Afghanistan (1978 - First Combat Deaths)

Last Updated: January 11, 2019

The Conflict at a Glance

Who (are the main combatants): The government of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan, the country’s military – known as the Afghan National Defense and Security Forces (ANDSF) and combatants fighting under NATO are attempting to govern the multiplicity of disparate tribal areas that make up the country. They are opposed by insurgents associated with the Taliban, al-Qaeda, the Islamic State, and other radical armed groups. No government (or invading force) has ever managed to impose central rule over the territory of Afghanistan.

What (started the conflict): This conflict started with the 2001 invasion by the United States, which declared its intent to deny al-Qaeda a safe base of operations in Afghanistan. The most recent ongoing war is the result of the forcible removal of the Taliban in 2002 by the international community (in particular, NATO); international forces were to remain on the ground until the Afghan government had enough strength to maintain power and defend itself from future internal and external adversaries.

The outside imposition of an elected governing apparatus in Kabul has not led to stability or peace in the rural areas of Afghanistan, which are largely governed by tribal customs rather than policies and regulations from the central government. The foreign overthrow, dismantling, and replacement of Afghanistan’s governance structures led to a power vacuum across the country that has been filled by insurgent groups.

When (has fighting occurred): From 2003 to 2014, NATO commanded the UN-mandated International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) in Afghanistan, which had 130,000 troops at peak deployment in 2012. In 2015, “Operation Resolute Support” replaced ISAF with 13,000 troops, which are still there (NATO). In 2016, the Taliban reportedly controlled between 20 and 50 per cent of the country (New York Times).

Prior to the current iteration of the conflict, Afghanistan had experienced several decades of civil war and unrest. In 1978, Afghanistan’s communist party (People’s Democratic Party of Afghanistan or PDPA) led a coup d’état against President Khan, who himself had taken power from the former King, his cousin. In response, guerrilla mujahedeen across the country rose up against the PDPA and government forces. With the Cold War raging, the United States supported the anti-Soviet mujahedeen with weapons and money funneled through Pakistan. This power struggle led to the 1979 Soviet intervention, in which the USSR sent more than 100,000 Soviet soldiers to the country and installed a pro-Soviet government, and to the decade-long Soviet–Afghan War against the mujahedeen (1979–1989). After the Soviet occupation ended in 1989, a civil war began between different ethnic groups, predominantly the Tajik Northern Alliance and Pashtun mujahedeen (Saudi Arabian and U.S.-funded religious fighters) from the South. The mujahedeen broke into several factions, one being the Taliban, which defeated the other fighters and eventually took control of the country.

Where (has the conflict taken place): The conflict has been most violent in the Taliban’s traditional homeland surrounding Kandahar City and in neighbouring Helmand province. However, there has been considerable fighting over the past 50 years in most parts of Afghanistan, including the capital city, Kabul. After being ousted from power, the Taliban based themselves in Pakistan’s Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) along Afghanistan’s northwestern border. They have also carried out large-scale terrorist attacks in Africa, North America, and Europe. The emergence of the Islamic State as an actor in the conflict has increased violence and tension among insurgent groups.

Type of Conflict: State control / Failed state


Map made by Ben Skinner

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