Feb. 15, 2007 — -- On Oct. 7, 2001, the United States launched a series of withering airstrikes to root out al Qaeda and Taliban forces in Afghanistan in response to the terror attacks against the United States a month earlier. The airstrikes got support from about 1,000 special operations forces on the ground that were assisting local anti-Taliban forces. About 1,300 Marines moved into Afghanistan between October and December 2001. The Taliban regime fell by Dec. 7.
Since the Taliban's collapse, the United States has spent more than $10 billion on reconstruction and civilian and military assistance programs, according to a Congressional Research Service Report. This money includes funds spent on controlling Afghanistan's still-thriving opium trade and protecting Prime Minister Hamid Karzai.
While Karzai has so far survived Afghanistan's precarious security situation, the drug trade has only expanded since the U.S. military invasion. The country produced some 6,000 tons of opium in 2006, according to Antonio Maria Costa of the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime. Afghanistan's cultivation of the crop rose by 60 percent in 2006, and its output accounts for 90 percent of the world's opium production.
Officials believe that the profitable drug trade is fueling the newly emboldended insurgency. Despite six major combat operations launched by the United States and its allies against the Taliban between 2003 and 2005, insurgent attacks escalated sharply in 2006. There were 1,677 roadside bombings reported in 2006, more than double the number of incidents reported in 2005. The number of what the military calls ''direct attacks'' -- attacks by insurgents using small arms, grenades and other weapons -- increased to 4,542 in 2006, up from 1,558 in 2005.
In 2004 and 2005, American troop levels in Afghanistan had gradually increased to nearly 18,000 from a low of 10,000 from the earliest days of the invasion. Gen. Karl Eikenberry, the former top U.S. general in Afghanistan, told ABC News that there are currently 27,000 U.S. troops in Afghanistan, of which all but 11,000 are now under NATO control.
U.S. officials have been planning to reduce the number of U.S. troops in Afghanistan to approximately 16,500, but a resurgent Taliban has put those plans on hold. A particularly fierce Taliban resurgence is expected this spring.
According to the Department of Defense, a total of 354 American military members have been killed in Afghanistan and surrounding areas.