How the Taliban Secured its Militant Grip on Afghanistan Through History
How the Taliban Secured its Militant Grip on Afghanistan Through History

How the Taliban Secured its Militant Grip on Afghanistan Through History

Larry Holzwarth - August 31, 2021

How the Taliban Secured its Militant Grip on Afghanistan Through History
A 2009 cartoon by Carlos Latuff depicts the traps set by the Taliban during the post-invasion terror campaign. Wikimedia

17. The Taliban gradually regained control of much of Afghanistan

By 2006, the Taliban’s insurgency campaign, which consisted largely of suicide bombings and the use of IEDs, had allowed them to control over 50% of Afghanistan, despite the continuing presence of NATO forces and the Afghan security forces. Recruiting for Taliban forces had by then reached as far as Xinjiang, China, where Uyghur Muslims responded to the call. Pakistan, Uzbekistan, Chechnya, and numerous other countries contributed Islamic fighters to support the Taliban. Other nations, opposed to NATO, provided financial support and weapons. Despite the vast investment in people and resources to Afghanistan by the United States, it had become the quagmire seen previously by the British Empire and the Soviet Union. Besides the Taliban, other militant groups emerged in the fighting. Some supported NATO, some the Taliban, and some opposed both.

By 2007 suicide bombers and car bombs made up the bulk of the attacks carried out by Taliban terrorists. That year alone 140 suicide bombers struck in Afghanistan, killing over 300 people, the majority of them civilians. The Taliban recruited the majority of their suicide bombers in Pakistan, where their leaders attracted poorly educated young men with promises of the rewards of jihad. Taliban raids on smaller towns and villages led to kidnappings, destruction of local government and infrastructure, and killings of those sympathetic to the NATO-supported government. Less than a decade after the US led invasion of Afghanistan, the Taliban was again strong enough to threaten reprisals against those Afghans who voted in elections. In January 2010, the Taliban launched multiple attacks against civilians and security forces in Kabul even as the president was swearing in his new cabinet ministers.

How the Taliban Secured its Militant Grip on Afghanistan Through History
US Defense Secretary Robert Gates meeting with President Hamid Karzai in Kabul, 2007. White House

18. The Taliban favored targeted assassinations during the insurgency

Targeted assassinations of government officials, clerics opposing the Taliban, and international security forces personnel grew in number as the insurgency dragged on. In December 2001, Hamid Karzai emerged as the leader of the transitional government in Afghanistan. In 2004 he was elected as President of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan. His administration soon proved to be rife with corruption, and protests against it grew to include groups not affiliated with the Taliban. The latter attempted at least four times to assassinate him during his presidency. The first occurred during the transitional government, in Kandahar in 2002. In 2004, another attempt included the launching of a missile targeting the helicopter in which Karzai was being transported. It missed. Missiles were featured in another attempt on Karzai’s life in 2007.

In June of that year, Taliban terrorists fired at least a dozen rockets into a gathering of elders in the city of Ghazni as the president addressed them. Karzai again escaped unhurt. The fourth attempt consisted of an assault by terrorists armed with automatic weapons and rocket-propelled grenades against a military parade. The attack took place in Kabul as the president attended the event. The event was attended by numerous government officials, senior military officers, diplomats and officials from several foreign governments, as well as Karzai. At least three people were killed, including a member of the Afghan parliament, several more suffered injuries. Karzai was unscathed. The Taliban, through a spokesman, claimed responsibility for the attack, noting it proved they could strike anywhere, at any time, against whomever they chose.

How the Taliban Secured its Militant Grip on Afghanistan Through History
Weapons and explosives found during a raid on a Taliban safehouse in 2013. US Army

19. The Taliban continued to operate as an organized government throughout the insurgency

The Taliban maintained governmental offices, in the form of men holding their titles of office, throughout the insurgency. This included a Supreme Court, lesser courts, ministers of defense, and other offices, though Mullah Omar held sway over all as the Commander of the Faithful. Taliban leaders opened an office in Qatar, in order to communicate and negotiate with the west. In 2013, rumors emerged through that office that Mullah Omar had died. The Taliban denied the rumors, insisting Omar was alive. They finally admitted Omar’s death had occurred in 2013 two years later, reporting he had died of tuberculosis. Others claimed he had been assassinated, among the conspirators was his immediate successor, Akhtar Mansour. Mansour had been active in maintaining the secret of Omar’s death for two years for unexplained reasons.

Mansour received a promise of allegiance from Al Qaeda in 2015, shortly after replacing Omar as Commander of the Faithful. In 2016 he entered Iran for medical treatment. In May of that year, he entered Pakistan, under a false passport identifying him as a Pakistani citizen, intending to cross the Afghanistan border. He didn’t make it. The US launched Reaper drones, which penetrated undetected into Pakistani airspace. The drone operators were guided by signals intelligence obtained by the American National Security Agency (NSA). It enabled them to track Mansour’s vehicle as it approached the Afghan border. Two missiles launched by the drone attack killed Mansour while he was still in Pakistan. The US government believed removing Mansour might expedite a peace process involving the Taliban. It did not.

How the Taliban Secured its Militant Grip on Afghanistan Through History
US Secretary of State meets with Taliban leaders in Doha, Qatar, in September 2020. US State Department

20. The Taliban insurgency destroyed Afghani faith in their government

Following the collapse of the Taliban government in 2001, the United States and their allies worked to install a democratic government and society in Afghanistan. Billions of dollars were spent to improve infrastructure, build schools and open them to women and girls, and establish civil justice. The insurgency thwarted those efforts. Outside of the larger cities and the main roads the Taliban controlled the country. Peaceful protests were attacked. Polls were threatened. Checkpoints operated by the Taliban monitored travel. Afghani citizens found it difficult, if possible at all, to exercise their rights guaranteed to them by their constitution. Access to legal courts became non-existent to many. And the constant violence and suicide attacks made it readily apparent that security forces could not protect them without the assistance of the coalition forces.

In the two decades since the fall of the Taliban women in the Afghan workforce grew to represent almost 20% of the total in the civil service alone. More than 80% of elementary school-age girls enrolled in schools. Scores of new media, including radio, television, newspapers, and magazines became part of Afghan society. Under the Taliban, only one radio station, operated by them, was allowed. Still, the insurgency ground on, destroying the faith of the Afghani people in their own government. On February 29, 2020, the United States and the Taliban signed the Doha Agreement in Doha, Qatar. The US and agreed to withdraw American and NATO troops in return for a Taliban promise not to allow Al Qaeda and affiliated terrorist groups sanctuaries in Afghanistan. The government of the Republic of Afghanistan did not participate in the talks, nor sign the agreement.

Where do we find this stuff? Here are our sources:

“Who are the Taliban?” Article, BBC News. August 18, 2021

“The Soviet War in Afghanistan, 1979 – 1989” Article, The Atlantic. August 4, 2014. Online

“The US War in Afghanistan”. Timeline, Council on Foreign Relations. Online

“Pipeline Politics: Oil, Gas, and the US Interest In Afghanistan”. Richard Tanter, Outlook Magazine. November 21, 2001

“Explainer: The Taliban and Islamic Law in Afghanistan”. Arwa Ibrahim, Al Jazeera. August 23, 2021

“Taliban extend control to details of Kabul daily life 17 rules make it illegal to fly a kite, keep a bird”. Article, The Baltimore Sun. January 16, 1997

“The Taliban’s War Against Women”. Report, US Department of State. November 17, 2001. Archived online

“How India secretly armed Ahmad Shah Massoud’s Northern Alliance”. V. Sudarshan, The Hindu. September 1, 2019. Online

“A Decade Ago, Massoud’s Killing Preceded Sept. 11”. Renee Montagne, NPR. September 9, 2011

“Pits reveal evidence of massacre by Taliban”. Rory Carroll, The Guardian. April 7, 2002

“The Death of the Buddhas of Bamiyan”. Pierre Centlivres, Middle East Institute. April 18, 2012. Online

“Cruise Missile Strikes in Afghanistan and Sudan”. Frederic L. Kirgis, American Society of International Law Insights. August 18, 1998

“Pakistan’s Support of the Taliban”. Report, Human Rights Watch. 2001. Online

“Taliban face ultimatum”. Tom Bowman, Mark Matthews, and Gail Gibson, The Baltimore Sun. September 17, 2001. Online

“Afghanistan War”. Article, August 20, 2021. Online

“Counterinsurgency in Afghanistan”. Monograph, Seth G. Jones, RAND Corporation. Online

“Karzai Escapes Attack in Kabul by Gunmen”. Carlotta Gail, Abdul Waheed Wafa, The New York Times. April 28, 2008

“Taliban leader Mullah Akhtar Mansour killed, Afghans confirm”. Article, BBC News. May 22, 2016

“Agreement for Bringing Peace to Afghanistan”. Document, US Department of State. February 29, 2020