Afghanistan: more imperialist atrocities

Fight Racism! Fight Imperialism 226 April/May 2012

On 11 March, 16 Afghan civilians were massacred in a pre-planned attack by a US sergeant. Two families, including nine children, were shot in their own homes and the bodies set on fire by the gunman before he calmly returned to base. In recent months, in addition to the ongoing slaughter of civilians and the torture of prisoners, we have seen evidence of the mutilation of Afghan corpses by US soldiers to take body parts as ‘trophies’, US marines urinating on their victims and taking videos of their celebration and the sporting of Nazi SS banners by a US sniper unit. Such behaviour is not exceptional. It is the norm for every colonialist war, where the inherent racism of imperialism leads the invading troops to consider the local population as inferior, even less than human, beings and where the contradiction between their assumed invincibility and the reality on the ground results in pathological acts of revenge. JIM CRAVEN reports.

British troops are currently on trial for abusing Afghan children. In 2011 a hungover British soldier stabbed a ten-year old in the kidneys for no reason. US Wikileaks records 21 separate incidents when British soldiers shot dead or bombed Afghan civilians.

The murders in Kandahar took place days after copies of the Koran were burned by US soldiers. Subsequent protests that raged throughout the country signified more than the Afghan people’s outrage at the desecration of their Holy Book. They expressed the seething hostility felt by most Afghan people to the occupation of their country and the humiliations they are forced to endure. Mohammed Anwar, an officer in the Afghan National Police (ANP), told reporters: ‘I will take revenge for the infidels for what they did to our Holy Koran, and I will kill them whenever I get the chance. I don’t care about the job I have.’

A US colonel and major were shot dead by an Afghan soldier in the supposedly secure command complex of the Interior Ministry after they had mocked the burning of the Koran. Two more US soldiers were killed by another Afghan soldier serving with ISAF and another two when an Afghan soldier and a teacher opened fire at a base in south Afghanistan. Such killings are labelled as ‘isolated incidents’ by ISAF, but at least 76 US/NATO troops have been killed by members of the Afghan police and army since 2007 (36 of them in the past year), indicating not only the ease with which anti-occupation supporters can infiltrate Afghan security forces but also the depth of antagonism among those forces. A recent investigation in three eastern provinces found that more than a third of Afghan soldiers had had serious altercations with the US troops leading them. Most telling of all was that during the demonstrations all US/NATO advisers working in Afghan ministries were withdrawn for fear that reprisals were likely to take place anywhere and at any time.

Losing the will to fight

In February, Secretary of Defence Leon Panetta announced that US forces would begin the switch from combat to a training role in mid-2013, a year earlier than expected. The will to continue fighting a lost war is disintegrating among the coalition nations. Following the shooting of four French soldiers by an Afghan soldier in January, France announced it would be pulling out its forces a year earlier than planned. Britain has a fixed timetable for withdrawal by 2014, regardless of requirements on the ground, and will leave earlier if possible. The US has growing concerns elsewhere – in Iran, Syria, Somalia and Yemen – and in curtailing the growing influence of China in the Pacific.

This is not to say that the imperialists are set to abandon Afghanistan. They cannot afford to. It is a vital link in US strategy to maintain global hegemony. Even after the remainder of the ‘surge’ forces are withdrawn this September, the US will still have 68,000 troops in the country and it wants to sign a strategic partnership agreement with the Afghan government that will allow up to 20,000 mainly special operation forces to remain long after 2014. The dilemma facing the imperialists is that the plan to train an Afghan force to take over security has been riddled with problems of desertion, incompetence, ethnic sectarianism and corruption. One Afghan general said the earlier timetable was a ‘disaster’ for Afghanistan, underlining the lack of preparedness of the Afghan forces. One alternative will be for the US to concentrate on training an elite Afghan strike force ostensibly to lead operations, while in reality under the command of US special forces.

The occupying forces have come to rely increasingly on special force operations: what one US central command official called ‘the last offensive tactic we will have available’. These night raids provoke massive hostility among the Afghan people. Not only are innocent civilians killed and arrested and homes destroyed, but the raids violate the customs of the Afghan people. As Haji-Niaz Akka explained, ‘It’s better to be killed than to be searched at night while sleeping with one’s wife and kids. This is absolutely unacceptable.’

Karzai clings on

Even the corrupt President Karzai demands an end to night time raids, or at least bringing them under Afghan control, before he signs up to the strategic agreement. But Karzai cannot survive without US support. He is already under pressure to relent before the NATO summit in Chicago in May when long-term assistance for Afghanistan will be considered. Karzai’s main hope of influence is to play a key role in peace negotiations. In an attempt to curry favour with the Taliban, Karzai recently posted on his website a statement from the Halema (religious) Council that read, ‘Men are fundamental and women secondary. Men and women should not mix in work or education and women must have a male guardian when travelling.’ The Afghan constitution is supposed to uphold women’s rights but Karzai, along with most other Afghan warlords, ignores it. Remember that some in the Labour Party, like Cherie Blair, and Guardian journalist Polly Toynbee, used the issue of women’s rights in Afghanistan to justify the war.

In February, Karzai called on Pakistan to facilitate negotiations with the Taliban. Pakistan replied that it was ‘preposterous’ to suggest they could do so. However, the Pakistan military and intelligence service have close links with the Taliban and other sections of the anti-occupation forces. One commander quoted in The Independent on Sunday said, ‘Pakistan knows everything. They control everything. I can’t piss on a tree in Kunar without them watching’. Pakistan’s High Commissioner to Britain, Wajid Hasan, told the British government that relations with the US were at their lowest ebb. He warned Britain to stop US ‘drone wars’ slaughtering hundreds of civilians or else Pakistan ‘has the means to retaliate’. Pakistan will use its connections with the anti-occupation forces to ensure its own interests – using Afghanistan as a rearguard against Indian encroachment – are safeguarded in any peace settlement.

Lies for public consumption

The imperialist propaganda machine in the US and Britain would have us believe that the anti-occupation forces are being forced into a weak position ready for peace negotiations. A report by US Lt-Colonel Daniel Davis, however, said that Taliban strength is undiminished. Davis, a veteran of two tours of duty in Afghanistan, travelled 9,000 miles throughout the country in 2011, interviewing US/NATO troops, Afghan security forces and civilians. He concluded, ‘What I saw bore no resemblance to the rosy official statements by US military leaders about conditions on the ground.’ Davis said, ‘I witnessed the absence of success on virtually every level’ and was told stories of ‘how insurgents controlled virtually every piece of land beyond eyeshot of US or ISAF bases.’ Davis also observed Afghan security forces co-operating with anti-occupation fighters. One member of the ANP told him, ‘No, we don’t go after them. That would be dangerous.’

In January 2011 the Afghan NGO office warned all its field workers not to base their plans on ISAF public statements. ‘These messages’, it said, ‘are sharply divergent from ISAF strategic communications. [They] are solely intended to influence American and European public opinion ahead of the withdrawal and are not intended to offer an accurate portrayal of the situation for those who live and work here’.

A recent NATO report based on interrogations of 27,000 insurgent and civilian prisoners admitted that the anti-occupation forces remained in confident mood and that ‘Afghan civilians frequently prefer Taliban governance over the Afghan government, usually as a result of government corruption, ethnic bias and lack of connections with local religious and tribal leaders’. This made for ready recruitment to the Taliban forces.

More imperialist wars?

This March British forces suffered their biggest loss of life in a single attack since the war began when six soldiers died in an explosion. This brought the number of British troops killed to 404. More than 5,000 have been injured. 3,000 of these are long-term injuries, including 300 amputations. These young men and women are feted as heroes, fighting to protect Britain from terrorism. In reality they are giving their lives to defend the foreign interests of the rich and powerful. The parliamentary committee on national security recently called for an overarching strategy to maintain Britain’s influence in the face of rising global powers. The Labour Party has launched a defence review to, in the words of Shadow Defence Secretary Jim Murphy, ‘examine the drivers of global change’ in order to ‘retain an interventionist defence posture’. Prime Minister Cameron may be keen to extricate British forces from a costly defeat in Afghanistan but it will not be the end of Britain’s imperialist adventures, whichever party is in power.

DEFEND Azhar Ahmed

Demonstrating yet again just how little ‘free speech’ there is in Britain, the Yorkshire police arrested and charged 19-year-old Azhar Ahmed with a ‘racially-aggravated public order offence’ after he posted on Facebook following the deaths of six British soldiers in Afghanistan on 6 March. Azhar’s post attacked the killing of innocent people and included the words ‘All soldiers should DIE & go to HELL!’. When Azhar appeared in court on 20 March, the racially-aggravated charge was dropped and replaced by one under the Communications Act 2003, the same law which has been used to imprison four young men who posted on Facebook about the August 2011 riots. Azhar will stand trial at Huddersfield Magistrates’ Court on 3 July. Meanwhile, serving officers and others, who have posted flagrantly racially abusive comments about Azhar in response to his post, have been allowed to continue with impunity.


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