Afghanistan war unwinnable

FRFI 212 December 2009 / January 2010

The successes of the anti-occupation forces in Afghanistan and concern at the rise in casualties among the occupying forces are creating divisions within the ruling classes of the imperialist countries. Pressure to bring the troops home is being held in check only by a massive public relations campaign to ‘support our heroes’, which in Britain reached almost hysterical proportions around Remembrance Day. Polls indicate that 58% of US people are opposed to the war. Two-thirds of people in Britain believe the war is ‘unwinnable’ and 35% want an immediate withdrawal. Despite these conditions, the anti-war movements in both countries remain hopelessly weak because their organisers refuse to break with the governing parties that defend their privileged lifestyles. JIM CRAVEN reports.

The International Council on Security and Development reports that anti-occupation forces in Afghanistan now have a permanent hold on 80% of the country, up from 54% two years ago. Attacks increased by 60% between October 2008 and April 2009 and in August new fronts were opened in the north and west of the country. The rate of casualties among the occupiers is higher than in the most intense period of the war on Iraq. 59 US soldiers were killed in October. At the present rate, more than 100 British soldiers will have been killed during 2009 and over 400 wounded. As of 21 November 2009, 235 British troops have been killed in Afghanistan since 2001. The thousands of Afghans killed are not recorded.

Counter-insurgency plans

According to the New York Times, President Obama will be sending a further 34,000 troops to Afghanistan. 34,000 US troops would mean Obama has more or less come down on the side of General McChrystal, US commander in Afghanistan. McChrystal, an expert in undercover assassination operations, wants an extra 40,000 troops to wage a counter-insurgency campaign to ‘clear, hold and build’ small strategic areas that could then spread and join to create larger areas under their control. Bribery is integral to the spread. This ‘oil spot’ strategy has been used in previous colonial campaigns, but, with the possible special exception of the British in Malaya (1948-60), without success. Each additional 1,000 US troops cost $1 billion a year in a country where 70% of people live on $1 or less a day. McChrystal will no doubt point to the relative stability following the US ‘surge’ in Iraq. Notwithstanding the fact that security in Iraq remains volatile (see article on page 3), the situation there was quite different, with an elected (if sectarian) government having the tacit support of the majority and resistance forces quelled by a combination of sectarian conflict and bribery by the occupying powers.

In Afghanistan the occupying forces find it impossible to hold any areas they clear. Soldiers sardonically refer to their operations as ‘mowing the lawn’ because the anti-occupation forces simply retreat and return. The US Brookings Institute has estimated that it would require a force of around 500,000 to sustain a successful counter-insurgency campaign. The US and International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) are presently less than 100,000 combined. Consequently, McChrystal wants a massive increase in the Afghan army and national police, to total 240,000 and 160,000 respectively over the next few years. The imperialists admit, however, that even the present Afghan army will not be ready for independent action in the foreseeable future. The Afghan police, underpaid, poorly trained and unreliable, have been accused of murder, rape and corruption. For the imperialist forces, they are part of the problem rather than the solution; vividly demonstrated in November, when an Afghan policeman shot dead five British soldiers following a joint patrol.

The ‘hold’ part of McChrystal’s strategy depends on winning the trust of the local people and having a national government working for their benefit. Neither could be further from reality. As McChrystal admits, ‘The weakness of state institutions, malign actions of power brokers, widespread corruption and abuse of power by various officials and ISAF’s own errors, have given Afghans little reason to support their government.’ ISAF’s ‘errors’ include at least 450 civilian deaths at the hands of the imperialist forces in the first six months of 2009.

Fraud and corruption

The Afghan people see the occupying forces as complicit in the corruption and abuse of the government. Following the fiasco of the presidential election, things are set to get worse. Only a third of the Afghan people were recorded as bothering to vote and millions of those votes were fraudulent. The imperialists sacked UN deputy representative Peter Galbraith for suggesting a full inquiry. Hoping to salvage some credibility for a ‘democratic Afghanistan’, the imperialists then humiliatingly forced President Karzai to agree to a run-off vote with second placed Abdullah Abdullah, expecting a compromise coalition agreement rather than risking another divisive election. In the end Abdullah withdrew and Obama and Brown were left to telephone their congratulations to Karzai, whom they had attacked as incompetent and corrupt; winner of an election the whole world knew to be a fraud. This was in stark contrast to their vitriolic attitudes towards the election of Hamas in Palestine (2005), which observers agreed was generally free and fair.

So, the imperialists have no option but to work with Karzai, for the time being. But Karzai has little power outside the capital. To ‘win’ the election he had to make deals with brutal warlords such as Rashid Dostum and Mohammed Fahim, who will demand their cut of the cake. Dostum has already been reinstated as head of the Afghan army on a salary of $80,000 a month. Karzai’s running mates were drug trafficker Muhammed Qasim and war criminal Karim Khalil. Following Karzai’s victory, Obama and Brown publicly insisted that Karzai must promote good governance. Brown said, ‘I am not prepared to put the lives of British men and women in harm’s way for a government that doesn’t stand up against corruption.’ But one of Karzai’s first announcements upon victory was that he would not be sacking any corrupt officials. Dauod Sultanzoy, an Afghan MP, said, ‘It’s a free for all. From now on Mr Karzai is not going to be accountable. The distance between the government and the people will widen.’ Malalai Joya, an Afghan woman MP, previously pointed out, ‘Your governments have replaced fundamentalist Taliban rule with another fundamentalist regime of warlords.’ With more US troops Karzai may consider his position as a political underpinning of the occupation strengthened.

Despite their moral posturing, the imperialists have no qualms about working with warlords. To protect convoys the occupying forces frequently hire ‘security’ organisations which are the private militias of warlords, among them Hashmat Karzai, the President’s brother. In October, the New York Times revealed that Ahmed Karzai, another brother, was on the CIA payroll. He is a leading drug trafficker and organised much of the electoral fraud in the south of Afghanistan. As in Vietnam and Nicaragua, and with the Miami Cuban mafia, the US has always tolerated and empowered drug barons in the pursuit of foreign policy objectives.

Ruling classes split

McChrystal’s strategy has split the US ruling class. He has the support of General Petraeus and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, but was reprimanded by Obama’s national security adviser, General James Jones, for publicly promoting his plans. Vice-President Biden, speaker of the house Nancy Pelosi and chair of the armed services committee Carl Levin oppose the counter-insurgency campaign and ‘nation building’ and favour fewer troops and greater use of air power and special forces in a more focused counter-terrorism campaign. In November, US Ambassador to Afghanistan Karl Eikenberry, former US commander in Afghanistan, said no more troops should be sent to the country. Others have jumped ship entirely. Matthew Hoh, US representative in Zabul Province, resigned in October, saying ‘the bulk of the insurgency fights not for the white banner of the Taliban but rather against the presence of foreign soldiers and taxes imposed by the unrepresentative government in Kabul’. Lieutenant Colonel David Kilcullen, Petraeus’s counter-insurgency adviser in Iraq, described the air attacks on the Afghanistan/Pakistan border as ‘not moral’.

In Britain, Prime Minister Brown has said he wants a further 500 British troops in Afghanistan and insists that British forces are well equipped. The Conservatives have signed up former British Army chief General Dannatt, an ardent critic of government policy, as a special adviser. General David Richards, head of the British Army, wants another 1,000 British troops and expects a commitment of up to 40 years in what he calls a ‘noble conflict’. However, Kim Howells, former Labour minister and chair of the parliamentary intelligence and security committee (and agent of the ruling class during the miners’ strike), stated that it was time to bring the troops home. Former head of the armed forces in Helmand, Major General Andrew McKay, has resigned, saying there was insufficient emphasis on reconstruction in Afghanistan.

US Defence Secretary Gates expressed the imperialists’ dilemma, ‘How do we signal resolve and at the same time signal to the Afghans and the American people that this is not open ended?’

US force new onslaught in Pakistan

In October, after months of pressure from the US, the Pakistani Army launched a major offensive against the Taliban and other anti-occupation supporters in the Waziristan border region. 30,000 troops are backed by helicopter gunships and F-16 fighters. The attack was preceded by weeks of intense bombardment by US drones. The Pakistan Army has sealed off the area to the media and cut phone lines but some of the 250,000 refugees fleeing the fighting report that civilians are being targeted, houses, mosques and shops bombarded and roadblocks and civilian curfews being enforced. According to one analysis, the Pakistani Army is operating a pincer movement to push the Taliban into a small zone between Ladha and Maheen where they plan to kill up to 15,000 militants and occupy their former bases and training camps. Other reports say that the Taliban have been joined by Kashmiri and Punjabi fighters and others from former Soviet Republics like Tajikistan and that they have re-taken towns such as Kotkai, and are moving back into parts of the Swat Valley cleared by a previous Pakistani Army offensive.

Despite the offensive, there is massive hostility towards the US among the Pakistani ruling class and the people. According to a Pew Global Attitudes survey, 80% of the population oppose co-operation with the US and 64% regard the US as an enemy. Many in the Pakistan Army are angry that the US is promoting the interests of India with special nuclear and arms deals. They see Afghanistan and the Taliban as a strategic rearguard defence in their dispute with India. They were outraged when, in announcing a $7.5 billion aid package to Pakistan, the US imposed the condition that it regularly certifies Pakistan is fighting Islamist extremists, closing training camps and preventing nuclear proliferation. Hillary Clinton stoked the anger when visiting Pakistan she said she found it ‘hard to believe’ that the Pakistan government did not know the whereabouts of Al Qaeda and could not ‘get at them if they really wanted to’.

The Pakistani offensives in Waziristan and previously in the Swat Valley have led to an escalation of bloody bombings in several Pakistani cities. Taliban targets have included the Army and the intelligence service headquarters and civilians. The US seems determined to drag Pakistan into the turmoil. They are building a massive embassy complex in Islamabad and growing numbers of Blackwater/Xe Services personnel are being employed. The whole region is being destabilised by US actions.

No more excuses

The imperialists are running out of excuses for invading Afghanistan – capturing Bin Laden, building democracy, establishing human rights, emancipating women, constructing a better life for the people, ending the drugs trade, have all proved to be lies. Now, they are reduced, as Brown said, ‘to protecting our nation from global terrorism’. But attacks on western targets have been in response to the imperialists’ global onslaught, not the cause of it. They have been and could be planned anywhere in the world, though none have originated in Afghanistan.

General James Jones admitted there were only about 100 Al Qaeda fighters in Afghanistan. A US intelligence report stated that 90% of the so-called Taliban are ‘a tribal localised insurgency (who) see themselves as opposing the US because it is an occupying power’, and went on to say that they have no goals beyond Afghanistan’s border.

As we have pointed out in FRFI over the past few years, the imperialists will talk, indeed already are

talking, to the Taliban. Their opposition to fundamentalist Islam is just another posture. After all, they created and armed the mujahedeen, for anti-Soviet purposes, from whom the Taliban originated. They feted the Taliban in the 1990s when they wanted an oil pipeline through Afghanistan; they cosy up to the fundamentalist regime in Saudi Arabia. But while a leaked British government document and Chief of Staff Sir Jock Stirrup both agree ‘we want to talk to all the people fighting us’, the British Prime Minister hastily denies they would talk to anyone but those willing to lay down their arms.

Never ending war

The imperialists have woven such a tangled web of deceit that they no longer know which way to wriggle. When asked what success in Afghanistan would consist of, special envoy Richard Holbrooke could only reply ‘we’ll know success when we see it’.

The wars in Afghanistan and Pakistan, as in Iraq, have nothing to do with fundamentalist ideology, terrorism or weapons of mass destruction. They are part of the US strategy to maintain global domination and the exploitation of resources in the face of possible challenges from rising economic powers such as Europe, China, Japan and Russia. Such wars will continue and expand until such time as the working class and the poor and oppressed of the world are strong enough to reclaim the world in their interests rather than those of the rich minority.

In the world of imperialist mystification, it takes a more honest bourgeois commentator to admit this truth. Anthony Cordesman of the Centre for Strategic and International Studies expects casualties in Afghanistan and Pakistan to more than treble. He says President Obama must tell the American people how wars being fought by US troops affect ‘the broader challenges of regional stability in the west, north and east’. Cordesman concludes, ‘We must stop taking the easy route of focusing on international terrorism ...any form of victory in Afghanistan and Pakistan will be part of a much longer struggle...that will endure indefinitely into the future.’

If the US commits 30,000-40,000 more troops to Afghanistan it will be to prevent the imperialists losing the war – they cannot win. Political movements in the US and Britain against the war are needed to end this carnage.


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