Afghanistan: imperialists losing the war

FRFI 217 October/November 2010

With the arrival in August of the final contingent of Obama’s ‘surge’, the number of imperialist troops in Afghanistan rose to over 140,000. They are supported by more than 200,000 members of the Afghan national police and army against an estimated 28,000 anti-occupation fighters. But the imperialists are losing the war. JIM CRAVEN reports.

July was the deadliest month so far for US troops in Afghanistan, with 66 soldiers killed. Almost 200 members of the occupying forces were killed during June and July. These included 38 British soldiers. The number of seriously injured soldiers losing limbs in the first six months of 2010 was five times that for the corresponding period of 2009.

Six months after the launch of the attack on Marjah, occupying forces have still to secure the area. The operation had been intended as a quick victory for the imperialists in order to persuade an increasingly sceptical section of the ruling class back home that military successes were possible. In July, British troops tried to clear anti-occupation forces from the town of Sayedabad. The Taliban offered no resistance but simply ‘melted away’ to fight at another place and time of their choosing. The anti-occupation forces are spreading the struggle to new areas and launching more sophisticated guerrilla-style attacks on International Security Assistance Force bases.

On 18 September just 31% of the registered electorate voted in parliamentary elections; 1,053 polling stations did not open because of security risks and 21 civilians plus nine police officers were killed during the voting. Two days later British forces withdrew from Sangin where almost a third of the 337 British soldiers killed in Afghanistan had died. Sangin is the last of the formerly British-controlled towns to be handed over to US forces. Overstretched, the imperialists have had to postpone the planned attack on Kandahar, an attack they consider crucial to the success of the surge.

No end to war

Regardless of these setbacks, there has been a major effort to play down President Obama’s promise to start withdrawing troops by July 2011. General James Conway, commander of the US marines, said the plan was giving ‘sustenance’ to the Taliban, a sentiment repeated by Afghan President Karzai. Conway believed it would be years before US troops could leave Helmand and Kandahar. Commander of the occupying forces, General David Petraeus, has stated on several occasions that his strategy would not be bound by the deadline. However other members of the imperialist coalition have already lost the will to continue the fight. The Dutch contingent of 1,900 troops left in August. Canadian and Polish forces are due to pull out in the next year or so. The US and Britain are trying to force the Taliban to the negotiating table but most other members of the coalition want discussions now, with military tactics shaped by the talks.

The US ruling class is increasingly confused and divided. When Congress passed a $60bn supplementary war funding bill in July, David Obey, who introduced the bill, nevertheless voted against it, saying that the current strategy was ‘a recruiting incentive for those who most want to do us ill’. President Obama’s apparently blinkered approach to the situation was highlighted by Richard Haas, president of the Council on Foreign Relations. Haas pointed out, ‘Obama has had several opportunities to reassess the US goals and interests and in each instance he has chosen to escalate.’

Civilian casualties

In August, the UN reported a 31% increase in civilian casualties this year. Staffan de Mistura, UN chief in Afghanistan, said that women and children were ‘increasingly bearing the brunt of this conflict’. The report stated that large-scale military operations by the occupying forces were ‘deeply unpopular’ because ‘they are believed to result in further insecurity and less protection for the area and its inhabitants’. The UN claimed, however, that there had been a 30% fall in the number of civilian casualties caused by US/NATO forces, mainly due to a 64% reduction in aerial attacks. Only 12% of the total had been the direct result of US/NATO actions, compared with 76% by anti-occupation forces. The UN also reported that the number of assassinations by anti-occupation forces had doubled this year to an average of about 30 per month. The Taliban were concerned enough by the UN figures to call for a joint commission to investigate civilian casualties, involving the UN, the Organisation of the Islamic Conference, NATO and themselves.

Despite the supposedly stricter rules of engagement and reductions in the use of air power, atrocities by the imperialist forces against civilians are still frequently occurring. At the end of July, people in Regey in Helmand were warned by the Taliban to take cover from imminent fighting. The villagers left to seek safety some distance away, only to be attacked by NATO rockets. At least 52 people were killed.

Wikileaks’ Afghan War Diary revealed 76,900 classified documents not previously seen by the public in July. They describe many such incidents as that in Regey over the past six years. A recent BBC documentary, Wounded Platoon, showed how many US troops, through the brutalisation of their training and the stress of war, come to view the Afghan people as a non-human undifferentiated mass: ‘They aren’t like us,’ ‘They’re all guilty,’ ‘We just get gun-happy and shoot at any male,’ were among the soldiers’ reactions. More than 300,000 US soldiers who have served in Iraq or Afghanistan are believed to be suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder. In the past few years more US troops and veterans have committed suicide than have been killed in Afghanistan.

The Wikileaks documents detail 21 incidents in which British troops fired on civilians. They killed 26 people (including 16 children) and wounded another 20. The Ministry of Defence announced it would urgently investigate the events. Of course, the fact that they had not already investigated incidents reported in the imperialists’ own intelligence documents suggests they were hoping to maintain a cover-up; their usual reaction to such events. When US forces dropped six 2,000lb guided bombs on a village celebration, killing up to 300 civilians, they claimed they had struck a Taliban conference and that 150 Taliban fighters had been killed. Such systematic deceit is, perhaps, the most telling feature confirmed by the Wikileaks documents and must throw doubt on any claims by the imperialists concerning civilian casualties.


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