War in Afghanistan Deeper into the mire

‘Mr President, I’m not saying we wouldn’t get our hair mussed. But I do say ... no more than ten to twenty million killed, tops ... depending on the breaks.’
General Turgidson, Dr Strangelove

The clamour for more helicopters and equipment for British forces in Afghanistan and the tears and pomp for British war dead will not reduce the rising number of Afghani and British casualties in an immoral, imperialist war. Thousands of Afghani civilians have lost their lives. More weapons will sink British forces deeper into the mire. The grief of dead soldiers’ families is exploited by the government to rally public support for the war. British imperialist forces are employed to kill and, if necessary, to be killed. ANDREW ALEXANDER reports on a war that has cost Britain over £4.5bn to date and has implications for an entire region.

Escalating casualties
The Afghani people are being traumatised as they continue to be subjected to brutal occupation by US and British forces. Hundreds of civilians have lost their lives in the past two months and countless more have been plunged into dire poverty with chronic water and food shortages. There are now 68,000 US and approximately 8,300 British troops in the country. It has been a bloody period for occupation forces with British casualties in Afghanistan now surpassing the casualties in Iraq. Up until the middle of July 2009, 184 soldiers had lost their lives in Afghanistan, compared to 174 in Iraq. 2009 is likely to see the highest rates of deaths yet.

Anti-occupation forces are relying on guerrilla tactics, specifically the use of Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs). On 4/5 July three British soldiers were killed and on 6 July two US troops were killed, all by roadside bombs in the southern province of Zabul, while four others were killed by similar devices in the province of Kunduz, close to Kabul. This tactic has been learned from the resistance in Iraq. In June alone there were 736 incidents of IEDs. Eight British soldiers were killed in the bloodiest day of fighting in Afghanistan on 10 July; amongst the casualties were three 18-year-olds on their first tour of duty. The average age of British casualties in Afghanistan is falling: during a worsening recession it is younger people who are joining the armed forces. 7% of British fatalities in Afghanistan were teenagers, 68% in their twenties. Despite the expressions of grief by the government towards these young people and their families, Brown and his Labour warmongers are still keen on using young soldiers as cannon fodder.

The demand for more helicopters reveals the occupation forces’ problems; they are high profile while the anti-occupation forces are low profile: able to merge back into the local population. British and US forces cannot travel overland without being identified. The IEDs slow their manoeuvrability, delaying their response time.  As yet the helicopters are protected by electronic defences. Greater investment in the war increases the occupation forces’ commitment and more deaths will follow.

The media exploits the deaths of British soldiers while avoiding mention of the number of Afghani civilians who have died. They try to justify the continuing occupation to an unconvinced public. Brown and his ministers still peddle the lie that the war in Afghanistan is making the streets of Britain safer from terrorist attacks. No one believes this any more, so we are also told that, whether we are for or against the war, we should mute our criticisms and ‘get behind our boys’. This echoes the extreme patriotism used during the First World War to whip up public support and cover up the carnage.

Obama shows his war face
Operation Khanjar or ‘Strike of the Sword’ in Helmand province is the first major operation under President Obama’s administration, as 21,000 more US troops are added to those already there. The operation involves 4,000 US troops and 650 Afghan troops. The aim is to tackle Taliban strongholds and supply routes. US forces seek to crush the anti-occupation forces with daily repression – curfews, roadblocks, searches, identity checks and arbitrary detentions.  NATO’s counter-insurgency unit, headed by Obama’s newly-appointed overseer General McChrystal, is setting up the Joint Special Operations Command, a brutal counter-insurgency unit similar to the one he created in Iraq which was responsible for assassinations and torture. He is preparing for a dramatic escalation of the killing by using methods employed during Operation Phoenix in the Vietnam war and by the death squads in El Salvador. Obama will provide the finance for this brutality and plans to spend $2.47 trillion on the military budget over the next three years, in addition to the $514 billion granted to the Pentagon this year.

There are constant calls by the British armed forces for more weaponry and personnel. The government has come under attack with claims that Tony Blair’s pledge that ‘You will have what you need’ is not being met. Gordon Brown has stated he will bring 1,500 troops back after the Afghan presidential and provincial council elections in August, citing cost as the reason, but he will heed the call for further reinforcements.

The elections are aimed at legitimising Hamid Karzai’s government and, de facto, the occupation. The imperialists want to delegate military operations to an Afghani security force. The elections will be one step closer to doing this. However, without a change in material conditions for the Afghani people, and with imperialist attacks encouraging ordinary people to make common cause with the Taliban-led insurgency, the troops will be forced to stay in the country for many years. The imperialists need some degree of stability for economic ‘development’, such as the construction of the Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan-India gas pipeline that will run directly through Helmand province.

Pakistan faces civil war
The war is largely concentrated in Helmand province in south Afghanistan and in the Swat Valley in north-western Pakistan. These are tribal areas where the Pashtun people are the dominant ethnic group. The Swat Valley has seen ferocious fighting between Taliban militias and the Pakistani army, supported by the US. Over a million people have fled the area but tens of thousands of local Pashtun have remained in Swat. There are no reliable figures for the number of dead and wounded. The Pashtuns in Pakistan face the direst conditions, with basic food and water supplies depleted to dangerous levels and electricity and gas cut off in the majority of places.
The Pakistani army is winning in Swat. In retaliation the Pakistani Taliban is extending its war to other areas of Pakistan, using suicide attacks against establishments such as hotels and offices in Pakistani cities. The Pakistani government is feeling the strain of fighting this war. According to the Financial Times the conflict costs the country £5.2 billion a year in terms of lost exports, lost investments, increased expenses and lost revenue. This has combined with US incursions and bombings from planes and unmanned drones into South Waziristan, a tribal area in north Pakistan, which have left hundreds of civilians dead. A single attack by an unmanned drone on 8 July killed 60 people. The Pakistan government has found itself stuck between a rock and a hard place. By siding with the US, the Pakistani state is slipping closer to unrest and possible civil war.

FRFI 210 August / September 2009


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