Imperialists struggle to avoid defeat in Afghanistan

Fight Racism! Fight Imperialism! 231 February-March 2013

Visiting Afghanistan before Christmas, British Prime Minister David Cameron claimed ‘The Afghan army is doing better than we expected, and that is why we are able to bring home so many troops.’ Despite his confidence, there was a security news blackout on his trip to Camp Bastion, where a few months earlier members of the anti-occupation forces had killed two US marines and set fire to Harrier jets. Days before Cameron’s visit, the government announced that some British troops will withdraw from Afghanistan earlier than previously planned. Around 4,000 will return home by October this year, leaving about 5,000, who are due to return before the end of 2014. British military ‘trainers’ and special forces will remain after this date. Clearly, there has been disagreement between the government and the military over the withdrawal. With the war costing £4bn a year at a time of financial crisis, Cameron and the Treasury wanted an even faster withdrawal. But only six months ago the military wanted to ‘hold on to everything for as long as we can’. The decisive factor was the number of British troops being killed by the very Afghan forces that Cameron was praising. JIM CRAVEN reports.

In 2012, 14 out of the 42 members of the British forces killed, died at the hands of Afghan security forces. A further 47 members of International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) were also killed in such ‘green on blue’ incidents. The situation has become so critical that occupying forces have been ordered to carry loaded weapons at all times and those training Afghan forces are accompanied by armed guards. In recent months over 400 members of the Afghan army and police have been arrested for suspected links to the Taliban. 500 counter-intelligence officers have been embedded in the Afghan security forces to try and identify others. The entire police force is to be re-vetted.

False optimism

Whatever false optimism Cameron parades in public, the reality is, as a Pentagon report pointed out last year, only one of the 23 combat brigades in the Afghan National Army (ANA) is capable of operating without the support of the occupying forces. The state of the Afghan National Police (ANP) is even worse. In October, Foreign Office papers reported, ‘The ANP is viewed negatively by the population, with multiple reports of illegal taxation, extortion and other serious crimes.’ They concluded, ‘Unless radical change is introduced to improve the...integrity and legitimacy of officers...then the organisation will continue to provide an ineffective and tainted service to citizens...for decades to come.’

In December, US commanders claimed to have made ‘astounding’ gains around Kandahar and that the Taliban had failed to regain lost ground. Even if true, this ignores the obvious fact that anti-occupation forces, realising that the bulk of US/NATO forces will be withdrawing within the next two years, will not be taking unnecessary risks now. At the same time, the tactics being used by the imperialist forces create new recruits for the anti-occupation forces. Neil Shea, a journalist embedded with US troops involved in night raids, has written, ‘They were men who enjoyed demolishing Afghan houses; men who shot dogs in the face. They tornadoed through houses and left such destruction that their ANA allies at first tried to stop them, then grew angry and sullen.’ A US veteran of the raids, Graham Clumpfner, said, ‘Even if there wasn’t a terrorist before, there was when we left. We were radicalising the entire population just by our presence.’ The Pentagon report admitted, ‘The insurgency has retained its capability to carry out attacks at roughly the same level as last year. Despite the tactical progress of ANSF-ISAF joint operations, the insurgency remains adaptable, with a regenerative capacity.’

Desperate for peace talks

Russia’s chief diplomat in Afghanistan, Andrey Avetisyan, told The Guardian that it is an open secret that US/NATO wants the Afghan forces to hold out for at least three years in order to avoid their war being labelled a defeat. Three years is the time the Najibullah government survived after the withdrawal of Soviet troops in the 1980s. Given the present state of the Afghan national forces, however, no-one believes they can survive without some sort of negotiated settlement. When talks began last year, the US reneged on an understanding to release Taliban prisoners from Guantanamo, causing the anti-occupation negotiators to walk out. Afghan President Karzai is now seeking the help of Pakistan to get negotiations under way. In recent months, relations between the two countries have eased. Now that it sees the possibility of furthering its own interests, the Pakistani government has released several Taliban leaders previously imprisoned for (from Pakistan’s point of view) prematurely pursuing peace talks. In December, exploratory discussions facilitated by Pakistan began in Paris between Afghan officials and some Taliban leaders. However, Pakistan has still not released Mullah Abdul Baradar, the Afghan Taliban’s second in command, regarded as crucial to any meaningful negotiations.

At present, the Taliban says it will not negotiate a settlement if Afghan President Karzai makes any deal with the US that allows a single member of foreign forces to remain in the country. But Karzai knows that his corrupt regime would be overrun by the anti-occupation forces if the US left. In any case, the US has no intention of leaving completely. In January 2013, Karzai met President Obama to discuss a Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA). Rangin Spanta, an Afghan national security adviser, said the Karzai government would provide bases for foreign troops and allow drone flights from Afghanistan to attack Taliban and Al Qaeda targets in Pakistan. The US is already building a base – Camp Integrity – on a 10-acre site outside Kabul, which will have a fortified armoury and a training centre for 7,000 elite troops, including special forces. It is being built by the Academi company, formerly called Blackwater, a company responsible for the murder of civilians in Iraq.

In announcing the troop withdrawals, British Defence Secretary Philip Hammond claimed, ‘It’s a far better place than when we came in 2001 – the economy has grown, there are more children in school and there are more health services available.’ What he failed to mention was that the indices of all these activities were growing steadily during the communist government of the 1980s but plummeted when that government was overthrown by the Taliban and northern warlords, equipped and supported by the US and its allies. Nor did he mention the thousands of Afghan people killed or the millions who have lost their homes because of the invasion; nor the 24 million Afghans who have no access to clean drinking water, the more than one million children suffering acute malnutrition or the 50,000 children who die each year from diarrhoeal diseases – all of whose lives could have been transformed by just a fraction of the $500 billion spent on the war or the $100 billion of ‘aid’ squandered by the corrupt bunch of gangsters Hammond and his like keep in power.


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