Afghanistan: problems mount for imperialists / FRFI 222 Aug / Sep 2011

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Fight Racism! Fight Imperialism! 222 August/September 2011

In June President Obama announced that 5,000 US troops would be withdrawn from Afghanistan this summer and another 5,000 by the end of the year. A further 23,000 troops are expected to return home by September 2012. Obama clearly had his re-election in mind, aware that 65% of people in the US believe the war is no longer worth fighting. However, even this modest withdrawal was opposed by the US military and many in Obama’s administration. They believe the anti-occupation fighters will only negotiate a peace settlement when they have been severely weakened. Around 65,000 US troops will remain in Afghanistan after 2012 – twice the number when Obama took office – together with 100,000 Pentagon paid mercenaries. Britain is to withdraw an even smaller proportion of its 12,500 troops, just 500 by the end of 2012, and France will withdraw 1,000. Jim Craven reports.

The strategy of US commander General Petraeus has been to massively increase air strikes, death squads and night-time raids using special forces. These have resulted in rising numbers of civilians being killed, injured or detained without trial. According to the UN 961 civilians were killed or injured in May, the highest total since records began four years ago. General Petraeus (soon to become CIA director) has planned for two more fighting seasons. The Afghan people are set to suffer another bloody 18 months.

Onslaught fails to stop anti-occupation momentum

Last year, in an attempt to create a positive image of the US/NATO onslaught, Petraeus claimed that in the previous six months over 4,000 Taliban fighters had been captured and 2,000 killed. But now the military has admitted that over 80% of those captured were later released because they had no connection with the Taliban. This admission, of course, begs the question of just how many of those killed were also innocent civilians.

In May, Anders Fogh Rasmussen, NATO secretary-general, claimed that, ‘The Taliban is finding it harder to launch complex attacks.’ But according to figures from the US Department of Defence, attacks by anti-occupation forces between October 2010 and May 2011 increased by 54% and claimed 56% more US troop casualties compared with the same period a year before. Thomas Ruttig, co-director of the Afghanistan Analysts Network pointed out, ‘There is no sign [the Taliban’s] momentum has been stopped.’

A recent report by the International Crisis Group (ICG) said that anti-occupation fighters had established bases in new areas around Kabul and in the east of the country, and were attracting a steady supply of recruits from across the border in Pakistan and from new ethnic groups beyond their Pashtun heartland. The survey found intense opposition among the Afghan people to the occupation, greatly exacerbated by the surge of violence created by the special forces raids and airstrikes. The report also showed the Afghan people’s contempt for the corrupt and ineffective Karzai government. The ICG stated that, while the Afghan people suffered war, repression and mass unemployment, the Afghan economy was ‘increasingly dominated by a criminal oligarchy of politically connected businessmen’ who were gouging out vast fortunes. It warned that, as the time for a settlement approached, these people were trying to merge with the anti-occupation forces. Consequently, the imperialists, seeking to secure their own interests, were likely to cement the suffering and oppression of the Afghan people into the future.

Lies, myths and reality

Despite branding the Taliban as uniformly wicked, in June US Defence Secretary Robert Gates finally admitted that ‘preliminary’ contacts had been made with them. Middle-ranking CIA and State Department officials had met on three occasions between November 2010 and May this year with Tayyeb Agha, a close adviser to Mullah Omar, leader of the Afghan Taliban. The US is insisting that negotiations for a settlement must take place directly with President Karzai. They no doubt believe that an isolated Karzai could not survive without US support and therefore that he would ‘smuggle in’ their plans for a long-term presence in the country on the back of what would appear to be a purely internal Afghan settlement. For their part, the anti-occupation forces believe the US is the fundamental problem and continue to insist that they will not take part in any negotiations until all foreign troops leave the country. The Taliban want to be removed from the UN terrorist blacklist and for talks to take place at a designated Taliban office in Turkey. They want an internationally agreed settlement, not just one with Karzai.

The real aim of the war on Afghanistan is to secure a strategically crucial region against the possibly hostile influence of rival powers such as China, Russia and Iran. The US/British deceit that the war is to prevent Afghanistan becoming a base for terrorism is contradicted by the settlement they are now seeking that would see the return to power (at least in part) of the ‘terrorists’ they supposedly set out to destroy. It would thus appear that over 2,500 coalition troops have been sent to their deaths for no reason. The imperialists, therefore, would have us believe that their onslaught is forcing the Taliban to negotiate, while the truth is just the opposite. Speaking under such a veil of mystification can often prove a strain for someone who, like Admiral Mike Mullen, US Chair of Joint Chiefs of Staff, is not a fully qualified spin doctor. When asked recently what would constitute success in Afghanistan, he could only stutter, ‘We will have a much better fix – in terms of clarity – towards the end of this year in terms of longer term what are the potential outcomes and when those might occur, than we do right now.’

The mounting economic cost of the war (over $100 billion a year for the US alone) is another source of concern among the imperialists. The US’s triple-A credit rating has recently come under scrutiny for the first time since the mid-1990s. Obama admitted, ‘We have spent a trillion dollars on war, at a time of rising debt and hard economic times.’ In fact, a study by Brown University confirmed earlier estimates that the total cost of the wars on Iraq and Afghanistan is likely to be around $4 trillion when long-term veteran costs are included. For some members of the US ruling class, the idea that economic stringency might limit their global aspirations is hard to accept. Robert Gates argued, ‘The most costly thing of all would be to fail’, adding, ‘Frankly, I can’t imagine being part of a [superpower]… that’s being forced to dramatically scale back our engagement with the rest of the world.’

President Karzai, speaking at the funerals of civilians killed in recent US/NATO raids, made some apparently strong criticisms, saying, ‘They [NATO] are here for their own purposes… and they’re using our soil for that. Our demand is that the war should be stopped. This is the voice of Afghanistan. History is witness to how Afghanistan deals with occupiers.’ This rhetoric is no doubt meant to try and convince the anti-occupation forces that a peace agreement can be reached with him in the interests of the Afghan people alone. Karzai is also covering his back by seeking support elsewhere. He and Pakistan’s President Zardari were invited by Iran’s President Ahmedinejad for talks in Tehran in June, which included plans for completing the Iran to Pakistan gas pipeline through Afghanistan. This was followed by the signing of a security co-operation agreement between Afghanistan and Iran. The Iranian Defence Minister Ahmed Vahidi said that Afghanistan was ‘… capable of establishing its security… without the interference of trans-regional forces’.

Afghan security forces unprepared

The imperialists’ plan that the Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF) should take control by the end of 2014 remains riddled with problems. In July, ANSF took over lead responsibility for security in areas covering about a quarter of the population. These are, however, predominantly cities and provinces where the anti-occupation forces are not active. The ANSF is set to rise to 305,000 by the end of this year. President Obama has asked Congress for $12.8 billion to build up the ANSF next year (by comparison, the total GDP of Afghanistan is $17 billion). But a US Defence Department report earlier this year said that not a single unit was capable of acting without support from coalition forces. Ahmad Majidyar of the American Enterprise Institute said, ‘Ethnic and tribal factionalism and weak civilian oversight risk the ANSF’s disintegration if NATO forces leave prematurely.’

The weakness of the ANSF was vividly demonstrated again in July when anti-occupation fighters of the Haqqani network penetrated the supposedly secure Inter-Continental Hotel in Kabul, where Afghan government officials  were discussing the security hand-over. It took several hours of intense fighting to overcome the handful of anti-occupation fighters. The imperialists claimed that ANSF had handled the incident but NATO helicopters were seen attacking the hotel. Other reports claimed that the Afghan police refused to fire on the anti-occupation fighters and that US and New Zealand special forces had to be sent in.

Later that month, President Karzai’s brother, Ahmed Wali Karzai, was killed in his home. Although it is unclear whether the Taliban were responsible, as they claimed, the perception was that Afghan government security was again found wanting. The killing was another major blow for the occupying powers. Ahmed Karzai was a drug trafficker and ruthless autocrat known as the King of Kandahar. But he was in the pay of the CIA and his militias worked alongside US special force death squads. A US official once told the Washington Post, ‘If you take out (Ahmed Wali) Karzai, you don’t have good governance, you have no governance. He’s done very good things for the US. He’s effective.’ After ten years of supposedly building a ‘democratic Afghanistan’, the imperialists still have to rely on corrupt gangsters to enforce their occupation.

US-Pakistan relations worsen

Tensions between Pakistan and the US remain high following the US action to kill Osama Bin Laden. The Pakistan intelligence service (ISI) arrested five people, including a Pakistani army major, for collusion with the raid. The ISI are attempting to control CIA and US military activities in their country. Michael Morrell, deputy director of the CIA, rated co-operation levels with the ISI as just three out of ten. The Pakistani government has also demanded that some of the US and British military trainers leave the country. As a consequence, the US announced in July that it would be cutting military aid to Pakistan. Pakistan sees its links to the Taliban and the Haqqani network as the best way to safeguard its own interests in any eventual settlement and prevent Afghanistan becoming a sphere of influence for India. But the US and Britain have made it clear that they want to freeze Pakistan out of any peace talks.

US plans to continue occupation of Iraq

In June, the new US Defence Secretary Leon Panetta said that he had ‘every confidence’ that the Iraqi government would request tens of thousands of US troops to remain after the present 31 December deadline for withdrawal. By July he was warning the Iraqi government that he wanted a quick decision and threatened unilateral action against attacks from Shia militias that had killed 14 US soldiers in the previous six weeks. Panetta claimed the militias were being armed by Iran. The Iraqi prime minister, Nouri Al Maliki, and most of the Iraqi ruling class are in favour of extending the US occupation, but a new agreement is being delayed by continuing disputes within the Iraqi parliament.

With the fall of Mubarak in Egypt, the US has a greater need than ever to establish a base in Iraq against the influence of Iran and other rival powers in the region. The US wants between 8,500 and 10,000 troops to remain in Iraq. In addition to the military, the US will keep its embassy in Baghdad – the biggest in the world. The US state department expects to have 17,000 personnel, including 5,500 mercenaries, at 15 sites throughout the country, together with an air force of 46 helicopters and planes. Next year’s US budget for Iraq is projected to increase almost threefold.