Stars and Stripes looks back at Afghanistan in 2020
By STARS AND STRIPES Published: December 30, 2020
KABUL, Afghanistan – For American troops in Afghanistan, 2020 was marked by coronavirus-disrupted deployments, the signing of a deal with the Taliban, and the start of the U.S. withdrawal from a country where service members have fought for more than 19 years.
The year also kindled Afghans’ hopes for peace, only to have them tarnished by enduring violence that sparked fears of what would become of the country after the U.S. troop pullout has been completed – something that, under the February deal, is supposed to happen by May.
This timeline of some of the main stories about Afghanistan by Stars and Stripes reporters chronicles key events in the country during the tumultuous and landmark year that was 2020.
11: Days after peace talks between the U.S. and Taliban resume in Doha, Qatar, two U.S. soldiers, both on their first deployments to Afghanistan, are killed when their vehicle hits a roadside bomb.
27: Two airmen die when their Air Force Bombardier E-11A communications aircraft crashes in a Taliban-controlled area in Afghanistan. The Taliban claim they brought down the plane but the U.S. military says the crash was not combat-related.
8: Two U.S. special operations troops and an Afghan soldier are killed in an insider attack in Nangarhar province. The two Americans would be the last U.S. combat deaths in Afghanistan in 2020.
29: The United States and the Taliban sign what’s hailed as a landmark deal aimed at bringing peace to Afghanistan.
1: The U.S.–Taliban deal hits its first snag, less than 24 hours after it was signed, as the insurgents and Afghan government officials quibble over which prisoners they will release before key intra-Afghan talks begin.
19: The U.S.-led NATO mission in Afghanistan stops deploying troops to the country, says it will extend the deployments of some troops there, and quarantines about 1,500 newly arrived service members and civilians to prevent the spread of the coronavirus.
22: Secretary of State Mike Pompeo pays a surprise visit to Kabul to try to salvage the three-week-old U.S.-Taliban deal, which has faltered amid disagreements over presidential election results and a prisoner release.
9: The Islamic State group fires several rockets at Bagram Airfield from a Toyota Corona in the latest attack targeting the largest U.S. base in Afghanistan.
24: The Taliban reject calls for a cease-fire during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, despite warnings from U.S. and Afghan officials that the coronavirus outbreak in the country will worsen if violence continues.
13: Afghan security forces resume operations against the Taliban after attacks on a maternity ward in a Kabul hospital and a funeral in Nangarhar province claim the lives of at least 40 people.
5: The U.S. conducts the first airstrikes against the Taliban since the start of the Eid cease-fire at the end of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan in late May. The strikes, which targeted Taliban fighters who were attacking Afghan security forces, did not violate the February deal with the Taliban, a U.S. military spokesman says.
26: Contractors are ordered to leave a U.S. base in eastern Afghanistan as part of coronavirus prevention measures.
2: The Taliban retain close ties to al-Qaida, despite assuring in the February deal that they would disavow the terrorist group in exchange for a withdrawal of American troops from Afghanistan, a Defense Department report to Congress says.
28: Taliban attacks are the new normal for many in Nangarhar province after the U.S. pulls out of bases in eastern Afghanistan.
31: Violence is “well above historic norms” in the months since the Taliban and U.S. peace deal was signed, the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction says.
14: The Afghans begin releasing the last Taliban prisoners they hold, paving the way for intra-Afghan peace talks which, under the terms of the U.S.-Taliban deal, were supposed to start in March.
11: Nineteen years after the attacks of 9/11, some American veterans of the war in Afghanistan wrestle with the idea that the pull-out of U.S. troops from the country was born out of a deal struck with the very enemy more than 2,400 of their brothers and sisters died fighting.
14: The Taliban launch attacks in more than half of Afghanistan’s provinces even as intra-Afghan talks with the government finally get underway, officials say.
26: The U.S. marks the longest period with no American combat deaths in Afghanistan.
12: The U.S. launches airstrikes in Helmand province after the Taliban attack Afghan forces there. The airstrikes are in line with the conditions of the February deal, in which the U.S. states it will defend Afghan troops if they come under attack, a U.S. official says.
7: A helicopter pilot said to have killed more Taliban than anyone else in the Afghan air force goes into hiding after the Pentagon reverses its decision to approve his move to the United States.
26: Troops deployed to Afghanistan celebrate Thanksgiving coronavirus-style, with meals served in doggie bags and eaten at a safe distance from each other.
4: U.S. lawmakers include a measure in the 2021 National Defense Authorization Act that would block the Trump administration’s rapid drawdown of American forces from Afghanistan.
22: Acting Defense Secretary Christopher Miller becomes the second senior defense official to visit Afghanistan in a week, saying he is in the country to assure President Ashraf Ghani that the U.S. is “still behind him” despite the troop drawdown.
This timeline was compiled by J.P. Lawrence, Phillip Walter Wellman and Karin Zeitvogel.
Zalmay Khalilzad, American special envoy for Afghan reconciliation, left, and the Taliban's top political leader Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar sign a peace deal in Doha, Qatar on Feb. 29, 2020. The U. S. met a deadline set out in the deal when it began withdrawing troops from Afghanistan , but the insurgents and the Afghan government failed to start talks by the same day as outlined in the agreement.
J.P. LAWRENCE/STARS AND STRIPES
Afghan President Ashraf Ghani, left, and U.S. Defense Secretary Mark Esper attend a ceremony in Kabul on Saturday, Feb. 29, 2020, during which they said U.S. and NATO forces would remain committed to assisting Afghanistan as the country attempts to achieve peace.
PHILLIP WALTER WELLMAN/STARS AND STRIPES
Spc. Mario Davis, left, and Spc. Barry Josey of the 10th Mountain Division, watch a mountain pass February 2004, as they try to intercept Taliban fighters. Veterans of the war are divided about the U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan, with some bitter that the pull-out was born out of a deal with the enemy they fought, while others say it's time to end American involvement in a wasteful war.
STARS AND STRIPES
An Army carry team transfers the remains of Sgt. 1st Class Antonio R. Rodriguez, of Las Cruces, N.M., at Dover Air Force Base, Del., Feb. 10, 2020. As of Saturday, Rodriguez and Sgt. 1st Class Javier J. Gutierrez were the last Americans to die in combat in Afghanistan when they came under enemy fire in eastern Nangarhar province in February.
ERIC M. FISHER/U.S. AIR FORCE
Afghan pilot Maj. Mohammad Naiem Asadi receives final instructions before a solo flight in a MD-530 helicopter, Oct. 16, 2012 at Shindand Air Base, Afghanistan. Asadi and his family had been approved to come to the U.S. for their protection until the Pentagon reversed its endorsement of their exit.
U.S. AIR FORCE
Paratroopers from the 82nd Airborne Division ensure the area is secure during a fly-to-advise mission in southeastern Afghanistan in December 2019. A measure has been included in the final version of the defense bill to prevent the further withdrawal of U.S. forces from Afghanistan without input from the Pentagon and other government agencies.
ALEJANDRO LICEA/U.S. ARMY