The ongoing U.S.-led military operations in Afghanistan discussed in this report fall under a larger campaign referred to by the United States and its coalition partners in Afghanistan as “Operation Enduring Freedom.”
Operation Enduring Freedom as originally planned was a response to the September 11, 2001 attacks on the United States. It was, in its first manifestation, a military operation against the Taliban government of Afghanistan and the network of foreign groups, including al-Qaeda, believed responsible for the September 11 attacks.7
The U.S.-led coalition’s initial military operations in Afghanistan, from September through December 2001, were directed at the Taliban forces and their foreign allies. In late September, CIA forces entered Afghanistan to organize existing Afghan anti-Taliban forces (primarily the loose coalition of groups called the Northern Alliance) and assist covert U.S. Army and Air Force units to transport equipment into the country. Throughout the first phase of the conflict, millions of dollars in cash and significant amounts of weapons, communications equipment, and other military supplies were ferried into Afghanistan and given to anti-Taliban forces. As the war progressed, the U.S. advance teams were joined by Army Special Forces and Special Forces units from the Navy and Air Force, and ultimately, regular army ground troops and units from coalition partners such as the United Kingdom and Australia. Over the next two months, the U.S.-led coalition carried out an extensive air campaign against the Taliban and its allies. Anti-Taliban forces on the ground initially assisted in identifying targets for the air campaign and later advanced and seized areas held by Taliban and al-Qaeda forces.
Since December 2001, the U.S.-led coalition’s primary military focus has been on locating remnants of the Taliban and al-Qaeda which did not surrender and fled into remote areas of the country.
However, there was and is more to Operation Enduring Freedom than military operations against Taliban and al-Qaeda remnants. Coalition operations have included investigative and intelligence-gathering components aimed at locating or uncovering threats to the United States and other coalition members, and disrupting or eliminating those threats. Operations have also included efforts to capture terrorist suspects and gather intelligence in Afghanistan as part of the global campaign to disrupt the worldwide operations of al-Qaeda.
U.S. and Coalition forces have also increasingly broadened the scope of their activities in Afghanistan to include peacekeeping and peacebuilding efforts, delivery of humanitarian aid, counter-narcotics work, and general intelligence gathering. As in other post-conflict situations where the United States has taken the leadership role, it has deployed significant numbers of personnel from the CIA and other intelligence services,8 the State Department, and the U.S. Agency for International Development, in addition to the armed forces.
Since the fall of the Taliban government in late 2001, U.S. and coalition military operations under Operation Enduring Freedom have largely consisted of small- and medium-scale operations whose overall aim is to destroy or disrupt the remaining Taliban, al-Qaeda, and other hostile forces in the country. Some of these operations have focused on fixed Taliban or al-Qaeda military positions, such as caves, bunkers, and other fortified positions, usually in remote rural areas. Others have been directed at residential compounds, usually in small villages, in which anti-coalition suspects are thought to be hiding. These operations can be divided into those where the primary intent appears to be to destroy the target, such as through bombing raids and other direct attacks, and those where the intention is to take into custody particular individuals and collect intelligence information, either from local residents or seized materials.
7 For more information on the diverse characteristics and composition of non-Afghan armed groups operating in Afghanistan before and after the U.S.-led attack in 2001, including al-Qaeda, see Jason Burke, Al-Qaeda: Casting a Shadow of Terror, (B. Tauris : September 2003). See also Ahmed Rashid, Taliban: Militant Islam, Oil & Fundamentalism in Central Asia (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2000).
8 The office of the Director of Central Intelligence officially oversees not only the CIA but also the “U.S. Intelligence Community,” which consists of at least fourteen different government agencies, including Department of Defense intelligence offices and several non-military agencies.