Nightly News   |  October 07, 2011

Afghanistan: A look back at a decade of war

On the anniversary of the start of the war in Afghanistan, NBC’s Jim Miklaszewski looks back at a decade of war, longer now than World War II and the Civil War combined.

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This content comes from a Full-Text Transcript of the program.

WILLIAMS: Good evening.

BRIAN WILLIAMS, anchor: Tonight protesters remain in the streets of a dozen US cities , angry over what's happened to their lives and our country; and a big part of that, over these last 10 years, the two wars we've been fighting starting 10 years ago today. This is the anniversary of the start of the war in Afghanistan , longer now than World War II and the Civil War combined. It started, of course, with the attacks on the US that changed us all. And listen to what President Bush promised Americans in uniform when he launched the war 10 years ago today.

President GEORGE W. BUSH: To all the men and women in our military, every sailor, every soldier, every airman, every Coast Guardsman ,

every Marine, I say this: your mission is defined, your objectives are clear, your goal is just. You have my full confidence and you will have every tool you need to carry out your duty.

WILLIAMS: A decade ago today. And it's where we begin tonight with our Pentagon correspondent Jim Miklaszewski . Jim , good evening.

JIM MIKLASZEWSKI reporting: Brian , early on military officials thought they had won this war at least once, maybe twice. But the fact is, for the first six or seven years, they didn't have everything they needed to finish it off. So today, 10 years later, the war drags on. Less than a month after 9/11, America struck back with a vengeance . The US military quickly drove the Taliban from power. But when the US invaded Iraq , Afghanistan became the forgotten war and the Taliban came fighting back. Karl Eikenberry was a US commanding general in Afghanistan .

General KARL EIKENBERRY, Retired: We needed more intelligence assets in Afghanistan . We need more special forces . Jim , they sent -- certainly were not available. They were in Iraq .

MIKLASZEWSKI: Since taking office, President Obama doubled the number of US forces in Afghanistan , now at 98,000. But it came at a terrible price. Nearly 1800 Americans have now been killed in the 10 year war . More than 14,000 wounded at a cost of $450 billion and climbing.

MIKLASZEWSKI: Defense Secretary Leon Panetta warns the fighting and sacrifice are far from over.

Mr. LEON PANETTA: This would be the wrong time to back off because we're almost there. We've got to continue on this path.

MIKLASZEWSKI: Former commanding General David Barno says that means training more Afghan forces to take over security while turning up the heat on the Taliban .

General DAVID BARNO, Retired: They're under tremendous military pressure. They're going to be much more inclined to sit down and start talking about how to end this war.

MIKLASZEWSKI: But that's a huge challenge. President Obama has ordered all US combat troops out of Afghanistan by 2014 . The first 30,000 by next summer.

Gen. BARNO: Our enemies out there -- the Taliban , al-Qaeda , others -- will simply wait us out.

MIKLASZEWSKI: And the clock is ticking. Recent polls show that nearly 60 percent of Americans want US forces out of Afghanistan now.

General BARRY McCAFFREY, Retired (NBC News Military Analyst): Two-thirds of the American people have washed their hands of Afghanistan . They don't want to spend $10 billion a month. They got 16,000 US killed and wounded. They want to be done with it.

MIKLASZEWSKI: Even if all those combat forces are out by 2014 , US military officials here at the Pentagon predict that smaller numbers of US military , advisers and trainers, could still be there in Afghanistan 20 years from now.

Brian: Jim Miklaszewski starting us off at the Pentagon tonight. Jim , thanks.