2000-2009 | Afghanistan | Famine

Britain joins an illegal war of aggression against Afghanistan

A US B-1B bomber takes off from Diego Garcia to bomb Afghanistan.
Rebeca Luquin – US Air Force – via Wikimedia.

7 October 2001

On 7 October 2001, Britain joined the United States in initiating air strikes against Afghanistan.  Labour politician Tony Benn noted in his diary: ‘So we’ve launched into a war without any declaration of war, without any parliamentary authority for war, outside the United Nations, a war that is supposed to be directed simply at the Taliban in Afghanistan.’1

The United States and the United Kingdom had given the Taliban an ultimatum. Hand over Osama Bin Laden, a prime suspect in the 11th September attack on New York, or face military annihilation. The Taliban, many of whom were unhappy with the presence of Bin Laden, had asked for evidence and even negotiated for a possible trial either in Afghanistan or in some relatively neutral country. However, American military plans for an attack on Afghanistan were at an advanced stage. No diplomatic or legal objections were going to persuade Washington to alter them, and London was equally dedicated to the mission of regime change.2

The British government had been warned of a devastating humanitarian crisis if they went ahead with the planned military assault, with up to five million Afghans facing starvation after decades of civil war and months of severe drought across the north of the country. The UN’s World Food Programme had estimated at the end of September that it had only two weeks of emergency food stocks left within the country and it was already difficult to obtain vehicles for their distribution, due to their use by hundreds of thousands of civilians who were fleeing to Pakistan. Humanitarian aid was urgently needed, and relief efforts would not only have to be halted once the British and Americans commenced their bombing offensive, but the attacks were certain to disrupt transport and distribution and lead to a further rapid deterioration of food supplies.3


  1. Ruth Winstone (Editor), Tony Benn, More Time for Politics: Diaries 2001-2007, Arrow Books, London, p. 12.
  2. Jonathan Steele, Ewen MacAskill, Richard Norton Taylor and Ed Harriman, “Threat of US Strikes Passed to Taliban weeks before NY attack,” The Guardian, 22 September 2001 accessed online at https://www.theguardian.com/world/2001/sep/22/afghanistan.september113
  3. Rory McCarthy and Sarah Boseley, ‘UN Aid moves again as millions face threat of war and famine,’ The Guardian, 26 September 2001 accessed online at url https://www.theguardian.com/world/2001/sep/26/afghanistan.famine

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