Afghanistan - Imperialist strategy failing / FRFI 220 April/May 2011

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Fight Racism! Fight Imperialism! 220 April/May 2011

Afghanistan - Imperialist strategy failing

Government propaganda would have us believe that the US surge is turning the tide against anti-occupation fighters in Afghanistan. In reality, problems continue to mount for the imperialists and sections of their ruling classes no longer believe the strategy will bring about the political settlement they were promised. Faheen Haider of the US Foreign Policy Association reported, ‘The situation on the ground in Afghanistan is far worse than we have been led to believe; indeed, the situation is far worse than even our worst assessments for the coming three years might suggest.’ The British Foreign Affairs Select Committee recently stated, ‘We question the fundamental assumption that success in Afghanistan can be “bought” through a strategy of “clear, hold and build”. We question the Government’s logic that a full-scale counter-insurgency campaign against the Taliban is necessary to prevent Al Qaida returning or that it could ever succeed.’ The report also emphasised that the rise in civilian casualties since the start of the surge has caused ‘heightened instability and suspicion’. JIM CRAVEN reports.

The imperialists’ justification for the war – that it is necessary to prevent the Taliban sponsoring Al Qaida and terrorist attacks on the West – has been further discredited by a report from the Centre on International Co-operation at New York University. It says that Mullah Omar, leader of the Afghan Taliban, opposed Bin Laden’s plotting against the US and that it was Pakistan that encouraged the Taliban not to give in to US pressure regarding Bin Laden because Pakistan hoped resistance to the US invasion would continue. In November 2002 the Taliban offered reconciliation with the new Afghan government and to join the political process, but were dismissed by Karzai and the US because they considered the Taliban a spent force. Wakil Muttawakil, the Taliban intermediary, was arrested and imprisoned. Taliban representatives nevertheless continued trying to open talks and went to Kabul in 2003 and 2004. The report also confirmed, as previously reported in FRFI, that in 2009 the Taliban leadership stated, ‘[We have] no agenda of meddling in the internal affairs of other countries and are ready to give legal guarantees if foreign forces withdraw from Afghanistan.’

Occupying forces under pressure

British armed forces, already under severe pressure, are to be squeezed still further. Trainee pilots are being cut, 11,000 soldiers are to be made redundant and others are to lose allowances and bonuses from April. A soldier serving in Afghanistan wrote: ‘Would you carry on fighting for the same government that just e-mailed you your notice while you’re still in Afghanistan?’ He went on to describe the situation: ‘The troops here can’t patrol any further than three kilometres without coming under attack. IEDs are getting more sophisticated. This is a winter tour, supposedly a quieter time. I dread to think how bad the summer tour will be.’

Under General Petraeus’s command US forces have adopted increasingly aggressive tactics. On 1 March nine Afghan children were killed by NATO helicopters while gathering firewood. This was no ‘heat of the battle blunder’. Reports say the children were picked off one by one. On 17 February, NATO ground and air strikes killed 64 civilians in the Ghazi Abad district of Kunar province. 29 children and young adults were among the dead.

An ITV documentary in February showed US troops in Sangin forcing people from their homes and then destroying them, simply to provide lines of sight or access for vehicles. The British soldier quoted above said, ‘From what I’ve heard it’s [Sangin] pretty much been levelled. US A10 support planes are doing strafing runs nearly every hour. It seems the Americans are happy to level everything to show some kind of victory.’ People in Sangin told The Independent, ‘The situation has got worse...a lot of civilians have lost their family members and homes in Sangin. They don’t trust the government and marines, who always promise but never deliver.’

Special force operations, responsible for assassinations and night-time raids on homes, are to be increased still further. At a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing on 15 March, Petraeus reported that such operations had killed or captured almost 1,500 targeted insurgent leaders in the past year. He claimed that ‘the momentum achieved by the Taliban since 2005 has been arrested in much of the country and reversed in a number of important areas’. He admitted, however, that any gains were ‘fragile and reversible’. At the same hearing General Ronald Burgess, head of the Defence Intelligence Agency, contradicted Petraeus’s assessment, saying, ‘The Taliban in the south has shown resilience and still influences much of the population, particularly outside urban areas... [there has been] no apparent degradation in their capacity to fight’. The British Foreign Affairs Select Committee also concluded, ‘the security situation across Afghanistan as a whole is deteriorating’. A British Foreign Office report warned, ‘In spring 2011 we expect levels of insurgent activity to rise again and we must be prepared to meet this threat.’ Attempts to sign up ex-Taliban fighters to a peace and reconciliation programme resulted in just 645 recruits by the end of 2010 and many of these have since returned to the anti-occupation struggle.

Token withdrawal

Although President Obama promised to begin repatriating US troops this July, there will be no significant withdrawal. The Pentagon’s proposal for the next financial year is for 98,000 US troops to remain together with 50,000 from other countries. Afghan forces are supposed to take over lead responsibility for security in 2014. The army and police forces have doubled to 266,000 in the last two years but they are riddled by corruption, with many recruits of poor quality and high rates of defection. A report by the US Special Inspector-General for Afghan Reconstruction (Sigar) found that around 27,000 Afghan soldiers (a third of the total) were not present for duty at any one time and that only around 2% of the police force was literate. The imperialists are planning a long-term occupation. Petraeus told the Armed Services Committee that the US would maintain large-scale garrisons in the country for years to come and that they were ‘beginning to look beyond 2014... [for an] enduring commitment to Afghanistan’. Robert Gates, speaking at NATO HQ, demanded that European countries commit to a protracted fight and there must be ‘no ill-timed precipitous or uncoordinated withdrawals’.

Relations between the US and Pakistan deteriorated further in January when a US consular official, Raymond Davis, was arrested after shooting dead two local people whom Davis claimed were trying to rob him. The US argued diplomatic immunity and demanded Davis’s release but the Pakistan courts ruled the issue was for them to decide. Thousands of people demonstrated against the US in Lahore and other cities. In the stand-off, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton cancelled meetings with the Pakistan government. Talks were later held between Leon Panetta, head of the CIA, and General Ahmed Shuja, head of Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI). Real power in Pakistan lies with the army and the ISI, many of whom regard Afghanistan as a strategic rearguard against India and the Afghan Taliban as allies. Tariq Fatami, a former Pakistan diplomat, said, ‘The Americans can simply not succeed without a partnership with the ISI.’ But the chair of the US Senate Intelligence Committee admitted that relationships with the ISI were ‘something less than whole-hearted’.

Rampant corruption

In February, Afghan businessmen and politicians were accused of plundering $900 million from Kabul Bank. The bank had previously been praised as a leading symbol of modern capitalism in the country. Among those being investigated are some of President Karzai’s closest advisers and cabinet members, including Haneef Atmar, the former interior minister, who is accused of receiving $3 million a month. Khalil Ferozi, a former chief executive of the Bank, has bragged that members of the government were on his payroll. Faheen Haider said, ‘Rampant and endemic corruption... has made Afghanistan a personal fiefdom for a handful of warlords and kingmakers.’ A local observer said, ‘They don’t believe Afghanistan has a future – they have the money to get out but it’s the poor’s life-savings that are funding them.’ Former bank chair Sherkhan Farnood has been called in to investigate. Farnood himself is accused of embezzling $98 million.