were represented. Karzai then began traveling to the United States to request support against the Taliban.

Karzai continued to fight the Taliban, especially after the terrorist attacks on the United States on September 11, 2001. He immediately organized a tribal militia to fight the Taliban, but only the British backed his actions at first.

After the United States linked the September 11 attacks to the Taliban, the Americans began bombing the Afghan targets in October 2001. At the same time, Karzai took his militia forces into Kandahar. He was nearly captured by the Taliban and had to be rescued by American forces. Over the next few months, the United States came to respect Karzai as a Pashtun leader in Afghanistan.

Provisional Leader

Later in 2001, as the Americans and their Afghan allies in the Northern Alliance were meeting to form a new government in Afghanistan, attendees chose Karzai as the leader of the provisional administration. He took the post in late December 2001, and began working on organizing a national assembly, or Loya-Jirga. This body would elect another temporary head of state, and this leader would coordinate the formation of the new government.

Karzai was elected president of the Afghan Transitional Authority in the summer of 2002. He was by no means secure in his position as several attempts were made on his life. His vice president, Haji Abdul Qadar, was killed by an assassin’s bullet. The threat of violence remained a part of his everyday life.

Karzai worked to ensure a smooth transition to a representative government. He was charged with drafting a new constitution, putting together a new army and unified police force, and ensuring national elections occurred by 2004. Karzai completed these tasks and also secured funding and support from other countries to start the reconstruction process. He ultimately gained $5 billion in aid.

President of Afghanistan

Despite continued violence in Afghanistan, elections were held on October 9, 2004. Karzai ran for the office of president and was officially elected to the position with over 55 percent of the vote. He was the first democratically elected leader of Afghanistan. He formally took office on December 7, 2004.

As Afghanistan’s president, Karzai still had to deal with rebuilding a ravaged country and its economy. Violence among ethnic groups also remained a problem, and corruption crept back into the government. The Taliban continued to be active in Afghanistan, regaining more and more power. The group led an insurgency, which included terrorist activities throughout the country beginning in 2005. Though international forces supported Karzai’s government, the Taliban held control of certain parts of the country at times.

Corruption among Afghan government officials and workers also became more of an issue by late 2006. While some questioned whether Karzai was up for the tough job ahead of him, he remained certain he could be the leader Afghanistan needed during this period of reconstruction.

See also Gulf War: Major Figures: Dick Cheney

See also Gulf War: Major Figures: Saddam Hussein

See also Gulf War: Major Figures: Colin Powell

Major Battles

Aerial Bombardment of Afghanistan

Shortly after the devastating terrorist attacks against the United States on September 11, 2001, President George Bush announced that the operation had been planned and executed by members of Osama bin Laden’s terrorist network al-Qaeda, who were being sheltered by the Taliban—the rigid Islamic government of Afghanistan. A few weeks later, the U.S. military launched Operation Enduring Freedom to topple the Taliban and to root out al-Qaeda strongholds in Afghanistan. The campaign opened with an extensive aerial bombardment, followed by an allied ground assault.

The Taliban

The Taliban, a group of fundamentalist Muslim scholars and clerics, had taken control of most of Afghanistan by 1998. Throughout the 1980s, they had fought (with generous American support) to oust the military forces of the Soviet Union, which had invaded Afghanistan in 1979. After the Soviets withdrew, the Taliban subdued the various warlord factions and brought a measure of stability to the country.

However, the Taliban’s strict interpretation of religion, enforced by harsh autocratic rule, incurred general international censure. Furthermore, it was well known that the Taliban sheltered and aided groups that engaged in international acts of terror. Before September 11, 2001, only three countries—Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates—recognized the Taliban as the legitimate government of Afghanistan.

The economy of Afghanistan suffered, especially after the Taliban destroyed the poppy crop for religious reasons. Afghanistan had supplied a large portion of the world’s opium, an illegal drug made from poppies, and the trade had produced the majority of the country’s cash income. In addition, a harsh drought brought famine—by 2001, at least five million Afghans depended on foreign aid for survival.

The Ultimatum

On September 20, 2001, President Bush demanded that the Taliban hand over bin Laden and other al-Qaeda leaders. He also insisted that they shut down the many militant Islamist training camps in Afghanistan. The country, he asserted, had become “safe harbor” for terrorists. He also insisted that the Taliban should release foreign nationals who had been imprisoned for preaching Christianity.

The Taliban reacted with defiance. They denied having any knowledge of bin Laden’s whereabouts and made it clear that they would not hand him over even if they did. America had no right, they argued, to accuse bin Laden without proof of his complicity. They warned that Muslims everywhere would rise up against the West, should Bush carry out his threats. Spokesman Mullah Muhmajin told the press that “if the U.S. attacks us, we will declare jihad [holy war] against America.”

It was undeniable that, while Middle Eastern governments publicly condemned the Taliban and al-Qaeda, bin Laden had wide public sympathy in the Arab world. Understanding this, Bush took pains to isolate the Afghan leadership, essentially threatening any government who might sympathize with the Taliban. “Every nation,” he said, “in every region, now has a decision to make. Either you are with us, or you are with the terrorists.”

Nevertheless, President George W. Bush did not enjoy the broad international support that his father had cultivated during the Gulf War. Aware that France, China, and Russia would oppose an armed invasion of Afghanistan, the Bush administration did not bother to seek United Nations (UN) approval before attacking. Instead the United States turned to Great Britain, who proved a staunch ally. Together the United States and Britain invoked Article 51 of the UN charter, which guarantees the rights of nations to act in self-defense.

They launched a series of air strikes against Afghanistan, beginning on October 7, 2001. Canada and Australia joined the effort after the commencement of hostilities. The military operation was initially codenamed “Infinite Justice.” However, that name was deemed to be blasphemous to Muslims. The name was accordingly changed to “Operation Enduring Freedom.”

The Attack

The air strikes targeted training camps, airfields, anti-aircraft radars, and launchers. The United States also gave air support to the Northern Alliance, the anti-Taliban resistance movement that controlled parts of northern Afghanistan.

The assault was unprecedented in its range of attack—cruise missiles were launched from submarines in the Arabian Sea; B-52 bombers took off from Diego Garcia Island in the Indian Ocean; and B-2 Stealth Fighters began their forty-plus-hour bombing runs from the United States. Even command centers were widely distributed—the U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM) in Florida coordinated with the Combined Air Operations Center (CAOC) in Saudi Arabia. This was made possible by advancements in communication technology. Space satellites provided immediate and constant information flow on enemy locations and activity.

The United States and its allies flew about twenty-five thousand sorties before the end of 2001. Despite America’s state-of-the-art targeting and guidance systems, and despite Bush’s repeated claims that America had no quarrel with the Afghan people, hundreds of civilians, including some U.N. aid workers, were killed and injured in the bombing. As Donald Rumsfeld said in one interview: “If there were an easy, safe way to root terrorist networks out of countries that are harboring them, it would be a blessing, but there is not. Coalition forces will continue to make every reasonable effort to select targets with the least possible unintended damage, but as in any conflict, there will be unintended damage.”

The civilian population faced even greater dangers than the falling ordnance. Foreign aid organizations had largely abandoned the country. After months of famine, with the severe winter approaching, Afghanistan faced a humanitarian crisis of epic proportions. Millions of refugees poured into makeshift camps at the border.

The U.S. military command was haunted by the specter of the Vietnam War, where American tactics had often created more enemies than they had killed. In order to win “the hearts and minds” of the Afghan people, American airplanes dropped thirty-seven thousand food kits over the civilian population, as well as medical supplies and propaganda. The U.N. and other aid organizations also stepped up efforts to meet the growing needs of the people.

The Taliban were quick to condemn the air attacks. They announced that their fighters had shot down an American plane, a claim that the Pentagon denied. Bin Laden himself also responded, releasing a taped message over the Arabic news station Al-Jazeera. The bombings, he said, were part of a global struggle between the “side of faith, and the side of infidelity.”

Mazari Sharif

On November 9, 2001, with the help of American air cover and U.S. Special Forces, the UIF (the Northern Alliance) captured the key Afghan city of Mazari Sharif. This victory led to the rapid collapse of the Taliban throughout northern Afghanistan.

The Northern Alliance

Afghanistan has never been a homogenous society. The country is made up of various tribes, factions, and ethnic groups that speak different languages and profess different religious creeds. Traditional warlords exert a great deal of local control, and their rivalries and alliances are often complex and changeable. Because of this, over the last few centuries, the many governments of Afghanistan have seldom managed to exert total control over the region.

The Taliban, dominated by the southern Pashtun tribe, came close to controlling all of Afghanistan. By 1998, they had conquered more than 90 percent of the country. They were opposed by the United Islamic Front for the Salvation of Afghanistan (UIF), which held a small region to the north of the country. Called the Northern Alliance by the Western press, the resistance comprised several different factions of different ethnicities, mostly Tajik, Uzbek, and Hazara.

Burhanuddin Rabbani (1940–) served as the titular head of the Northern Alliance. However, he was often upstaged by the charismatic and brilliant Ahmed Shah Massoud (1953–2001). Massoud was assassinated by al-Qaeda agents just two days before the September 11 attacks.

A Bloody History

The ancient stronghold of Mazari Sharif has seen its share of conquering armies. The city has both strategic and cultural importance. Standing on the only supply route through the Hindu Kush Mountains, thirty-five miles from the northern border, it serves as a kind of gateway into northern Afghanistan and Uzbekistan. Afghans believe that the city’s famous Blue Mosque houses the tomb of Mohammed’s son-in-law, Caliph Ali.

The Soviets used the city as a staging base for their Afghanistan operations in the 1980s. After the Soviets withdrew in 1992, Mazari Sharif was left in the hands of Uzbek leader General Abdul Rashid Dostum (1954–). Reportedly, he ruled the city like his own personal kingdom. He and his men had a reputation for extreme brutality, and they were greatly feared by other Afghans.

In May 1997, one of Dostum’s men turned against him. The Taliban took the city, and Dostum fled to Turkey. Back in Mazari Sharif, the Uzbek and Hazaras minorities revolted against the Taliban occupation. Some two thousand Taliban soldiers were massacred and buried in shallow graves.

The Taliban retook Mazari Sharif fifteen months later. In retaliation, they went on a six-day killing spree, dragging people from their houses to be summarily executed. They slaughtered about eight thousand of the local people, particularly the Shi’ite Hazaras (Shi’ites belong to a Muslim sect; the majority of Muslims are Sunni, or orthodox).

The Approach

After September 11, 2001, the United States declared their support of the Northern Alliance, providing funding and supplies. Around one hundred U.S. Army Special Force operatives also joined the ragged Afghan army. They gave strategic advice and coordinated the U.S. air strikes with the ground assault against the Taliban.

Alliance troops battled for weeks, seizing the territory around Mazari Sharif. The battle proved to be a bizarre combination of the old and the new. Misunderstanding an American order, 250 Alliance fighters bore down on Taliban tanks at full gallop, just after American Green Berets had called in an air strike at that position. One of the U.S. servicemen recalled:“Three or four bombs hit right in the middle of the enemy position. Almost immediately after the bombs exploded, the horses swept across the objective—the enemy was so shell-shocked. I could see the horses blasting out the other side. It was the finest sight I ever saw.”

After General Mohammed Atta finally took Aq Kupruk, the Special Forces and Alliance fighters met at Shulgarah Pass, where they were joined by an anti-Taliban Hazara group, led by Haji Mohammed Mohaqiq. The combined army marched north to Mazari Sharif. They reported that the Taliban had burned out villages in their retreat.

The Taliban Routed

By November 9, Alliance forces were poised to take the city. All the previous night, U.S. planes had carpet-bombed defender’s positions, particularly the enemy concentrations at the southern gates of the city.

Not all of the Taliban forces made a desperate last stand in Mazari Sharif. Over the previous weeks, many of the Afghan Taliban had given up or defected. However, a great many of the city’s defenders were foreigners—mostly Saudis and Pakistanis—who believed themselves engaged in a holy war. Even so, weakened by the air strikes, they could put up only light resistance as the Northern Alliance swept into the city.

Atta’s men cleared out pockets of Taliban fighters around the main citadel, while Dostum seized the airport and entered the city from the south. An estimated 600 Taliban fighters died in the overall battle, while the UIF lost anywhere from 40 to 150.

American officials, painfully aware of international scrutiny, begged their allies to show restraint. However, reports of looting, rape, and murder were common after the city fell. Humanitarian groups have claimed that Alliance troops severely mistreated Taliban prisoners.

Mazari Sharif represented a major turning point in Operation Enduring Freedom. The United States had gained a gateway into northern Afghanistan, through which military supplies and humanitarian relief could flow more easily. The Northern Alliance had won an important strategic and psychological victory.

After the city was lost, Taliban defenses began crumbling throughout the country. Afghan warlords, previously loyal to the Taliban, began to switch sides. Soon the Alliance held firm control over all of the northern provinces. Just a week later, the capital city of Kabul fell to the Alliance. By November 26, they were able to surround and defeat the last holdout of Taliban forces in Kunduz.

Fall of Kabul

On November 12, 2001, Taliban fighters abandoned the Afghanistan capital, Kabul, and fell back to their base at Khandahar to the south. The next day the Northern Alliance took possession of the city.


The ancient city of Kabul, mentioned in the Rig Veda (Sanskrit hymns dating to before 1500 bce), is the capital of Afghanistan. The majority of the city’s citizens are ethnically Tajiks, who speak Farsi (Persian, the language of Iran) even though most people in the region speak Pashto (the language of the Pashtun tribe.)

In the years after the Soviet Union’s retreat from Afghanistan in 1992, warlord militias fought over control of Kabul. The civilians of Kabul suffered intensely during this period of chaos and civil war, as the various mujahedeen groups (mujahedeen was the term used to refer to those who fought against the Soviet invasion)—many of which joined the Northern Alliance—indulged in murder, torture, looting, abduction, and rape.

Nevertheless, before the Taliban’s rise to power in 1996, Kabul had been relatively modern and cosmopolitan. Under the repressive fundamentalist regime of the Taliban, the religious police had cracked down particularly harshly on the city. Young men could be arrested for shaving, and women would be publicly beaten if they accidentally showed a bare ankle. All secular music was banned. The Taliban forbade anyone to play chess, fly kites, or own any picture of any living thing.

The Bombardment

As the seat of the Taliban government, Kabul endured heavy aerial bombardment once the United States launched Operation Enduring Freedom in October 2001. Almost all civilians who could afford to leave Kabul did so. U.S. military commanders insisted that they had only selected military targets in the city. They hotly denied targeting non-combatants. Nevertheless, they admitted that mistakes had been made and that bombs had gone astray. Though exact numbers were impossible to calculate, several hundred civilians were probably killed in the bombardment.

Afghans fleeing the city reported that Taliban fighters deliberately moved tanks and anti-aircraft equipment into residential areas. The fighters, they asserted, slept in mosques and hospitals to avoid American fire.

Reports of civilian casualties deeply upset Afghans and outraged much of the international community. Indignation ran especially high in the Arab world. Muslims were also angered by America’s stated intent to continue hostilities into the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, which began in mid-November.

The Quick March

The fall of Mazari Sharif to the Northern Alliance on November 9, 2001, caused a ripple effect throughout Afghanistan, drastically accelerating the war. Two days after the fall of Mazari Sharif, the Alliance easily retook their former headquarters at Taloqan, which had been lost to the Taliban the year before. Around the country, local war leaders followed long-established Afghan tradition and switched their allegiance to the winning side.

On November 12, the citizens of Herat, on the western border, rose up against the Taliban. Orchestrated by the United States and Iranian military leaders, the insurrection was timed to coincide with the arrival of Northern Alliance troops under Ismail Khan, former governor of Herat. The Taliban fled, and the city was taken with little bloodshed.

The rapidity of the Taliban’s disintegration surprised and concerned Western observers. If the ruling government should dissolve before an interim government could be formed, they argued, a “power vacuum” would form, and Afghanistan could easily dissolve into chaos.

Furthermore, the opposition forces were composed primarily of northern ethnic minorities. Should they seize power on their own, many feared that the Alliance would not be inclined to share that power. Policy analysts agreed that if the Pashtun majority did not form a central part of the new government, it would have disastrous effects on post-Taliban Afghanistan.

The rebel factions were also feared by the people, who remembered their brutality from the pre-Taliban days. Pakistani President General Pervez Musharraf expressed his concerns frankly: “We know the atrocities that were committed between the period when the Soviets left and before the Taliban came, when there were warlords butchering each other. I have heard stories that are hair-raising. The Northern Alliance must be kept in check so we don’t return to anarchy.”

America wanted to slow things down. President George Bush repeated his earlier appeals to Alliance leaders, urging them not to enter the capital city of Kabul before an interim government could be formed.

On November 12, heavy American bombing all but crippled the defenses around Kabul. The Northern Alliance troops, under General Gul Haidar advanced on the city limits, fighting a few skirmishes with scattered enemy forces. At dusk the army camped for the night in the suburban village of Qarabagh, which had been all but demolished by air strikes.

After 9:00 p.m. that night, Taliban forces fled the city under cover of darkness. It is not clear if their retreat was a planned withdrawal or a panicked rout. Opposition forces entered the city the next morning, arguing that someone needed to restore order to the city. Only a handful of Arab al-Qaeda fighters held out in the Shar-i-Nau park, and these were decimated after a fifteen-minute firefight.

The Liberation

The citizens of Kabul greeted the Alliance with cautious joy. While many feared the newly arrived rebel forces, hatred for the Taliban had run deep. People did not throw flowers at the feet of the UIF, but they celebrated, chanting “Death to the Taliban!” Some pulled out radios to play music on the street; children flew kites; and men rushed to buy razors to shave off their beards. Some women even appeared on the street with their faces unveiled.

Bodies of Taliban fighters lay in the streets to be abused by the crowds. The people of Kabul particularly despised foreigners working with the Taliban—mostly Pakastanis and Saudis. A few such Arab fighters were captured alive and then lynched in front of Western news crews.


In November of 2001, Northern Allied forces (Afghan forces supported by the United States against the Taliban regime in Afghanistan) closed in on the city of Konduz, the last Taliban stronghold in northern Afghanistan. The city was defended by at least six thousand al-Qaeda and Taliban troops, while upwards of thirty thousand civilians were trapped inside.

Approach from the East

On November 11, Northern Alliance troops under Commander Mohammed Daoud Khan took the village of Taloqan, forty miles east of Konduz. As two senior Taliban leaders defected to the opposition forces on the eve of battle, the victory promised to be easy.

As a result, Daoud’s men were overconfident as they chased the retreating enemy toward Kundoz. On November 13, thirty miles east of Konduz, Taliban forces ambushed their pursuers in the village of Bangi. The Alliance retreated in a rout—some trucks even ran over their own soldiers in their rush to escape. Taliban and al-Qaeda fighters only retreated after a withering display of American air power.

The Taliban then entrenched at Selbur, a ridge three miles west of Bangi. They placed mines around the entrance to the village.

Daoud, surprised by the ferocity of the counterattack, decided not to press on immediately. His army held a line for more than a week at Taloqan, while U.S. Special Forces called down a rain of air strikes to soften Konduz’ defensive positions.

Approach from the West

In the meantime, General Rashid Dostum’s forces approached Kunduz from Mazari Sharif. The Uzbek general constantly spoke over the radio to Taliban leaders, some of who surrendered on the spot.

Although only a handful of American Special Forces operatives worked with each unit of the Northern Alliance, the Afghans had been impressed by the effectiveness of U.S. air strikes. Dostum had become particularly enamored with their laser targeting system. Tribal fighters, who had seen decades of warfare, watched while Green Berets would aim a marker gun at a target of Dostum’s choosing. A few minutes later Navy F-18 Fighters would fly overhead, almost invisible at an altitude of twenty thousand feet, and drop a thousand-pound laser-guided bomb precisely at that location.

“Put your guns down, take your jackets off, and march in here,” Dostum told Taliban troops outside Konduz, “or we’ll turn the Americans on to you with their Death Ray.”

Negotiation and Surrender

Generally speaking, Afghan Taliban leaders were ready to give up. The city was surrounded, and the Northern Alliance controlled all of northern Afghanistan. The Taliban commander responsible for the north, Mullah Dadullah, and the governor of Konduz, Haji Omar Khan, both announced their willingness to surrender.

However, a large number of fighters inside and around Konduz had come to Afghanistan from abroad in order to fight in a jihad, or holy war. These foreigners—mostly Saudis, Pakastanis, and Chechens—were allied to al-Qaeda, and violently opposed to any talk of surrender.

Many Afghans loathed the foreigners, who had been invited into the country by the Taliban. Opposition groups considered them to be outsiders who had hijacked the government of Afghanistan. Even those sympathetic to the Taliban often blamed al-Qaeda for bringing on the catastrophic American invasion. As cities fell to the Northern Alliance, townspeople turned against the foreigners, brutally murdering them in the streets.

As a result, the al-Qaeda trapped in Konduz found themselves in a tight corner. International human rights groups warned of an impending massacre. Dostum stated that any amnesty offered to the Taliban did not extend to their “guests.”

In addition, the Northern Alliance’s attitude hardened because the so-called “Arab Afghans” would participate in false surrenders. On one occasion, three Arab Taliban gave themselves up, only to detonate bombs they had hidden on their bodies when they were close enough to their captors. General Pir Mohammed Khaksar, like other Afghan leaders, decided not to risk any more such incidents. He ordered his troops “to kill all the foreigners.”

The United States was not much more sympathetic. At a press conference, Donald Rumsfeld stated: “Any idea that those people should be let loose on any basis to bring terror to other countries and destabilize other countries is unacceptable.”

On November 21, Taliban leader Mullah Faizal went to Mazari Sharif to discuss terms with Dostum. They announced a general surrender of Konduz. However, the next day violence erupted around the city as Afghan Taliban troops attempted to leave the city. It is not clear who began the fighting.

By November 23, however, up to six thousand Afghan Taliban fighters had walked out of the city. Many of them were greeted with hugs by their tribesmen in the Alliance. Opposition forces swept through the city, brutally eliminating pockets of resistance.

Prisoner Controversies

After the fall of Konduz, thousands of foreign prisoners were loaded into stifling metal trucks and taken to prison. A number of them suffocated or died of their wounds along the way and were buried in mass graves. The U.S. military denies that any American soldier participated in, or was aware of, any inhumane treatment of these prisoners of war.

Ironically, America has also come under criticism for leniency toward the enemy. Eyewitnesses—including American soldiers—reported that unauthorized airplanes made several landings inside Kunduz at night, while the airstrips were still under enemy control. The government of India believed that these planes came from Pakistan and that thousands of al-Qaeda fighters, including many high-level Pakistani military officers, were airlifted to freedom. India protested that the American government was buckling under Pakistani pressure and had deliberately allowed terrorists to escape from the city.

The U.S. State Department has not officially confirmed cutting any deal, though it seems unlikely that planes would have been able to pass the American Air Force otherwise.


On December 7, 2001, the Taliban yielded the city of Kandahar to forces of the Northern Alliance (Afghan forces that fought, with the support of the United States against the Taliban regime of Afghanistan). Future President Harmid Karzai negotiated the terms of surrender, which granted amnesty to any Taliban fighter who laid down his arms.

The Bonn Conference

As the Northern Alliance marched virtually unopposed into the capital city of Kabul, many policy experts worried that Afghanistan would collapse once more into anarchy. To prevent this, the international community convened a conference at Bonn, Germany, to decide the future of the country. Four Afghan groups were represented: the followers of Zahir Shah (1914–), the former king of Afghanistan, two other exile factions, and the Northern Alliance.

On December 5, 2001, after days of closed-door meetings, the delegates agreed to create an interim government led by Harmid Karzai, who was, at the time, leading a march on Kandahar. The council further decreed that after six months, a loya jirga—a council of tribal elders—would decide on a transitional government. Free elections were to be held by 2004.

This decision was not universally accepted. In Mazari Sharif, warlord Abdul Rashid Dostum refused to acknowledge the interim government, claiming that it did not represent the Uzbek people. Spiritual leader Sayad Ahmad Gailani also complained that the Bonn agreement was unfair to many mujahedeen who had fought against the Soviets.

Defiant Resistance

In the meantime, the Alliance had seized control of all of northern Afghanistan. American attention turned toward the southern, Pashtun-dominated provinces, particularly to Kandahar. Mullah Omar had lived in the city, and it was considered the spiritual home of the Taliban.

American intelligence believed that both Osama bin Laden and Mullah Omar were holed up somewhere in or around Kandahar. In late November, one thousand U.S. Marines landed at an airstrip about eighty miles southwest of the city. They immediately set about securing the roads, trying to cut off possible escape routes.

The defensive forces in Kandahar were led by Mullah Akhtar Usmani, the loyal, but practical, Taliban Corp Commander. U.S. officials hoped that he could be reasoned with. Twenty-five-year-old police chief, Hafez Majid was less moderate. He was known as a fanatic devoté of Mullah Omar.

Throughout November, U.S. air strikes pounded down on defensive military posts in and around Kandahar. But even as their strongholds crumbled and the number of defectors skyrocketed, the Taliban leadership remained defiant. In radio announcements on November 28 and 29, Omar urged the fighters in Kandahar to fight to the death. “The fight has now begun,” he said. “It is the best opportunity to achieve martyrdom.”

Closing In

Though more American soldiers had entered the battlefield, the U.S. government still preferred to work through local opposition leaders. In the case of Kandahar, they backed ex-governor Ghul Agha Sherzai. The choice was unpopular with many Taliban and non-Taliban Afghanis. Sherzai had ruled Kandahar from 1992 to 1994, and his reign had been brutal.

After meeting the U.S. ambassador in Pakistan in early November, Sherzai started hiring mercenaries and bandits. When he had gathered a force of around eight hundred Pashtuns, he advanced on Kandahar from the south.

On November 23, with U.S. air support, Sherzai ploughed over heavy Taliban resistance at the village of Tahk-te-pol. Two days later the warlord had reached the Kandahar airport, which he took after seven days of heavy American bombing.

Harmid Karzai had worked all of his life for the liberation of Afghanistan. After fighting against the Soviet, he had initially backed the Taliban in their attempt to unify and stabilize the country. Later, as the regime became more repressive, he turned against it. While his siblings fled to the United States, Karzai remained in Pakistan so that he could continue to work for the opposition.

On October 8, 2001, Karzai sneaked across the border by motorcycle, with only two of his aides. Caught by a Taliban ambush, he was rescued by an American helicopter and taken back to Pakistan. He returned on November 14, the day after the Northern Alliance marched into Kabul, this time accompanied by U.S. Delta Force operatives and officers of the CIA.

Karzai led approximately 100 to 150 Afghan guerillas. Accompanied by U.S. Special Forces units, they approached Kandahar from the north, driving in a ragged caravan of Toyota pickups, Subaru taxis, and Nissan vans. While on the road, Karzai addressed the Bonn Convention by satellite phone, accepting his nomination as chairman of the interim government. According to Lieutenant Colonel David Fox, who acted as his military advisor, “He was the personnel officer, the intelligence officer, the operations officer, the logistics officer, the future plans officer, and the communications officer for his element.”

Karzai’s force seized the village of Showali Kowt (and the only bridge across the Arghandab River) after two days of heavy fighting. Toward the end of the battle, Karzai’s unit was hit by friendly fire—a B-52 bomb that had been given the wrong GPS coordinates. Over thirty Afghans and Americans were killed or wounded. Karzai himself was nicked on the face.

The Deal

As the cordon tightened around Kandahar, Karzai spent days speaking by satellite phone to Taliban leaders. By December 7, he had brokered a deal. Taliban fighters would hand over their weapons to Mullah Naqibullah, a well-respected Pashtun tribal elder. They would be allowed safe passage to their home villages. The Taliban surrendered Kandahar province, Helmand Province, and Zabul Province. Ghul Agha Sherzai was made governor of Kandahar, to be assisted by Naqibullah.

When the deal was made public, Mullah Abdul Salam Zaeef, the former Taliban ambassador to Pakistan, asserted that the Taliban had surrendered in order to spare civilian lives.

Washington rejected some of the conditions brokered by Karzai. United States Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld particularly objected to one clause, which would have allowed Mullah Mohammed Omar to “live in dignity” in Kandahar. As it turned out, the point was moot, as it appeared Omar had slipped out of the city during the negotiations.

With the Taliban essentially dissolved, the U.S. military focused its attention on hunting Osama bin Laden, the author of the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on U.S. targets. Helicopters were sent over the southern Afghanistan plains. With the Taliban returning to their homes, often still holding their weapons, it became increasingly difficult to tell friend from foe.

Tora Bora

In December of 2001, U.S. Special Forces and allied local tribes assaulted the cave complex of Tora Bora, where al-Qaeda leaders were believed to shelter. Although heavy damage was inflicted on enemy forces, most American military leaders considered the operation to be a failure. Its main target, terrorist leader Osama bin Laden, very likely escaped during the battle.

Cave Hideouts

As the United Islamic Front (UIF, also known as the Northern Alliance) wrested control of northern Afghanistan from the Taliban, the United States turned its attention to the hunt for al-Qaeda. Intelligence suggested that both bin Laden and Mullah Omar hid in the mountains of southern Afghanistan.

Tora Bora was a mountain fortress in the White Mountains in eastern Afghanistan, right on the border of Pakistan. The outpost backed up on the famous Khyber Pass, through which invading armies had marched since the time of Alexander the Great. In the 1980s, the mujahedeen had reinforced and extended the natural caves of Tora Bora, using them as a stronghold in the bitter war against the Soviets.

The Target

The American government knew how difficult it was to track down a single man and tried to downplay the manhunt for bin Laden. The greater goal, they insisted, was to disrupt the global terrorist network. However, many American soldiers felt differently. Stunned and outraged by al-Qaeda attacks on U.S. targets on September 11, 2001, most of the C.I.A. operatives and the Special Forces Green Berets had volunteered—even begged—to be sent into Afghanistan. They were looking for revenge. One C.I.A. director summed up the prevailing attitude when he said: “I want bin Laden’s head shipped back in a box filled with dry ice.”

In late November, intelligence reports indicated a build-up of al-Qaeda forces in the White Mountains. Witnesses reported seeing a tall man (bin Laden is over six feet tall) who seemed to be in charge. Signal intelligence seemed to confirm that the terrorist mastermind was, in fact, in Tora Bora.

Closing In

By December of 2001, the Taliban had surrendered all of its strongholds in northern Afghanistan. The United States had proved the effectiveness of “unconventional warfare”—the combination of local armies, a small contingent of Special Force ground units, and high-tech aerial bombardment. U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM) hoped to replicate the success of such strategies in the hunt for bin Laden.

However, the situation had changed. Hidden in caves, al-Qaeda was less susceptible to air attack. Furthermore, the people of the region were mostly ethnic Pashtun tribesmen, who tended to embrace the fundamentalist Islam of the Taliban. They also followed a strict code of ethics that included melmastia—absolute hospitality. It was unheard of that a Pashtun chieftan should hand a guest (such as bin Laden) over to his enemies.

The United States attempted to overcome this reluctance by placing a $25 billion bounty on bin Laden’s head. C.I.A. operatives also liberally bribed warlords in the region. However, Pashtun tribal militias lacked the Northern Alliance’s fierce hatred for al-Qaeda, and their performance was relatively lackluster. At least a few Afghans took the Americans’ money, but continued to help bin Laden’s forces in any way they could.

Nevertheless, three local militias signed on to hunt al-Qaeda in the region. Tribal forces led by Commander Mohammed Zaman Ghun Shareef, Commander Haji Zahir, and Commander Hazrat Ali fought their way through the snowy mountains. A handful of American Delta Force operators and C.I.A agents joined them at the beginning of December. Together the allies managed to push the remnants of al-Qaeda back into the Milawa Valley, the northern entrance to Tora Bora.

The Truce

As Commander Zaman’s forces closed in on December 12, an Arab al-Qaeda leader appealed for a cease-fire. He agreed that his men—numbering around eight hundred—would surrender, but only to United Nations officials. Zaman accepted the truce and stopped his men’s advance. He gave the Arab fighters until 8:00 a.m. the following morning to give themselves up.

The two other Afghan chieftains were surprised, not to mention angry, to hear of this arrangement. The Americans promptly declared that they would not accept any conditional surrender whatsoever, and they continued to bombard the caves. No fighters surrendered the next day. Many believed that the negotiations had been a ruse, designed to give the al-Qaeda leadership time to escape.

Their confidence in their Afghan allies shaken, American commanders put more Delta Force commandos on the ground. They were joined by the members of the British Special Air Service (SAS), a small but highly respected combat unit. Together with the Afghan fighters, they began a thorough assault of the mountain, taking cave after cave over fierce resistance.

The Escape

Evidence quickly surfaced that bin Laden and many others had already made good their escape. The American and British forces only besieged the compound from three directions. They left the fourth side—the long, porous Pakistani border—to the Pakistani army.

General Pervez Musharraf, president of Pakistan, had pledged his support for the United States invasion, not least because of America’s thinly veiled threat to attack his own country if he did not. He did so at great political and personal risk, as many of his people supported al-Qaeda and the Taliban. In short, the Pakistani military was, at best, a reluctant ally of the United States. Bin Laden had a great deal of money—both from his own personal fortune and from the looted coffers of the former Afghan government. As a result, hundreds of those supposedly trapped at Tora Bora slipped over the border into friendly territory.

Controversy still surrounds the event. General Tommy Franks and others have expressed doubts that bin Laden was at Tora Bora at all. Others have speculated that the terrorist leader could have died in the battle, either from a missile hit or from poor health. Heavy American bombardment caused many cave-ins, which made it impossible to find all of the al-Qaeda bodies.

The battle for Tora Bora yielded some successes—for example, the capture of some high-ranking al-Qaeda operatives. However, many military officers consider Tora Bora to be a significant American military defeat. Some have blamed CENTCOM’s fear of incurring American casualties, which led to their unwillingness to commit a large number of conventional troops at a critical moment.

Operation Anaconda

In March of 2002, coalition troops fought al-Qaeda die-hards for eleven days in the Shah-i-Kot Valley. Code-named Operation Anaconda, the battle was, for the Americans, the most costly of the Afghan war.

The Valley

On December 22, Harmid Karzai was sworn in as leader of the new Afghanistan interim government. However, it was clear that the country’s troubles were not yet over. Karzai did not have universal support. A large number of Taliban prisoners had been released and allowed to keep their weapons. Foreign jihadists (those pledged to fight a holy war, or jihad, against the West) still came into the country, determined to fight the infidels.

By March of 2002, intelligence sources reported that Taliban and al-Qaeda (the terrorist organization behind the September 11, 2001, attacks on U.S. targets) fighters had begun to regroup in the Shah-i-Kot valley, southeast of Kabul. They were also waging a campaign for the “hearts and minds” of the Afghan people. They circulated pamphlets urging the faithful to join the jihad against the American invaders and even offered bounties on any westerner killed.

Major General Franklin Hagenbeck, in command of the operation, and Colonel John Mulholland, who headed the Special Force Units in northern Afghanistan, had learned from their disappointment at Tora Bora, where they let enemy leaders escape their grasp. This time American troops would entirely encircle the enemy before closing in, hence the name Operation Anaconda. The number of hostiles could not be accurately determined—U.S. military brass estimated around 150. They agreed to commit significant conventional ground forces to the effort.

U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM) had been determined not to repeat the Soviet Union’s mistakes—in the 1980s, the Soviets had floundered in the mountains of Afghanistan, losing as many as 250 men a day. As a result, until this point in the Afghan war, the United States had been reluctant to insert conventional (that is, non-Special Forces) troops into the country.

However, the U.S. policy of using native Afghan fighters as proxies backfired at Tora Bora. Furthermore, conventional military officers were complaining vigorously about being left out of the war. After analyzing the situation, the generals came to the conclusion that the Shah-i-kot Valley would have to be stormed by conventional ground troops, with Special Forces support.

The assembled force included over nine hundred American professional infantry troops and Special Forces. Afghan General Zia Lodin led around the same number of troops, who were recruited by the United States and paid $200 a month. Several hundred British, Canadian, German, French, Danish, and Norwegian soldiers also took part in the battle, making a total force of around two thousand coalition soldiers.

The Hammer and the Anvil

On March 1, coalition forces moved into their positions around the valley. Delta commando units set up in the north and south, attempting to cut off possible escape routes. A Navy SEAL unit (SEALS are the Special Forces of the U.S. Navy) approached and seized an enemy observation post to the southeast.

The Taliban and al-Qaeda troops had entrenched themselves up the sides of the valley. They took cover in caves and behind ridges, all the time targeting oncoming allied troops with mortars and heavy machine guns. Once hostilities were underway, it became clear that there were far more than 150 al-Qaeda fighters in the region—the army now estimated anywhere from six hundred to one thousand.

Task Force Hammer, consisting of both American and Afghan troops, attacked the valley from the west. Their approach was botched. Foiled by unexpectedly difficult road conditions, Task Force Hammer arrived late and disordered. An American AC-130 aircraft, due to various instrument failures, took them for an enemy column and attacked. The resulting friendly firefight killed one American commander and wounded several soldiers. Because of miscommunication, Task Force Hammer received minimal air support when they finally reached their position. The Afghan contingent took heavy losses from al-Qaeda mortar fire.

In the meantime, Task Force Anvil, consisting of the 101st Airborne Division (called the Rakkasans) and the Tenth Mountain Division, were airlifted in from the east. They found the enemy more numerous, better prepared, and more determined than they had expected. Some units in the southern part of the valley—the battle’s “hot spot”—were pinned down by mortar fire. They held their position all day before being airlifted out, suffering almost thirty wounded but none killed.

Having underestimated the opposition’s numbers and firepower, Task Force Anvil did not bring adequate ground artillery. Cover fire was provided by Apache helicopters, who exchanged machine-gun fire nose to nose with enemy positions high in the valley. Air strikes called in by Special Forces also inflicted heavy damage on al-Qaeda positions.

Battle of Takur Ghar

Heavy fighting raged throughout March 2 and 3, as more units were airlifted into combat or blocking positions. Early on the morning of March 4, two Navy SEAL teams were helicoptered onto the mountain peak of Takur Ghar. Their plan was to set up an observation point looking down over the valley.

As it turned out, al-Qaeda fighters had already dug in at high altitudes. One of the Chinook helicopters, Razor 3, touched down in an area swarming with enemy fighters. It was hit from close range by a rocket-propelled grenade (RPG). Taking heavy fire, the damaged ship immediately took off again. However, in the confusion Petty Officer Neil Roberts fell out of the ship. When the Razor 3 turned back to retrieve him, their instruments seized up, and they were forced to crash land several miles away.

The other chopper, Razor 4, came back to the hot spot to rescue Roberts. The SEAL team landed and found themselves in a heavy firefight, and they were forced off the peak.

Two more helicopters, Razor 1 and Razor 2, were sent in with reinforcements. Razor 1 was misdirected to the hot spot and also took an RPG hit the moment it landed. The Army Rangers on board scrambled for cover. They were soon engaged in a fierce and deadly firefight. Thanks to close air strikes, and to the arrival of backups from Razor 2, the Americans held on for hours. By evening, they had managed to take control of the Takur Ghar peak. Seven American servicemen had been killed.

Finishing Up

Hostilities continued for the next two days, though the fiercest of the fighting had ended. On March 6, American bombs took out a truck leaving the valley, only to discover that it was full of women and children. By March 12, the coalition forces swept the region for enemies and encountered very few.

On March 18 General Tommy Franks declared that Operation Anaconda had ended with “unqualified and complete success.” Eight Americans and an unknown number of Afghans had died. Enemy casualties were estimated anywhere from three hundred to eight hundred, but it is widely believed that many more al-Qaeda fighters managed to slip away.


In 2006 and 2007, Afghanistan witnessed a dramatic resurgence of the Taliban, especially in the Pashtun-dominated Panjwaii region about sixteen miles west of Kandahar. Taliban insurgents began to launch attacks against the government of Afghanistan President Harmid Karzai. In an attempt to put down the uprising and to extend the control of the central government, international peacekeeping forces fought several major battles in the region.

The Karzai Government

When Harmid Karzai was peacefully and democratically elected president of Afghanistan in 2004, the international community breathed a sigh of relief. The Taliban had been routed, al-Qaeda was on the run, and a coalition of thirty-seven countries agreed to send peacekeeping and reconstruction forces into the country. It seemed as if Afghanistan was on the road to recovery.

The road was not, however, an easy one. Despite the slow but steady advances of Karzai’s government, several of his ministers have been accused of corruption and incompetence. Afghan tribal warlords still held almost complete sway over their districts, and they pay little attention to Kabul. Lawlessness and poverty were rampant in many outlying parts of the country. Poppy farming has resumed and flourished, bringing with it a booming heroin trade. Millions of Afghan refugees still huddle in Pakistani camps, unable to return to a country that could not support them.

International aid flowed into the country, but not enough to address all the ravages caused by decades of war. When the United States invaded Iraq in 2003, many Afghans felt embittered and abandoned because American attention and resources had been diverted away.

Shocked at modern “irreligious” behavior in urban areas (behavior such as shaving for men or appearing unveiled in public for women), disturbed by lawlessness and the continued lack of public infrastructure, and encouraged by foreign jihadists, many Afghans (especially ethnic Pashtuns) began turning back to the Taliban.

Mountain Thrust

Beginning in 2006, international coalition forces came under increasing attacks by Taliban insurgents. Suicide bomb attacks targeted international troops, and fighters carried out nighttime raids of small-town government offices. On May 17, clashes between Taliban and Canadian peacekeepers resulted in the death of Captain Nichola Goddard, the first Canadian female to die in combat.

Compared to the ragged Taliban army of 2001, the 2006 insurgents seems better equipped and more prepared for combat. They also rely more heavily on suicide attacks. For these reasons, some military experts suspect that former members of the Iraqi army have been training the new Taliban.

In June 2006, alarmed by insurgent activity throughout the south, the U.S.-led peacekeeping force initiated Operation Mountain Thrust. Eleven thousand coalition soldiers from thirty-seven nations joined forces with three thousand Afghan National Army troops to target insurgency strongholds throughout southern Afghanistan. Canadian units led the Mountain Thrust effort into the town of Pashmul, in Panjwaii, where they encountered particularly fierce resistance. Several Canadian fighters were killed, and the local school was completely destroyed.

In July, Mountain Thrust wound down. Coalition leaders claimed that more than six hundred militants were killed. However, quite a few civilians had also died, and a great deal of property had been destroyed.

By October, it was announced that NATO’s International Security Assistance Force would take control of peacekeeping in the region. (NATO, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, is an alliance between western nations.)

Operation Medusa

By September 2, 2006, it became clear the Taliban had regrouped and was once more taking control of the Panjwaii region. In response, NATO launched Operation Medusa, a two-week offensive that involved more than twenty thousand NATO troops. Canadian forces bore the brunt of the fighting, supported by American, British, and Dutch air support.

The Taliban militants in Panjwaii put up a surprising amount of resistance, standing their ground and fighting instead of melting back into the mountains. NATO forces fought with air strikes and with direct artillery fire, taking casualties. Nine Canadian soldiers died throughout the operation, bringing the country’s death toll in Afghanistan since 2002 to thirty-six. One died in a friendly fire incident, when an American plane accidentally strafed an allied position. Fourteen British soldiers died when a surveillance plane crashed, apparently from a mechanical failure, at the beginning of the campaign.

It was estimated that more than five hundred insurgents were killed. Taliban spokespeople denied the number.

NATO declared Operation Medusa finished, and successful, on September 17. Nevertheless, an unknown number of Taliban escaped, presumably to fight another day. Insurgent attacks continued sporadically throughout the country, as did anti-Taliban operations.

In October, misdirected NATO air strikes killed thirty-one Afghan civilians. Harmid Karzai insisted with vehemence that NATO should avoid such incidents, though he also called the Taliban “cowardly” for sheltering behind innocents.

Ongoing Operations

With the consent of the Afghanistan government, NATO forces continued to cooperate with the Afghan Army in an ongoing attempt to squelch the Taliban resurgence. Coalition forces mounted Operation Mountain Fury and Operation Falcon Summit in 2007.


Guantanamo Bay Detainment Camp

The detention center at Guantanamo Bay Naval Base in Cuba stands as perhaps the most controversial landmark in the ongoing War on Terrorism. Set up in the wake of the invasion of Afghanistan as a holding area for the hundreds of al-Qaeda and Taliban prisoners captured during the last months of 2001, the “Gitmo” prison has earned vocal condemnation from both within and outside the United States for its approach to handling its detainees, which many call illegal, as well as for widespread allegations of the use of torture.

Development of the Detention Center

Guantanamo Bay was acquired in the wake of the Spanish-American War (1898) as a perpetual lease from Cuba to the United States. A naval base constructed there served many purposes over the years; prior to terrorist attacks on U.S. targets on September 11, 2001, it was the primary holding center for Cuban and Haitian refugees picked up at sea by the U.S. Navy.

As the War on Terrorism got under way in late 2001 with the invasion of Afghanistan, the United States soon found itself with hundreds of prisoners and little room overseas in which to keep them. The prisoners taken during the opening weeks Operation Enduring Freedom (the initial attack on Afghanistan) presented a rich intelligence opportunity—the need for a centralized detention facility in which to conduct interrogations and process terrorism suspects quickly became evident.

Guantanamo Bay was selected ostensibly to provide just such a holding area without bringing suspected terrorists into the United States itself. Critics have charged that the location provided the additional benefit of shielding the goings-on at the facility from media and judicial attention.

Controversial Procedures

From the very beginning, the Guantanamo Bay detainment camp was run according to its own set of rules. Detainees were classified as “enemy combatants,” emphatically not prisoners of war. This new, hazily defined term allowed the Department of Defense to bypass international law, called the Geneva Conventions, regarding the treatment of prisoners taken during warfare. This approach was later deemed illegal by a U.S. Supreme Court ruling in 2006, which ruled the detainees should be subject to the Geneva Conventions as if they were prisoners of war.

The detainees at the Guantanamo Bay detainment camp also experienced a unique form of justice, unprecedented in American civil or military law: the military tribunal. This new process put the prisoner at the complete mercy of his captors and ignored several long-standing traditions in American law, including the right to petition for a writ of habeas corpus.Habeas corpus (Latin for “you have the body”) protects people from wrongful imprisonment—for example, it protects them from being held indefinitely without a charge being filed. With such a right suspended, as it is at Guantanamo, a prisoner can be held indefinitely without trial.

During the first five years of its operation, the majority of Guantanamo detainees were released without charges, albeit often after several years in custody. As of late 2006, more than 250 inmates remained in legal limbo with no charges filed against them and no sign of an upcoming trial or release.

Conditions Inside the Prison

The environment of the prison at Guantanamo has also been a source of furious debate. Prisoners’ living conditions at the prison are subject to their level of compliance. A compliant detainee gains increased access to the exercise yard and the right to contact with fellow prisoners, whereas uncooperative inmates are put in solitary confinement.

The stories of released prisoners, along with evidence from leaked documents and the testimony of federal agents who visited the detention center, paint a grim picture. Tales of chambers that alternated between blistering heat and teeth-chattering cold, of sleep-deprivation and water torture, of prisoners being hung from walls or of being left hog-tied for days at a time, and of guards and interrogators defacing the Koran (the Muslim holy book), have been told and retold. Repeated hunger strikes by prisoners failed to affect a change in policy—several strikers were reportedly force fed, a direct violation of international policy.

Sean Baker, a guard at the detention center, seemed to corroborate reports of brutality when, posing as an uncooperative inmate during a secret training drill, he was beaten so severely that he sustained permanent brain injuries and suffered from recurring seizures.

Calls for Closure

New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman wrote a well-publicized article in 2005 calling for the closure of the base: “It has become worse than an embarrassment. I am convinced that more Americans are dying and will die if we keep the Gitmo prison open than if we shut it down. So, please, Mr. President, just shut it down.”

A particularly vocal source of criticism from abroad has come from the United Kingdom, normally a staunch U.S. ally. Several British legal experts and members of Parliament have condemned the prison in the harshest terms. While he was the British prime minister, Tony Blair also went on record expressing his distaste for the center, along with his wish that it would be shut down.

In the wake of the 2006 Congressional elections, in which a Democratic majority was elected in both the House of Representatives and Senate largely on an anti-war policy, the first efforts to shut down the Guantanamo Bay detainment camp were inaugurated in the spring of 2007. The alternative—to house the detainees in federal prisons inside the United States—has been strongly opposed by Republican Congressmen.

Five years after it began operations, the fate of the detention center at Guantanamo Bay remains unclear. As for the prisoners within, the Supreme Court has begun handing down rulings that may go some way toward creating a codified approach more in keeping with American legal traditions.

International Context

NATO Participation

Afghanistan, invaded by the United States in the wake of the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, has been under the control of an international coalition of members of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) since 2002. Elements of this international force, initially concerned mainly with the area around the capital of Kabul, have increasingly shouldered responsibility for bringing security to the more volatile regions of the country and, since 2006, have also engaged in battles against a resurgent Taliban. Canadian forces in particular have led this fight, sustaining the second highest allied casualty rate in the ongoing occupation.


Although the United States military dominated the initial invasion of Afghanistan in October 2001, the need for an international peacekeeping force quickly became evident as the year came to a close. This new NATO-led coalition, dubbed the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF), comprised more than thirty thousand troops from more than thirty countries. Led by a rotating staff of generals, the ISAF has seen its role in Afghanistan steadily expand as the conflict in Iraq has put increasing demands on U.S. manpower in the region.

Although the ISAF has been in Afghanistan since 2002, it is only since 2005 that its troops have been deployed outside the immediate region of Kabul. During that three-year interim, a massive manhunt for Osama bin Laden (leader of al-Qaeda, the terrorist organization behind the September 11 attacks) saw the situation in much of Afghanistan deteriorate as U.S. troops were committed to combat operations at the expense of providing security for a country still unstable in the wake of the collapse of the Taliban. After the Taliban fell, local warlords muscled their way back into power across the country, so for many Afghans, life is little better now than it was under the Taliban. In fact, in many regions opium poppy production (forbidden by the Taliban regime) has skyrocketed, as have corruption and graft.

Canadian Offensives in Kandahar

In an effort to curb these disturbing trends, ISAF units were deployed to the dangerous southern provinces, particularly Kandahar. The reemergence of the Taliban in 2006 added a new note of urgency to the increased role of ISAF. Canadian units, which had played a small, if important, supporting role in 2002’s Operation Anaconda (during which Canadian sniper teams broke the Vietnam-era record for the longest-distance confirmed kill), would take the lead in ISAF’s new role in Kandahar.

In 2006, a squadron of Canadian Leopard tanks was deployed to the region, the first foreign deployment of tanks to Afghanistan since the start of Operation Enduring Freedom. The tanks arrived in time to assist with the mop-up of the months-long Battle of Panjwaii between a revitalized Taliban force and a Canadian-led coalition.

Operation Falcon Summit, kicked off in December 2006, saw a continuation of the Canadian-led ISAF effort against the Taliban. Now enjoying the support of their Leopard tanks, the operation took its objectives without a single allied death.

With ISAF providing badly needed support in the south, and the Canadian-led victories of 2006, the Taliban began using suicide bomb attacks targeting military personnel and reconstruction projects. These new attacks, combined with the country’s burgeoning illegal drug trade and evidence of a reemerging al-Qaeda presence, has led many to question the future of Afghanistan and the ability of the NATO coalition forces to guarantee peace and stability in the region.



Weapons of Mass Destruction

In 2003, President George W. Bush became convinced that Iraq supported anti-U.S. terrorist activities and possessed significant numbers of so-called “weapons of mass destruction”—chemical, biological, or nuclear weapons. Bush and members of his staff told the American people and the international community that they had reliable intelligence that indicated these weapons of mass destruction were a direct threat to the United States and that America must, as a matter of self defense, invade Iraq and topple the government.

The Iraqi Threat

President Saddam Hussein of Iraq had a long history of military aggression. In 1980, he launched a long and costly war against neighboring Iran. During the eight-year conflict, he received supplies and technology from the United States and other western countries, including chemical and biological weapons (at the time the United States believed Iran was a more potent enemy). Saddam used chemical weapons against Iranian soldiers and civilians. Though the Iran-Iraq war ended in stalemate with both countries crippled economically, Saddam had gained valuable military technology—and he had shown the world he was perfectly willing to unleash the horrors of chemical and biological warfare on his enemies.

In August 1991, Saddam again invaded a neighbor—this time the tiny, but oil-rich, nation of Kuwait, which had loaned Iraq billions of dollars during its war with Iran. Kuwait refused to forgive the debt, straining relations between the countries. Saddam saw a simple solution to his country’s financial problem: take Kuwait and take its oil. The international community condemned the invasion, and the United States, with full United Nations support, led a coalition force into Kuwait to push Iraq out. President George H.W. Bush, who had been vice president of the United States during the Iran-Iraq War, was fully aware of the Iraqi military’s capabilities and Saddam’s ruthlessness. The Gulf War, as the conflict came to be called, ended when Iraq was pushed out of Kuwait in February 1991. Because the stated aim of the conflict was to liberate Kuwait, coalition forces did not seek to capture Saddam or overthrow his government. Saddam remained a thorn in the side of the U.S. government.

Suspicious Intelligence

After the Gulf War, United Nations weapons inspectors visited Iraq regularly to verify that Saddam was not developing biological, chemical, or nuclear weapons. The inspectors found and destroyed significant chemical weapons stockpiles. In 1998, however, Saddam kicked the weapons inspectors out of the country. This made it difficult, if not impossible, to verify intelligence about Iraqi weapons programs.

During 2002 and 2003, various U.S. intelligence agencies gathered information about Iraqi weapons that troubled the Bush administration. There were intercepted messages about nerve gas, for example. Compounding the worry was the fact that the chief UN weapons inspector in Iraq, Hans Blix, announced that he believed that Iraq had not declared all the chemical weapons that it possessed. At issue was the accounting system the Iraqis used for its weapons. Documents that showed the numbers of chemical weapons did not match what Saddam declared to the UN. There was no way of knowing what happened to all the weapons. The Bush administration chose to believe that this lack of accounting proved the weapons still existed.

Secretary of State Colin Powell was assigned the task of making the case for military action against Iraq to the United Nations and to the world. He addressed the United Nations on February 5, 2003. The best evidence he had were satellite images of what appeared to be mobile missile launchers with chemical and biological warheads being moved in an attempt to conceal them from UN inspectors. He also explained that the CIA had human eyewitness accounts of mobile biological and chemical labs that were producing weapons of mass destruction. Powell showed sketches of these mobile labs. He also said Iraq had links to the terrorist organization al-Qaeda (which was behind the September 11, 2001, attacks on U.S. targets).

Powell had much popularity and credibility with other leaders of the world, the American people, and the media. Many skeptics were turned into believers after the Powell presentation. World leaders such as Jacques Chirac from France, Vladimir Putin from Russia, and Gerhard Schroeder from Germany still did not believe it was necessary to go to war, however. They believed the evidence was sketchy and could not be verified. Critics of the plan even speculate that the evidence was just a ruse to give the United States an excuse to oust Saddam, who had proved so troublesome over the years.

The United States chose to invade Iraq without international support. No stockpiles of weapons of mass destruction were discovered after the invasion. In 2005, Colin Powell (who had resigned as secretary of state) described his presentation to the UN before the invasion as a “blot” on his record and bluntly stated that “the [U.S.] intelligence system did not work well.”


The 1990s saw a huge expansion of economic growth in western countries, especially in the United States. Oil prices were stable for much of the decade. However, a bustling economy meant that the Americans had a greater demand for and dependence on oil from the Middle East. Demand was exceeding supply even though OPEC (the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries) tried to bump up oil production two separate times in August 2000. At the time, Iraq was churning out 3.6 million barrels per day, its highest output ever. If there was any type of disturbance in the supply of Iraqi oil, it would greatly affect the economy of the United States.

An American Addiction

The United States had a clear problem: “it was addicted to oil,” as President George W. Bush would later say in a State of the Union speech. Before Bush entered office in 2001, the United States was using nineteen million barrels of oil per day—two times the amount the country used in 1983. It had to import 60 percent of this total. More problematic was the reduced capacity of American oil production—oil output had fallen by 15 percent while domestic demand had grown by 11 percent. The United States had only 5 percent of the world’s population, but consumed 25 percent of the world’s oil.

Iraq had been crippled by United Nations sanctions since its invasion of Kuwait in 1990. Saddam Hussein, the president of Iraq, began to realize that America’s unquenchable thirst for oil might work in his favor. In 2000, Saddam signaled to the West that he would not keep producing at the current level unless the UN voted to relax the sanctions against Iraq. President Bill Clinton, who was in the final months of his second term in office, realized the United States was in a precarious position. The economy had already started to look shaky. Oil traders knew supplies of home heating oil and crude oil inventory in the United States were at low levels and they began bidding up prices. West Texas Intermediate crude futures rose to $37 a barrel. Clinton decided to release one million barrels per day for thirty days from the U.S. Strategic Petroleum Reserve. This helped stabilize and reduce world oil prices.

To further shake up the world oil market, Saddam seized the initiative and accused Kuwait of illegal drilling and held Saudi Arabia liable for oil revenue losses when the Kingdom closed a pipeline from southern Iraq. Saddam’s belligerence made oil traders nervous and the oil prices were in danger of spiking up again. Saddam was able to use oil as a weapon against Western nations and their allies: he cut off the supply of oil to Israel for thirty days in 2002 when Israel re-occupied disputed territory, and he invited other Arab countries to follow suit.

Protecting Oil Sources

President Bush realized that American dependence on oil from the Middle East was a weakness that could easily be exploited by al-Qaeda, the terrorist organization responsible for the September 11, 2001, attacks on U.S. targets. Many Islamic fundamentalists throughout the Middle East supported al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden. This popular support for bin Laden made it difficult for Middle East heads of state to align themselves openly with the United States. Nevertheless, the United States redoubled its efforts to develop strong ties with Saudi Arabia, one of the world’s leading oil producers and a leading influence in the Middle East. The Unites States has made the case that stability in the Middle East is in everyone’s best interest, and that aggressors like Saddam and terrorists like bin Laden are threats to stability.

Blood for Oil?

Critics of the U.S. invasion of Iraq have argued that the real reason for American action against the country was oil. The United States, it was argued, worried that Saddam would cut off supplies of Iraqi oil or that control of Iraqi oil would fall into al-Qaeda hands, with or without Saddam’s approval. Indeed, since the invasion, the management and protection of Iraqi oil has been a major U.S. concern. While the Iraqi oil infrastructure was secured during the initial invasion of Iraq in 2003, it endured many attempts at sabotage and terrorism. The Iraqi oil fields currently produce about 1.9 million barrels per day as opposed to 2.5 million barrels a day under Saddam. The northern oil fields in Kirkuk are operating at much less than full capacity thanks to constant vandalism and theft of the oil pipeline. To this date, the Iraqi parliament has yet to pass an oil revenue bill that is palatable to all the different factions in the Iraqi government.

Major Figures

Tariq Aziz

Under Iraqi president Saddam Hussein, Tariq Aziz (1936–) served as the deputy prime minister and foreign minister of Iraq. He was the public face of Iraq for the West from the early 1980s until he was captured during the invasion of Iraq in 2003.

Aziz was born Mikhail Yuhanna in 1936 in Tell Kaif, Iraq, a city near Mosul. Born into a family of Chaldean Christians who practiced a form of Catholicism, he was the son of a waiter, who died when his son was seven years old. (Some sources say his father was a doctor and native of Turkey.) Aziz received nearly all of his education in Baghdad. He earned a degree in English literature from the University of Baghdad in 1958, and later earned a master’s degree from the institution as well.

Active in the Baath Party

After earning his undergraduate degree, Aziz worked as an educator. By this time, he had become active in the Baath Arab Socialist Party, which at the time was an underground movement working in opposition to Iraq’s monarch King Faisal II. He was among the group’s leading intellectuals.

In 1958, Aziz began working as a journalist at Al-jumhuriyah (The Republic). He also was the editor of the Baath Party magazines, al-Ishtirakiand al-Jamahir. He continued to support the Baath Party when General Abdul Karim Qassem staged a coup to remove the monarch, also in 1958.

By 1963, Aziz was the editor-in-chief of Al-jumhuriyah. That year, Qassem was ousted and the now-legitimate Baath Party took over during the so-called Ramadan Revolution. Because of internal conflicts, the Baath Party split up and lost power later that year. Aziz supported a centrist faction led by General Ahmad Hasan al-Bakr.

Allegiance to Saddam

During the mid-1960s, Aziz aligned himself with Saddam. Aziz joined a rebellious faction helmed by Saddam and based in Tikrit. Within five years, the Baath Party had reorganized and was again in charge of Iraq. In 1968, Aziz returned to journalism. Though he was denied a position as a national correspondent for a Lebanon-based newspaper because he was believed to be a spy, Aziz was hired as the editor of Al-thawra (The Revolution), a journal of the Baath Party, with the help of Saddam.

Four years later, Aziz moved from journalism to politics, becoming the first Christian to serve in the Baath government. In 1972, he joined the ruling Revolutionary Command Council’s bureau of general affairs. Aziz then became the minister of information in 1974, serving President Ahmad Hasan al-Bakr. That year, he also became a candidate member of the Regional Command of the Baath government. Aziz achieved full membership in 1977.

Deputy Prime Minister

In 1979, Saddam became Iraq’s president, succeeding al-Bakr. Saddam named Aziz his deputy prime minister and then named him foreign minister as well in 1982. As foreign minister, Aziz became the face of Iraq for the Western World. He soon began working to re-establish full diplomatic relations with Egypt in 1983, and eventually achieved his goal. During the Iran-Iraq War of the 1980s, Aziz asked President Ronald Reagan for American aid in fighting Iran. Improving Iraq’s relations with other countries as well, he also secured support from the French and the Soviet Union.

Aziz’s job became more difficult in the 1990s, when he had to defend Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait on August 2, 1990, as well as Iraq’s use of chemical weapons. As the Gulf War began when the United States intervened on Kuwait’s behalf, Aziz began negotiating an alliance with Iran to ensure Iraq retained an ally in the conflict. After the end of the Gulf War, Aziz stepped down as foreign minister, but remained deputy prime minister.

In the late 1990s, Aziz continued to be a public, though guarded, spokesperson for Iraq. He accused Western governments of exploiting Iraq over oil in 1998, incurring their irritation. He also had to deal with the United Nations weapons inspectors who regularly visited the country from 1991 to 1998, and he tried to thwart their efforts.

After September 11

After the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on New York City and Washington,D.C., Aziz’s job became increasingly difficult. The United States invaded Afghanistan to topple the Taliban, an extremist Islamic government that harbored the mastermind behind the attacks, Osama bin Laden. By 2002, the United States was threatening to use similar military force against Iraq because of Saddam’s alleged possession of weapons of mass destruction. Aziz attempted to use diplomacy with the Americans, but Iraq was invaded in 2003 and Saddam’s government soon fell.

Wanted by the United States, Aziz surrendered to American forces in April 2003, though his wife and two sons had managed to flee to Jordan. Though he initially refused to testify against Saddam or any other fellow members of the erstwhile regime, Aziz was compelled to testify at Saddam’s trial in May 2006 and spoke in praise of the former leader.

Allegedly in ill health, Aziz remains in U.S. custody awaiting trial for crimes against humanity.

George W. Casey, Jr.

General George W. Casey, Jr., (1948–) served as the top allied military commander in the war in Iraq from July 2004 to early 2007. His tenure was considered controversial by its end, though Casey himself was regarded as intelligent, self-disciplined, and even-keeled.

Born on July 22, 1948, in Sendai, Japan, Casey was the son of George William Casey, Sr., and his wife, Elaine Casey, Sr., was a career military officer in the U.S. Army, and was stationed in Japan at the time of his son’s birth. Casey was raised in various places in the United States and Europe because of his father’s occupation.

Casey attended Boston College High School. He ran track and played basketball there and also worked as a golf caddy at a local country club. Casey then entered Georgetown University and studied international relations in the School of Foreign Service while serving in the Reserve Officer Training Corps. He also worked as an equipment manager on a part-time basis for the Washington Redskins, a professional football team.

Early Army Career

Casey graduated with his B.S. in 1970, entered the U.S. Army as a second lieutenant, and was stationed in West Germany. Before leaving, he learned his father, by then a major general, had lost his life in a helicopter accident while serving during the Vietnam War. Casey, Sr., died in a crash in Cambodia and was the most senior American officer who lost his life in that conflict.

Casey spent the next two years serving in the U.S. Army. Though he had planned on leaving the service and going to law school when his tour was complete, his father’s death, combined with his growing satisfaction in military life, compelled him to change his mind. Casey re-enlisted in 1972 and spent the whole of his professional career in the army. In the 1970s, he held a succession of field command and staff positions.

Casey also continued his education, attending the University of Denver. He earned his master’s degree in international relations in 1980. In 1981, Casey was assigned to Cairo, Egypt, where he was a military observer for the United Nations. In 1982, he left the post to return to Colorado. There, he served as an executive officer for the First Battalion, Tenth Infantry, Fourth Division, U.S. Army, stationed at Fort Carson. In 1984, Casey began serving on the staff of the 4th Infantry Division, also at Fort Carson. He then was named commander of the First Battalion, Tenth Infantry, Fourth Division, again at Fort Carson. Casey held this post from 1985 to 1987.

Service in Washington and Europe

Moving to Washington, D.C., Casey became a program coordinator for the Office of the Chief of Legislative Liaison in 1988. Then, from 1989 to 1991, he served as a special assistant to the army chief of staff, also in Washington. Casey spent the next four years at Fort Hood in Texas, first as the chief of staff for the First Calvary Division for two years, then as the commander of the Third Brigade for the First Calvary.

Stationed in Europe beginning in 1995, Casey served as an assistant chief of staff for the V Corps. in the U.S. Army in Europe. Remaining in Europe, Casey became the assistant division commander of the First Armored Division, United States Army Europe and Seventh Army in 1996. In this position, he took part in a peacekeeping mission in Bosnia-Herzegovina. Casey left the post in 1997 to go back to Washington, D.C. He then served as the assistant deputy director of politico-military affairs for the Joint Staff from 1997 to 1999. Here, Casey helped coordinate policy for the Kosovo air war.

In 1999, Casey was named the commander of the First Armored Division in Germany. He remained in the position until 2001, when he returned to Washington. Working again at the Pentagon, he was the director for strategic plans, policy, for the Joint Staff from 2001 to 2003. Here, he expressed concerns about the Iraq War and the lack of any post-war planning for the conflict.

After briefly serving as director of the Joint Staff for several months, Casey was named vice chief of staff of the U.S. Army in October 2003. Casey was promoted to four-star general around the same time. In this position, he dealt with War on Terror–related issues, such as organizing the training and ensuring the equipping of American forces serving in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Iraq Military Commander

President George W. Bush selected Casey to become the commander of multi-national military forces in Iraq in June 2004. Casey replaced Lieutenant General Ricardo Sanchez, who had lost support after the Abu Ghraib prison scandal in which American soldiers were suspected of torturing Iraqi prisoners. Confirmed by the Senate for the position with bipartisan support, he took over in July 2004 and hoped to ensure terrorism could not be used to achieve political objectives in Iraq.

Stationed in the country, Casey oversaw 140,000 American troops as well as 25,000 allied soldiers. Overall, he was in charge of the role the military played in political and reconstruction issues in Iraq. Among his first goals were to train and equip Iraq’s own security forces and aid the Iraq people in their fight against the growing insurgency. He also helped prepare Iraq for national elections, held in late 2005. Despite many problems in Iraq, including an insurgency that seemed to gain strength over time, Casey’s tenure was generally considered a success by the administration and he believed that the process for rebuilding Iraq was on track.

Though Casey was supposed to rotate out of the position in July 2006, Bush asked him to extend his tenure for at least six months because of his ability to work well with many senior officers in the Middle East as well as the U.S. ambassador to Iraq, Zalmay Khalilzad. Casey was also admired for his knowledge of the delicate political situation in Iraq. Casey remained in Iraq until early 2007, when General David Petraeus replaced him.

Army’s Chief of Staff

Returning to the United States, Casey defended himself during an appearance in front of the Senate Armed Services Committee as part of his nomination to become the U.S. Army’s Chief of Staff. There, some Republicans joined the Democratic voices of dissent over the war and how it was handled, accusing Casey of making some poor decisions. Casey defended his actions and was confirmed for the position by the Senate in February 2007. Early in his tenure, Casey announced his desire to increase the number of active duty forces in the U.S. Army by 65,000 by the year 2010.

David Petraeus

After the United States invaded Iraq in 2003, General David Petraeus (1952–) played several key roles in that war. He first commanded the 101st Airborne Division, which occupied northern Iraq, then oversaw the training of the reconstituted Iraqi army. In 2007 he became the head of all American forces there, replacing General George Casey.

David Petraeus was born November 7, 1952, in Cornwall, New York. He was the son of Sixtus and Miriam (Sweet) Petraeus. His father was a Dutch sea captain who served on a “Liberty” ship during World War II. Growing up near the United States Military Academy, Petraeus himself entered West Point after completing high school. After graduating with his B.S. in 1974, he joined the U.S. Army as a second lieutenant.

Early Military Career

Petraeus was first stationed overseas in Italy for four years with the 1/509th Infantry. Coming back to the United States in 1979, he was affiliated with the 24th Infantry Division at Fort Stewart, serving as co-commander, operations officer, and aide-de-camp over the next years. At the same time, Petraeus continued his education, first at the U.S. Army Command and General Staff College. He graduated from the Ft. Leavenworth, Kansas-based school in 1983.

While remaining with the 24th Infantry, Petraeus also became an assistant professor of international relations at West Point for two years, 1985 to 1987. By this time, Petraeus was attending Princeton University. He earned both a master’s and doctorate from the Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs in 1985 and 1987 respectively. He later credited his graduate education in international relations with giving him effective leadership skills.

In 1987, Petraeus returned to Europe as the military assistant to the Supreme Allied Commander in Europe for the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO). In this post, he was stationed in Brussels, Belgium. Going back to the United States a year later, Petraeus held a succession of leadership positions for various divisions through the 1990s and early 2000s.

Wounded in Training Exercise

By the Gulf War in 1991, Petraeus was an assistant to the chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. He was wounded in 1991 during a training exercise at Fort Campbell. He was shot in the chest near his heart. This serious injury later required surgery to remove part of his lung. It was not the only non-combat injury Petraeus would suffer. He later broke his pelvis while doing a parachute jump.

Service in Iraq

In 2002, Petraeus became the commander of the 101st Airborne. He led the eighteen thousand soldiers in his division during the invasion of Iraq in 2003, his first combat experience. As the war began, the 101st launched some of the major air strikes that started the war, then provided support for the 3rd Infantry as it moved over land to take Baghdad.

After the 101st secured Mosul, in northern Iraq, Petraeus and his soldiers made it their headquarters for a time. As occupying commander, Petraeus showed himself to be a skilled leader and was widely praised for his handling of the situation as he had his soldiers reach out to the local population. His division did five thousand rebuilding projects in Mosul, including founding a television network and a soccer league for kids.

Petraeus took on a new task in June 2004, becoming the commander of the multinational security transition command. In this position, he was put in charge of helping the Iraqis form their own security forces and training them, as the previous military and many police forces had been dispersed after the invasion. This duty was especially important as an insurgency was gaining strength, and having Iraqi military and police forces were important to the stability of that country. Petraeus continued to aid in the development of the Iraqi military for fifteen months until late in 2005. Nearly 200,000 Iraqis were trained under Petraeus’s command.

Returning to the United States, Petraeus became the commander of the U.S. Army’s Combined Arms Center at Fort Leavenworth. He spent two years in the post before being asked to return to Iraq. In February 2007, Petraeus became the Multi-National Force commander in Iraq. He replaced General George Casey, who went back to the United States to become the army chief of staff. Around the same time, Petraeus was promoted to four-star general.

Head of U.S. Forces in Iraq

Going back to Baghdad, Petraeus faced significant challenges as support for the war was evaporating in the United States and many areas of Iraq seemed increasingly chaotic. His immediate goal was to secure Baghdad and other parts of Iraq with more American troops. Petraeus believed this effort would help Iraq’s government gain better control of the country as well as credibility among the Iraqi people. Petraeus has stated, however, that it might take as long as a decade to stabilize Iraq enough for American forces to leave.

Jalal Talabani

Elected president of Iraq in 2005, Jalal Talabani (1933–) had to deal with controversy and intense instability in his country as the United States continued to occupy Iraq after the 2003 invasion. He had been active in Kurdish politics for decades, seeking autonomy and independence for the Kurdish people, a minority population in Iraq. Talabani also had served on the Iraq Governing Council.

Early Political Activities

Born in 1933 in Kelkan, a city in South Kurdistan that was part of Iraq, Talabani was the son of a Qadiri murshid (a sufi teacher; sufism is a kind of Islamic mysticism) and part of a prominent Kurdish family. (The Kurds are a distinct ethnic group and minority people in Iraq and have suffered persecution for centuries.) He became politically active at a young age, founding the Kurdish Student Union at thirteen. Talabani joined the Kurdish Democratic Party (KDP) in 1947, which incorporated the underground union into its organization. In 1951, Talabani became a central council member in the KDP.

Head of the KDP

Though his political activities sometimes forced him into hiding, Talabani eventually moved to Baghdad and graduated from Baghdad University with a law degree in 1959. Continuing his political activities, he became the head of the KDP in 1960. He held this position until 1966. At the same time, Talabani worked as a journalist and editor. He also served in the Iraqi Army as the leader of a tank unit.

By 1961, Talabani was spending much of his time on the issues of the Kurdish people and politics. Talabani assisted in the Kurdish resistance to the Iraqi government. He even went abroad on diplomatic missions on the behalf of the KDP and the Kurdish independence movement.

Though Talabani was the head of the KDP in the early and mid-1960s, there was dissension within the group. He joined a splinter group of mercenaries fighting the KDP in 1966, but it disbanded in 1970. At that time, the KDP reached a peace and autonomy agreement with the Iraqi government, represented by vice president Saddam Hussein. The peace only lasted until the mid-1970s.

Founded PUK

Still unsatisfied with the KDP and the position of Kurds in Iraq, Talabani was the co-founder of and secretary general of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) in 1975. PUK was a separatist political party also acting on behalf of Kurdish interests. There were tensions between Talabani and the leader of the KDP, Massoud Barzani, and each party fought for control of Kurdish political factions.

Within a year, PUK started using armed resistance to fight the ruling Baath Party. This practice continued through the 1980s, when Iraq was fighting Iran in the Iran-Iraq War. The conflict reached new heights in 1988, when Saddam, by then the leader of the Baath Party and the ruler of Iraq, began using chemical weapons against the Kurdish people. Thousands died as a result. Talabani went to Iran temporarily, but never ceased his criticism of Saddam.

Infighting to Autonomy

Despite this situation, in-fighting between Kurdish factions only grew stronger. The relationship between PUK and KDP continued to weaken during the Gulf War (1990–1991). In 1992, there was a brief respite as the two parties reached a truce and jointly ruled the Kurdish Autonomous Zone created after the war’s end. Tensions still existed, however, and Talabani and Barzani ended their joint rule with more armed conflict in 1994. By 1996, Talabani had founded his own Kurdish Regional Government, headquartered in Sulaymaniyya.

Though there was still much hostility between PUK and KDP as well as their leaders, Talabani and Barzani reached a new peace agreement in 1998. Again, they jointly ruled Kurdistan and their alliance only grew stronger over the next few years. Talabani and Barzani worked together for the continued autonomy for the Kurd’s living in Iraq and hoped to one day achieve Kurdish independence. More autonomy was gained in late 2002 with the first full session of the Kurdish Parliament. By 2003, Talabani was serving as the vice president of the Kurdish Regional Government, which united Iraqi Kurds together within Iraq.

President of Iraq

After the United States invaded Iraq in March 2003 as part of the War on Terrorism, Talabani rose to new political heights. Within a few months, he was appointed to membership in the Iraqi Governing Council, the interim government put in place after the removal of Saddam’s regime. Talabani spent two years working on both Kurdish and Iraqi issues, while trying to put a democratic government in place in Iraq.

In 2005, the national assembly of Iraq held elections. Talabani was elected president of Iraq, the first Kurd to become the leader of the predominantly Arab country. As president, he promised to continue pursuing democracy for his country while attempting to unify Iraq’s various ethnic and religious groups. Talabani’s election was controversial in Iraq. Soon after his election, it was unclear how much support he could maintain among non-Kurds.

Talabani continued to face significant challenges, especially a rising insurgency that contributed to more instability in Iraq. Though Talabani had the support of the Americans, he was sometimes critical of the way they dealt with the situation in Iraq, including the training of Iraq’s security forces. This training was important in the face of the continued insurgency and bringing back the peace needed to stabilize Iraq in the long term. Talabani was elected to a second term as Iraq’s president in April 2006.

Major Battles and Events

Invasion of Iraq

The invasion of Iraq began on March 20, 2003, with the bombing and cruise missile attack on an area outside of Baghdad where Saddam Hussein was thought to be hiding. The mission of the U.S. military in Iraq was to attack Baghdad and remove Saddam from power and ensure that the Iraqi military would not use weapons of mass destruction to threaten its neighbors in the region. Some have criticized the operation for not having broader strategic goals and for not sufficiently planning for the post-invasion activities that resulted in looting and a counterinsurgency that has continued since 2003.

Initial Attack

There were roughly 145,000 soldiers and marines who took part in the initial attack. There were three U.S. Army divisions, one beefed-up marine division, and one British division. The Army had 247 Abrams tanks and around the same number of Bradley infantry fighting vehicles. These forces were represented by the U.S. Third Infantry Division, the light air-assault 101st Airborne Division, and two light brigades from the 82nd Airborne and the 173rd Airborne Brigade plus Special Operations Forces totaling around 65,000 soldiers. The marines were numbered at around 65,000, and the British First Armored Division added 20,000 soldiers. The war plan was weakened by Turkey’s decision to not allow American troops to stage an attack from that country. An American division coming down to secure Baghdad from the north and to cut off Iraqi escape routes would have simplified the operation. The Iraqis were weaker than they were in the Gulf War (1990–1991), but they still had around 400,000 troops and 4,000 tanks.

The Third Infantry Division was really more of an armored division, and under the “speed” philosophy behind General Tommy Franks war plan, quickly drove ninety miles from the Kuwaiti border to An Nasiriyah. The tanks and infantry fighting vehicles took a key airfield in the south, and the marines came up to hold it along with the southern oil fields. The Third Infantry Division then turned north and skirted the Euphrates River and bypassed An Nasiriyah. The British took Basra, the second largest city. Special Operations Forces prevented the enemy from attacking Israel with short-range ballistic missiles; they linked up with Kurdish fighters who were allied with coalition forces. The fighting was heavier than expected. Civilians were firing back at coalition armored columns with assault rifles, machine guns, and rocket-propelled grenades. The fighting became fierce in certain city blocks.


One aspect of the attack plan was its long communication and supply lines. The commanders knew that these supply lines would be difficult to protect since the attack began in Kuwait, and Baghdad was roughly three hundred miles to the north. A U.S. Army Reserve transportation unit got lost by taking a wrong turn in An Nasiriyah and was subsequently ambushed several times. The unit suffered eleven killed, nine wounded, and seven captured. One of the soldiers, Private Jessica Lynch, was rescued later in captivity at an Iraqi hospital. Another difficulty was deep attacks to the enemy rear conducted by Apache helicopters. The 11th Air Attack Helicopter Regiment took some determined rifle fire and had to return to base without engaging the enemy. They failed to accomplish their mission of destroying armored vehicles and artillery pieces of the Medina Division north of Kuwait. One Apache was shot down and its crew taken prisoner. Thirty-one of the thirty-two helicopters had been hit by enemy rifle fire.

The weather also played a role in slowing things down. A huge sandstorm hit the area of operations on March 24 and lasted for three days, grounding aircraft and causing the desert to turn into mud. However, the coalition forces were able to use superior technology with radar, infrared, and thermal imaging for target acquisition. They still destroyed Iraqi armored vehicles and artillery—even those that were thought to be well hidden by the Iraqis. These attacks served to lower morale and break the Iraqi’s will to fight.

By April 3, the Third Infantry Division held Saddam International Airport. It then used this area as a jumping off point for huge armored attacks into Baghdad. Many of the pundits and retired military officers predicted that the attacking force would get bogged down outside the city. The surprise attacks worked rapidly, although the attacks were not without heavy fighting. Many American armored vehicles took numerous hits from assault rifles and rifle-propelled grenades.

“Mission Accomplished” Speech

On May 1, 2003, President George Bush decided to address the public concerning progress in the invasion of Iraq. The setting of the speech—and the president’s arrival—were both staged for maximum public relations appeal. Bush chose to address sailors aboard the aircraft carrier USS Abraham Lincoln in the Pacific off the coast of California. The president arrived in the co-pilot seat of a navy jet that landed on the deck of the ship. The president emerged in a full flight suit. He took stage on the flight deck with a banner that said “Mission Accomplished” behind him in the background. Although he never said the words “mission accomplished,” the television cameras were able to convey the banners’ message. At the time, the speech was considered a public relations triumph for the administration. However, once the struggle against the Iraqi insurgency became protracted and a civil war looked likely, the publicity stunt proved to be difficult for the administration to explain. Critics of the Iraq invasion have used the “Mission Accomplished” speech as evidence that Bush had not fully considered the ramifications of his actions.

Fall of Baghdad

The U.S. Army Third Infantry Division set up a command post outside the Saddam Airport while its tanks and vehicles probed into the city. The marines were approaching from the south and were holding ground and protecting lines of communication and supply. By early April, coalition forces were in control of Baghdad, and Saddam’s government had fallen. Saddam himself, however, remained at large.

Experienced military personnel knew better than to celebrate early; they began warning of the Iraqi counterattack that would be sure to come in the next months. The officers predicted demonstrations against U.S. occupation, terrorist attacks against U.S. personnel, and sabotage against the new government that was sure to come in the coming months.

These warnings proved correct, but the coalition forces still congratulated themselves on achieving their primary mission objectives. The oil fields were intact. Weapons of mass destruction were not used on coalition personnel (indeed, weapons of mass destructions were never found in Iraq), and ballistics missiles were not fired into Israel or at coalition troops.

Unfortunately, the Americans and their allies inherited a country in shambles. Iraqis had to fight for the basics of survival—food, shelter, and water. Electricity and waste treatment services were spotty before the war. It would be a herculean task to restore basic public administration facilities. The Iraqi people would have to wait in long lines for gas. Day-to-day life would be an ongoing misery for many Iraqis.

Capture of Saddam Hussein

The search for deposed Iraqi president Saddam Hussein was conducted by several different military and intelligence units. On December 14, 2003, the Coalition Provisional Authority announced it had captured Saddam Hussein alive. It was considered a triumph for the administration of President George Bush, who had made bringing Saddam to justice a major goal.

An Important Visitor

Army intelligence had heard from an informant that an important visitor was hiding out near the village of ad-Dawr. Groups of soldiers began to search the village. They came upon a farm building that had a suspicious-looking rug inside. One soldier lifted the rug to find a plastic cover. In this case, standard operating procedure would be to fire down into the hole or drop a hand grenade in case it had been booby-trapped. Before the soldiers could decide what to do, a person came out with his hands in the air. The figure who emerged looked similar to Saddam Hussein—although somewhat difficult to recognize with a thick, disheveled beard and long hair. The person, who turned out to be Saddam himself, was then taken into custody by special operations forces and Fourth Infantry Division soldiers of Operation Red Dawn.

The Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA) put out a call of triumph. CPA leader Paul Bremer told the media that it was time for the insurgents to put down their weapons. Many U.S. commanders said that the insurgency would be defeated with the capture of Saddam. They thought since the head of Iraq was captured it was doubtful that the Baathists or Sunnis loyal to Saddam would be able to retake command of the country.

The U.S. intelligence community working in Iraq basked in the glory of the capture and looked forward to the continued success of utilizing more intelligence that would be gleaned from Saddam. Baathists did indeed begin surrendering in substantial numbers after the capture.

After the Capture

Not all agreed that the new arrests would bring stability to Iraq. Some intelligence officers regretted that the CPA did not reach out to former Baath Party members (the party of Saddam) and include them in the new government. This would have allowed the new government to gain legitimacy, stability, and expertise. There was some blowback from the Saddam arrest. Video released by the Americans showed Saddam being examined by military doctors. They checked his teeth and looked for lice in his hair. Some Arabs considered this an undignified way to treat Saddam and felt that it led many to resent the Americans. Arab commentators thought that the video images of Saddam’s capture and medical examination would never be forgotten by Muslims and that more people would be drawn to the insurgency.

At first, attacks looked to be decreasing against the coalition forces. U.S. military commanders thought that the insurgency was beginning to weaken—even ending in some areas. But America’s difficulties in Iraq were just beginning. There were reports of detainee abuses at the prisons American forces were using to house the prisoners taken in Iraq. The numbers of detainees were skyrocketing. U.S. conventional forces were using large sweep and cordon missions to capture suspected insurgents. Military-age males were detained in villages. These prisoners were reportedly dropped off at overcrowded prisons. These new prisoners were often questioned aggressively, then released if they had little knowledge useful to military intelligence officials. Naturally, many of those released joined the insurgency.

U.S. military commanders were reportedly at odds over how to handle the insurgency. Very few were thought to be knowledgeable of urban insurgency tactics. Others thought that the best way to protect their troops was to go on the offensive and kill as many suspected insurgents as possible. This tactic backfired, and the ranks of the various insurgent groups swelled.

Iraqi Insurgency

After the fall of Baghdad to U.S.-led forces and the capture of President Saddam Hussein in 2003, a power vacuum existed in Iraq. Many groups struggled for dominance both at the national and local levels, and most were hostile toward the Americans. Despite the establishment of a new Iraqi government under President Jalal Talabani, Iraq remains unstable. Quashing this insurgency has proven difficult for the United States.

IEDs and Other Challenges

The goal of counterinsurgency efforts in Iraq is to win the political support of the Iraqi people—to have them accept the ideals of a representative democracy, adhere to the centralized authority of a federal republic, and conduct free elections for a popularly elected government. For this transformation to happen, the American personnel would need to be seen as facilitators of peace, stability, and rebuilding efforts. Instead the U.S. tactics have sometimes led the Iraqi people to believe that the Americans were not interested in helping them build a better life.

Part of the problem originally was that many American units were not trained for an urban counterinsurgency campaign. U.S. commanders did not agree on how many or what type of troops should be used to fight the insurgency. Large bodies of troops offered more security and force protection, yet offered more targets for the enemy, resulting in higher potential casualties. Smaller numbers of troops reduced the threatening presence of foreigners in Iraq, but fewer soldiers made it harder to stabilize sectors.

Dismounted patrols are necessary to fight an insurgency effectively. Soldiers must physically interact with villagers and collect information to find weapons caches and work with rebuilding efforts. However, this has proven difficult in Iraq. U.S. soldiers and marines must wear elaborate and heavy body armor in temperatures that reach 120 degrees Fahrenheit. It is extremely difficult to patrol carrying the extra pounds. However, if they do not wear the extra protection, they are vulnerable to injury from improvised explosive devices (IEDs), or homemade bombs deployed in unconventional ways.

Another problem facing the U.S. military was the lack of appropriate personnel to stabilize and rebuild the country. There were not enough military police soldiers to handle much of the interrogation and jailing of detainees. Civil affairs personnel, part of the U.S. Army Special Forces, were also in short supply. These specialists serve as political and economic liaisons with local populations. They help Special Forces units set up vital counterinsurgency and counterintelligence links with the local populace.

Limited Progress

There were bright spots. The 101st Airborne fought a successful counterinsurgency campaign under Major General David Petraeus in the city of Mosul in northern Iraq. He established unity of command, a unified intelligence effort, and unified actions with the Special Forces. Petraeus was even able to get some Iraqi government employees paid for their services, which went a long way in improving the spirits of the Iraqis.

Petraeus eventually got promoted to Lieutenant General and was given overall command of the Multinational Forces in Iraq in 2007. He came up with a plan to “surge,” or reinforce, the American forces with five additional brigades. Petraeus and other observers have said this new strategy will take time to work. However, the American public is becoming more skeptical and hostile to the war in Iraq.


Anti-War Movement

Opposition to the war in Iraq, widespread in foreign countries from the very beginning, has grown steadily in the United States as the war has dragged on and American casualties have mounted. The fortunes of the war, and the public attitude toward it, have mirrored the fortunes of President George W. Bush and the Republican-driven policy of the War on Terrorism.

Early Anti-War Movements

In the wake of September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on the United States, America enjoyed widespread support of its invasion of Afghanistan, a nation with unmistakable ties to terrorist mastermind Osama bin Laden. A small faction of anti-war protesters led demonstrations and peace rallies across the country.

Attitudes were not nearly so united as it became increasingly apparent in late 2002 that the Bush administration was making a case for war against Iraq. In November of that year, more than 200,000 antiwar protesters marched in Washington, D.C., and San Francisco. As the specter of war loomed ever larger, the size of anti-war demonstrations grew commensurately. The most remarkable of these demonstrations, a coordinated global show of opposition that brought millions out in protest worldwide, saw several hundred thousand Americans marching in protest in New York City, Chicago, Seattle, and San Francisco.


After an initial burst of furious opposition, the antiwar movement sustained a dispiriting blow when the invasion of Iraq went ahead unimpeded. Although polls indicated that Americans had favored a diplomatic solution with Iraq, when the war got under way, the majority of Americans supported it. With the apparent success of the invasion, many in the pro-war camp decried the anti-war protests and it did indeed seem as if the movement had ended for good. But, as the 2004 election race would soon prove, it was not extinct, merely dormant.

The sudden rise of Howard Dean to front-runner status in the run-up to the 2004 Democratic primaries came as a complete shock to political analysts. The secret behind Dean’s meteoric rise lay almost entirely in his opposition to the war in Iraq. As the only candidate to take such a stance, Dean reinvigorated the slumbering anti-war sentiment to such a degree that even his fall from grace could not quell it.

Growing Opposition

The anti-war movement gained significant traction in the wake of the “official” end of combat in Iraq—President Bush’s infamous “Mission Accomplished” speech. The subsequent rise of an armed insurgency in Iraq was an unexpected and unwelcome development and, as the insurgency dragged on and American soldiers died by the hundreds, many began to question the effectiveness of the U.S.-led occupation.

Compounding the problem was the lack of a clear reason for being in Iraq in the first place. President Bush led America into war by insisting that Iraq was an immediate danger to the United States because it was in possession of weapons of mass destruction. Bush also implied that Iraq supported al-Qaeda. However, after the invasion, the feared stockpiles of weapons of mass destruction (WMD) failed to materialize and, government claims aside, no link between Iraqi president Saddam Hussein and al-Qaeda (the terrorist organization behind the September 11 attacks) was ever established.

The anti-war movement was not contained to grass roots organizations and protestors, either. Many retired military personnel and former highly-placed government officials expressed grave doubts about the invasion of Iraq, most notably former National Security Advisor Brent Scowcroft, who published an editorial in the Wall Street Journal entitled “Don’t Attack Saddam,” and former counter-terrorism advisor Richard Clarke. Several diplomats and other experienced government employees resigned in protest over the impending war. The anti-war stance of these men was not born of pacifism or isolationism, but rather of a concern that Iraq was at best a needless distraction from more pressing matters in the Middle East.

For many who lived through America’s war in Vietnam in the 1960s and 1970s, the situation with Iraq seemed dishearteningly familiar: the blurring of lines between civilian and soldier, the emphasis on winning the “hearts and minds” of the Iraqis, even the swaggering Secretary of Defense, Donald Rumsfeld, whose brash manner was reminiscent of Vietnam-era Defense Secretary Robert McNamara.

The Anti-War Movement and the Military

The fear that Iraq would turn into a situation resembling the Vietnam War, in which American soldiers were caught up in an unwinnable military quagmire, proved a strong motivation for anti-war protestors associated with the military. Many military families quickly grew weary of the extended tours of duty their loved ones in the armed forces were obliged to serve, particularly in the cases of National Guard units deployed in Iraq.

As U.S. casualties steadily mounted, the anti-war movement found a voice in the form of Cindy Sheehan, whose son Casey was killed in Iraq. Rising to prominence with her quest to gain a meeting with President Bush by camping outside his vacation home in Crawford, Texas, Sheehan went on to campaign vigorously for peace, embodying the resurgent anti-war movement.

Abu Ghraib

After the fall of Saddam Hussein’s government, U.S. forces took control of the Abu Ghraib prison. The prison had been stripped of most of its furnishings and was in terrible disrepair. U.S. forces repaired the facility and added a medical ward, with the intention of using the facility as a detention center. By the fall of 2003, there were thousands of Iraqi men and women incarcerated at Abu Ghraib. Most were civilians who had been picked up in security sweeps. Some were detained because officials thought they might have useful information. Others were common criminals picked up for looting or violence. Others were picked up for loosely defined “crimes against the coalition.”

The prison was put under the supervision of Army Reserve Brigadier General Janis Karpinski. Unfortunately, she proved far from capable of overseeing the facility. She was suspended in early 2004 amidst an army investigation into conditions at Abu Ghraib. In a report leaked to the press, investigators described abhorrent practices and conditions at the prison. Detainees were being terrorized, tortured, and abused by army personnel. Ample photographic evidence showed American soldiers almost gleefully brutalizing prisoners.

Revelations of the abuses at Abu Ghraib were a public relations disaster for the United States. Many soldiers were charged and tried for their actions, but critics scoffed that the officers in charge escaped punishment.

Political Impact of the Anti-War Movement

Despite the reawakened protests, despite the mounting death toll in Iraq, and the scandal at Abu Ghraib prison (where Iraqi detainees were tortured and abused by U.S. soldiers), President Bush won reelection in 2004. Nevertheless, his approval ratings would continue to fall, as would American opinion on the course of the war in Iraq. By 2006, anti-war sentiment in the country had grown to the point that, in the mid-term elections, the Democrats were swept into power in both Houses of Congress, largely on an anti-war agenda.

Ironically, the failure of the newly elected Democrats to immediately act upon their promises to end the war in Iraq led to another round of disillusionment. Cindy Sheehan once again gave a voice to widespread feelings: “Now, with Democrats in control of Congress, I have lost my optimistic naiveté and have become cynically pessimistic as I see you all caving [in].… We do not condone our government’s violent meddling in sovereign countries and we condemn the continued murderous occupation of Iraq. We gave you [Democrats] a chance, you betrayed us.” Two days later Cindy Sheehan announced her retirement from public anti-war activism.

Despite such setbacks and cynicism, the anti-war sentiment in the United States had never been stronger. Four years after the invasion, the case against U.S. involvement in Iraq had simply grown too long for many to ignore, whether it was the controversial nature of the invasion and the reasons given for it, or the continuing threat to American servicemen in the region, or allegations of government corruption and backroom dealings, or simply the human toll, both American and Iraqi, that the war had so far exacted. A war that had once enjoyed widespread support and was seen by many as a natural extension of the War on Terrorism had, within four years of its inception, led to the largest anti-war movement in America in a generation.

Republican Loss of Congressional Control

The Republican loss of both Houses of Congress in the 2006 midterm elections represented a significant shift in American public opinion, carrying with it major implications for both the War on Terrorism and the conflict in Iraq.

Although the Iraq invasion initially enjoyed popular support, by 2006 ceaseless insurgent attacks, mounting American casualties, and little evidence of any real progress in stabilizing the country had led a majority of voters to name opposition to the war as their top issue going into the elections. A series of scandals involving Republican congressmen, including Tom DeLay, House Majority Leader when he was forced to resign from office amid accusations of corruption, further eroded voter confidence in the Republican-led Congress.

The 1994 midterm elections had swept Republicans into control of Congress, and since the election of George W. Bush in 2000, Republican politicians had dominated the government. This dominance proved double-edged, however, as the increasingly disillusioned and war-weary public placed the blame for foreign and domestic shortcomings squarely on the shoulders of the G.O.P.

A Mandate Against Government Policy

In many ways the 2006 elections were a public mandate on the course of American policy, a message sent directly at the Bush administration. From approval ratings hovering in the low seventies at the outset of the invasion of Iraq, President Bush’s popularity had steadily plummeted. Managing to secure a second term, Bush’s fortunes continued to fall. By the time of the 2006 elections, Bush’s ratings rarely rose above 40 percent.

The war in Iraq was not the only issue that led voters to enact such sweeping changes. As with the Iraq war, many of these issues were linked more closely to President Bush than to the Congress; the midterm elections thus functioned as a channel for voter frustration over the direction of American policy both at home and abroad, which had been strongly influenced by the president and what many saw as a compliant Congress willing to offer any number of “blank checks.”

The slow government response to the disaster of Hurricane Katrina, which struck the U.S. Gulf Coast in August 2005, had also seriously damaged Bush’s public image, as had his unpopular attempts to reform Social Security. Democratic opposition had painted the 109th Congress as the “Do Nothing Congress,” thanks to a low volume of legislation and extensive breaks between sessions. Although the Democratic Party had mostly gone along with the Republican agenda after the terrorist attacks on American targets of September 11, 2001—especially when it came to war funding—they constituted the only real opposition party in the minds of most Americans. Their widespread success in the 2006 elections was owed directly to the “message” voters wished to send to President Bush and the Republican leadership in Congress.

Massive Political Changes

In the House, the Democrats picked up enough seats to give them a 233-202 advantage. The Senate race was closer—seemingly evenly split at forty-eight seats apiece—but two Independent candidates were lumped in with the Democratic side owing to their own statements of support for the party, giving the Democrats the de facto majority. Meanwhile, Democratic governors were elected in Arkansas, Colorado, Maryland, Massachusetts, New York, and Ohio, bringing the total number of Democratic governors to twenty-eight, compared to the Republican’s twenty-two.

California’s Nancy Pelosi became the first Representative from that state, and the first woman ever, to be named Speaker of the House. Nevada’s Harry Reid took over as Senate Majority Leader.

With such a strong mandate from the voters, the new Democratic agenda quickly shaped up with a series of bold initiatives. Broadly speaking, the goals included withdrawal from Iraq; implementing the recommendations of the 9/11 Commission, which emphasized focusing policy on Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Saudi Arabia; raising the minimum wage, a goal they accomplished with relative ease; and taking steps toward health care reform, including funding stem cell research and lowering Medicare drug costs. The Democrat agenda was spelled out explicitly in July 2006 in the form of the “Six Point Plan,” which emphasized domestic security and prosperity, as well as development of energy sources free of foreign entanglements.

Despite these plans, it remains to be seen how much of this ambitious agenda will be enacted. Although the Democrats captured majorities in both Houses of Congress, they were slim majorities and were not large enough to override a presidential veto. Initial Democratic attempts to set a timetable for withdrawal from Iraq were essentially political statements, as President Bush vowed to veto any bill that set such a restriction.

Foreign reaction to the elections was largely positive. Many politicians in Europe and the Middle East praised the voters of America for holding Bush and the Republican Congress responsible for the situation in Iraq and expressed hope that the new Congressional leadership would signal a positive change in what many around the world perceived as a disastrous direction in U.S. national policy.

International Context

Worldwide Reaction Against American Unilateralism

The attacks of September 11, 2001, brought a massive outpouring of sympathy for the United States from nearly all corners of the globe. The September 12 headline of a French newspaper summed up the attitude best: “We Are All Americans.” Yet within two years France would lead the opposition to the United States’ latest efforts in the War on Terrorism: the invasion of Iraq. This shift in policy and attitude is directly attributable to the rise of American unilateralism and the international backlash it created.

Unilateralism and Neo-Conservatism

To act in a unilateral fashion is to literally act in a “one-sided” manner, without the consent of other parties. Comparing the two wars against Iraq, the Gulf War of 1991 and the invasion of Iraq in 2003, gives a good idea of the difference between the two approaches. The Gulf War was a United Nations–led effort that brought together more than thirty nations for the purpose of liberating Kuwait. By contrast, the 2003 invasion of Iraq was carried out in the face of international condemnation and expressly without the blessing of the United Nations.

The shift in approach between the two wars, and between the two Presidents Bush (George H.W. Bush and George W. Bush), is owed largely to the rise of neo-conservatism, a doctrine of post–Cold War right-wing thought that espoused the moral imperative of America, as the world’s sole superpower, to assume a leadership role on a global scale. This would be accomplished by projecting U.S. military strength across the world.

The election of George W. Bush in 2000 placed a strongly neo-conservative administration in charge of directing American policy, and the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, gave that administration the political capital to begin pursuing its goals. Strong majorities in Britain, France, Germany, Japan, India, and Russia supported the War on Terrorism. In fact, the new war was supported nearly across the board, the notable exceptions being the Middle East and China.

Loss of International Support

Although a small minority of world leaders criticized the invasion of Afghanistan as a “war of aggression,” the widespread global support for the U.S.-led action did not falter; a thirty-country coalition force took over security details in the country after the Taliban was defeated in late 2001.

It was only during the run-up to the invasion of Iraq that international attitudes began to shift. The change came from the ground up, as it were, as popular attitudes in many European countries began to turn against the Bush administration and its emerging policies. Even in countries that officially supported U.S. action, such as Britain, Italy, and Spain, the majority of the populace was soon registering its opposition to the war. Even Russia, which had its own history of Islamic terrorism, saw its popular support for the U.S. War on Terrorism drop by 20 percentage points in the run-up to the Iraq war. In Japan, a mere one in five citizens supported the war and Japan’s participation in it, limited as it was.

The motivation behind this shift in opinion was owed largely to what many saw as a transparent power grab on the part of the United States. For many, the case for war with Iraq was tenuous at best. There was a widespread feeling that the United States was rushing to war and was not willing to allow the United Nations time to locate the supposed weapons of mass destruction that constituted the main American reason for war against Iraq. Instead, it was widely believed that the United States was more interested in securing access to Iraq’s oil fields and establishing a permanent base in the Middle East from which to project its influence.

France and Germany led the international opposition to the impending military action. France, in particular, was particularly critical of American intentions—Dominique de Villepin, the Foreign Minister of France, delivered a speech at the United Nations on February 14, 2003, arguing against aggression in Iraq. In return, France became a frequent target of American invective. Charges have also been leveled against France and Germany that their opposition to the Iraq war is in itself financial, driven by concerns of losing out on investments in Iraq’s oil industry.

Whatever the high-level motivations, the opposition of what many characterized as American imperialism was in full evidence on February 15, 2003, when simultaneous demonstrations against the impending war drew crowds across the world in excess of five million protesters. The demonstration in Rome surpassed three million participants, while London drew around one million. In all, there were protests in over six hundred cities.

Long-term Implications

The American invasion of Iraq, which went ahead in the face of such massive opposition, seemed only to confirm worldwide fears of America as a superpower out of control. By flouting international law, critics argue, the United States has set a dangerous precedent. The influence of the United Nations as an international regulator has been damaged, which may lead to an increase in aggressive action by nations around the world. And America’s reputation as a defender of freedom and human rights has been badly bruised.



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