Afghanistan – new imperialist onslaught

FRFI 214 April / May 2010

In February, when the occupying forces launched their latest onslaught in Afghanistan, US commander General McChrystal claimed that his priority was to avoid civilian casualties. Within two days of the start of Operation Moshtarak, 12 civilians (including six children) were killed by NATO missiles in the Nad-e-ali district. A week later, 27 civilians were killed when their minibuses were hit by an airstrike in Uruzgan. JIM CRAVEN reports.

In the region of Marjah, the target for Operation Moshtarak, 26,000 people had to flee their homes according to the UN; houses and irrigation ditches were destroyed, farmers arrested and homes and schools occupied by US forces. 15,000 US, British and Afghan troops were deployed against an estimated 1,000 anti-occupation fighters. The use of such overwhelming force was intended to terrorise the Afghan people and divide them from the anti-occupation forces. Most of the anti-occupation forces simply withdrew. As one of their leaders told the Pakistani newspaper Dawn, ‘We are men from the villages, we know the area, we can hide our guns in the village and we can use them again when we have the opportunity.’ A US military adviser was soon admitting, ‘The Taliban are re-organising. The capability they lost two weeks ago is coming back.’

Throughout the operation, the capitalist media led us to believe that Marjah was an important Taliban stronghold with a population of 80,000. In fact, Marjah is little more than a scattering of farming villages. Two US military academics disparagingly described it as a ‘nearly worthless postage stamp of real estate that has tied down about half of the combat power of the international coalition’. The media deception was intentional: to make an increasingly sceptical western audience believe that major battles could still be won and so delay the drawdown of International Security Assistance Forces (ISAF). As General McChrystal said, ‘This is all a war of perceptions’: a phrase taken directly from General Petraeus’s US handbook on counter-insurgency operations, where he emphasises the importance of ‘establishing the counter-insurgency narrative’ and conducting it ‘continuously using the news media’.

Puppet governors

The imperialists claim their strategy is to clear areas of anti-occupation forces and then hold the ground by gaining the trust of local people through reconstruction projects and by establishing strong local governance. US Ambassador Karl Eikenberry has admitted, however, that no ‘trained and honest’ Afghan authority exists at any level and that it ‘would take years to build’. The occupying powers intend to drop in puppet governors and teams of US and British diplomats; what McChrystal calls ‘government in a box’. First results were not promising. In Shawal, near Marjah, people proved reluctant to accept US aid. After two weeks, no community leader had come forward to reveal where bombs were planted or to offer hospitality to the Afghan army.

Haji Shamshullah explained, ‘The British and you have the guns, the Taliban have the guns, we are just the people whose lands you are using to do your fighting. We hear fine words now, but will you be here in the future to protect us when the Taliban come back to punish us for co-operating with you? Or will you do what you have done in the past, come here, say fine words and then just leave?’  Captain Duke Reim, US commander in Pashmul said that 95% of the population are Taliban or help the Taliban, while the local governor admitted, ‘People here are on the side of the insurgency and have no trust in the government.’ When Afghan President Karzai visited Marjah after the attack, local leader Haji Abdul Aziz told the New York Times, ‘The warlords who ruled us for the past eight years, those people whose hands are red with the people’s blood, those people who killed hundreds – they are still ruling over the nation.’

The man chosen as new puppet governor for the district, Haji Abdul Zahir, lived in Germany for many years. On his first visit to Marjah, he stayed for just two hours and never strayed more than 100 yards from his plane. President Karzai’s preferred choice for the job was Abdul Rahman Jan, former chief of the district police, a force described as ‘so corrupt and ruthless – their trademark was summary executions – that many residents welcomed the Taliban as a more humane alternative’. Haji Abdul Jabar, another puppet governor already installed in Arghandab, the ‘gateway’ to Kandahar, told the Financial Times, ‘I don’t trust the local people, so I don’t go out much. They may try to shoot me.’

US special envoy Richard Holbroke has admitted that, in the long-term, the imperialist forces ‘can’t occupy every piece of terrain, so the real key is building and transferring control to Afghan security forces’, which he describes as ‘an extremely difficult part of a (daunting) process’. The Afghan people do not trust the police or the army.  Canadian military chaplains have accused Afghan soldiers of raping young boys. They were told by ISAF commanders ‘not to interfere in incidents in which Afghan forces were having sex with children’ and that, despite being against Afghan law, it ‘should be seen as a cultural issue’.

Problems mount

99 ISAF personnel were killed in January and February; by far the worst winter months of the war for occupation forces. A National Audit Office report said there was ‘a very real risk of increased casualties’ and hospitals might have to displace civilians for military patients. An international conference in London in January agreed to establish a $650 million slush fund to try and buy off some of the anti-occupation fighters. But Major-General Michael Flynn, senior US intelligence officer in Afghanistan, said that the insurgency was ‘increasingly effective’ and could ‘sustain itself indefinitely’ and that the Taliban had ‘shadow governors’ in 33 out of the 34 provinces. Support for the war among many NATO members remains weak. The Dutch government collapsed in February over the question of support for the war, and its 2,000 troops will now be withdrawn. 3,000 Canadians are also due to leave later this year.

In February, a joint US/Pakistan operation in Karachi captured the Afghan Taliban’s second in command, Abdul Ghani Baradar. Commentators speculated that the arrest marked a new era of co-operation. The Pakistani military, however, refused to hand over Baradar and six other Taliban leaders and denied the CIA access to them. A request for extradition to Afghanistan was blocked by the Punjab high court. Many in the Pakistani ruling class regard the Taliban as allies and Afghanistan as a strategic rearguard against aggression by India. Baradar has previously negotiated with Karzai. The Pakistani military will want to use him as a conduit for further talks to put pressure on the US for an early negotiated settlement that is in its favour and against what it regards as Indian interference in Afghanistan. Pakistan has also refused US demands to immediately launch a new wave of attacks on Taliban strongholds in the border region.

More carnage planned for Kandahar

The imperialists cannot win. They will eventually have to negotiate with the anti-occupation forces. Unofficial talks have been going on for several years. President Karzai is trying to enlist the support of Saudi Arabia to arrange direct talks with Mullah Omar, leader of the Afghan Taliban, but US Defence Secretary Gates, Secretary of State Clinton and General McChrystal hope to weaken the Taliban before talking. They are perfectly happy to wreak more death and destruction just to strengthen their position at the negotiating table. In Britain too, whereas there were some differences among the British ruling class over Iraq, all their main parties are united in support of the slaughter in Afghanistan.

The imperialists’ next target this summer will be Kandahar, a city of 900,000 people. In the congested backstreets of Kandahar the casualties could be horrific. Agence France Presse reported that, ‘Anger, frustration and a hunger for revenge are running high among US marines... Commanders are trying to keep the men’s rage in check.’