Afghanistan is a country that has never been free from war, but it seems like the last one was the longest war in its history. And now, in 2016, the Taliban are again fighting the central government. The war has been going on for 16 years now.

For more than a decade, the War in Afghanistan has been the longest running conflict in the history of warfare. The War in Afghanistan in Photos is a visual diary of the War in Afghanistan since 2001.

The US was the latest in a long line of invaders trapped in an Afghan quagmire.

Several Afghan resistance groups vied for power when the Soviet Union departed Afghanistan in 1989 after a fruitless decade of propping up a communist government. In 1996, Kabul fell to the Taliban (“Students”), a militant Islamic movement that controlled 90% of the country by 1998 and was also sheltering and training the international terrorist group al-Qaida (“The Base”).

19 al-Qaida operatives hijacked four American planes on September 11, 2001, and crashed them into the World Trade Center in New York, the Pentagon in Washington, D.C., and a field outside Shanksville, Pa., killing themselves and 2,977 others. As a result, George W. Bush’s government launched the Global War on Terrorism, with Afghanistan as its first target.

On Oct. 7, 2001, air attacks on al-Qaida and Taliban targets started, despite the fact that US intelligence operatives had contacted Taliban opponents weeks before. On December 9, Kandahar, the Taliban’s spiritual heartland, collapsed.

  • The War in Afghanistan in Photos

    The World Trade Center in lower Manhattan, which was hit by two of the four hijacked planes by al-Qaida terrorists on September 11, 2001, forms a blazing background for the Brooklyn Bridge moments before both buildings fall. Reuters /

  • The War in Afghanistan in Photos

    Osama bin Laden, the Saudi-born al-Qaida leader who targeted the US mainly for its unwavering support for Israel, had been widely disregarded before the September 11 attacks. © Getty Images/AFP

  • The War in Afghanistan in Photos

    On September 12, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, Secretary of State Colin Powell, President George W. Bush, and Vice President Dick Cheney discuss the US reaction. Image Credit: Alamy

  • The War in Afghanistan in Photos

    On Oct. 28, 2002, gunners from the 82nd Airborne Division’s 1st Battalion, 319th Airborne Field Artillery Regiment put their 105 millimeter howitzer through a live-fire drill in Khost. / Photo: Getty Images

  • The War in Afghanistan in Photos

    On March 8, 2002, troops from the United States Army’s 10th Mountain Division battle their way through the bombed-out enemy strongholds of Sherkhankheyl, Marzak, and Bobelkiel. / Photo: Getty Images

  • The War in Afghanistan in Photos

    On July 3, 2002, a 30-ton stockpile of weaponry seized by Special Forces in Khowst province would be destroyed. / Photo: Getty Images

  • The War in Afghanistan in Photos

    On April 13, 2006, a B-52 bomber takes off from a forward air base. Image Credit: Alamy

  • The War in Afghanistan in Photos

    On Aug. 25, 2002, three soldiers of the US Army Special Forces ride through Kunduz in pursuit of fleeing al-Qaida and Taliban militants, demonstrating their renowned flexibility. / Photo: Getty Images

  • The War in Afghanistan in Photos

    On September 11, 2004, a gunner aboard a Boeing-Vertol CH-47 Chinook helicopter surveys the village of Wazakhwa for indications of al-Qaida or Taliban activity. / Photo: Getty Images

  • The War in Afghanistan in Photos

    In the Pech Valley on June 22, 2012, a soldier from the 2nd Bn., 12th Inf. Regt., 4th Inf. Div. fires a seized Taliban rocket-propelled grenade towards its former owners / Getty Images

  • The War in Afghanistan in Photos

    During a battle in Barawala Kalet Valley, Kunar province, on March 31, 2011, members of the 2nd Bn., 327th Inf. Regt., 101st Abn. Div. confront Taliban militants.

  • The War in Afghanistan in Photos

    On May 1, 2013, coalition soldiers patrol in the Waghaz area of Ghazni province, using night-vision equipment. Army of the United States of America

  • The War in Afghanistan in Photos

    On May 11, 2013, soldiers and Marines board a Boeing C-17 Globemaster III at Bagram Air Base, as a foreshadowing of future departures. / Photo: Getty Images

Al-Qaida fighters and the organization’s founder, Osama bin Laden, fled to Pakistan in the same month from the Tora Bora cave complex in eastern Afghanistan. President Bush proclaimed the end of significant combat operations in 2003, and the US and its partners began the process of reconstructing the Afghan state, military, and police.

Despite international efforts, President Barack Obama’s military “surge” in 2009, and the Navy SEALs’ death of Osama bin Laden on May 11, 2011, the Taliban—whose goals were always more local than al-Qaida’s—remains a threat two decades later.

The survival of Afghanistan’s elected government seems to be in jeopardy as the majority of US troops waging the country’s longest conflict prepare to leave by September 11, 2023, the 20th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks. MH

This essay was published in Military History magazine in September 2023. Subscribe to our newsletter and follow us on Facebook for additional updates:

The War in Afghanistan in Photos

This article broadly covered the following related topics:

  • afghanistan war
  • war in afghanistan
  • mujahideen
  • soviet afghan war
  • soviet afghan war summary
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