Afghanistan, 8 Years In: How We Got Here

President Bush and Afghan President Hamid Karzai sit at the White House during a video teleconference with U.S. Provincial Reconstruction team leaders, National Guard Agriculture Development team representatives, and Afghanistan governors, Sept. 26, 2008 in Washington.
AP Photo

In a break with his predecessor, President Obama has called Afghanistan - not Iraq - the central front in the war on terror.

Back in the spring, he announced there would be a new strategy. He'll be holding another meeting about that with his war council this Wednesday.

One key question - whether to send more U.S. troops to Afghanistan, where 869 Americans have been killed in eight years of war. That war that began with a terrorist attack on America and a vow to hunt down those responsible. "CBS Evening News" anchor Katie Couric takes a look back at how we got here.

CBS News Special Report: The Road Ahead

Sept. 11, 2001, was not that first time America had heard from Osama bin Laden.

Since the 1998 embassy bombings in Kenya and Tanzania, the United States had been pressuring the Taliban regime to hand over the al Qaeda leader, believed to be hiding out in Afghanistan and training terrorists at camps there.

They did not comply.

On Oct. 7, 2001, President George Bush made his now famous pronouncement that, "On my orders, the United States military has begun strikes against al Qaeda terrorist training camps and military installations of the Taliban regime in Afghanistan."

By November, the U.S.-backed Northern Alliance had reclaimed Kabul. By Dec. 7, the Taliban stronghold Kandahar had fallen.

"There's no doubt that the United States thought that we had succeeded in Afghanistan, that we had Osama bin Laden on the run, that Al Qaeda could not regroup, that this was a war that was essentially in the bag," said John Nagl of the Center for a New American Security.

With Hamid Karzai in place as the interim leader of Afghanistan, the drum beat of war moved west, to Iraq.

On Sept. 12, 2002, Mr. Bush pronounced at the United Nations that "the conduct of the Iraqi regime is a threat to the authority of the United Nations, and a threat to peace."

But, says former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, "The problem was he took his eye off the ball and linked things that didn't go together, which is al Qaeda and Saddam Hussein and Osama bin Laden. And so, things got much worse."

By October of 2006, there were 148,000 U.S. troops in Iraq, and just 21,000 in Afghanistan.

"We gave the Taliban time to regroup, chased 'em out of Afghanistan, they regrouped in Pakistan, and now the years of neglect are coming back to haunt us," Nagl said.

The International Council on Security and Development reports that today the Taliban has a presence in 80 percent of the country, up from 54 percent just two years ago.

Making good on a campaign promise, President Obama called for a troop increase in Afghanistan, bringing the number of U.S. troops there to a record 68,000.