WASHINGTON: The United States intervened in Afghanistan in 2001 to rid Al-Qaeda of its sanctuaries following the 9/11 terror attacks.
After Washington announced on Thursday that US troop levels in Afghanistan will drop to 8,600 from 13,000 if a deal is reached with the Taliban, here is a timeline of developments.
- 'War on terror' -
On October 7, 2001 -- less than a month after the September 11 attacks that killed around 3,000 people in New York and Washington -- President George W. Bush launches operation "Enduring Freedom" in Afghanistan.
The country's fundamentalist Taliban regime had been sheltering Osama bin Laden and his Al-Qaeda movement, accused of the attacks.
The operation opens a military front in the US "war on terrorism".
Within weeks US-led forces overthrow the Taliban, in power since 1996.
Besides carrying out air strikes, Washington also lends support to the Afghan Northern Alliance fighting the Taliban, contributing paramilitary teams from the CIA and special forces.
About 1,000 American soldiers are on the ground by November 2001, rising to 10,000 the next year.
- Forgotten war -
US attention is diverted from Afghanistan when US forces invade Iraq in 2003 to oust dictator Saddam Hussein, accused of harboring weapons of mass destruction.
The Taliban and other Islamist outfits regroup in their strongholds in southern and eastern Afghanistan, from where they can easily travel between their bases in Pakistan's tribal zones, and launch an insurgency.
In 2008 the US command in Afghanistan calls for more manpower. Bush sends additional soldiers and about 48,500 US troops are deployed.
- Peak of 100,000 troops -
In 2009 Barack Obama -- elected president on campaign promises to end the Iraq and Afghanistan wars -- boosts the US deployment to around 68,000. In December he sends another 30,000.
The objective is to put brakes on the growing Taliban insurgency and to strengthen Afghan institutions.
By 2012 more than 150,000 foreign soldiers are deployed in Afghanistan, of which 100,000 are American.
- Bin Laden killed -
Bin Laden is killed on May 2, 2011 in a US special forces operation in Pakistan.
- Combat operations end -
On December 31, 2014 the NATO alliance ends its combat mission in Afghanistan. But, under agreements reached a few months earlier, 12,500 foreign soldiers -- of which 9,800 are American -- remain to train Afghan troops and conduct anti-terrorist operations.
Security in Afghanistan degenerates as the Taliban's insurgency spreads, with the Islamic State (IS) group also becoming active in early 2015.
In July 2016, Obama slows the planned pace of withdrawal of US troops, saying 8,400 will remain into 2017.
- MSF clinic bombed -
In October 2015, during intense fighting for the northeastern provincial capital Kunduz, a US airstrike hits a Medecins Sans Frontieres (Doctors Without Borders) hospital, killing 42 people, including 24 patients.
- Mega bomb against IS -
In April 2017, the US military drops the largest non-nuclear bomb it has ever used in combat on an Islamic State network of tunnels and caves in eastern Afghanistan. Afghan officials say it killed 96 militants.
- US reinforcements -
In August 2017, the new US President Donald Trump scraps any timetables for a US pullout and re-commits thousands more soldiers.
In mid-November, some 3,000 soldiers arrive to reinforce the 11,000 troops already deployed.
However, deadly attacks multiply, especially against Afghan forces. The US steps up air strikes dramatically.
- Talks -
In mid-2018, Washington and Taliban representatives discreetly open talks in Doha focused on slashing the US military footprint in Afghanistan.
In return, the US demands that the Taliban prevent the country from being used as a safe haven for jihadist groups including Al-Qaeda. Talks are also focusing on a ceasefire and the opening of talks with the Kabul government.