Early historic records show that Alexander the Great used what later became known as Afghanistan as his gateway to India.
In the early 700's the country was conquered by Islamic tribes. While during the middle of the 700s Afghanistan emerged as a country in its own right, being governed by a single unified political system and being ruled by a monarchy in what later became known as the capital Kabul.
Between 1300 and the 1400’s Genghis Khan and Tamerlane conquered the country.
Where as we all know about Genghis Khan few know of Tamerlane, who in many ways was more successfully than Genghis Khan. His name was derived from the Persian Timur-i lang, "Temur the Lame" (he was lame in the right leg) by Europeans during the 16th century. His Turkic name is Timur, which means 'iron'. In his life time, he conquered more than anyone except for Alexander the Great. His armies crossed Eurasia from Delhi to Moscow, from the Tien Shan Mountains of Central Asia to the Taurus Mountains in Anatolia. From 1370 till his death in 1405, Temur built a powerful empire and became the last of the great nomadic leaders the world would have to endure.
1839 to 1842 the first Anglo-Afghan war took place. However, the British were unsuccessful and failed to capture the country.
From 1878 to 1880 the second Anglo-Afghan war took place. Once again the British were unsuccessful in trying to take over the country.
During 1893 the British finally established an unofficial border separating Afghanistan from British ruled India.
In 1919 Afghanistan became independent.
While in 1926 Emir Amanullah founded an Afghan monarchy to rule the country.
The 1950's saw Afghanistan develop close ties with the Soviet Union during a period that became known as the cold war, (tension between the western world and Russia.)
1973 and the countries ruling monarch King Zaire Shah was overthrown by his cousin, former Prime Minister Mohammad Daoud. Who immediately established a Republic.
During April 1978 a revolution led by the People’s Democratic Party of Afghanistan (PDPA) with communist ideas, established a Marxist regime on the country. After the new president, Noor Mohammad Taraki tried to impose land reform and compulsory education for women sparked a nationwide reaction. This ended in conflict between the modernisers in Kabul (the communist), and large sections of the rest of country who mobilised calling themselves the Mujahedeen.
In July 1979 American intelligence services began sending aid to the Mujahedeen 6 months before the Soviet Union’s intervention. Its believed this was a plan by the Americans to draw the Soviets into what the CIA hoped would become their “Vietnam.” The Soviets were quick to oblige, as reported by the former director of the CIA at the time Robert Gates, in his memoirs "From the Shadows". As did Zbginiew Brzezinksi Jimmy Carter's National Security Advisor, during an interview with a French newspaper during 1998.
Then in September 1979 President Taraki was murdered by his deputy, Hafizullah Amin. However, his rein did not last long and within 3 months Amin was executed.
December 1979 saw the Soviet Union troops invade Afghanistan under the pretence of it supporting the Afghanistan Government. Closely followed by the return to Afghanistan of Babrak Karmal the exiled P.D.P.A. leader who had been living a sheltered and protected way of life in Moscow. Upon his swift return he was immediately made president of the country.
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Appeared in the December 1981 edition of Soldier Of Fortune
1986 Bill Casey the then head of the American CIA, gave $8 billion to the Mujahedeen to help recruit and train locals to fight against the Soviet Unions invasion force. (At the time they were already being supported and trained by Pakistan’s ISI). As part of the American undertaking, Stinger missiles were provided with full US Congress approval. The CIA also received help from Britain’s MI6 and the Saudi intelligence service Istakhbarat. The leader of the Mujahedeen at that time was Gulbuddin Hikmetyar, the man who made history way back during the 1960s by throwing acid in the face of women students at Kabul University. There were many factions within the Mujahedeen at that time, that included at least 7 guerilla groups, and some of them were being run and backed by Iran. One young recruit was Osama bin Laden, who in late 1986 helped set up the Khost tunnel complex, which the CIA funded as a major arms storage depot, training facility and medical center for the Mujahedeen, close to the Pakistan border.
4th May 1987 saw Major General Mohammad Najibullah replace Babrak Karmal as president of the country.
March to September saw the Battle of Jalalabad, when Mujahedeenforces fail to capture the key eastern city after a siege that claimed over 10,000 lives.
February 1988 and Russian president Gorbachev announced a 10 month phased withdrawal of all Soviet troops from the country beginning in May. The Geneva Accords agreement was also signed on 14th April.
14th February 1989 In Peshawar, the Seven-Party Alliance of Afghan Mujahedeen announced the establishment of an Afghan Interim Government (AIG), with Sibghatullah Mujadeddi being made the president, while Shia resistance groups and many top field commanders were excluded.
15th February 1989 the Soviet Union finally gave up trying to rule the country, and withdrew the last of its 115,000 troops from the country, after losing about 14,000 soldiers during its occupation.
During 1990 Osama Bin Laden returned to his home land of Saudi Arabia.
From the 6th to 9th February the US and the Soviet Union both agreed that President Najibullah should remain in power until internationally supervised elections could be held in the country.
29th May President Najibullah announced the introduction of a multiparty system.
25th July refugees began to return home under a United Nations Voluntary Repatriation Scheme.
2nd August Iraq invaded Kuwait. Against Osama bin Laden’s wishes, the Saudi King Fahd invited the US military to fight Iraq from its territory.
The United States moved its military forces into Saudi Arabia.
February to March 1991 the US discontinued military aid to the Afghan Interim Government (AIG) and announced it could not guarantee humanitarian assistance for 1992.
April 1992 the Mujahedeentried to take control of the capital Kabul, president Najibullah was removed by military officers and took refuge in a United Nations compound. While the Mujahedeen leaders signed the Peshawar Accord, agreeing to a power-sharing period of transitional rule leading to new elections. Hekmatyar was not a signatory to the agreement.
21st May the United Nations Secretary General Perez de Cuellar called for an end to arms supplied to all sides, a cessation of hostilities and elections for a broadly based democratic government. The AIG rejected any compromise with the Najibullah government.
24th June Prof Burhanuddin Rabbani was declared transitional president of the new "Islamic State of Afghanistan" for six months, while Hekmatyar's forces fired missiles and rockets into Kabul.
July to August an Islamic rebellion took place over the entire country with brutal in fighting taking place between several rebel groups that were trying to take control. The United Nations evacuated its staff from the city and relocated its offices to Islamabad.
30th December in defiance of the Peshawar Accord, Rabbani was confirmed as president for a further two years by a "Council of Wise Men". Five of the nine key party leaders boycotted the council.
19th January 1993 the Afghanistan Government launched an offensive against Hekmatyar, who responded with a month long rocket bombardment of the capital Kabul in which thousands of civilians were killed.
February four United Nations staff members were assassinated in Nangarhar Province on the road of the Khyber Pass.
7th March under the Islamabad Accord, Rabbani's term in office was reduced to 18 months, while Hekmatyar was brought in as prime minister of the country. However, fighting resumed two days later over the unresolved status of both the Defense Minister Ahmad Shah Massoud and General Dostum, the former communist who controlled most of northern Afghanistan.
16th June Hekmatyar was sworn in as prime minister, after Massoud resigned.
1st January 1994 the Battle for Kabul intensified as General Dostum formed an alliance with Hekmatyar. Fighting continued throughout the year but no clear winner emerged. A blockade halted the delivery of relief food and medicine to the city.
14th February Ambassador Mahmoud Mestiri was named head of a Special United Nations Mission with a mandate to restart the peace process. He tabled a proposal for a ceasefire, calling for the creation of a neutral security force and the summoning of a Loya jirga, or representative council, to oversee the formation of a transitional government.
Some time during 1994 the Taliban was created as a fighting force in Afghanistan to fight the Mujahedeen which was not bringing stability to the region.
October Kandahar fell to the Taliban led by Mullah Mohammad Omar.
On the 11th November the United Nations appealed for $106.4 million to meet the humanitarian requirements of Afghanistan for the next twelve months. According to the International Committee of the Red Cross, fighting during the year had killed over 7,000, injured around 100,000 and made more than half a million people homeless.
During February 1995 the Taliban forced Hekmatyar to abandon his rocket bases at Charasyab and Maidanshahr, ending the first siege of Kabul.
20th March following the killing of Abdul-Ali Mazari, leader of the Shia Hizb-I Wahdat, Taliban forces were expelled from Kabul by government forces.
5th September after fierce fighting in western Afghanistan, Herat fell to the Taliban. Local warlord Ismail Khan fled with 8,000 followers to Iran.
6th September saw the Pakistan embassy in Kabul set ablaze by rioting Afghans.
October and the Second siege of Kabul began with the Taliban firing rockets in to the capital and setting up a blockade.
4th October at the United Nations General Assembly in New York, Deputy Foreign Minister Abdul Rahim Ghafoorzai accused Pakistan of orchestrating and supplying the Taliban movement.
10th November UNICEF suspended its assistance to education in Taliban controlled regions of Afghanistan.
1996 Osama Bin Laden returned to Afghanistan.
26th June 1996 a peace deal was agreed upon between Rabbani and Hekmatyar, who re-assumed his title as prime minister enforcing an Islamic dress code for women in Kabul.
5th September the Taliban launched an offensive in eastern Afghanistan, capturing Jalalabad.
27th September a group of Islamic students calling themselves the Taliban seized control of the capital Kabul, capturing and hanging Najibullah, and declared Afghanistan to be a "completely Islamic State". However, the new government was only recognised by Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates.
7th October Rabbani, Dostum and Karim Khalili, leaders of Hizb-I Wahdat, announced the formation of an anti-Taliban alliance called the Council for the Defense of Afghanistan.
13th May 1997 Afghanistan’s opposition formed a new government under Rabbani in Mazar-I Sharif.
19th May after a mutiny General Abdul Malik, governor of Faryab, joined the Taliban. While Dostum fled to Turkey.
24th May the Taliban forces enter Mazar-I-Sharif.
28th May General Malik, who was in an alliance with Hizb-i wahdat, changed sides once again and this time he turned on the Taliban. Hundreds were killed and 2,000 captured.
10th June Mullah Mohammad Omar made his first public visit to Kabul to rally support and morale.
September the Taliban arrested the European Union Commissioner Emma Bonino in Kabul.
November General Malik and his brothers fled the country into exile.
18th November US Secretary of State Madeleine Albright condemned the Talibans treatment of women.
23th February 1998 Osama bin Ladin called on all Muslims to ‘kill the Americans and their allies.
25th March the United Nations withdrew its staff from Kandahar.
17th April the US Ambassador to the United Nations Bill Richardson held peace talks with the Taliban that eventually collapsed without an agreement on 3rd May.
13th July two United Nations staff members were murdered in Jalalabad.
By the 21st July most foreign None Governmental Officials had left Kabul.
7th August US Embassies in Kenya and Tanzania were attacked with a large loss of life. The prime suspect was Osama Bin Laden. US president Bill Clinton responded by bombing the Sudan and Afghanistan.
8th August almost 5,000 people, including nine Iranian diplomats, were killed as Mazar-i Sharif was captured by the Taliban.
21st August after a United Nations observer was murdered in Kabul, the United Nations and the International Committee of the Red Cross withdrew its entire foreign staff from the country.
September Saudi Arabia withdrew all its diplomats, while the Taliban captured Bamiyan.
21st October the United Nations deferred a decision on recognition on what was happening in Afghanistan.
8th November the US posted a $5 million reward for any information leading to the capture of bin-Ladin. The Taliban responded with an offer to try bin-Laden in Afghanistan. They went ahead and found him "innocent" of any wrongdoing.
12th February 1999 the Taliban announced the "disappearance" of bin-Laden.
21st April the Taliban recaptured Bamiyan.
6th July the United States imposed trade sanctions on Afghanistan.
28th July the Taliban launched a three-pronged offensive against Massoud, capturing the Bagram air base.
24th August an attempted assassination of Mullah Mohammad Omar.
15th December the United Nations imposed sanctions on Afghanistan.
5th September 2000 after 33 days of heavy fighting, Massoud's northern capital Talaqan fell to a combined Taliban/Pakistani/Arab force. Thousands of refugees headed for the Tajik and Pakistani borders.
7th December the US and Russia asked the United Nations Security Council to strengthen sanctions against Afghanistan.
10th December the United Nations and NGO foreign staff was withdrawn for fears of reprisals.
19th December the United Nations tightened sanctions on Afghanistan, imposed an arms embargo, closed all Taliban offices abroad and stopped Taliban officials from leaving Afghanistan.
September 2001 anti Taliban guerrilla leader Ahmed Shah Masoud of the group referred to as the Northern Alliance was killed by suicide bombers.
11th September 2001 Taliban and al-Qaeda members attacked New York's World Trade Center Towers and the Pentagon.
7th October the Taliban refused to hand over Bin Laden. The U.S. and its allies began daily air strikes against Afghan military installations.
7th December the Taliban regime collapsed.
December Afghanistan formed an interim government.
June 2002 Hamid Karzai became President of Afghanistan.
During 2002 and 2003 Peacekeeping forces from several nations entered the country.
March 2003 saw a US Offensive against Kandahar and al-Qaeda members.
August N.A.T.O. assumed command of peacekeeping troops in the country.
4th January 2004 and a new constitution for the country is introduced.
April the US launched an offensive along the Pakistan border against al-Qaeda members.
The rest is history as they say, as the country is still in turmoil with many foreign troops still fighting in the country trying to help keep the peace. And where do mercenaries or contractors come into the story. Well it’s plain for all to see that both sides of the conflict are using them. While one side uses religion as a means to recruit around the world, the western countries who are involved are also recruiting hoping to help ease their own countries commitment of troops. Man power of their own troops is getting harder to find without the use of national service to build up their numbers. Therefore if they have the money at least they can buy ex service trained personnel from around the world to boost up their presence on the ground. However, it’s a little easier this time around as most learnt lessons from Halliburton, who took that first step a few years earlier while in Iraq. It also has to be noted that some of the countries who have committed troops will not go to certain areas that are very hostile. Whatever side of the fence you sit on you have to agree that there are many willing to lay their lives on the line for money rather than a cause. And whereas when a service man dies, there are large funeral gatherings back in their home land, when a contractor dies it’s all low key and pushed into the background and most are soon forgotten, something which is not quite right in my book.
Terry Aspinall 2009
Compiled from various sources including,
Griffin, Michael; Reaping the Whirlwind: The Taliban Movement in Afghanistan. Pluto Press; London; 2001
http://www.rte.ie/news/features/afghanistan/halliday.html Site of Fred Halliday, Professor of International Relations, London School of Economics.
Rashid, Ahmed. Taliban: Militant Islam, Oil and Fundamentalism in Central Asia. Yale University Press. 2000.
Robert Gates From the Shadows: The Ultimate Insider's Story of Five Presidents and How They Won the Cold War. 1997.
Interview of Zbigniew Brzezinski “How Jimmy Carter and I Started the Mujahideen” Le Nouvel Observateur (France), Jan 15-21, 1998, p. 76