The War in Afghanistan began on October 7, 2001, as the US military's Operation Enduring Freedom (OEF) that was launched, along with the British military, in response to the September 11, 2001 attacks on the US. The UK has, since 2002, led its own military operation, Operation Herrick, as part of the same war in Afghanistan. The character of the war evolved from a violent struggle against Al-Qaeda and its Taliban supporters to a complex counterinsurgency effort.
The first phase of the war was the aftermath of the attacks of September 11, 2001, when the United States launched Operation Enduring Freedom, to remove the safe haven to Al-Qaeda nd its use of the Afghan territory as a base of operations for terrorist activities. In that first phase, U.S. and coalition forces, working with the Afghan opposition forces of the Northern Alliance, quickly ousted the Taliban regime. During the following Karzai administration, the character of the war shifted to an effort aimed at smothering an insurgency hostile to the US-backed Karzai government, in which the insurgents preferred not to directly confront the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) troops, but blended into the local population and mainly used improvised explosive devices (IEDs) and suicide bombings.
The stated aim of the invasion was to find Osama bin Laden and other high-ranking Al-Qaeda members to be put on trial, to destroy the organization of Al-Qaeda, and to remove the Taliban regime which supported and gave safe harbor to it. The Bush administration stated that, as policy, it would not distinguish between terrorist organizations and nations or governments that harbored them. The United Nations did not authorize the U.S.-led invasion of Afghanistan.
Another ongoing operation is the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF), which was established by the UN Security Council at the end of December 2001 to secure Kabul and the surrounding areas. NATO assumed control of ISAF in 2003. By July 23, 2009, ISAF had around 64,500 troops from 42 countries, with NATO members providing the core of the force. The NATO commitment is particularly important to the United States because it gives international legitimacy to the war. The United States has approximately 29,950 troops in ISAF.
The US and UK led the aerial bombing, in support of ground forces supplied primarily by the Afghan Northern Alliance. In 2002, American, British and Canadian infantry were committed, along with special forces from several allied nations, including Australia. Later, NATO troops were added.
The initial attack removed the Taliban from power, but Taliban forces have since regained strength. Since 2006, Afghanistan has seen threats to its stability from increased Taliban-led insurgent activity, record-high levels of illegal drug production, and a fragile government with limited control outside of Kabul. The Taliban can sustain itself indefinitely, according to a December 2009 briefing by the top U.S. intelligence officer in Afghanistan.
On December 1, 2009, U.S. President Barack Obama announced that he would escalate U.S. military involvement by deploying an additional 30,000 soldiers over a period of six months. He also proposed to begin troop withdrawals 18 months from that date. The following day, the American commander in Afghanistan, Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal, cautioned that the timeline was flexible and “is not an absolute” and Defense Secretary Robert Gates, when asked by a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee if it is possible that no soldiers would be withdrawn in July 2011, responded, "The president, as commander in chief, always has the option to adjust his decisions."
On January 26, 2010, at the International Conference on Afghanistan in London, which brought together some 70 countries and organizations, Afghan President Hamid Karzai told world leaders that he intended to reach out to the top echelons of the Taliban within a few weeks with a peace initiative. Karzai set the framework for dialogue with Taliban leaders when he called on the group's leadership to take part in a "loya jirga"—or large assembly of elders—to initiate peace talks.