By Donna Miles
Nov. 13, 2006 – Celebration filled the streets of Kabul, Afghanistan, five years ago today as members of the Northern Alliance rolled into the city, driving the Taliban and their al Qaeda allies into hiding places in the south. Newsreels showed Afghans reveling in the fall of the regime that had oppressed them since 1996. Afghan men shaved their beards, women abandoned their head-to-toe burqas, children flew kites, and people played music on the radio -- all activities forbidden under Taliban rule.
U.S. aircraft had bombed Taliban training camps and command-and-control sites since the opening days of Operation Enduring Freedom just a month earlier, and the bombing continued as Taliban operatives fled to the inhospitable Afghanistan-Pakistan border, then-Pentagon spokeswoman Victoria Clarke reported.
Some 80 U.S. aircraft targeted Taliban and terrorist cave and tunnel complexes on Nov. 13, 2001, and three C-17 Globemaster III cargo airplanes dropped 39,000 humanitarian daily ration packs, bringing the total delivered that week to 1.5 million.
U.S. special operations forces also played a key role in the Northern Alliance successes, then-Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Richard B. Myers reported during a Nov. 13, 2001, Pentagon press conference.
Myers noted that Special Forces soldiers helped coordinate the Northern Alliance's tactical victory at Mazar-e Sharif four days earlier and coordinated air attacks that helped neutralize Taliban capabilities.
Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld welcomed the successes in Afghanistan and acknowledged that they left the Taliban and al Qaeda forces with few choices. "If they reorganize in the south, we will go get them," he said. "If they go to ground, ...we will root them out. If they decide to flee, I doubt they will find peace wherever they select."
Five years later, coalition forces, and NATO International Security Assistance Force and Afghan troops continue to "relentlessly pursue" Taliban extremists, al Qaeda operatives and other terrorists, Air Force Lt. Col. Todd Vician, a Pentagon spokesman, said.
The Taliban is taking advantage of the fact that the Afghanistan government's institutions are still relatively weak, which has enabled them to expand their strength and influence in some areas, he said.
Taliban members usually operate in pockets of 50 to 70 fighters and, in rare occasions, swell to 200 fighters in one location -- an increase from 2005, Vician noted. "The enemy is focused on winning the battle of perception, attacking civilians to spread fear among local populations," Vician said. "His goal is to win the battle of perception and force us to lose our will."
During his Sept. 11, 2006, address marking the fifth anniversary of the terror attacks on the United States, President Bush reaffirmed his promise that the United States will continue to seek terrorists out. "No matter how long it takes, America will find you, and we will bring you to justice," he said.
Meanwhile, Afghanistan continues to advance beyond its days of Taliban rule, with progress on a variety of fronts. Afghan President Hamid Karzai and his democratically elected government are providing what Bush calls a model of democracy in the Middle East.
The 35,000-member Afghan National Army is growing in both numbers and capability and helping ensure that terrorists never again take sanctuary within the country's borders. NATO's Internal Security Assistance Force took the lead for security and stability operations throughout the country Oct. 5 to support that effort. At the same time, an extensive reconstruction effort continues throughout Afghanistan. Turkey opened the 25th of 34 provincial reconstruction teams planned for Afghanistan last week. The new PRT, in Wardak province, will work with Afghan authorities to promote health care, education, police training and agricultural alternatives to local farmers, officials said.
During ceremonies in October marking the ISAF's expanded responsibilities in Afghanistan, U.S. Army Lt. Gen. Karl W. Eikenberry, commander of Combined Forces Command Afghanistan, emphasized the ongoing U.S. commitment to Afghanistan.
"Our missions and forces on the ground remain unchanged," he said. "In short, the United States has been here since the beginning of Operation Enduring Freedom, and we will not leave Afghanistan until the job is done."