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A summary of major events since the battle at Tora Bora: Operation Anaconda, Karzai's election, and emerging controversies over civilian casualties and alleged wartime atrocities.

+ March 2002: Operation Anaconda

The largest battle of the war in Afghanistan to date was mounted in March 2002, three months after the collapse of the Taliban. In Operation Anaconda -- the largest U.S. ground offensive since the Gulf War -- over 2,000 U.S. and coalition forces moved into in eastern Afghanistan, where, according to intelligence reports, hundreds of Al Qaeda and Taliban were amassing in the mountains and caves of the Shah-e-Kot valley.

The plan was for friendly Afghan forces to attack the enemy from the north and force them south, where U.S. troops were waiting at the three escape routes from the valley. The assault, a combination of airstrikes and ground battles, did not start off well for the allied forces and what was expected to last 72 hours stretched out for more than two weeks. Coalition commanders had been expecting to find between 150 and 200 enemy fighters in the valley; after their arrival, they increased their estimate to between 500 and 1,000 -- a figure that some Afghan commanders dispute.

The heaviest U.S. casualties occurred on March 4, the third day of the fighting. Two MH-47 Chinook helicopters were hit by heavy fire from small arms and rocket-propelled grenades as they approached their battle position, code-named Ginger, where allied forces had taken heavy fire in previous days. The two helicopters managed to fly off but soon found that Navy SEAL Neil Roberts had fallen out the back of a damaged Chinook. Two more helicopters flew back to drop off troops to rescue Roberts, who had been captured and killed. An 18-hour battle ensued in which six more Americans died. U.S. forces had not suffered such a high number of casualties in one single day since the 1993 battle in Mogadishu, Somalia, where 18 Rangers and Special Operations soldiers were killed.

The heaviest fighting of Operation Anaconda occurred in the first week of the battle. According to U.S. Colonel Frank Wiercinski, the commander of the initial assault, the fighting tapered off from March 7 to March 12, when Al Qaeda snipers became the biggest problem.

The operation ended on March 19, when the last U.S. and Canadian forces left the Shah-e-Kot Valley. U.S. commanders declared the operation a success; coalition troops had killed hundreds of Al Qaeda fighters and recovered intelligence documents, arms and ammunition caches from the caves. However, Afghan commanders did not necessarily agree with the U.S. evaluation. They claimed that U.S. estimates of enemy casualties were too high and that many Taliban and Al Qaeda fighters managed to flee the valley.


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+ May 2002: Peacekeeping Mandate Extended

In May 2002, the U.N. Security Council voted to extend the mandate for the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF), the multinational peacekeeping force in Kabul. Turkey -- the only Muslim country to contribute peacekeepers to the force -- agreed to take over the command of the ISAF from Britain and began leading the second phase of the mission on June 20. As of Sept. 2002, there are over 5,000 peacekeeping forces from over 20 countries in Kabul.

+ June 2002: Afghans Select a New Government

As mandated in the Bonn agreement, in June 2002, Afghanis from throughout the country gathered in Kabul for a loya jirga -- or traditional Afghan grand council -- to form a second interim government to rule the country for the next year and a half to two years. The new administration, known as the transitional authority, would face Afghanistan's need for economic, political and social reconstruction, including the drafting a new constitution. At the end of this second interim administration, a nation-wide popular election would be held to determine a new government.

Attending the loya jirga were approximately 1,500 delegates -- including 160 women -- who were chosen from districts throughout the country. For more than a week they passionately debated the overwhelming issues facing Afghanistan, from security to hunger to illiteracy.

On the third day of the session, Hamid Karzai, who had been named chairman of the interim authority in December 2001, was elected president of the transitional authority in a landslide with 1,295 votes. Of his two challengers, one made Afghan history as the first woman to run for president. Karzai received endorsements from former King Mohammad Zahir Shah, and Northern Alliance members including members of the interim authority cabinet and former President Burhanuddin Rabbani.

However, although the loya jirga was intended to give a voice to the Afghan population, many delegates complained that their role had been reduced to rubber-stamping backroom deals conducted by powerful warlords. Although he had taken himself out of the running before the loya jirga opened, the former king retained tremendous grass-roots support, and many delegates complained that he had been strong-armed by Northern Alliance and U.S. pressure into stepping aside. Karzai praised Zahir Shah as "the father of the nation" and announced that the former king would be allowed to live in the royal palace and asked to convene future parliamentary and constitutional commissions.

On June 19, Hamid Karzai and his cabinet were sworn in. The end result of the cabinet's composition surprised many; Karzai retained the Northern Alliance leaders and ethnic Tajiks Muhammad Qasim Fahim Khan and Dr. Abdullah as defense minister and foreign minister respectively. Fahim was also appointed as one of three vice presidents in the administration. Karzai replaced the Northern Alliance leader and ethnic Tajik Younus Qanooni with an ethnic Pashtun as interior minister. Qanooni was appointed minister of education and was also given a role as special advisor to the president on internal security.


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+ July 2002 -- Questions About Civilian Casualties

On July 1, while searching for Taliban leaders in southern Afghanistan, U.S. aircraft attacked a village in Oruzgan Province after Special Forces on the ground reported seeing antiaircraft guns firing. More than forty villagers died and many more were wounded in the incident, which the survivors maintained was a wedding party where civilians were firing guns in the air in celebration.

U.S. officials have acknowledged that civilians were killed and that the incident not only strained U.S. relations with Afghanistan, but prompted worldwide anger over what was perceived as a trigger-happy U.S. approach to the war.

The U.S. and Afghan governments have not released any official estimates as to the number of civilian casualties in Afghanistan. Media estimates of civilian casualties vary wildly -- from the low hundreds to up to 5,000.

In a July 21 article, The New York Times reported that its investigation of 11 locations where as many as 400 civilians were killed "suggest that American commanders have sometimes relied on mistaken information from local Afghans." The article also questioned whether the U.S. military's reliance on airstrikes rather than troops on the ground inhibited its ability to double-check the accuracy of its intelligence.


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+ August 2002: Controversy Over Alleged Atrocities

In late August, Newsweek magazine reported on its investigation of claims that many Taliban and Al Qaeda prisoners captured during the battle at Mazar-e-Sharif were killed as they were being transported by Northern Alliance troops under the command of Gen. Abdul Rashid Dostum to Sherberghan Prison.

John Barry, the author of the Newsweek report, told FRONTLINE, "What we have found is that certainly several hundred prisoners, perhaps many hundreds of prisoners, instead of being sent home or sent to prison in the normal way, were loaded secretly into freight container trucks, which were then sealed, and they were left to asphyxiate. By the time the trucks drew up at Sherbergen Prison, in the courtyard, they were all dead." He continues, "One of the drivers said to us that when they opened the doors, the dead spilled out like fish."

Because U.S. Special Forces were rarely far from Gen. Dostum's side, it raises the question of whether they knew or could have prevented these alleged atrocities. Soldiers interviewed by FRONTLINE insist that they had no knowledge of the incident. "No member of this detachment ever witnessed any atrocities being committed," the captain of the A-team on the ground with Gen. Dostum says.

Barry tells FRONTLINE that it is unclear whether the Special Forces soldiers knew about this incident. However he says, "It is clear from the beginning of this year the Defense Department and officials elsewhere in the administration knew, first of all, that there were allegations of mass slaughter of the prisoners from Kunduz; and secondly that there was a mass grave outside the prison." He remarked, "I'm reminded of the old proverb, there is none so blind as them who will not see."


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+ September 2002 -- Assassination Attempts

On Sept. 5, the same day a car bomb exploded in Kabul and killed at least 30 Afghans, a gunman fired at Hamid Karzai, missing the president, but wounding Kandahar governor Gul Agha Sherzai. The incident, believed to be linked to Al Qaeda and the Taliban, marked the fourth assassination attempt since Karzai assumed power. In February, the minister of civil aviation and tourism, Abdul Rahman, was stabbed to death at the Kabul airport.

Two months later, on April 8, Muhammad Qasim Fahim Khan, who was defense minister in the interim administration and now serves both as vice president and defense minister, was the victim of an assassination attempt when the convoy he was traveling in was bombed. Four people were killed and 20 were injured in that incident.

On July 6, as he was leaving the Ministry of Public Works, which he headed, Vice President Abdul Qadir and his driver were killed by two gunmen firing assault rifles. The murder of the second highest-ranking Pashtun in the government remains unsolved.

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