Word that the Taliban and U.S. will hold formal talks to find a political solution to end nearly 12 years of war in Afghanistan comes after years of failed efforts at peace talks. A look at the evolution of U.S. relations with the Taliban:
—The Taliban, an Islamic fundamentalist movement, emerged from the Pakistani-trained mujahedeen, or holy warriors, who battled the Soviet Union’s occupation of Afghanistan in the 1980s with secret backing by the CIA.
—Civil war broke out when the pro-Soviet Afghan government collapsed following the departure of Moscow’s troops. The U.S. took an arms-length position of neutrality as rival warlords shelled Kabul into ruins.
—The Taliban emerged as a united military and political force in 1994 and took control of Afghanistan in 1996. Led by Mullah Mohammed Omar, the Afghan Taliban sheltered Osama bin Laden in the years leading up to the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. But the group was toppled shortly after the U.S. and allied invasion one month later.
—The U.S.-led invasion leveraged the firepower of factions, such as the Northern Alliance, who had held out against the Taliban after it seized power in 1996. CIA and U.S. special operations support for anti-Taliban forces enabled the U.S. to oust the Islamists by December 2001 without committing large numbers of U.S. ground troops.
—With U.S. attention focused largely on Iraq after the U.S. invasion there in 2003, the Taliban appeared to have been defeated as a military threat. But by 2005 it was beginning to make a comeback, gradually showing signs of improved training and better equipping, while using territory inside Pakistan as a sanctuary.
—By early 2009, Taliban gains had reached the point where the top American commander in Afghanistan offered the remarkable comment that the military situation in the south, the Taliban’s heartland, was “at best, stalemated.” In December 2009 President Barack Obama announced a U.S. troop “surge,” with a goal of reversing the Taliban’s momentum and eventually compelling them to come to the peace table.