By Jonny Lupsha, Wondrium Staff Writer
The Taliban took over a U.S.-built border crossing to Tajikistan June 22. Rather than shut it down, the insurgency group has left it open and begun collecting customs revenue from traffic going to and from the neighboring country. U.S.-Taliban conflict began after the September 11 attacks.
The Taliban have gained ground in Afghanistan as U.S. troops continue a planned withdrawal from the country. On June 22, they overtook a border crossing into Tajikistan that was originally built by the United States for $40 million. Now, the Taliban has continued its operation and is collecting customs revenue from the complex.
In 2020, former President Donald Trump pledged to reduce U.S. troops in Afghanistan to 2,500 by mid-January this year, serving as prelude for President Joseph R. Biden, Jr., to subsequently announce a full withdraw by September 11. Seemingly marking the cessation of a bitter 20-year war, the troop withdrawal ends what began with the terrorist attacks on the United States on September 11, 2001. In his video series American Military History, General Wesley K. Clark (U.S. Army, Ret.), explained the American military and government response to the attacks.
The Post-9/11 Situation
When the September 11 attacks happened, taking nearly 3,000 lives, then-President George W. Bush had no practical experience in either foreign or security policy. However, General Clark pointed out, he was surrounded by an experienced team.
“Former Defense Secretary Dick Cheney was the vice president; the current Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld had served in the administrations of presidents Nixon and Ford; and retired General Colin Powell was secretary of state,” General Clark said. “American leaders reached out to build international support, and a legal framework, for a U.S. response; and yet, this was going to be a different kind of war.
“We faced not a specific state, but rather groups, networks, and persons motivated by a certain ideology—to engage in terrorist acts.”
Afghanistan was accused of providing sanctuary to Osama Bin Laden and al-Qaeda, the prime suspects for the September 11 attacks. According to General Clark, United States Special Counsel prepared a special forces-led operation to destabilize the government of Afghanistan, which was full of members of the Taliban. At the time, Mullah Mohammed Omar led the Taliban, which he had founded several years earlier.
“Mullah Omar’s strict interpretation of Islam had won support from a native population sickened by war, dating to the time of the Soviet invasion in 1979,” General Clark said. “In the south, Mullah Omar had crushed Pashtun groups in opposition to him; and in the center and north, he had waged continuing combat against non-Pashtun groups.
“About all the opposition that was left was a coalition of militias called the Northern Alliance, and its leader—Ahmad Shah Massoud—had been assassinated the day before 9/11.”
General Clark said that the plan was for the United States to reinforce what remained of the opposition. The United States began bombing Afghanistan on October 7, armed local leaders who pledged their support, and set up further support bases in the neighboring nations of Uzbekistan and Pakistan. Anti-Taliban forces pushed all the way south to Kandahar, inflicting heavy casualties on Omar’s forces, many of whom fled to Pakistan.
“There had never been any military campaign quite like this one: combining special forces and CIA teams on the ground, along with allied tribal leaders, and overwhelming air power,” General Clark said. “The Taliban simply dissolved, or in some cases, went to ground. Unfortunately, there was no easy out for the United States.”
Despite getting a friendly president installed in Afghanistan, the liberation of Afghanistan soon began to feel to many Afghanis like an occupation. Osama Bin Laden remained in hiding until he was killed in 2011, and the Taliban regrouped in Pakistan.