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AFGHANISTAN
THE TALIBAN

The Islamic Fundamentalist Taliban controlled Afghanistan. They allowed no freedom of expression. Let me offer a single anecdote to describe what this was like. A soldier I know was a paratrooper in the storied 82nd Airborne Division, and he fought in Afghanistan. He was not willing to get too graphic about his experience, which is typical of combat veterans. War is hell. But he did tell me that average Afghans would approach American soldiers and offer them the equivalent of one year's pay for pornography.

            What does that tell me? It tells me that people must be free, and they must have choice. Humans have natural desires. To bottle up those desires is more evil than to give in to them. The point is not that pornography is a sinless, morally benign thing. But morality cannot be forced on us. It is a choice made from among many choices with free will. Moderation and discipline must temper all things. Furthermore, pornography is not worse than the evils committed by the Taliban, who claim to be devoutly religious. This is a farce, considering they fund themselves by dealing drugs and they commit the sin of murder as if they were sending children to the principal.              

After 9/11, when intelligence was gathered and indisputable evidence pointed to Osama bin Laden and his Al Qaeda network, operating under the umbrella of the Taliban, it quickly became obvious that the War on Terrorism would begin by rooting out Al Qaeda in Afghanistan. Old Rudyard Kipling stories and poems about the heartbreaking Great Game between Britain and Russia in Afghanistan made their way into the media. The Soviets' horrible loss there was relived. Former Russian soldiers warned that no country could hope to go there and win. The country was inhospitable. The population was utterly opposed to America. The Taliban were too tough, too hard, too battle-experienced.

All any doubter needed was to see footage of America's military might in the Persian Gulf War of 1991. The U.S. had gone well beyond any conventional wisdom. In the history of the world, there had never been so much difference between the military power of one country and the next strongest country, as the U.S. in 1991. In the 10 years since, they had gotten much stronger, and everybody else had gotten weaker.

America had reached the point where it could do anything it chose to do. The only thing preventing the U.S. from conquering the entire world was the simple benevolence and goodwill of America. The U.S. is one of the only countries ever to be trusted with so much power.

The argument that there was anything holding America from doing whatever she wanted to do in Afghanistan was laughable. President Bush vowed to avenge the "thousands of lives" ended by "evil, despicable acts of terror."

The FBI revealed the identities of the 19 alleged hijackers and launched the biggest investigation in its history. U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft said that Osama bin Laden and Al Qaeda were the culprit. 50,000 leads were followed. More than 4,000 people were put on the case. Congress approved the use of force in response to the attacks and released $40 billion in emergency spending.

The U.S. froze the assets of 27 groups and individuals, many Islamic charities that were terrorist fronts. In Wiesbaden, Germany, three plotters were arrested. Further links to the German city of Hamburg were uncovered. Money transfers from the United Arab Emirates by an Al Qaeda operative, Mostafa Mohammed Ahmad, and an account in the name of Mohammed Atta, the alleged leader of the hijackers, at a bank in Florida, was discovered.

Al Qaeda and Iraq became suspects in anthrax attacks. After a period of quiet, set aside for planning, U.S. and British forces began air strikes against targets in Afghanistan in order to overthrow the Taliban and shut down Al Qaeda.

Osama bin Laden warned the U.S. that it will never enjoy security until the Palestinians also feel secure, and not until "the infidel's armies leave the land of Mohammad" - a reference to the U.S. in Saudi Arabia.

The former Governor of Pennsylvania, Tom Ridge, was named director of the Office of Homeland Security. President Bush released a list of 22 "most wanted" terrorists, topped by Osama bin Laden, his deputy Ayman al-Zawahri and associate Mohammed Atef.

Egyptian intelligence began to make connections, along with further discoveries of the network in Germany. The CIA's ban on assassinations was lifted. By the end of October, 2001, European and U.S. surveillance broke up a cell in Milan, Italy with alleged links all over Europe, run by Tunisian Essid Sami Ben Khemais.

Congress approved anti-terrorism legislation giving law enforcement sweeping powers to monitor and detain suspected terrorists. Civil liberties groups found nothing good to say about it. More than 900 people across the U.S. were detained.

In November, a letter from Bin Laden called on Muslims in Pakistan to stand up against the U.S.-led campaign in Afghanistan. The U.S. Government took further steps to freeze the assets of financial networks alleged to be linked to bin Laden. 62 more terrorists were rooted out and had their assets frozen.

The Northern Alliance troops, rebel Afghan militias who had long opposed the Taliban, took control of Kabul amid scenes of jubilation from the citizenry. The U.S.-led military campaign, which had started with special forces, combined with bombing and intelligence gathering, followed by airborne units and then regular troops of the Army and Marines, supported by air and Naval power, quickly took over the country. In a matter of days, the U.S. had totally discredited all the warnings about military adventure in Afghanistan. It was theirs. The citizenry welcomed them with flowers and thanks for liberating them from the Taliban. All dire warnings had been utterly and completely wrong.

Bin Laden was rooted out and forced to run, along with his network. Whether he was alive or dead was not known. His death had become, for all practical purposes, unimportant except as a satisfying, symbolic event. In every corner of the world, police were rounding up and detaining terrorists.

The FBI began the interrogation of Taliban captured in Kandahar, Afghanistan.

An American from Marin County, California, John Walker Lindh, was discovered among the Taliban survivors. Attorney General Ashcroft announced that 600 people connected to 9/11 had been detained. Moussaoui was the first to be charged. In court he declared himself a member of Al Qaeda and entered a guilty plea. Indonesia acknowledged ties between local Islamic groups and Osama bin Laden's network.

Qatar-based television, Al-Jazeera, released a five-minute video of Bin Laden in which he referred to 9/11. Pentagon officials announced that they had in custody in Afghanistan a high-ranking paramilitary trainer for Al Qaeda. Pakistani security officials handed over Ibn al-Shaykh al-Lilbi to U.S. forces. Mullah Abdul Salem Zaeef, the Taliban ambassador to Pakistan, was also handed over to the U.S. military by the Pakistanis.  John Walker Lindh, the so-called "American Taliban," arrived back in the U.S., where he would be sentenced to 20 years in jail.

FBI director Robert Mueller announced that 9/11 was partly planned by Al Qaeda operatives in Malaysia. A retired Malaysian soldier, Yazid Sufaat, was alleged to have given $35,000 to Zacarias Moussaoui. Two hijackers aboard the plane that crashed into the Pentagon - Khalid al-Mihdhar and Nawaf al-Hazmi - visited Malaysia in January 2000 and stayed at Yazid's flat outside Kuala Lumpur, Malaysian officials said in February, 2002.

Four Tunisians were jailed in Italy after a Milan court found them guilty of terrorist-related offenses. The prosecution alleged during the trial that they were connected with Al Qaeda. One of the men, Essid Sami Ben Khemais, was suspected of planning an attack on the U.S. Embassy in Rome the previous year.

In March of 2002, Saudi Arabia shut down charities funding Al Qaeda, with worldwide implications. American forces captured a high-ranking Al Qaeda official, Abu Zubaydah, during a raid on a house in Pakistan. Abu Zubaydah was co-operating with them, and provided numerous leads.

U.S. forces transferred 300 suspects to its naval base in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, to a permanent, walled facility three miles away known as Camp Delta. CIA chief George Tenet said Iraq had contact with Al Qaeda, possibly working with the group and supporting terrorism from behind the scenes. Suddenly the focus turned to Iraq. In a few short months, the United States of America had gone from the despair and tragedy of 9/11 to effectively eliminating Taliban rule, thus liberating Afghanistan and placing it in the hands of Democratic forces, while rounding up hundreds of worldwide terrorists. No other country on the face of the Earth could have imagined accomplishing such a task.

Now, crisis had turned to opportunity. The question of how best to utilize American power and influence became the new order of debate within the Bush Administration. AIDS, genocide and civil wars ravaged Africa. Many in the military wanted to settle the score from Mogadishu in 1993. North Korea, a completely isolated and failed remnant of Communism, was trying to make themselves relevant. Most felt that this regime could be contained until it died of attrition. Fidel Castro was jailing more dissidents in Cuba, but his regime also would fall by attrition. China was awed by American power and wanted nothing to do with a confrontation. Their days of capitulation from Bill Clinton were done with. Vietnam, the poor Communist country left behind by history, was a non-entity.

There was one over-riding concern that needed to be dealt with first and foremost. That was Iraq. 

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