We left off last time with 9.11. On October 7, 2001, we launched Operation Enduring Freedom to assist the Afghan interim authorities with securing the Capital city of Kabul against the Taliban. General Tommy Franks, who was in charge of Central Command, had initially recommended invading with 60,000 troops, only after six month’s preparation; but the Bush administration insisted on immediate action. By November, 2001 there were 1,300 troops in Afghanistan, a month later those numbers would double to 2,500. The footprint of U.S. forces would remain small for years, not rising above 10,000 until 2003 and not reaching 20,000 until 2006. By then a resurgent Taliban brought requests from military commanders for additional forces. By late 2008 the Bush administration met those requests, so that by the time that President Obama entered office in January, 2009 there were 34,400 U.S. military forces in Afghanistan.
By March, 2009 President Obama had ordered 21,000 additional forces to Afghanistan. Six months later he ordered an additional 33,000 surge forces to meet a request by Gen. Stanley McChrystal for more troops to focus on a counterinsurgency mission. U.S. troop levels in Afghanistan eventually peaked at 100,000 by May of 2011, nearly ten times the number of forces there almost a decade before. Obama’s plans called for the removal of 23,000 US troops at the end of September 2012; with Afghan security forces to take the lead in combat operations by the end of 2013, while our forces were to train, advise and assist the Afghans and fight alongside them when needed; with the complete removal of all U.S. troops by the end of 2014, except for trainers who would assist Afghan forces and a small contingent of troops with a specific mission to combat al-Qaeda. Actually, there were still 10,000 there as of November 2015. In September, 2002, a Pentagon unit called Office of Special Plans (OSP), was created by Paul Wolfowitz, Deputy Secretary of Defense, and his subordinate, Douglas Feith, to be headed by Feith; as charged by United States Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, to supply senior George W. Bush administration officials with raw intelligence pertaining to Iraq. Seymour Hersh, investigative journalist, writes that, “according to an unnamed Pentagon adviser, OSP was created in order to find evidence of what Wolfowitz and his boss, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, wanted to be true—that Saddam Hussein had close ties to Al Qaeda, and that Iraq had an enormous arsenal of chemical, biological, and possibly even nuclear weapons (WMD) that threatened the region and, potentially, the United States. The CIA, who had been providing primary intelligence prior to this, was apparently trying to disprove a linkage between Iraq and terrorism.
The Bush administration based its rationale for war principally on the assertion that Iraq possessed weapons of mass destruction (WMDs) and that Saddam’s government posed an immediate threat to the United States and its coalition allies.
Select U.S. officials accused Saddam of harboring and supporting al Qaeda,, while others cited the desire to end a repressive dictatorship and bring democracy to the people of Iraq.
After the invasion, no substantial evidence was ever found to verify the initial claims about WMDs. The rationale and misrepresentation of pre-war intelligence eventually faced heavy criticism within the U.S. and internationally.
On March 20, 2003, joined by several coalition allies, we launched a “shock and awe” bombing campaign. The Iraqi forces were overwhelmed within days as U.S. forces swept through the country.
The invasion led to the collapse of the Ba’athist government; Saddam would be captured in December 2003 and executed by a military court three years later. However, the power vacuum caused by Saddam’s demise, and the mismanagement of the occupation led to continued sectarian violence between the Shias and the Sunnis, as well as a lengthy insurgency against the U.S. and coalition forces.
The US’ biggest mistakes after the invasion were excluding all Ba’athists from all but the lowliest jobs in the country, and disbanding the Iraqi army, leaving about 250,000 men with no work or income. The United States responded to the insurgency with a 30,000 troop surge in 2007 to attempt to reduce the violence. The number of U.S. military forces in Iraq peaked at 170,300 in November 2007. The minority Sunnis eventually realized they needed to work with the US to make peace with the majority Shiites.
As a result, the U.S. was able to begin withdrawing its troops under Bush in 2007–08.
The winding down of U.S involvement in Iraq continued and accelerated under President Barack Obama, and the U.S. had formally withdrawn all combat troops from Iraq by December 2011. The former battle field was left ripe for the ascension of a group which came to be known as Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), or ISIL (Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant.)