The Mother of All War Zones

2,000-plus years of Afghanistan conquest, from Alexander the Great to Barack the So Far, So Good.

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328 BC—Alexander the Great forms Hellenistic state in portions of what is now Afghanistan.

400 AD—White Huns invade region, dominate for two centuries.

642—After sacking Persia, Arab armies invade and attempt to introduce Islam.

870—Dawn of the Saffarid dynasty, whose expansive empire competes with two others for control of the wider region.

998—Turkic dynasty cements Islamic era.

1219—Genghis Khan leads Mongol invasion.

Late 14th century—Tamerlane, Khan’s descendent, brings Afghanistan into his Asian empire.

1738—Nadir Shah and his Iranian army take Kandahar and Kabul.

1747—After Shah is assassinated, Afghans convene a loya jirga—grand council of factions—and name a king, Ahmad Shah Durrani. The new king embarks on an imperialist rampage, eventually conquering all of modern-day Afghanistan and parts of Iran and India.

1772—His empire waning, Durrani dies and turf battles ensue; by 1818 his inept successors control little more than Kabul.

1839—First Anglo-Afghan War: British forces invade to prop up a Durrani successor. Upon retreat, they are massacred.

1878—Second Anglo-Afghan War: Brits take over and install a chieftain they can deal with.

1919—Third Anglo-Afghan War ends in Treaty of Rawalpindi; Brits recognize Afghan independence.

1933—Mohammad Zahir Shah takes the throne. Although he doesn’t rule the country in practice, his relatively peaceful 40-year reign earns him the title “father of the nation” in the current constitution.

1934—US recognizes Afghanistan.

1947—Partition: British colonial turf divided, leading to bad blood between Afghanistan and its newly created neighbor, Pakistan, as well as a Pakistan-India military rivalry.

1966—Afghanistan signs the Convention on the Political Rights of Women, ensuring a woman’s right to vote and hold public office.

1973—King Zahir Shah’s disgruntled cousin, Sardar Mohammad Daoud, stages a coup while the king is overseas. Daoud declares Afghanistan a republic with himself as president.

1978—The People’s Democratic Party of Afghanistan (PDPA), an Afghan communist faction, seizes power and slaughters Daoud and his family. Led by communist president Nur Muhammad Taraki, the new government signs a friendship treaty with Moscow.

1979—Former prime minister Hafizullah Amin snatches the reins, executes Taraki, and begins slaughtering PDPA members. Three months later, Soviet forces roll into Kabul, execute Amin, and install a new prime minister.

1980—Regional factions in Afghanistan and Pakistan team up to resist the Soviets. They call themselves mujahideen, “those who engage in jihad.”

March 21, 1982—President Ronald Reagan proclaims the date Afghanistan Day and lauds mujahideen as “freedom fighters…defending principles of independence and freedom that form the basis of global security and stability.”

1984—US begins funneling billions of dollars, plus weapons and training, to the mujahideen. The biggest beneficiary is Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, a religious zealot whom one former professor called a “psychopath” due to his acid attacks and beatings of female students at Kabul University.

1986—Mohammad Najibullah, former head of the secret police, becomes president.

1987—In Bond flick The Living Daylights, heroic Afghan freedom fighters help 007 defeat the Evil Empire.

1988—Anti-Soviet jihadist Osama bin Laden joins with fellow Islamic hardliners to form Al Qaeda. Pakistan, Afghanistan, America, Soviet Union sign Geneva peace accords, guaranteeing Afghan independence and withdrawal of 100,000 Soviet troops.

April 1992—After Najibullah is ousted by the Afghan military, mujahideen take over Kabul and impose strict laws—including a ban on booze.

June 1992—Tajik leader Burhanuddin Rabbani becomes interim president, but mujahideen infighting disintegrates into civil war, prompting Kabul residents to flee en masse.

1993—Fighting among the warlord factions leaves tens of thousands of civilians dead or wounded.

1994—During his brief stint as prime minister, the US-funded Hekmatyar orders shelling of Kabul, reportedly killing more than 25,000. With backing from ISI, Pakistan’s military-intelligence branch, Islamic theological students form fundamentalist Taliban militia.

1995—Taliban on the rise across the country. Relieved for a bit of peace, Afghans welcome the militants.

September 1996—Taliban takes over Kabul and promptly crack down on the arts and public participation by women. A strict new dress code mandates burkas; men must wear beards. Violators are flogged.

1998—A vengeful god? Earthquakes in February and May leave more than 6,000 Afghans dead. In June, severe flooding kills another 6,000. A four-year nationwide drought ensues, saddling poppy farmers with salaam debt, which obliges them to sell future opium harvests to their creditors at bargain-basement prices.

October 1999—UN orders Taliban to turn over bin Laden. Taliban Foreign Minister Mohammed Hassan Akhund responds, “No proof came from anyone, especially America, that Osama was involved in terrorist activities.”

March 2001—Taliban destroys ancient cliff Buddhas at Bamiyan, provoking international outrage.

May 2001—Taliban orders Hindus to wear tags identifying themselves as non-Muslims.

September 9, 2001—Taliban militants posing as TV reporters detonate camera bomb, assassinating Northern Alliance chief Ahmad Shah Massoud.

September 11, 2001—The horror. Pentagon soon embarks on war plans for Afghanistan—and Iraq.

October 2, 2001—President Bush orders the Taliban to surrender bin Laden. Taliban ambassador Abdul Salam Zaeef demurs, “Where is the evidence? Where is the proof?”

October 7, 2001—US launches Afghan bombing campaign with support from Australia, Canada, England, France, Germany, Italy, and New Zealand.

December 2001—UN brokers Bonn Agreement to establish a new government and convene an emergency loya jirga. US and British forces swarm the mountains of Tora Bora after radio intercepts indicate bin Laden is hiding there. Some 200 Qaeda and Taliban fighters die, but no bin Laden. Mullah Mohammed Omar, leader of the Taliban, is also AWOL.

January 2002—Bush State of the Union: Iraq, Iran, North Korea = Axis of Evil.

March 2003—US and British forces invade Iraq.

January 2004—Bush State of the Union: “The men and women of Afghanistan are building a nation that is free and proud and fighting terror—and America is honored to be their friend.”

September 2004—In the preceding six months, reports the Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission, at least 123 women set themselves on fire to escape forced marriages and domestic violence—13 lived.

October 2004—Roughly 8.2 million Afghans vote in country’s first presidential election. America’s favorite, Hamid Karzai, wins by a landslide.

June 2005—Sher Mohammed Akhundzada is removed as governor of Helmand province after 9,000 kilos of opium are found at his offices.

December 2005—President Karzai appoints Akhundzada to serve in the Afghan senate.

Late 2005—CIA unit dedicated to hunting bin Laden shuts down.

October 2006—In “Germany’s Abu Ghraib,” photos surface of that nation’s soldiers kissing, posing with, and making pyramids out of skulls and bones in Afghanistan.

November 2006—Government Accountability Office estimates that putting a dent in Afghan poppy cultivation and drug trafficking will take at least a decade.

January 2007—Taliban announces new schools to teach Islam to boys.

Spring 2007—Afghan poppy farmers reap record harvest: 8.2 million kilos of raw opium, enough to satisfy 93 percent of the illicit global market.

September 2007—More than 100,000 textbooks traveling from Kabul to Kandahar and Nooristan provinces are seized and burned by anti-government forces.

December 2007—Year’s toll: 751 US soldiers wounded (an 87 percent jump) and 117 dead. Back home, moviegoers flock to see Tom Hanks and Julia Roberts in Charlie Wilson’s War, dramatizing America’s covert support of mujahideen.

May 2008—Monthly US fatalities in Afghanistan surpass those in Iraq—even though America has nearly five times fewer troops in Afghanistan.

July 2008—Faulty US air strike demolishes wedding in Nangarhar mountains, leaving around 50 dead. Four months later, in Kandahar, US bombs ruin another wedding party.

September 2008—Lamenting America’s paltry development aid to Afghanistan, Joint Chiefs chairman Admiral Michael Mullen complains to the House Armed Services Committee, “We can’t kill our way to victory.”

October 2008—Sarah Palin name-drops “our neighboring country of Afghanistan” at a San Francisco fundraiser.

November 2008—Taliban militants embarrass coalition forces by driving around in American Humvees stolen from more than a dozen hijacked supply trucks; Karzai appears before the UN Security Council, seeking a timeline for coalition withdrawal.

January 2009—Karzai: Mounting civilian casualties “strengthening the terrorists.”

February 2009—BBC/ABC poll: Karzai’s popularity waning, and 73 percent of Afghans oppose any increase in foreign troops. CNN poll: 63 percent of Americans support Obama’s plan to send in 17,000 more soldiers.

March 2009—Glimpses of Obama’s strategy: In addition to the 17,000 troops, he’ll provide 4,000 new trainers to get Afghan cops and soldiers up to speed, meaningful funding for aid and diplomacy, a regional approach that involves friends and foes (perhaps even Taliban elements), and $7.5 billion in development assistance to win hearts and minds in Pakistan’s nettlesome tribal areas. The approach is praised by Karzai and Pakistani president Asif Ali Zardari.

April 2009—Pakistan’s Zardari, hoping to quell his country’s own Taliban insurgency, signs a bill that puts six districts, including the former resort area of Swat Valley, under Shariah law—a strict Islamic interpretation that denies the rights of women and often metes out punishments Westerners consider barbaric.

Nikki Gloudeman is a senior fellow at Mother Jones.


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