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  • War in Afghanistan (2001-present)

media captionBoris Johnson on UK troops returning from Afghanistan: "We are safer because of everything they did."

All British troops assigned to Nato's mission in Afghanistan are returning home and most have already left, Prime Minister Boris Johnson has said.

The PM said there could "never be a perfect moment" to withdraw, but it was "never intended to be permanent".

More than 450 British troops have died during the conflict with the Taliban and fighters from al-Qaeda since 2001.

But Britain's most senior general has warned Afghanistan could slide into civil war once foreign troops leave.

The US has said it will withdraw all forces by 11 September.

The US-led bombing of Afghanistan began in October 2001, following the 11 September attacks on the United States.

At the height of the war, Nato had more than 130,000 troops from 50 nations in Afghanistan. The UK had 9,500 personnel and 137 bases in Helmand province alone.

  • 20 years in Afghanistan: Was it worth it?
  • US troops must leave by deadline – Afghan Taliban
  • Echoes of 1989 as foreign forces leave Afghanistan

In a statement to the House of Commons, Mr Johnson said after the majority of troops returned home in 2014, about 750 service personnel stayed in Afghanistan under Nato's mission to train and assist the country's security forces.

"No-one should doubt the gains of the last 20 years," he told MPs. "But nor can we shrink from the hard reality of the situation today."

He said the situation in Afghanistan now is "very different" compared to 20 years ago when the country was "the epicentre of global terrorism".

"We and our Nato allies were always going to withdraw our forces," Mr Johnson said. "The only question was when, and there could never be a perfect moment."

media caption"We have to live with our losses for the rest of our lives" – mother Lucy Aldridge reflects on the loss of her son William

US President Joe Biden announced in April that American troops will leave Afghanistan by 11 September, saying it was "time to end America's longest war".

The US had some 2,500 troops in the country as part of a 9,600-strong Nato mission.

That would coincide with the 20th anniversary of the terror attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon in the US in 2001.

The Taliban told the BBC this month that any foreign troops left in Afghanistan after Nato's September withdrawal deadline will be at risk as occupiers.

But violence in the country continues to rise, with the Taliban taking more territory.

Under a deal with the militant group, the US and its Nato allies agreed to withdraw all troops in return for a commitment by the Taliban not to allow al-Qaeda or any other extremist group to operate in the areas they control.

After nearly 20 years of western military support, most Nato forces have now left the country for good.

That includes the majority of the 750 British troops who were in the capital Kabul to assist with security and training.

The head of the Armed Forces, General Sir Nick Carter, says that those British troops who served in Afghanistan can be proud of what they achieved.

But even he describes the current security situation in Afghanistan as "pretty grim", with the Taliban making significant advances.

General Carter says it's "plausible" that the country might now fracture along tribal and ethnic lines.

Though he still believes the Taliban will not be able to control the whole country.

A total of 475 British military personnel lost their lives in the country – most killed in Helmand before combat operations ended in 2014.

Their families will question whether they really leave a lasting legacy – whether their sacrifice was in vain.

Boris Johnson insists that Britain is not walking away from the country.

There will still be a very small British military presence in Kabul to protect diplomatic missions. But did this costly Nato mission really achieve what it set out to do?

Labour's deputy leader Angela Rayner said the Taliban were "making gains on the ground" and "serious questions remain about the future stability of Afghanistan".

"A security threat remains to the wider world including to the UK, and nobody wants to see British troops permanently stationed in Afghanistan, but we simply cannot wash our hands or walk away," she said.

There had been "moments of huge difficulty" in the last 20 years, Ms Rayner said, but Afghanistan's current situation "is more concerning than at any other point in many years".

"It's hard to see a future without bloodier conflict and wider Taliban control," she said.

Mr Johnson told MPs Britain was "not walking away" from Afghanistan.

"We are keeping our embassy in Kabul and we will continue to work with our friends and allies, particularly with the government of Pakistan, to try to bring a settlement, to try to ensure that the Taliban understand that there can be no military path to victory and there must be a negotiated solution," he said.

Speaking after Mr Johnson's announcement, Head of the Armed Forces General Nick Carter said the situation in Afghanistan was "pretty grim", with half the country's rural districts now in the hands of the Taliban.

He warned there was a danger of "state collapse", adding: "That's where you would see a culture of warlord-ism, and you might see some of the important institutions, like the security forces, fracturing along ethnic, or for that matter tribal, lines."

image copyrightGetty Imagesimage captionThe majority of UK troops left Afghanistan in 2014

Designated transnational terrorist group, al-Qaeda, was able to establish itself in Afghanistan, led by Osama Bin Laden, over five years from 1996-2001.

It set up terrorist training camps, including experimenting with poison gas on dogs, and recruited and trained an estimated 20,000 jihadist volunteers from around the world. It also directed the twin attacks on the US embassies in Kenya and Tanzania in 1998, killing 224 people, mostly African civilians.

Al-Qaeda was protected by the government at the time, the Taliban, who refused calls from the international community to expel the terror group after the 9/11 attacks in the US in September 2001. This led to the US-led bombing of Afghanistan, which began in October 2001.

Twenty years of conflict in Afghanistan – what happened when?

From 9/11, to intense fighting on the ground, and now full withdrawal of US-led forces, here’s what happened.

9/11

11 September 2001

Al-Qaeda, led by Osama Bin Laden in Afghanistan, carries out the largest terror attack ever conducted on US soil.

Image caption The World Trade Centre is reduced to rubble

Image copyright by Getty

Four commercial airliners are hijacked. Two are flown into the World Trade Centre in New York, which collapses. One hits the Pentagon building in Washington, and one crashes into a field in Pennsylvania. Nearly 3,000 people are killed.

First air strikes

7 October 2001

A US-led coalition bombs Taliban and al-Qaeda facilities in Afghanistan. Targets include Kabul, Kandahar and Jalalabad.

The Taliban, who took power after a decade-long Soviet occupation was followed by civil war, refuse to hand over Bin Laden. Their air defences and small fleet of fighter aircraft are destroyed.

Fall of Kabul

13 November 2001

The Northern Alliance, a group of anti-Taliban rebels backed by coalition forces, enters Kabul as the Taliban flee the city.

Image caption Coalition-backed Northern Alliance fighters ride tanks into Kabul as the Taliban retreat

Image copyright by Getty

By the 13 November 2001, all Taliban have either fled or been neutralised. Other cities quickly fall.

New constitution

26 January 2004

After protracted negotiations at a “loya jirga” or grand assembly, the new Afghan constitution is signed into law. The constitution paves the way for presidential elections in October 2004.

Hamid Karzai becomes president

7 December 2004

Image caption Hamid Karzai led anti-Taliban groups around Kandahar before becoming president

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Hamid Karzai, the leader of the Popalzai Durrani tribe, becomes the first president under the new constitution. He serves two five-year terms as president.

UK troops deployed to Helmand

May 2006

British troops arrive in Helmand province, a Taliban stronghold in the south of the country.

Image caption Soldiers of the Parachute Regiment lead the first UK deployment to Helmand

Image copyright by Getty

Their initial mission is to support reconstruction projects, but they are quickly drawn into combat operations. More than 450 British troops lose their lives in Afghanistan over the course of the conflict.

Obama’s surge

17 February 2009

US President Barack Obama approves a major increase in the number of troops sent to Afghanistan. At their peak, they number about 140,000.

Image caption US troops in intense combat operations in the south of the country

Image copyright by Getty

The so-called “surge” is modelled on US strategy in Iraq where US forces focussed on protecting the civilian population as well as killing insurgent fighters.

Osama Bin Laden killed

2 May 2011

Image caption Bin Laden is traced to a compound located less than a mile from a Pakistani military academy

Image copyright by Getty

The leader of al-Qaeda is killed in an assault by US Navy Seals on a compound in Abbottabad in Pakistan. Bin Laden’s body is removed and buried at sea. The operation ends a 10-year hunt led by the CIA.  The confirmation that Bin Laden had been living on Pakistani soil fuels accusations in the US that Pakistan is an unreliable ally in the war on terror.

Death of Mullah Omar

23 April 2013

The founder of the Taliban, Mullah Mohammed Omar, dies. His death is kept secret for more than two years.

Image caption The Taliban leader is believed to have suffered a shrapnel wound to his right eye in the 1980s

Image copyright by EPA

According to Afghan intelligence, Mullah Omar dies of health problems at a hospital in the Pakistani city of Karachi. Pakistan denies that he was in the country.

Nato ends combat operations

28 December 2014

At a ceremony in Kabul, Nato ends its combat operations in Afghanistan. With the surge now over, the US withdraws thousands of troops.  Most of those who remain focus on training and supporting the Afghan security forces.

Taliban resurgence

2015

The Taliban launch a series of suicide attacks, car bombings and other assaults. The parliament building in Kabul, and the city of Kunduz are attacked. Islamic State militants begin operations in Afghanistan.

Image caption Kabul’s international airport is struck on 10 August 2015

Image copyright by Getty

Death toll announcement

25 January 2019

Afghan President Ashraf Ghani says more than 45,000 members of his country’s security forces have been killed since he became leader in 2014. The figure is far higher than previously thought.

US signs deal with Taliban

29 February 2020

The US and the Taliban sign an “agreement for bringing peace” to Afghanistan, in Doha, Qatar. The US and Nato allies agree to withdraw all troops within 14 months if the militants uphold the deal.

Image caption The deal lays out a timetable for full withdrawal

Image copyright by Getty

Date for final withdrawal

11 September 2021

US forces are scheduled to withdraw from Afghanistan by 11 September 2021, exactly 20 years since 9/11. There are strong indications that the withdrawal may be complete before the official deadline.

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