De Luna, Gabriel
Afghanistan in the latter half of the 1990s was embroiled in a civil war between the then internationally recognized government of the Islamic State of Afghanistan and the Taliban. The Taliban overthrew the state government and forced them to flee to northern Afghanistan. The Taliban then controlled the vast majority of Afghanistan in the late 1990s establishing the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan. Following the events of September 11th 2001, the United States and NATO forces intervened in the Afghanistan civil war to dispose of the Taliban and end shielded Al-Qaeda operations (1). In October 2001, NATO forces, comprised initially of the United States, United Kingdom, Australia, and Canada invaded Afghanistan and conducted asymmetrical warfare operations.
From the outset of the invasion, the Taliban and Al-Qaeda militants’ resources were not up to par to the combination of the largest military forces in the world. The NATO forces conducted an aerial bombing campaign against militant and infrastructural targets. Some of these targets included strikes on aging Soviet combat aircraft (2). By destroying any possible threat in the air, the U.S was able to carry out its campaign uninhibited. According to a Pentagon official, he “expect[ed] this will go on for a few days” (2), demonstrating an assuredness of this kind of situation implies a total control brought on about by the complete one-sidedness in economic and military capability. A high ranking Taliban defector concurred with the outright power the U.S excised over them (3).
In the months and years that immediately followed the bulk of the U.S military operations, the period of insurgency emerged. Tactics of guerrilla warfare and unpredictable attacks were developed by the Taliban as they no longer had the resources to face NATO forces on even ground (4). Thus tactics of asymmetrical warfare have been employed. This was a reflection of the economic situation many Afghanis faced. Poverty runs rampant in the country with several million displaced since the beginning of the invasion. Funding for their war efforts against the U.S were greatly inhibited by the general lack of resources and had to rely on drug trade, specifically opium, and Osama bin Laden (5). This social structure or reliance on funds through non-traditional means defined the capabilities the Taliban and Al-Qaeda. As they had few resources, particular instances of attacks such as mortar or rocket fires on American targets were common (6). These particular attacks were intended to maximize the cost of American operations by consistently forcing their (expensive) presence and limiting the loss of their own forces, extending the conflict. Thus, it has become a war of economic attrition with the conflict entering its 13th year after officially beginning in October 7th, 2001. Strictly in terms of financial cost, the U.S is experiencing a disproportionate loss compared to Taliban, Al-Qaeda militants (7).
1. Darlene Superville and Steven R. Hurst, Obama speech balances Afghanistan troop buildup with exit pledge, http://www.cleveland.com/nation/index.ssf/2009/12/obamas_speech_on_adding_30000.html
2. Ian Christopher McCaleb, Defense officials: Air operation to last ‘several days, http://web.archive.org/web/20070308164900/http://archives.cnn.com/2001/US/10/07/ret.attack.pentagon/
3. Scott Peterson, A view from behind the lines in the US air war. http://www.csmonitor.com/2001/1204/p1s2-wosc.html
5. Pierre-Arnaud Chouvy, Opium: uncovering the politics of the poppy. Harvard University Press. p. 52
6. Attackers fire barrage of rockets at base in Afghanistan, http://usatoday30.usatoday.com/news/world/2002-10-16-afghan-attack_x.htm
7. Ernesto Londoño, Study: Iraq, Afghan war costs to top $4 trillion, http://www.washingtonpost.com/world/national-security/study-iraq-afghan-war-costs-to-top-4-trillion/2013/03/28/b82a5dce-97ed-11e2-814b-063623d80a60_story.html