Resistance in Afghanistan cannot be contained

FRFI 204 August / September 2008

At the beginning of June, British and NATO commanders in Afghanistan claimed that the ‘tipping point’ had been reached in the fight against what they call the Taliban. If true, such a claim amounts to an admission that the resistance had had the upper hand up to that time. However, guerrilla wars, such as that being waged by the Afghanis, do not amount to all-out conflict until one side overpowers the other. It is a war of intermittent surprise and harassment within which a retreat can be as much a positive tactic as an attack.

As if to make the point, just a week later Afghan fighters attacked Kandahar prison with bombs, rocket propelled grenades and machine gun fire, releasing 400 Taliban fighters and 750 other prisoners. On hearing the explosions NATO forces took cover, so that by the time they eventually arrived on the scene the fighters and ex-prisoners had gone. Taliban spokesman Qan Yusef Ahmadi claimed, ‘People are rejoicing and sacrificing sheep. They are welcoming our people into their homes.’ After two days no one had been recaptured and six days later some of the released Taliban fighters were reported to be helping resist an attack by Canadian troops in Arghandab. Christopher Langton, of the International Institute for Strategic Studies, admitted, ‘It (is) no longer possible to claim that the Taliban has been contained; it has freedom of movement around Afghanistan, even though NATO has sent more troops.’

Rising imperialist losses
June was the worst month so far for British casualties with 13 soldiers killed. Altogether 45 members of the NATO forces died, making June the second successive month in which casualties for the occupying forces in Afghanistan were greater than for those in Iraq. Battlefield analysts quoted in The Independent claimed that the chance of surviving a six-month tour of duty in Helmand was considerably less than that in either the Vietnam War or the Malvinas conflict.

In July, Admiral Michael Mullen, chair of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff said: ‘The Taliban and their supporters have…grown more effective and aggressive in recent weeks, as the casualty figures clearly demonstrate’. Attacks on the imperialist forces between January and May were 40% higher than the same period last year. Significantly, many of the attacks were in areas where NATO forces had previously made repeated attempts to clear out resistance fighters. The German publication Der Speigel, quoted on the World Socialist Website, said there were 8,950 attacks on the imperialist and Afghan government forces in 2007, ten times the number in 2004.

Imperialist troops stretched to breaking point
President Bush was forced to admit that June had been ‘a tough month’ and promised to send more troops by 2009. However, Admiral Mullen said: ‘I don’t have troops I can reach for … to send into Afghanistan until I have reduced requirements in Iraq.’ The 2,300 US marine force that had to be sent to Afghanistan in March because other NATO countries refused to increase their commitment will now have its tour of duty extended by at least a month, despite previous denials by US Defence Secretary Robert Gates.

A total of 1.6 million US troops have now served in either Iraq or Afghanistan or both. More than half a million have done more than two tours of duty, of whom 20,000 have done five or more. It has been estimated that $59 billion a year will be needed to compensate injured veterans in 25 years’ time. An average of 18 US military veterans are committing suicide each day, twice the civilian rate.

British forces in Afghanistan have risen from 6,600 to 8,500 in the past couple of years. A recent survey of the armed forces revealed low morale due to low pay, inadequate equipment and long tours of duty. Around half the serving members had considered leaving. The army is already several thousand under strength with a serious shortage of experienced warrant officers. The Ministry of Defence is having talks with private security firms to protect bases in Iraq and Afghanistan in order to relieve fighting troops. In the past two years the Ministry has spent over £75 million on such mercenaries. The Ministry is also investigating the use of new security technologies based on their experiences in the north of Ireland.

Another false dawn
When NATO forces entered Musa Qala last December they claimed it as another indication that they were defeating the Taliban and winning the hearts and minds of the Afghan people. In fact, witnesses at the time said the resistance fighters were not defeated but had simply ‘melted away’, as guerrilla fighters often do. All that had happened was that Mullah Salam, a local Taliban leader, had swapped sides and the occupying forces made him governor of the town. Now, Mullah Salam is under attack from British diplomats in Musa Qala as someone who runs a personal militia of thugs and ‘likes to feather his own nest’, having taxed his own villagers more than a ton of opium. Mullah Salam claims the British are undermining his efforts by releasing people he arrests and under-funding his war chest.

Casualties mount as violence intensifies
According to the UN, more than 8,000 people died as a result of the violence last year, the majority of them Taliban. In the first half of this year there was a 62% rise in civilian deaths compared with the same period last year. Around 700 Afghan civilians have been killed so far this year, more than a third of them by occupying and Afghan government forces. At the beginning of July, 47 people at a wedding celebration were killed by US fighter aircraft near the village of Kacu in Nuristan Province. The bride was among the dead. A further nine people were wounded and ten buried under the rubble. As always, the US initially denied the incident but had to retract following an Afghan government inquiry. A little earlier, 20 civilians had been killed or wounded by a US helicopter missile attack on the Nuristan-Kunar border.

The UN also reported that suicide bombings last year were 69% up on 2006. On 7 July 41 people were killed and another 141 injured in an attack on the Indian Embassy in Kabul. The Afghan government accused foreign intelligence agents of being involved, meaning Pakistan. The Afghan government believes many in the Pakistani government support the Afghan fighters as they supported the previous Taliban government in Afghanistan.

Much of the fighting in recent weeks has focused around Afghanistan’s border with Pakistan. The entire 2,300 strong US Marine Unit sent as reinforcement in March has been leading an offensive in Garmser, one of the main assembly points for fighters coming from Pakistan. Reports say 4,000 families have been forced from their homes following violent house searches. Several civilians have been killed by the imperialist forces. A local spokesman said the US actions were ‘causing further alienation of the population’. Nine US soldiers were killed and 15 wounded in the border region on 13 July.

Growing differences with Pakistan ‘allies’
In Pakistan itself, 11 Pakistani soldiers were killed near the border in an air strike by an unmanned US drone in June. The new Pakistan government had been pursuing peace deals with tribal leaders and resistance fighters in the region, much to the anger of both the US and Afghan governments. Afghan President Hamid Karzai had threatened to send troops into Pakistan. New Pakistani Prime Minister, Yousaf Raza Gillani, reacted angrily saying, ‘We will take a stand for sovereignty, integrity and self-respect and we will not allow our soil to be attacked.’ A Pakistani analyst said the drone attack ‘shows the US does not trust Pakistan with their intelligence, insisting that they will strike instead of letting you strike’. Over 1,000 Pakistani soldiers have been killed in border incidents. According to US commentator Brian Cloughley, there have been some dozen US air strikes in the past four years that have killed Pakistani citizens. The US military has claimed they were all legitimate acts of self-defence.

A report from the US Congress Committee says that: ‘Anti-Americanism is at record levels thanks to US policies such as the war in Iraq and Washington’s perceived hypocrisy… US approval ratings have fallen to record lows across the world since 2002, particularly in Muslim countries and Latin America.’ Despite this Zalmay Khalilzad, US Ambassador to the UN and former Ambassador to Iraq, is considering running for the Afghan presidency next year. The intensified fighting has cast doubt on whether the elections will go ahead.

In 2006 the then Labour Defence Secretary John Reid said, ‘We would be perfectly happy to leave in three years and without firing one shot because our job is to protect the reconstruction.’ This was a calculated deception. British troops are sinking into a mire. Get all British troops out of Afghanistan!


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