New American Roles (detail from a Gulf War photograph)

War in Afghanistan, 2001

The United States invaded Afghanistan and overthrew the ruling Taliban, a fundamentalist Islamic militia, that was harboring al Qaeda and its leader, Osama bin Laden.

The United States launched its war against terrorism in Afghanistan, “Operation Enduring Freedom,” using diplomacy, intelligence gathering and analysis, law enforcement, monetary curbs, and military force. Several hundred Central Intelligence Agency and Special Forces operatives, armed with bundles of cash, recruited anti-Taliban forces and joined them in ground fighting. In October 2001, allied forces unleashed a torrent of precision-guided bombs and sea-launched cruise missiles against targets in Afghanistan, directing air support with lasers and Global Positioning System devices.

Remote-controlled, unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) were widely used in Afghanistan. They carried cameras and sensors that provided real-time intelligence to field commanders around the globe. Armed with Hellfire-C laser-guided missiles, the drones attacked mobile targets. The United States military forces experimented for the first time with various remote-controlled robots for ground reconnaissance. “PackBots” carried cameras that enabled ground troops to explore compounds and caves from a safe distance

Relying on this precision weaponry and several hundred ground troops, the United States toppled the Taliban and al Qaeda in Afghanistan. While Taliban and al Qaeda strongholds were quickly destroyed, Osama bin Laden and other highly sought leaders escaped.

As the United States launched its attacks in Afghanistan, it began a massive humanitarian relief operation. Millions of rations and explanatory fliers were air-dropped. Tons of supplies, from building materials to radios, were distributed on the ground. Troops were deployed to help Afghans build and rebuild schools and housing.

Air Force Combat Controller in Afghanistan
General Atomics RQ-1A Predator UAV in flight
Wanted poster issued by the Federal Bureau of Investigation, 2001
U.S. Army soldiers sending a robot ahead to sweep for land mines
British Royal Marines distributing food packages to Afghan children, 2003

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