How the 9/11 Al-Qaeda attack changed Afghanistan

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When the administration of US President George W. Bush concluded that Al-Qaeda, headed by Osama bin Laden, was behind the 9/11 attacks, it declared a “war on terror” and invaded Afghanistan. (Shutterstock)
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A Taliban militiaman in Kabul beats a civilian while arresting him. (AFP)
Updated 13 September 2019

How the 9/11 Al-Qaeda attack changed Afghanistan

  • After the Sept 11, 2001, assault, the Taliban regime faced a US ultimatum to hand over Al-Qaeda chief Osama bin Laden
  • Afghanistan continues to suffer from violence nearly 18 years after the first and last major terrorist attack on US soil

PESHAWAR: The 9/11 attacks shocked the world as its only superpower had never before suffered an assault on this scale. One of the targets, the World Trade Center — with its famous twin towers — represented the strength of the US economy. The Pentagon, the other target, projected US military might.
When the administration of then-US President George W. Bush concluded that Al-Qaeda, headed by the late Osama bin Laden, was behind the attacks, it declared a “war on terror” and invaded Afghanistan.
The stated aim was to bring Bin Laden and Al-Qaeda to justice and prevent the emergence of other terrorist groups. Afghanistan’s Taliban regime, dominated by the majority ethnic Pashtuns, was also a target for harboring Bin Laden and other Al-Qaeda members.
The US invasion on Oct. 7, 2001, was not unexpected. The US had been demanding that the Taliban hand over Bin Laden because it considered him the mastermind of the 9/11 attacks. The Taliban’s supreme leader, Mullah Mohammad Omar, had asked for evidence of Bin Laden’s involvement.
Generally, the Taliban leadership continued to believe that Al-Qaeda and Bin Laden, who was a wanted man, could not have pulled off the attacks. Pakistan, which had very close ties with the Taliban, tried but failed to persuade Omar to agree to a compromise with the US over Bin Laden in order to avoid an invasion.
Taliban-ruled Afghanistan was an isolated and sanctioned country. Besides Pakistan, only Saudi Arabia and the UAE had recognized the Taliban regime, though they had become increasingly frustrated with its extremist policies.

The militant group had earlier refused a request by Pakistan and rest of the world not to destroy two 6th-century giant statues of Buddha carved in the mountainside in Afghanistan’s Bamiyan province.
Though the Taliban had extended its control to nearly 90 percent of Afghanistan by the time 9/11 happened, resistance to its rule had not fully collapsed.

Ahmad Shah Masood, the former mujahideen commander and defense minister, remained defiant, as did other anti-Taliban fighters. Masood was killed two days before the 9/11 attacks, in the northern Takhar province in a suicide bombing allegedly carried out by Al-Qaeda.
The Taliban’s tough measures had generally improved security in the areas it controlled, but there were frequent complaints of human rights violations by its fighters, particularly against the Hazara Shiite community.
Throughout Taliban rule from September 1996 until the fall of its government following the US invasion, the group had been fighting the Northern Alliance of mostly non-Pashtun ethnic minorities. Defeating its rivals was the focus of the Taliban’s attention, and the reason for the lack of a socioeconomic program that could address the concerns and needs of the Afghan people.

Certain Taliban decisions generated controversy. The move to stop girls aged above 9 from going to school was widely criticized, and the argument that the regime did not have the resources to manage separate schools for girls was unconvincing.

The ban on women working outside the home was criticized as it affected widows and those desperately in need of an income to run households. Capital punishment in public places further sullied the Taliban’s image. Executions, stoning to death and mutilations, including cutting off the limbs of those convicted of robbery, spread fear among the people.

The Taliban religious police was dreaded as it enforced rules on the spot.  Women with uncovered faces and clean-shaven men were humiliated and punished on the streets and in marketplaces. The Taliban defended these decisions by arguing that lawlessness in Afghanistan could only be overcome by tough punishments. Its rule also saw certain achievements. Peace was restored in most parts of the country after mujahideen misrule and infighting.

Roadside checkpoints set up by mujahideen gunmen to rob passengers were dismantled. This enabled free movement of vehicles transporting passengers and goods, and won support for the Taliban from traders and transporters. With one decree issued by Omar, opium-poppy cultivation was eradicated from almost 85 percent of Afghanistan under the group’s control.

The fall of the Taliban was as quick as its rise. US forces used airstrikes to pound Taliban positions and force its fighters to hastily retreat. The US military helped the Northern Alliance make territorial gains.

In northern Afghanistan, Taliban fighters — cut off from their supply lines and bases in the south — surrendered to Uzbek warlord Abdul Rasheed Dostum following a deal that they would not be handed to the US. But senior Taliban members were handed over to the US and sent to Guantanamo Bay prison.

By late November 2001, Taliban fighters had mostly retreated to their spiritual capital Kandahar, where Omar reportedly escaped on a motorbike. Many Taliban leaders took refuge in neighboring Pakistan. The Al-Qaeda members led by Bin Laden fled to Tora Bora in Nangarhar province, and those who survived ferocious US airstrikes crossed over to Pakistan.

By early December 2001, the Bonn conference on Afghanistan had prepared a post-Taliban roadmap for the country and installed Hamid Karzai, a low-level mujahideen leader who had fought occupying Soviet forces, as interim president.  Democracy was introduced, presidential and parliamentary elections began to be held, and the traditional Loya Jirga (grand assembly of elders) was called whenever issues of national importance needed to be resolved.

The country soon had a vibrant press and a vocal civil society. More children, particularly girls, started attending school, higher education opportunities and health-care facilities were extended, and legislation was passed to guarantee women’s rights.  However, unabated violence negated some of the gains. During his first visit to his native Kandahar in December 2001, Karzai survived a Taliban attack.

It signaled the start of the Taliban insurgency, which strengthened in subsequent years and became a major threat to the Afghan government and US-led foreign forces by 2005.

In 2003, the US invaded Iraq and focused its attention on this new battleground instead of Afghanistan. Despite Omar’s death in April 2013, and the killing of his successor Mullah Akhtar Mohammad Mansoor in a US drone strike in Pakistan’s Balochistan province in May 2016, the Taliban insurgency continued to gain momentum under the new supreme leader, Shaikh Haibatullah Akhunzada.

The Taliban controls more territory now than at any time since the US invasion nearly 18 years ago.

The US finally accepted the Taliban demand for direct peace talks in July 2018 without the Afghan government’s involvement, but making peace remains a daunting challenge.
US President Donald Trump’s move on Sunday to cancel the expected peace agreement with the Taliban has contributed to uncertainty and raised concerns over continuing bloodshed.
As it turned out, 9/11 was the last major terrorist attack against the US, which took unprecedented steps to thwart further ones.
But Afghanistan continues to suffer from unending violence, even though none of the 9/11 attackers were Afghan.


Migrant parents separated from kids since 2018 return to US

Updated 23 January 2020

Migrant parents separated from kids since 2018 return to US

LOS ANGELES: Nine parents who were deported as the Trump administration separated thousands of migrant families landed back into the US late Wednesday to reunite with children they had not seen in a year and a half.
The group arrived at Los Angeles International Airport from Guatemala City in a trip arranged under the order of a federal judge who found the US government had unlawfully prevented them from seeking asylum. An asylum advocate confirmed the nine parents were all aboard the flight.
Some of the children were at the airport to greet them, including David Xol’s 9-year-old son Byron.
David fell to one knee and tearfully embraced Byron for about three minutes, patting the back of his son’s head.
“He was small,” David said after rising to his feet. He looked at his attorney — who accompanied him on the flight — raised his hand about chest-high and said, “He grew a lot.”
David, Byron and his attorney, Ricardo de Anda, then embraced in a three-way hug and exchanged words in their huddle. Byron was all smiles. Father, son, attorney and family sponsor eagerly left the airport for their hotel.
The reunion was a powerful reminder of the lasting effects of Trump’s separation policy, even as attention and outrage has faded amid impeachment proceedings and tensions with Iran. But it also underscored that hundreds, potentially thousands, of other parents and children are still apart nearly two years after the zero-tolerance policy on unauthorized border crossings took effect.
“They all kind of hit the lottery,” said Linda Grimm, an attorney who represents one of the parents returning to the US “There are so many people out there who have been traumatized by the family separation policy whose pain is not going to be redressed.”
More than 4,000 children are known to have been separated from their parents before and during the official start of zero tolerance in spring 2018. Under the policy, border agents charged parents en masse with illegally crossing the US-Mexico border, then placed their children in government facilities, including some “tender-age shelters” set up for infants.
The US has acknowledged that agents separated families long before they enforced zero tolerance across the entire southern border, its agencies did not properly record separations, and some detention centers were overcrowded and undersupplied, with families denied food, water or medical care.
In June 2018, US District Judge Dana Sabraw ordered the government to stop separating families and reunite parents and children.
At least 470 parents were deported without their children. Some of the kids were held in US government facilities and ultimately placed with sponsors. Others were deported to their home countries.
Accounts emerged of many parents being told to sign paperwork they couldn’t read or understand or being denied a chance to request asylum in ways that violated federal law.
The US Department of Homeland Security referred a request for comment to the Justice Department, which did not respond.
The American Civil Liberties Union, which brought the original family separation lawsuit before Sabraw, asked the judge to order the return of a small group of parents whose children remained in the US In September, Sabraw required the US to allow 11 parents to come back and denied relief to seven others.
ACLU attorney Lee Gelernt said Sabraw made clear he would only order the return of people “who were misled or coerced into giving up their asylum rights.” That will leave other parents who fled violence, poverty and persecution to decide whether to have their children return to their home countries or remain in the US without them.
“Many are going to make the decision that generations of immigrant parents have made — to leave their child in the US and endure the hardship of separation, but to do it for their child’s own safety,” Gelernt said.
Xol said that after he and his then-7-year-old son, Byron, crossed the border, they were taken to a US Border Patrol processing center in South Texas. Xol was charged with illegal entry on May 19, 2018.
Two days later, Xol said an officer told him to sign a document that would allow him and Byron to be deported together. If he didn’t sign, Byron would be given up for adoption and Xol would be detained for at least two years.
Xol signed the document, only to have Byron taken away and then get deported to Guatemala. Byron was placed in government facilities for 11 months.
The family’s attorney, Ricardo de Anda, persuaded a federal court to force the US to let a Texas family take in Byron. Since May 2019, Byron has lived with Holly and Matthew Sewell and their two children, with regular video calls to his family.
Holly Sewell brought Byron, now 9, to meet his father at the airport. They planned to go back to Texas to pack and prepare for Byron to move in with his father once Xol is settled in California. Before the reunion, Byron kept asking Sewell, his caretaker, when his father would clear immigration authorities.
“They’re almost here, you’re doing great,” she said. “Count to 1,000.”
“999,” Byron responded.
She said she was thrilled Byron could see his dad again but sharply criticized the US government’s treatment of asylum-seekers.
Esvin Fernando Arredondo was expected to be on the plane. The father from Guatemala was separated from one of his daughters, Andrea Arredondo — then 12 years old and now 13, after they turned themselves in on May 16, 2018, at a Texas crossing and sought asylum legally, according to Grimm, his lawyer. He failed an initial screening and agreed to go back to Guatemala.
According to Sabraw’s ruling, the government deported Arredondo even after the judge had ordered families reunited and subsequently prohibited US officials from removing any parent separated from their child. He’s now being given a second chance at asylum under the court order.
Andrea was separated from all family for about a month, living in a shelter as the government struggled to connect children with their parents because they lacked adequate tracking systems. She was finally reunited with her mother, who had turned herself in at the Texas crossing with the other two daughters four days earlier than her husband, on May 12, 2018.
She and her two daughters passed the initial screening interview for asylum, unlike her husband, even though they were fleeing for the same reason. Their son Marco, 17, was shot and killed by suspected gang members in Guatemala City.
Arredondo’s wife, Cleivi Jerez, 41, arrived at LAX less than an hour before the flight landed with their three daughters in tow, ages 17, 13 and 7.
“Lots of nerves, last night I couldn’t sleep,” she said in Spanish in an interview after the flight landed.
Jerez said she planned to stay up late catching up with her husband. She planned to rest at their Los Angeles home tomorrow as well, catching up on their 17 months apart before he has to report to an ICE office Friday in San Diego. Alison Arredondo, 7, said she missed going to the park with her father and she wanted to go to one with him in LA.
While the US has stopped the large-scale separations, it has implemented policies to prevent many asylum-seekers from entering the country. Under its “Remain in Mexico” policy, more than 50,000 people have been told to wait there for weeks or months for US court dates. The Trump administration also is ramping up deportations of Central Americans to other countries in the region to seek asylum there.
“People want to make this a heartwarming story, but it’s not. It’s devastating,” Sewell said. “There is just no good reason why we had to do this to this child and this family. And he symbolizes thousands of others who have been put in this exact same position.”