Here’s how the longest war in US history has unfolded

Despite the combat mission in Afghanistan concluding in 2014, President Donald Trump said in a speech Monday night that he plans to increase the US’s military presence in the war-torn country and continue the longest-running war in American history.

The 16-year war, once known as Operation Enduring Freedom but now called Resolute Support, has led to the deaths of 2,403 American soldiers, along with thousands of Taliban and Al Qaeda fighters – as well as thousands of Afghan civilians.

While Trump did not mention exact numbers for his troop-increase proposal, multiple reports say he plans on sending about 4,000 troops to join the 8,400 that are already deployed to Afghanistan.


On September 11, 2001, Al Qaeda operatives hijacked four planes and crashed them into the World Trade Center, the Pentagon, and a field in Pennsylvania. Nearly 3,000 people died.


None of the hijackers were Afghan nationals. However, President George W. Bush declared a “war on terror” that targeted Al Qaeda and Osama bin Laden, who received shelter and assistance from the Taliban regime in Afghanistan.

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REUTERS/Larry Downing

Source: White House Archives


Operation Enduring Freedom launched on October 7, 2001 with a bombing campaign against Taliban forces.

Source: Air Force Historical Support Division


The US and UK continued the bombing campaign in the run-up to an invasion of the country.

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US Marine PV2 Eileen M. Schnetzko stands on guard at Bagram airport, March 2, 2002. US troops were based at Bagram, north of Kabul.
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REUTERS/Mario Laporta

In early November 2001, a small number of special-forces soldiers were deployed to Afghanistan to fight alongside the Northern Alliance, a loosely knit anti-Taliban coalition.

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DoD-Handout/Reuters

Source: The New York Times


The Northern Alliance was formed mostly of guerrilla fighters and members of the military who had been ousted when the Taliban took power in 1996. Despite receiving aid from both Russia and Iran, the alliance was not very well trained or cohesive.

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Afghan opposition Northern Alliance soldiers return from a front-line position after battle near the town of Charatoy in the north of Afghanistan, October 10, 2001.
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Gleb Garanich/Reuters

Source: Global Policy Forum


The US and UK continued dropping heavy loads of bombs on Taliban troops north of Kabul.

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Two Northern Alliance soldiers watch as the dust and smoke rises after explosions in Taliban positions on Kalakata hill, near the village of Ai-Khanum in northern Afghanistan, November 1, 2001.
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Vasily Fedosenko/Reuters

Weakened by airstrikes, the Taliban eventually lost control of Kabul. Many of the city’s residents, however, were left starving and homeless. The World Food Programme started its biggest food distribution ever in Kabul on December 8, 2001.

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An Afghan guard hits Kabul residents with a tree branch as he tries to maintain order at a World Food Programme distribution point December 8, 2001.
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Peter Andrews/Reuters

By December, Taliban forces had abandoned their last stronghold in Kandahar. The Tora Bora cave complex southeast of Kabul, where bin Laden was believed to be hiding, was bombarded by US B-52s for two weeks. The Taliban had fallen but bin Laden escaped along with Taliban leader Mullah Omar.

Source: The New York Times


An interim government was formed by late December 2001. Hamid Karzai was sworn in as interim administration head on December 22.

Source: Council on Foreign Relations


In March 2002, Afghan and US troops launched Operation Anaconda — their first large-scale ground attack since their raid on the Tora Bora caves in December 2001. Troops moved to root out nearly 800 Taliban and Al Qaeda fighters in the Shah-i-Kot Valley.

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A US military Chinook helicopter circles above a dirt runway outside Gardez, March 5, 2002.
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Reuters

Operation Anaconda was the fiercest and bloodiest battle in Afghanistan up to that point.

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US soldiers walk past the body of an Al Qaeda or Taliban fighter near an encampment that was hit by US fire, March 16, 2002, on the mountain top known as the “Whale” in the Shah-i-Kot Valley region of eastern Afghanistan.
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Reuters

In May 2003, then-Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld announced that major combat operations had ended in Afghanistan. President George W. Bush declared “mission accomplished” in Iraq that same day.

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Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, right, addresses the media with UK Defense Secretary Geoff Hoon at London’s Heathrow, airport May 2, 2003.
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Michael Stephens/Reuters

The war in Iraq diverted important resources away from Afghanistan, including US special-operations forces. The Taliban took note, reasserting themselves in a concerted insurgent campaign that lasted for several years.

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Former insurgents at a ceremony in Kabul, Afghanistan, February 5, 2006.
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Ahmad Masood/Reuters

Despite the insurgency, Afghans voted in the country’s first free legislative elections in more than 25 years on September 18, 2005.

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Afghan women show their inked fingers after they voted during parliamentary elections at a mosque used as a polling station in the Afghan capital Kabul, September 18, 2005.
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Zohra Bensemra/Reuters

Despite the elections, the Taliban gained in strength, and Karzai proved to be a duplicitous and unreliable ally. Afghanistan was backsliding. In February 2009, shortly after taking office, President Barack Obama said he would send an additional 17,000 American troops to the country in a surge that he hoped would “stabilize a deteriorating situation in Afghanistan.”

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Afghans speak with a US soldier from the 10th Mountain Division on patrol in Kunar on December 12, 2009.
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TAUSEEF MUSTAFA/AFP/Getty Images

Source: CNN


On October 3, 2009, 300 Taliban insurgents attacked US Combat Outpost Keating in the mountains of eastern Afghanistan. Eight Americans and an estimated 150 insurgents were killed in one of the major battles of the war.

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US soldiers walk down a mountain path during a patrol near Combat Outpost Keating in eastern Afghanistan, January 24, 2009.
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Bob Strong/Reuters

Source: Foreign Policy


In June 2010, Obama fired his top Afghanistan commander, Army Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal, after his aides were anonymously quoted attacking Obama in a Rolling Stone article. He was replaced by Gen. David Petraeus, who would continue with counterinsurgency tactics that had proven successful during the Iraq surge.

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Gen. David H. Petraeus poses with An Afghan police officer in a police-training center outskirts of Kandahar on July 19, 2010.
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MASSOUD HOSSAINI/AFP/Getty Images

But there was no quick fix to the war’s problems. The results of Afghanistan’s September 2010 parliamentary elections were disputed after reports emerged of ballot stuffing and voter suppression across the country. Recounts were ordered, and final election results were released on October 31.

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Candidates for the parliamentary elections and their supporters at a protest in Kabul, November 7, 2010
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Ahmad Masood/Reuters

The most iconic US success of the war was just around the corner though. On May 2, 2011, US forces conducted a raid on a high-walled compound in Pakistan that killed Al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden. President Obama hailed bin Laden’s death as “the most significant achievement to date in our nation’s effort to defeat Al Qaeda.”

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A photo of the US national-security team in the White House Situation Room monitoring the progress of Operation Neptune Spear, which killed bin Laden.
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Wikimedia Commons

Source: The New York Times


But the violence in Afghanistan continued. On August 6, 2011, a US Army helicopter was shot down by insurgents in the eastern province of Wardak. Seven Afghan army soldiers and 22 Navy SEALs were killed.

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An US Army Chinook helicopter much like the one shot down takes off from Observation Post Mace in eastern Afghanistan, August 26, 2011.
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Nikola Solic/Reuters

Source: ABC


In May 2012, Obama met with Hamid Karzai — then in his 10th year of rule and widely considered to be a liability by decision-makers in Washington — in Afghanistan and signed a Strategic Partnership Agreement. Obama then addressed the nation from Bagram Air Base, pledging to end the war by the end of 2014.

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Troops at Bagram Air Base listen to President Barack Obama during his visit to Kabul, May 2, 2012.
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Kevin Lemarque/Reuters

Source: The White House


Making good on his 2012 reelection campaign promise, President Obama withdrew roughly 34,000 troops from Afghanistan between 2013 and the end of 2014, officially concluding America’s combat mission on December 28, 2014.

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US Army Gen. John Campbell, center, commander of NATO-led International Security Assistance Force, folds the ISAF flag during the change-of-mission ceremony in Kabul, December 28, 2014.
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Omar Sobhani/Reuters

NATO’s Resolute Support mission would keep 13,000 troops — mostly American — in Afghanistan for two years to train and advise Afghan security forces.

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Afghan National police officers demonstrate their training during a visit by US Army Brig. Gen. Christopher Bentley in Nangarhar province, December 16, 2014.
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Lucas Jackson/Reuters

Source: NATO


Resolute Support began on January 1, 2015, and since then 47 American soldiers have been killed and 54 more have been wounded.

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US Marines stand at attention during a transfer-of-authority ceremony at Shorab camp, in Helmand province, Afghanistan, in April 2017.
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Thomson Reuters

Former President Barack Obama left 9,800 US troops in Afghanistan at the end of 2014, and intended to reduce that number to 5,500 by 2017, but the Taliban’s success on the battlefield changed those plans.

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Currently, there are about 8,400 US troops are still in Afghanistan.
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Thomson Reuters

Monday night, after months of deliberation, Trump said he would continue the war and increase the US’s military presence in Afghanistan. He did not give a specific number, but most reports indicate he will send about 4,000 more US troops into the war-torn country.