Turmoil continues to unfold in Afghanistan after the fall of its capital city Kabul to the Taliban, an Islamic militant group that has had a foothold in the country since 1994.
All U.S. troops were supposed to be withdrawn from Afghanistan by the end of August per an order from President Joe Biden. However, an increase of troops to help evacuate Americans and allies has raised questions about the deadline’s feasibility.
Here’s what you need to know about the history of the war in Afghanistan and what is going on in the country now:
How many U.S. troops are headed to Afghanistan?
Around 6,000 U.S. troops have been deployed to Afghanistan over the past few days. Pentagon officials have said that these troops are only there to help evacuate Americans and other allies out of the country as the Taliban seizes parts of the country, including the capital.
Before this increase, fewer than 1,000 troops were left in the country ahead of the withdrawal deadline later this month.
As of Aug. 17, approximately 2,500 troops were on the ground at Hamid Karzai International Airport to assist the departure of American and Afghan civilians from the country. Thousands of civilians crowded the airport’s tarmac hoping for an escape from Taliban control.
When did the U.S. invade Afghanistan?
The U.S. invaded Afghanistan on Oct. 7, 2001 — almost a month after al-Qaeda hijacked four planes on September 11, 2001. Two planes crashed into the World Trade Center in New York City, one hit the Pentagon in Washington, D.C. and one crash-landed in a field in Shanksville, Pennsylvania, en route to its suspected target—the White House.
Why were U.S. troops sent to Afghanistan?
The U.S. invaded Afghanistan following the Sept. 11 attacks on the United States. After determining that the group responsible for the 9/11 attacks was based in the country, President George W. Bush called on the Taliban to hand over al-Qaeda’s leader, Osama bin Laden. When they would not give him up, Congress authorized a use of force on those responsible for the attacks in a joint resolution on September 18, 2001.
The U.S. military, backed by British forces, invaded Afghanistan on Oct. 7. The invasion began with a bombing campaign against the Taliban and al-Qaeda called Operation Enduring Freedom that lasted for five days.
In 2011, the number of U.S. troops in Afghanistan peaked at around 110,000.
How many service members died in Afghanistan? How many contractors died?
To date, 2,448 American service members have died in Afghanistan since the war started. About 4,000 U.S. civilian contractors have died in Afghanistan, according to Forbes. When combined with the number of troops that have died, this brings the total American death toll to nearly 6,500.
How many service members were wounded?
More than 20,000 service members have been wounded since the outset of the conflict, according to the U.S. Department of Defense Casualty Status report.
How much money has the war cost U.S. taxpayers?
According to estimates by Costs of War Project at Brown University, the Defense Department has spent $1.9 trillion on the War in Afghanistan. But the entire “war-related” spend through fiscal year 2020, including the next four years of financial obligations to veterans, is $6.4 trillion.
Is the war in Afghanistan technically over?
Following the takeover of Kabul, Afghanistan’s capital city, the Taliban declared the war in Afghanistan over.
For the United States, the answer is more complicated. The U.S. never declared a formal war in Afghanistan.
In December 2014, the U.S. and NATO formally ended the campaign in Afghanistan, three months after the country’s new president, Ashraf Ghani, was inaugurated. The U.S. left around 13,000 troops there to support and train Afghan security forces to ensure the country stayed stable.
Earlier this year, Biden planned for all U.S. troops to be out of Afghanistan by August 31, 2021, ahead of the 20th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks. With the deployment of more troops to the country to help evacuations comes the test of Biden’s withdrawal deadline.
In a press conference on Aug. 16, Biden stood “squarely behind” his decision to withdraw troops from the country. However, he added the U.S. would support the Afghan people as the Taliban seize power once again.
Caitlin O'Brien is a digital intern with Military Times. She started in January 2021. Caitlin attends Hofstra University where she is a double major in journalism and political science.