On October 7, 2001, 13 years ago today, the US launched its opening attacks against the Taliban in Afghanistan. The still-ongoing Operation Enduring Freedom, which is now the longest continuous war in American history, had begun.
Then-president President George W. Bush announced the beginning of the US’s war in Afghanistan at 1 pm eastern time that day, a Sunday. He stat
ed that “on my orders, the United States military has begun strikes against al-Qaida terrorist training camps and military installations of the Taliban regime in Afghanistan.”
A day before the start of Operation Enduring Freedom, then-British Prime Minister Tony Blair assured his public that any military involvement in Afghanistan would be tightly focused. The prime minister ruled out attacks against other nations involved in the planning of terrorism.
The first day of the war saw targeted airstrikes carried out by US and British forces against key pieces of Taliban infrastructure. Some of the targets bombed included training camps, defensible positions, and communications equipment.
France, Germany, Australia and Canada provided further logistical support for the conflict’s first bombing runs.
Newsweek reported on October 7, 2001 that three US Aegic cruisers and one destroyer in the Arabian Sea launched over 50 missiles against Taliban positions in Afghanistan. These attacks were complemented by the launch of Tomahawk cruise missiles from British and American submarines. Simultaneously, F/A-18s, B-1s, B-2s, and B-52s conducted bombing runs over Taliban positions.
As airstrikes began against Taliban positions, Bush said that the US was also undertaking humanitarian aid drops in an attempt to reassure the local population of America’s good intentions.
“As we strike military targets, we will also drop food, medicine and supplies to the starving and suffering men and women and children of Afghanistan,” Bush said in his address.
US ground forces for what would turn into an over decade-long fight against the Taliban were not fully in place. The New York Times published on October 6, 2001 that only a few dozen special forces operatives were deployed throughout the region in preparation for the coming assault on the Taliban’s centres of power.
In addition to these limited number of special forces, one thousand US soldiers specially trained for mountain warfare were in place in Uzbekistan at the start of operations. The early rounds of US on-the-ground fighting on October 7th, 2001 involved US personnel fighting alongside soldiers from the Northern Alliance, an anti-Taliban group in Northern Afghanistan pushing south against the extremist regime’s front lines.
With the announcement of the start of Operation Enduring Freedom, Bush signaled that it would be a long, drawn-out conflict that would require “patience in all the sacrifices that may come.”
The operation continues thirteen years later. When Kabul fell to coalition forces on November 13th, 2001, few could have expected that Operation Enduring Freedom — which had fulfilled one of its prime objectives in a matter of weeks — would become America’s longest war.
The majority of US troops will be withdrawn from Afghanistan by December 31, 2014. But an additional 10,000 US soldiers will remain in Afghanistan as part of a recently signed bilateral security agreement.
This presence of Americans will provide a much needed psychological boost to the Afghans, as the Taliban have ratcheted up attacks recently. Thirteen years later, the war seems far from definitively won.
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