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History, Taliban Regime

Operation Anaconda, embassy bombings, burkas, Northern Alliance, eastern Afghanistan

After taking over Kabul, the Taliban created the Ministry for Ordering What Is Right and Forbidding What Is Wrong to impose and enforce its fundamentalist rules of behavior. The Taliban’s laws particularly affected women, who were ordered to cover themselves from head to toe in burkas (long, tentlike veils), forbidden from attending school or working outside their homes, and publicly beaten if they were improperly dressed or escorted by men not related to them. The Taliban also made murder, adultery, and drug dealing punishable by death and made theft punishable by amputation of the hand. Many of the laws alarmed human-rights groups and provoked worldwide condemnation. Most countries did not recognize the Taliban as the legitimate government of Afghanistan.

In 1998, after terrorist bombings struck U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania, the United States launched cruise missiles at alleged terrorist training camps in eastern Afghanistan. The camps were reportedly connected to an international terrorist ring allegedly run by Osama bin Laden, a wealthy Saudi Arabian expatriate named by U.S. officials as the mastermind behind the embassy bombings. Bin Laden was active in the Afghan resistance to Soviet occupation forces during the 1980s, and toward the end of that war he established al-Qaeda (Arabic for “the Base”), an organization based in Afghanistan that, according to U.S. officials, connects and coordinates fundamentalist Islamic terrorist groups around the world. Al-Qaeda also supported the Taliban regime, with its special forces, called the Arab Brigade, fighting alongside Taliban troops in the civil war against the Northern Alliance.

On September 9, 2001, pro-Taliban suicide bombers assassinated Ahmad Shah Massoud, the leader of the Northern Alliance. Two days later in the United States, terrorists hijacked passenger airplanes and deliberately crashed them into the twin towers of the World Trade Center in New York City and the Pentagon in Arlington, Virginia, killing thousands of people. The U.S. government identified bin Laden as the prime suspect behind the attacks. Mullah Muhammad Omar, the supreme leader of the Taliban, refused U.S. demands that the Taliban surrender bin Laden. The U.S. government built an international antiterrorism coalition, securing the approval of many nations for a war on terrorism. American and British forces began aerial bombings of al-Qaeda camps and Taliban military positions on October 7. The Northern Alliance, meanwhile, continued its front-line offensive north of Kabul and other strategic areas. Many Afghans fled to refugee camps in border areas of Pakistan and Iran to escape the bombings, adding to the millions of Afghans already displaced from more than two decades of war.

While the United States and Britain continued the aerial bombardment in November, Northern Alliance forces captured several strategic cities, including Kabul. In late November hundreds of U.S. marines landed near Kandahar in the first major infusion of American ground troops into Afghanistan. The Taliban surrendered Kandahar, their last remaining stronghold, by December 10. The U.S.-led offensive then focused on routing out al-Qaeda forces holed up in the rugged Tora Bora cave region of eastern Afghanistan, near the border with Pakistan. In March 2002 U.S. troops undertook a mission, known as Operation Anaconda, to clear Taliban and al-Qaeda forces from the Shah-i-Kot Valley, in the vicinity of Gardez in eastern Afghanistan. Meanwhile, the whereabouts of bin Laden remained unknown.

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