Timeline | U.S., Taliban and Afghanistan: 20 years of bloodshed

A video explainer on the U.S.-Taliban engagement from 2001 to 2021

August 18, 2021 05:53 pm | Updated January 05, 2023 04:24 pm IST

Almost 20 years after the U.S. started its war on terror driving the Taliban out of power, life is back to square one for millions of Afghans.

Here is a timeline on the U.S.’s engagement in Afghanistan:


On September 11, al-Qaeda carried out attacks on the World Trade Center in what was the deadliest terrorist attack in American history.

While al-Qaeda leader Osama Bin Laden was identified as the one responsible, the Taliban refused to hand over Bin Laden, who was in Afghanistan at the time.

On October 7 U.S. launched air strikes against Afghanistan in retaliation.

Some 1,300 US troops arrived in Afghanistan in November and by December, the Taliban was removed from power, and its fighters melted away into Pakistan.

Read: Analysis | How Kabul fell


Between 2001 and 2009 the number of U.S. troops in Afghanistan topped 67,000.


In 2009 U.S. President Barack Obama announced a troop “surge” and the number of American soldiers in Afghanistan increased to over 100,000.


Osama Bin Laden was killed in a U.S. special operations raid in Abbottabad, Pakistan in May 2011 and in June 2011 Obama announced a withdrawal plan from Afghanistan.

Also read: Amrullah Saleh | The many lives of the Taliban’s top nemesis


In 2013 at least three key figures of the Pakistani Taliban, including the then-leader Hakimullah Mehsud, were killed in U.S. drone strikes.


U.S. troops in Afghanistan declined to about 9,800 by 2015.


But in August 2017 U.S. President Donald Trump deployed additional troops increasing the total number to around 14,000.


In September 2018, Trump appointed veteran Afghan-American diplomat Zalmay Khalilzad to negotiate with the Taliban.

The Taliban gradually regained and then extended their influence in Afghanistan over the years.

Also read: Are the Taliban on the brink of victory?


On September 9, 2019, after a particularly intense escalation in Taliban attacks, including a Kabul bombing that killed a U.S. soldier, Trump scrapped talks.


The U.S. and the Talibansigned a peace deal in Doha, Qatar, on February 29, 2020.

Senior members of the Afghan government and countries surrounding Afghanistan were concerned that the United States could abandon Kabul much like it was perceived to have left the region after the Soviet Union exited Afghanistan decades ago.

The American focus was on getting their troops and diplomats out of Afghanistan safely.

In the deal, the U.S. agreed to withdraw its troops by May 1, 2021, in return for assurances from the Taliban that they would not let transnational terrorist groups operate from Afghan soil.

The accord also came amid a fragile political situation in Afghanistan.

The Ashraf Ghani administration was internally divided and the last two presidential elections — 2014 and 2019 — were disputed.


Well before the American withdrawal started, the Ghani administration looked like a loose confederation of different fiefdoms. What glued them all together was the American troops.

Once it was clear that the Americans were leaving, the cracks in the administration started widening.

On April 14, U.S.President Joe Biden announced the U.S. troops’ withdrawal from Afghanistan starting on May 1 and ending on September 11, bringing America’s longest war to a close.

Also read: Evaluating India’s options in Afghanistan

Biden withdrew not just American air support but also the intelligence agents and contractors who were serving Afghanistan’s war planes and helicopters.

The Taliban launched their offensive on May 1. The Taliban strategy was to take the rural districts first and then lay siege to the cities, allowing them to fall.

By August 15, after taking the key eastern city of Jalalabad and with cities under their control, the Taliban encircled Kabul.

Ashraf Ghani left the Presidential palace and flew out of the capital and by nightfall, the Taliban were in the Presidential palace.

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