Afghanistan: Imperialist propaganda cannot mask paralysis / FRFI 211 Oct / Nov 2009

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FRFI 211 October / November 2009

The imperialists intended the 20 August presidential elections to give a cloak of legitimacy to the Afghan government and their forces’ occupation of the country, but the outcome has further undermined the credibility of both. Ballots from over 600 polling stations have been quarantined and there are 720 major charges of electoral fraud. President Karzai is exposed as a cheat. In September US General Stanley McChrystal’s report to the Pentagon on the situation in Afghanistan was leaked; it describes a failing military endeavour, a corrupt government without popular support and time running out fast for the invaders. Despite deploying extra troops and launching intensive campaigns over the summer, the occupying forces have been fought to a standstill. On 21 September the 217th British soldier was killed in Afghanistan since 2001; more than in the Iraq war. In August 77 NATO troops were killed, and by 21 September a further 55 were dead. Many more Afghan people were killed. The US and British states are on the road to disaster in Afghanistan.  Jim Craven and Trevor Rayne report.

By means of their superior fire power, the imperialists had hoped to clear areas of Taliban and other anti-occupation forces. The plan was to hold these areas while pushing back the Taliban still further so that the cleared ‘oil spots’ gradually spread and coalesced into larger regions under imperialist control, a tactic sometimes called ‘clear, hold, build’. The anti-occupation forces, however, are guerrilla fighters, able to withdraw from conflict whenever they consider the enemy too strong. They can simply melt back into the mountains or the villages and people from whom they receive support and later direct their attacks elsewhere. When some British troops were pulled out of Sangin in the summer to join Operation Panther’s Claw in Helmand, the Taliban redirected attacks to Sangin, killing 14 British soldiers in five weeks. Even when the imperialist forces are able to engage and kill the anti-occupation forces there is a supply of recruits ready to replace their lost fighters. In a remarkable interview in The Times, a Welsh Guards officer spoke openly of the physical and psychological pressures of fighting in Afghanistan, the officer said, ‘They (the Taliban) come back undaunted to the same firing points despite our overwhelming fire power. We will not be able to reduce their numbers to a level where they are tactically defeated.’

The imperialists do not have sufficient forces to control areas they do capture. They need the support of tribal leaders and the local people. But local leaders often prove unreliable allies, ready to switch allegiances, either for safety or to line their pockets. And among the Afghan people support for the Taliban is widespread, many finding them preferable to the corrupt and incompetent Afghan government. Polls demonstrate that more than half the Afghan population is now opposed to the imperialist occupation. In Pakistan nearly two-thirds of people polled regarded the US as an enemy.

Movement paralysed

Having to constantly switch between one battle zone and the next, to defend ground and pursue the enemy, the imperialists depend on rapid movement of their inadequate resources together with maintaining the lines of communication and supply that such movement demands. The anti-occupation forces have paralysed this movement by the simple expedient of improvised explosive devices (IEDs) – mines and booby-trapped bombs. At times, US/NATO convoys are reduced to a snail’s pace because they must be preceded by bomb detection teams working on foot. Many of the recent casualties have been caused by IEDs that weren’t found. Speaking of these horrific deaths the Welsh Guard said, ‘Each death is zipped up in a mental body bag. However, unlike a real body bag, which fortunately disappears, that mental body bag remains in the morgue of your subconscious.’

Mentally paralysed

More airpower would help overcome these problems for the imperialist forces, but they do not have enough helicopters. Because of equipment shortages, troops expend an enormous number of hours and manpower just standing still. In an army where recruits are led to expect their superior armaments will ensure easy victories and rapid advances, such impotence is bound to undermine morale. It appears the imperialist troops are becoming psychologically as well as physically paralysed. As Mao pointed out, in guerrilla warfare the mindset of the enemy, not weaponry, is the determining factor for victory.

Air strikes have increased since President Obama took office, but they carry with them further problems for the imperialist strategy. Indiscriminate bombings have massacred thousands of Afghan civilians and become a major source of opposition to the occupation. On 4 September, 119 people, including scores of children and other civilians were killed in a fireball when a German commander called in US F-15 fighters to attack two hijacked oil tankers in Kunduz. The Guardian described it as the ‘deadliest military operation by Germany since the end of the Second World War’. President Karzai said, ‘What an error of judgment’! Overall, civilian casualties increased by 25% during the first six months of this year. An estimated 30,000 Afghan civilians have been killed so far.

General McChrystal intends the occupation forces to change strategy and fight a counter-insurgency war with ‘less armour and less distance from the population... personnel must be seen as guests of the Afghan people and their government, not an occupying army’. The concept of US and NATO armies being ‘guests’ would be laughable if it were not so tragic. Anti-occupation forces will exploit any attempt by the occupiers to get close to the population and will use civilians to move material, as the Vietnamese did against the US. The occupiers will be very visible and their opponents close to invisible to them. McChrystal wants the Afghan Army and Police Forces (ANSF) to more than double in size, quickly. This is absurd as a central plank of strategy given the composition and corruption of the puppet state with its shifting coalition of warlords; it will not function in a unified, coherent way and will galvanise forces against it.

War propaganda and electoral farce

With the almost weekly return of dead servicemen and women, the failure to make military progress and the ongoing criticism of equipment and strategy, support for the war is dwindling in the imperialist countries. Polls show that more than half the US population is now opposed to the war and that in Britain 47% want troops withdrawn. Consequently, the imperialist propaganda machine has gone into overdrive. The returning dead are lauded as heroes whose deaths must not be in vain – ‘the old lie’ – so more young people must die, whose death in turn must be honoured by still more deaths.

Attempts to present the war as a means of bringing democracy to the country are patently ludicrous. The presidential election in August, described by the Afghan woman MP Malalai Joya as a ‘show... put on by and for the West to legitimise its future puppet in Afghanistan’, is a propaganda nightmare. 100,000 occupying troops and 180,000 Afghan army and police were unable to prevent attacks by the anti-occupation forces right into the heart of Kabul, even firing mortars at the Presidential Palace. Anyone opposed to the occupation was not able to stand for election

To bolster his support, President Karzai invited home from exile in Turkey the brutal Uzbek warlord Rashid Dostum, who is alleged to have murdered 1,000 Taliban captives in 2001 by incarcerating them in metal shipping containers placed in the baking sun. One of Karzai’s vice-presidents elect is Mohammed Fahim, suspected of murdering prisoners of war in the 1990s, together with kidnappings and other crimes. Karzai also promised jobs to several other warlords guilty of multiple human rights abuses. His electoral adviser was Abdul Sayyaf, the man who first invited Osama bin Laden to Afghanistan. Karzai’s brother, Ahmed, himself a leading drugs baron, toured Kandahar offering local leaders $20,000 to support Karzai. On 17 September the ballot, in which about one third of the electorate participated, gave Karzai 54.6% and former foreign minister Abdullah Abdulla 27%; a candidate needs 50% of the votes to be declared outright winner. Abdullah Abdulla threatened street demonstrations ‘like those in Iran, only with Kalashnikovs’, if Karzai was declared the winner. The US government announced that it would wait until the investigation of claims of fraud was completed before acknowledging a victor or determining whether a second round of voting should take place.

Women’s barbaric treatment

After eight years of imperialist occupation conditions remain grim for the Afghan people with among the worst poverty, illiteracy, health, infant mortality and malnutrition in the world. But life for Afghan women is even worse. 85% of them have no formal education. According to Women for Women International, 80% of Afghan women are affected by domestic violence, almost half are forced into marriage before the age of 16 (some as young as nine) and 47% say they need their husband’s or family’s permission to walk down the street. Where women are allowed to work, their wages are just one third of men’s. In rural areas, up to 90% of women have no health care. Life expectancy is 44 years. The maternal mortality rate is between 1,600 and 1,900 deaths per hundred thousand live births, which means one Afghan woman dies in childbirth every 30 minutes. In areas controlled by the Taliban there are reports that girls are not allowed to attend school nor women to work and that there are severe punishments for women who contravene Sharia law.

Probably the most abhorrent aspect of Karzai’s election campaign was his agreement to pass the Personal Status Law to placate Shia religious leaders. The law legitimises rape. It allows Shia men to deny their wives food and sustenance if the women don’t submit to the men’s sexual demands and it permits rapists to avoid prosecution by paying ‘blood money’. The law also grants the guardianship of children exclusively to fathers and grandfathers and gives husbands the right to forbid their wives from working or even going out of the house. The law contradicts the so-called Afghan constitution and international treaties that Afghanistan is supposed to be party to.

Given the vacuity of any claim to be bringing democracy and human rights to Afghanistan, the imperialist propaganda machine has returned to the theme of preventing terrorism at home in order to justify its war. Gordon Brown spoke of ‘a chain of terror linking Afghanistan and Pakistan to the streets of Britain’ and President Obama told a recent meeting of the Veterans of Foreign Wars, ‘If left unchecked, the Taliban insurgency will mean an even larger safe haven from which Al Qaeda would plot to kill more Americans.’ Of course, even if there were any truth in these claims, they beg the question why the people of the Middle East and Central Asia would want to hit back at the US and Britain. Hardly surprising, while the imperialists continue to attack, occupy and exploit their countries. General Sir Richard Dannatt, until recently head of the British army, supported the anti-terrorism excuse for the war, despite previously pointing out that the majority of the anti-occupation fighters were not terrorists but sons and brothers from Afghan and Pakistani families killed and damaged by the war. Former major Eric Joyce, a parliamentary aid to Labour Defence Secretary Bob Ainsworth, resigned his post in September saying the war in Afghanistan has nothing to do with the defence of Britain against terrorism and called for a timetable for troop withdrawal.

Strategic commitment

The imperialists show no signs of pulling out. Afghanistan is crucial to them as a strategic centre for dominating the region and for access to the oil rich Caucasus. General Dannatt said British troops face at least five more years of intense fighting. He and his successor, General David Richards, have spoken of a ‘commitment’ to Afghanistan for 40 years – could there be a greater indictment of the entire enterprise? They want 2,000 more British troops in the country. US commander General McChrystal wants 30,000 more US troops. Speaking to the US Veterans of Foreign Wars, President Obama boasted that he would maintain increased military spending and revamp the US military to better serve US global domination: ‘We need to keep our military the best trained, the best led, the best equipped fighting force in the world... and that’s why we’ve increased the size of the army and the Marine Corps two years ahead of schedule.’ The new military would be designed to respond to multiple conflicts simultaneously, be lighter, more high-tech and ready to deploy quickly all over the world.

In stark contrast, the US military and NATO appear ever-more bogged-down and futile in Afghanistan and their credibility is being strained. Disenchantment is reflected among leading US Democratic Party members and the NATO allies; some are seeking an exit strategy. The US government has said it will assess McChrystal’s proposed strategy before posting more troops. The Netherlands and Canada have said respectively that they will reduce and pull their troops out soon. The spectre of the humiliation in Vietnam still haunts Washington. In early September British Prime Minister Brown, French President Sarkozy and German Chancellor Merkel called for an international conference to transfer responsibility for the war on Afghanistan to the United Nations. As the ground gives way beneath the occupation armies in Afghanistan, so divisions within the ruling classes and between the imperialist powers are likely to increase; a substantial anti-war movement could then be decisive in ending this carnage – but it still does not exist, neither in Britain nor the US.