On the night of 19 October 2001, 200 Rangers from the 3rd Ranger Battalion descended on the desolate airfield outside of Kandahar Afghanistan. Operation Enduring Freedom began just 12 days prior and was the first large airborne operation of the war. The airfield was seized with relative ease and quickly became a major hub for US and Allied operations in southern Afghanistan. The city of Kandahar was the cultural home of the Taliban and became a vital region for the US and Allied forces to hold once the Taliban relaunched their campaign to retake southern Afghanistan. The city is no stranger to conflict, and the recent battles in the war on terror are just one page in the history of Kandahar.
The region around Kandahar is one of the oldest continued inhabited locations on Earth. During Alexander the Great’s campaign east towards India, he established the city of Kandahar, a transliteration of the local dialect Iskandar (local name for Alexander). Following Alexander’s death, the city was absorbed into the Seleucid Empire. It served as an important trading link between east and west, an aspect that would make it a target for conquest. In the 7th century AD, the Islamic armies of the Middle East conquered the region, and Islam became the prominent religion of the inhabitants of Kandahar. The Mongols attacked the city in the 13th century, destroying much of the city. The region was again conquered in the 16th century when the Mughal Empire annexed the city.
Europeans returned to Kandahar in the 19th century with the British invasion of Afghanistan. The British set up camps in Kandahar on 25 April 1839 but were forced to withdraw after a disastrous military campaign. The British returned in 1878 in the Second Anglo-Afghan War and defeated the army of Ayub Khan in the Battle of Kandahar in 1880. The British annexed Afghanistan following the battle. Afghanistan remained a British protectorate until 1919 when the Third Anglo-Afghan War erupted. The British defeated the Afghan’s but granted them independence and sovereign rule over their foreign affairs.
When the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan in 1979, Kandahar became an important base of operations for their troops operating in the country. The Kandahar International Airport was used by the Soviet air force to conduct strikes throughout Afghanistan. Because of the importance of the airfield, the city became an important battleground for Soviet and mujahedeen forces. After the Soviets withdrew in 1989, civil war ravaged the country and in August 1994 the Taliban captured Kandahar and it was turned into the capital of the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan.
Look for more information regarding the history of Kandahar in the future Modern War issue #21 with the article “Struggle for Kandahar” and join the conversation on Facebook!