Opposing Viewpoints Online Collection , 2010
The war in Afghanistan is among President Barack Obama’s (1961—) most important foreign policy challenges. Begun in 2001 to drive out al-Qaeda and remove the Taliban from power, the war initially had a high rate of public support. But as Taliban forces regrouped and casualties escalated, attitudes toward the war in Afghanistan shifted. Drawing parallels to the Vietnam War, many analysts and voters argue that the war is unwinnable, and that US forces should be withdrawn. Though Obama pledged to bring the war to a successful end as quickly as possible, he decided in 2009 to authorize a troop surge. He has, however, planned a time line to remove US troops from the country by 2014. The first of the troops were withdrawn in late 2011 with another group expected to leave the country by the summer of 2012.
Afghanistan is a landlocked country that shares borders with Pakistan, Iran, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan,
Tajikistan, and China. More than 99 percent of its population is Muslim. Because the country occupies an important strategic location between western Asia and the Middle East, outside powers throughout history have attempted to gain control of Afghanistan. But the country’s rugged mountain terrain and harsh winters have made it extremely difficult for outside armies to succeed.
The roots of the US war in Afghanistan can be traced to December 1979, when the Soviet Union sent more than 100,000 troops to Afghanistan to support the countryE-Wastes threatened communist government. A coup in 1978 had brought the communist People’s Democratic Party of Afghanistan to power. Though many urban and educated Afghans welcomed or tolerated this new government, religious fundamentalists, especially in remote tribal regions of the country, objected to its secularization policies. Seeing the situation as an opportunity to weaken Soviet power, the United States began working behind the scenes to provide arms and training to resistance fighters, known as Mujahideen, who were committed to expelling the Soviets and returning Afghanistan to an Islamic state. Among the Mujahideen, who belonged to various factions of conservative Islam, were the Taliban, who follow a particularly strict form of Islam that totally rejects Western and secular values.
After ten years of intense fighting, the Mujahideen finally succeeded in expelling the Soviets in 1989. But a decade of brutal fighting had devastated the country, leaving millions dead and displaced, and much of the country’s infrastructure heavily damaged. The international community offered little or no support to rebuild
Afghanistan, and its central government was unable to impose order and security. In this power vacuum, the
Mujahideen factions fought among themselves for power, creating a climate in which rival warlords controlled tribal regions by brute force. Corruption and violence accelerated, with abductions, rapes, and murders becoming commonplace. Around 1994, the Taliban emerged as a more organized group and began policing lawless areas by catching transgressors and punishing them according to Islamic sharia law. In 1996, the
Taliban took control of the Afghan capital, Kabul, and established the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan. By
2000, the Taliban controlled virtually all of Afghanistan.
The Taliban and al-Qaeda
Many Afghans welcomed the Taliban at first, because they had wiped out criminal activity and restored
security. But the Taliban followed an extreme version of Islamic fundamentalism, which imposed harsh rules regarding all aspects of behavior. Women were forbidden to attend school or hold jobs, and could not leave the house without a male relative escorting them. They had to cover their entire bodies, including their faces, when out in public. Sharia punishments, including amputations and executions, continued. Under the Taliban,
Afghanistan remained one of the poorest countries in