In October of 2001, the U.S. led a coalition invasion of Afghanistan seeking to oust the ruling Taliban and find Al Qaeda leaders, including Osama bin Laden in the immediate aftermath of the 9/11 attacks. Join Active Minds for a look at the story of Afghanistan, both before and since 9/11. We will also take a look forward at what the future holds for this war-torn country.

Key Lecture Points

  • Afghanistan’s strategic location at the crossroads of Central Asia, the Indian subcontinent and the Middle East has given it a pivotal role in the region’s history but its terrain and people have thwarted would-be conquerors for centuries.
  • After 9/11 President Bush gave Afghanistan an ultimatum to hand over Osama Bin Laden. When the Taliban refused, the US joined forces with the Northern Alliance and other rebel groups that never accepted Taliban rule. By the end of the year, the Taliban were driven out of the major cities. The remnants of the Taliban retreated to the Pakistan border and have continued an insurgency ever since. The Taliban regained its military and political footing in the rugged northwest of Pakistan and subsequently in Afghanistan.
  • In 2009 President Obama announced a “surge” of an additional 30,000 troops that would be sent to Afghanistan. At the same time he set a timetable for the withdrawal of US troops starting in 2011 to be completed in 2014. Discussion of reconciliation with the Taliban continues as the coalition of US and NATO forces have begun to draw down from the country. Still to be decided is the nature of any continuing US presence after the 2014 deadline.
  • Afghan-Pakistan relations became more strained than ever when the former President Rabbani was assassinated, a NATO airstrike killed 24 Pakistanis and suicide bombers killed Shiite faithful during the Ashura holiday. These events leave the 3 main players—Afghanistan, the US and Pakistan, at odds at a time when the West is trying to secure Afghanistan’s future and convince the Afghan people that their own security forces can keep the peace when the international forces leave in 2014.

Exploration Questions

  • Who do you think was more destructive for Afghanistan as a whole, the occupation by the Soviets or the Taliban? Explain.
  • In what way did the U.S. unwittingly strengthen the Taliban and Osama bin Laden by training and supporting insurgents during the Soviet occupation? What should the US do now to reduce the power of anti-western forces in the region?
  • What are the major issues facing Afghanistan as US and NATO troops begin withdrawing?

Reflective Questions

  • When you think of Afghanistan, what do you picture? Is it people or places or things?
  • What do you think the U.S. should do to insure the future of Afghanistan as they begin to withdraw after 10 years of war?

More to Explore

For Further Reading

  • Nawa, Fariba. Opium Nation: Child Brides, Drug Lords and One Woman’s Journey Through Afghanistan. Harper Perennial, 2011. 352 pages. An Afghan-American journalist looks at the drug trade and its affect on the Afghan people.
    Click here to order
  • Shaffer, Anthony. Operation Dark Heart: Spycraft and Special Ops on the Frontiers of Afghanistan—and the Path to Victory. St Martin’s Griffin, 2011. 320 pages. The author, who led a black-ops team in Afghanistan, describes how bureaucracy stands in the way of national security. This is the book the Defense Department bought the entire first printing of to avoid its distribution.
    Click here to order
  • Girardet, Edward. Killing the Cranes: A Reporter’s Journey Through Three Decades of War in Afghanistan. Chelsea Green Publishing, 2011. 417 pages. This book covers Afghanistan’s story from the Soviet invasion to the preparations for the US withdrawal in 2014.
    Click here to order.