Afghanistan and Pakistan – drones and the new doctrines of war

Fight Racism! Fight Imperialism 228 August/September 2012

When US air strikes killed 24 Pakistani soldiers in November 2011, the Pakistan government closed US/NATO supply routes into southern Afghanistan, demanding an apology for the massacre and an end to drone raids. The attacks continued relentlessly. In two weeks alone around the beginning of June 2012, eight drone strikes killed at least 56 people. More than 3,000 people have been killed by drones in Pakistan, including at least 175 children. Pakistan’s ambassador to the UN, Zamir Akram, called for international action to halt the raids. China and Russia condemned the attacks at the UN Human Rights Council. On 4 July, after intense pressure from the US, the Pakistan government re-opened the supply routes. Just two days later, up to 24 people were killed in another US attack on Pakistan. JIM CRAVEN reports.

 

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Afghanistan agreement – death squads to continue / FRFI 227 June/July 2012

Fight Racism! Fight Imperialism! 227 June/July 2012

The Enduring Strategic Partnership (ESP) agreement between the US and Afghanistan was signed by Presidents Obama and Karzai in May. In the days that followed, dozens of Afghan civilians were killed by US air strikes. In the Fatih Mohammed Pech area of Sangin, a mother and her five children were killed when their home was bombed. In Nawboor village in Baghdis province, US helicopters killed 15 civilians, including children. There were more casualties in Logar and Kapisa provinces east of Kabul. President Karzai, compelled to token protest, exclaimed: ‘If the lives of Afghans are not safe then the strategic partnership loses its meaning.’ JIM CRAVEN reports.

The ESP agreement had been paraded as an important stage in the hand-over of security responsibility to Afghan national forces and the end of US night-time raids. In fact, it was neither. Aiming to kill or capture anti-occupation fighters, night raids by US/NATO special forces terrorise the local population, destroying homes and killing civilians. Contrary to international law, entire villages are held for questioning for prolonged periods and thousands of people have been detained without charge.

The night raids are a major cause of opposition to the occupation amongst the Afghan people. President Karzai had to appear to insist that they were brought under Afghan control before he would sign the ESP agreement. US Central Command totally rejected Karzai’s demands but the US administration wanted to sign a deal before the NATO summit in May in order to bolster long-term support from the wavering Europeans. At the same time, the number in the US who want troops to be removed as soon as possible has risen from less than half to almost two-thirds of the population. In this election year, President Obama hoped to maintain the illusion that the war is coming to an end without making any commitment to leaving. Answering his rhetorical question, ‘Why don’t we leave immediately?’, Obama told the US people, ‘We must give Afghanistan the opportunity to stabilise’!

It was against this background of contradictory priorities and lies that the ESP agreement was cobbled together. According to the Memorandum of Understanding that accompanied the agreement, special force raids, led ostensibly by Afghan troops, will have to be sanctioned by the Afghan Operational Co-ordination Group. But this is already the case. The most important raids, those led by or consisting entirely of US/NATO special forces or CIA militias, are not covered by the memorandum. They will continue without any Afghan veto. As US Captain John Kirby commented, ‘In practical terms, not much has changed’.

US will stay in Afghanistan

Furthermore, the ESP agreement says nothing about the number of US troops to remain after 2014 and what their role will be. These will be part of a ‘Bilateral Security Agreement’ to be concluded within the next year. This is likely to be after Obama’s re-election is safely complete because any such agreement will allow for thousands of US troops to remain in Afghanistan until at least 2024. US combat operations are supposed to end in 2013 and the remaining troops to concentrate on training Afghan forces, but the agreement will undoubtedly allow US forces or their CIA counterparts to act against Al Qaeda or other generalised ‘terrorist threats’ that, in effect, will give them freedom to undertake whatever military operations they wish.

Nor is the plan to transfer responsibility for security to Afghan forces genuinely feasible. It may happen on paper, but on the ground US forces will remain in command for a long time to come and US bases will be transferred to the Afghans in name only. The Afghan army and police are riddled by drug-running and corruption and infiltrated by anti-occupation fighters. So-called ‘blue on green’ attacks, where members of the Afghan police or army attack US/NATO forces, have accounted for 80 deaths and over 100 injuries since 2007. Three quarters of the killings have taken place in the last two years and 22 of those this year. A dozen of the 414 British military deaths in Afghanistan result from ‘blue on green’ attacks. Annual desertion rates among Afghan forces are around 20%. In order to cut costs, a meeting of International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) countries in April 2012 discussed slashing the proposed size of the Afghan forces from 352,000 to 230,000. Swedish foreign minister Carl Bildt had earlier pointed out the dangers of such cuts: ‘We will have given 100,000 people training and a gun and then made them unemployed.’

The occupying powers are planning, however, to increase the number of Afghan ‘local police’ from 10,000 to 30,000. These forces were created by the imperialists, supposedly to give local people a role in defending their neighbourhood from insurgents. In reality, most of them have become the personal militia of local warlords, accused by human rights groups of threatening the local population and carrying out extra-judicial killings.

Military action overrules negotiations

The US military insists it must weaken the anti-occupation forces before meaningful peace negotiations take place. The present US stance – not so much a negotiating position as an ultimatum – is that the anti-occupation forces must cut all ties with Al Qaeda, recognise the Afghan constitution, lay down their arms and accede to the US military presence until at least 2024. In fact, in late 2007, the Taliban offered to cut ties to Al Qaeda, form a government of national unity until the constitution could be rewritten and elections held and to accept a timetable for foreign troop withdrawal instead of the immediate withdrawal it had previously insisted upon. The offer was ignored by Presidents Bush and Obama. The Taliban’s first confidence building proposal in the recent discussions – that five prisoners should be released from the US prison at Guantanamo in return for concessions on the Taliban’s part – was also rejected. In March, the Taliban withdrew from the peace talks saying the US was being ‘shaky, erratic and vague’. They were followed by other sections of the anti-occupation forces.

General John Allen, US commander of ISAF, recently claimed that the Taliban was in retreat, its leadership in Pakistan divided and dispirited and its foot soldiers deserting in large numbers. These assertions were contradicted by two US politicians returning from Afghanistan. Democratic Senator Dianne Feinstein, chair of the Senate intelligence committee, said ‘what we found is the Taliban is stronger. The Taliban has a shadow system of governors in many provinces. They’ve gone up north. They’ve gone to the east. Attacks are up’. While Republican Mike Rogers, chair of the House intelligence committee, spoke of ‘the growing strength of the Taliban’ being ‘a huge problem’.

In mid-April, anti-occupation fighters attacked military bases, embassies and Afghan parliament buildings in three areas of Kabul, and simultaneously targets in the capital cities of the eastern provinces of Nangarhar, Logar and Paktia. Professor Mohammed Isaqzadeh of the American University in Kabul said, ‘We have never had such a co-ordinated attack.’ One British journalist described it as ‘the most ambitious insurgent assault of its kind since the US intervention in 2001’. Two weeks later, while President Obama was visiting Kabul, anti-occupation fighters attacked ‘The Green Village’ in the east of the city, where foreign mercenaries and contractors are housed. Announcing the raid as the start of its spring offensive, the Taliban said it would target the foreign military, Afghan government officials and members of the High Peace Council.

Threats of more war in Asia

In March, it was announced that no charges would be brought against any US serviceman over the NATO air strike that killed 24 Pakistani soldiers in November 2011. The Financial Times reported Pakistan as being in the grip of ‘hysterical anti-Americanism’. Since President Obama came to office, there have been over 260 strikes in Pakistan by Predator and Reaper drones. In January, Obama claimed ‘drones have not caused a huge number of civilian casualties’ – as though even the ‘several dozen’ killings admitted by US officials weren’t important. Many hundreds of civilian deaths have been credibly reported and the actual total is probably higher still. Commenting on the futility of the raids as a means of eradicating what the US labels ‘terrorist groups’, a top Pakistan government official said, ‘The number three in Al Qaeda has been killed at least five times but there is always a new number three. It is the mentality that gives rise to Al Qaeda that you need to defeat.’

Relations between Pakistan and the US are now at such a low that Pakistan fears the US wants to seize its nuclear weapons and so has started to increase production and distribute them around the country. In April, Pakistan tested an intermediate-range missile capable of reaching all parts of India. A week earlier India had tested a similar missile. India is closely allied with the US in its strategy to contain China. The US allowed India to purchase nuclear materials contrary to the non-proliferation treaty. President Obama also reneged on a promise made to Pakistan that he would tackle the long-term dispute between Pakistan and India over Kashmir. India is the only country in the region not to condemn the US night raids in Afghanistan. Nor has India joined with Iran, Russia, China and Pakistan in opposing the long-term presence of US troops there. Imperialist intervention is raising the threat of wider regional conflict. This year, for the first time, arms spending in Asia will exceed that of Europe.

 

Afghanistan: more imperialist atrocities /FRFI 226 Apr/May 2012

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.

 

Afghanistan – failing imperialists try to divide opposition/FRFI 225 Feb/Mar 2012

Fight Racism! Fight Imperialism! 225 February/March 2012

Despite escalating brutality from night time raids by special forces, drone attacks and assaults by helicopter gunships, US/NATO forces are failing to blunt anti-occupation forces in Afghanistan and to force the Pakistan military to take action against their bases over the border.

Security incidents reached record levels in 2011, up 39% on the previous year, to a monthly average of 2,108. The Institute for Strategic Studies said that the fighting had spread to the east of the country while occupation forces were concentrating on the south and that plans for a major withdrawal of US troops by 2014 were not on track. A secret report by the US military called for an extra 2,000 US and British troops to be sent. ISAF commander General John Allen said a fast pull-out would create difficulties holding ground won from the insurgents. He pointed out that, even with accelerated training, Afghan security forces would not be ready to take over by 2014. US ambassador to Afghanistan Ryan Crocker admitted that the 2014 deadline may not be met and that the US would not ‘walk away’ from Afghanistan. He said a joint security pact in the early stages of negotiation would ‘lay out the framework for strategic partnership well beyond 2014 on a wide range of areas – the economy, education as well as security’ and that ‘major weapons systems’ would be delivered after 2014. The British government, in the mire of the capitalist economic crisis, is keen to end British military involvement as soon as possible. In December, the National Security Council met to discuss a pull-out and some ministers argued for the withdrawal of half of Britain’s 9,500 troops by mid-2013.

Pakistan military resists US

The Pakistan government described the murder of 24 Pakistani soldiers by US forces in November 2011 as ‘a blatant act of aggression’. It retaliated by closing two border crossings through which the US military transfers around a third of its supplies into Afghanistan. Pakistan also gave notice for US forces to vacate the Shamsi drone base in Baluchistan within two weeks and threatened to ban US ships carrying war materials from docking at Pakistani ports. The Pakistan government then withdrew from an international conference on Afghanistan held in Bonn at the beginning of December. There were big anti-US demonstrations in several towns and cities. Predator drone attacks on Pakistan, suspended following the incident, resumed in January.

The impetus in Pakistan is with those sections of the Pakistan military and intelligence service (ISI) that back the Taliban as a means of achieving influence in Afghanistan and preventing Indian encroachment. Reports in December suggested that Pakistan’s President Zardari was being sidelined. Husain Haqqani, Pakistan’s ambassador to the US, was forced to resign after secret communications with the US came to light in which he asked for US help against the military and promised in return to disband the ISI and the Haqqani network (a non-Taliban anti-occupation force with close links to ISI) and carry out US instructions. General Kayani, head of the Pakistan army, and Lt-General Shuja Pasha, head of ISI, called for a judicial inquiry into Haqqani’s possibly treasonable activities. Haqqani had to seek protection in the Prime Minister’s residence.

US manoeuvres for talks

In January, the Taliban announced it was opening a political office in Doha, Qatar’s capital, from which negotiations for a settlement might take place. The idea had been floated at the December conference in Bonn. As part of this agreement the Taliban is demanding the release of key commanders. At least five are known to be held in Guantanamo. US Vice-President Joe Biden told Newsweek the Taliban ‘per se is not our enemy’. After years of demonising the Taliban and anyone the imperialists considered associated with them, it is difficult to imagine a more hypocritical statement. Having failed in their military assault, the imperialists are using divisions among the anti-occupation forces and sidelining both Afghan President Karzai and Pakistan in pursuing a settlement that suits their own interests. The Afghan Taliban recently issued a plea for various anti-occupation groups based in Pakistan to put aside internal differences and unite behind it. The official Taliban position is that it will not negotiate a settlement until all foreign forces have left the country. The Haqqani network continues to reject any peace negotiations. Qatar’s offer is significant because it is the US’s staunchest ally in the region, having a US airbase, assisting in the invasion of Libya and now calling for foreign intervention in Syria.

President Karzai had wanted the Taliban office to be in Saudi Arabia or Turkey. As head of a corrupt and highly unpopular government, Karzai knows his position (indeed his life) will be under threat after any settlement. Since he cannot stand for a third term as president, he is trying to secure his hold on power by becoming Prime Minister and reducing the presidential role to a figurehead. He is also trying to belie his image as a US puppet by refusing to sign a new strategic partnership agreement until NATO ends the night raids that have killed so many Afghan civilians and, most recently, by demanding that all detention centres run by occupation forces should be turned over to Afghan national control.

Jim Craven

 

War in Afghanistan threatens whole region / FRFI 224 Decr 2011/Jan 2012

Fight Racism! Fight Imperialism! 224 December 2011/January 2012

It is ten years since imperialist forces invaded Afghanistan. As they struggle to extricate themselves from the jaws of defeat, they threaten to engulf the whole region in war. In September, Admiral Mike Mullen, former chair of US Joint Chiefs of Staff, threatened unilateral action in Pakistan, implying attacks on intelligence and military bases. Pakistan’s General Athar Abbas warned such action would have ‘grave consequences’. Reports suggested some Pakistanis were preparing for war with the US. JIM CRAVEN reports.

On 26 November, the Pakistan government condemned as ‘unprovoked and indiscriminate’ a NATO helicopter attack on a Pakistan border checkpoint that killed at least 24 Pakistani soldiers. The Pakistan government closed the border crossing for NATO supplies into Afghanistan in protest.

Earlier, Afghan President Hamid Karzai cancelled a visit by Pakistan’s Prime Minister Yusuf Gilani and visited India, where he signed a strategic partnership agreement giving India access to Afghanistan’s natural resources in return for financial and military assistance. India, Pakistan’s chief adversary, will help train the Afghan army and police. General Kayani, head of Pakistan’s army, warned that India would interfere in the Afghan army and use the country as a base for gathering intelligence against Pakistan. For its part, Pakistan has taken a more determined stand for its own interests following the US raid which killed Osama Bin Laden. Seeking closer ties with China, Prime Minister Gilani told Chinese Vice-Premier Meng Jianzhu, ‘Your friends are our friends, your enemies are our enemies and your security is our security.’ Pakistan confirmed that members of the Chinese People’s Liberation Army were already in the country helping with reconstruction in the north.

The deteriorating relations stem from resistance to US demands that Pakistan attack bases in North Waziristan used by Afghan anti-occupation fighters, in particular the groups led by Jalaluddin Haqqani. The Haqqani network was established and funded by the CIA and the Pakistani intelligence service (ISI) in the 1980s to fight the Afghan government and Soviet Red Army. The US and the Afghan government claim it operates in collusion with the ISI and Pakistan military. Admiral Mullen said the Haqqani network was ‘a veritable arm of the ISI’ and US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton demanded that Pakistan rid itself of ‘the snakes in its backyard’.

The Haqqani group was responsible for the raid on the US embassy and ISAF headquarters in Kabul in September, when just seven fighters kept imperialist and Afghan national forces at bay for 20 hours. President Karzai claims the Haqqani network was also behind a foiled plot to assassinate him in the same month, and that the assassination of former Afghan president Burhanuddin Rabani was planned in Pakistan and carried out by a Pakistani bomber. Rabani was acting as the Afghan government envoy for peace talks with the Taliban at the time. Karzai subsequently cancelled further talks, saying he might as well talk directly with the Pakistan government, implying it was pulling the strings.

First Pakistan, then Iran

The US has launched dozens of drone missile attacks against Pakistan and sent special service and CIA death squads into the country. As a result of these raids and the 2004 operation in South Waziristan demanded of the Pakistan army by the US, plus subsequent reprisals by the Pakistan Taliban, at least 12,000 Pakistani civilians have been killed, millions displaced and two divisions of the Pakistani army destroyed. However, despite their belligerence, the imperialists know they cannot hope to reach a settlement in Afghanistan without the help of Pakistan. They fear provoking such opposition in Pakistan that a totally hostile regime takes over the country, armed with nuclear weapons. In October, US special envoy Marc Grossman was sent to try and establish better co-operation in the region.

President Karzai wants Afghanistan to sign long-term strategic agreements with the US and the EU, as well as with India. Iran’s Interior Minister said that such agreements would threaten his country. In October, Iranian and Afghan forces exchanged rocket fire when the Iranians tried to establish a military base in the disputed border region. US Ambassador Ryan Crocker said that the US has no interest in establishing permanent bases in Afghanistan, but the US continues to expand the Shinland air base on the Iranian border as the main Afghan air force training base and will continue deploying US trainers there until at least 2016.

Imperialist lies

US and British propaganda claims that the Taliban are being subdued and that Afghan national forces are increasingly prepared to take over security responsibilities. The UN, however, reported a 40% increase in the number of security incidents in the first eight months of 2011 compared with the same period in 2010. During the past three years there have been at least 28 major attacks in Kabul, supposedly the most heavily protected city in the country. On 30 October, 18 people, including 13 ISAF soldiers and mercenaries, were killed in two attacks in Kabul and three Australian soldiers were killed by a member of the Afghan National Army in north Kandahar: the imperialists’ worst casualties in one day for the past two years. Afghan army desertion rates doubled in the first six months of 2011. An astonishing 24,590 went AWOL.

Since President Obama took office in 2009 civilian casualty rates in Afghanistan have increased by 24%. According to the UN, 80% of these were killed in the vicinity of attacks by anti-occupation fighters, leading Afghan Taliban leader Mullah Omar to warn Taliban fighters that they must ‘take every step to protect the lives and wealth of ordinary people’ or face punishment under Sharia law. An analysis of ISAF figures by Gareth Porter in the on-line journal Counterpunch, however, suggests that raids by ISAF special forces (SOF), and not attacks by anti-occupation fighters, are the major cause of civilian casualties. In the ten months from May 2010, the SOF carried out 6,282 raids killing over 2,840 people. ISAF claims all these were insurgents. Porter points out, however, that the majority of victims were more likely ordinary villagers trying to defend their homes and family, or those targeted as ‘insurgents’ for very dubious reasons. The latter contention is supported by the fact that 90% of those arrested as ‘insurgents’ were later released, often within days. Porter concludes that at least 1,500 civilians were killed by occupation forces in SOF raids over the ten months.

Ten years of suffering

Malalai Joya, a former Afghan MP, who herself suffered death threats from racketeers in and around the government, wrote in October, ‘Ten years ago the US and NATO invaded my country under the fake banner of women’s rights, human rights and democracy. But after a decade, Afghanistan still remains the most uncivil, most corrupt, and most war-torn country in the world. The consequences of the so-called war on terror has only been more bloodshed, crimes, barbarism, human rights and women’s rights violations which has doubled the miseries and sorrows of our people.’

The UN reported in October that prisoners in detention centres run by the Afghan security forces were being tortured by beating, suspension by the wrists, twisting genitals and removing toe nails. Of the 324 cases examined 89 had been transferred to the centres by the occupation forces.

A law forbidding violence against women is being enforced in only ten of the 34 provinces. The UN said 87% of Afghan women are subject to domestic violence. Every year around 2,400 women set fire to themselves to escape their suffering. One in 11 Afghan women dies in pregnancy or childbirth.

Progress in health and education remains ‘patchy and tenuous’. The worst drought in a decade has provoked the failure of the wheat harvest and left three million people facing food shortages. Some face a nine-hour trek to find clean water. Yet the UN reports a bumper year for opium, with prices up by over 300%.

Militias recruited and armed by US special services have killed, raped and stolen from villagers and then aligned themselves with local warlords. Little wonder that the Afghan government is loathed and the imperialist occupation increasingly detested.

Out of sight: the increasing military use of drones

The recently reported deaths of two young British men killed by CIA drone strikes in South Waziristan, Pakistan brought home how extensive the use of Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs, or drones) has become. A report in January 2011 by the Conflict Monitoring Centre estimated that 2,043 Pakistanis had been slain by CIA drones in the previous five years, three quarters of them in the first two years of Obama’s presidency. The US is bombing a country with which it is not at war and killing three people a day. By May 2011, the US was estimated to be using 147 combat-capable drones overseas. In December 2009, a US drone attack killed 14 women and 21 children in Yemen.

Yet drones are not only being used by the US, but are also being used or developed by over 40 other nations. There is robust demand from Britain which has used drones in Afghanistan since 2007 and in Libya in 2011. New deals over their production have been signed between Britain’s BAE systems and Dassault Aviation of France, with roughly $70m set aside for the research.  It is now a £5bn a year industry. Israel has been using UAVs in Gaza since 2008. In January 2009 an Israeli Defence Force drone launched a missile at six children playing on the roof of the Al Habbash family home in Gaza City. It killed two girls, cousins aged 10 and 12, and injured three other people, two of whom lost their legs. Israel is a leading exporter of UAVs, with more than 1,000 sold abroad. Despite being keen to develop its own ‘sovereign’ drones, Britain also buys and rents drones from Israel.

Anthony Rupert

 

Afghanistan: Taliban strike at will / FRFI 223 Oct / Nov 2011

FRFI 223 October/November 2011

The assassination of former President Burhanuddin Rabbani in Kabul on 20 September underlined the failings of US and International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) strategy in Afghanistan. Rabbani, who led the Mujahideen against Soviet Union forces in the 1970s, was being used by the puppet Afghan government to seek reconciliation with sections of the Taliban. A faction of the Taliban is thought to have killed him. The US says that it intends to transfer security to the Afghan forces by 2014. In order to do that it must either substantially weaken the Taliban or draw them into a political agreement with the government.

There have been 26 major Taliban attacks on Kabul since 2008. In June this year the Intercontinental Hotel, favourite conference venue for westerners, was attacked. In August the British Consulate was targeted. On 13 September the US embassy and ISAF were attacked in an operation lasting 24 hours. This could not have been mounted without the infiltration of Afghanistan government forces. The Taliban are showing that they can strike where and when they want.

In the first half of 2011 the desertion rate from the Afghan army doubled to 24,590 soldiers. The imperialists are unable to dictate terms to the anti-occupation forces and have nothing approaching a stable and reliable set of government institutions they can hand over to. The imperialists’ response to the continuing anti-occupation struggle is to intensify their military operations, including drone strikes across the Pakistan border and raids on Afghan communities. US forces are stepping up the use of night raids, rounding up as many as 100 people at a time and having masked informants point people out for interrogation. This may result in civilian deaths and anger is building up among the people against the occupation armies.

Since 2001 1,701 US and 382 British soldiers have been killed in Afghanistan; Canada has lost 156 soldiers, France 75, Germany 56, Italy 44 and soldiers from a further 22 countries have been killed in Afghanistan. The numbers of Afghanistan’s people killed are not counted by ISAF or known to the Afghanistan government. There is no prospect of an end to the killing until the occupation armies leave Afghanistan.

Trevor Rayne

 

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

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.

 

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

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.

 

Afghanistan: imperialists raise level of violence in advance of talks / FRFI 218 Dec 2010 / Jan 2011

FRFI 218 December 2010/January 2011

NATO forces can neither win in Afghanistan nor can they leave, if imperialism is not to receive a serious blow. British Prime Minister Cameron repeated at November’s NATO conference in Lisbon that British combat troops would be out of Afghanistan in 2015. However, the US government said that US troops would remain until Afghan government forces take the lead. That is precisely their problem: Afghanistan’s political leadership under the Karzai government and its military and police forces are unable to take over.

Throughout the autumn, over 8,000 US and Afghan national troops attempted to clear anti-occupation fighters from districts around Kandahar. Operations by US/NATO special forces to assassinate Taliban leaders were intensified. The imperialists know they cannot win the war, but they hope to strengthen their bargaining position before entering peace talks; they have to find elements in the Taliban they can deal with.

Low level talks involving intermediaries have been taking place for several years, but in October, US commander General David Petraeus claimed that senior Taliban leaders had ‘sought to reach out’ for negotiations and that ‘this is how you end these kinds of insurgencies’. He said that US forces were giving safe passage to Taliban leaders travelling to Kabul.

The Taliban denied that senior leaders were in contact with Kabul and described Afghan President Karzai’s High Peace Council as ‘failed and impractical’. Others were sceptical about Petraeus’s claims, saying they were an attempt to spin good news ahead of the NATO summit and President Obama’s December review of strategy. The imperialists are also trying to ‘buy off’ Taliban fighters by providing jobs or recruiting them to the ‘Sons of Shura’, an armed militia meant to guard areas cleared of anti-occupation forces. Similar groups organised by the British used their guns and uniforms to extort money and favours from the local population and had to be wound up.

In September, General Petraeus claimed that the use of Improvised Explosive Devices by anti-occupation fighters had ‘generally flattened out in the past year’. The truth is that IEDs killed 40% more US/NATO troops and injured almost 100% more in the first eight months of 2010 than they did in the same period of 2009. The Centre for Strategic and International Studies, has pointed out that, whereas Afghan civilians were revealing the whereabouts of around 15% of IEDs in late 2005, by June 2010 this had fallen to just 1%. This indicates worsening relations between the civilian population and the occupying forces.

After the imperialist forces’ attacks around Kandahar, anti-occupation fighters were reported to be burying their arms and slipping back into village life or seeking temporary safe havens elsewhere. As the occupiers discovered in Marjah, overwhelming force might cause guerrilla fighters to temporarily withdraw from combat but this does not mean the area has been secured. A Taliban spokesman, Zabiullah Mujahid, explained their tactics in the context of an attack on Khogyani, where the police unit defected to the Taliban and burnt down their own station, ‘The Taliban exist in and around the district centres, and we have our own judges, courts, district governors and other officials. We do our guerrilla attacks and then leave the district centre. These are just buildings. They are not important.’ Most Taliban fight in the proximity of the villages they live in.

US threatens Pakistan

Pakistan has refused US demands to attack Taliban bases in North Waziristan, causing General Petraeus to make veiled threats of a US ground attack. By the end of September over 600 people had been killed this year by US drones in the region. The number of strikes was 50% more than for the whole of 2009. When three Pakistani soldiers were killed by a US helicopter raid on 30 September, the Pakistan government closed the border crossing into Afghanistan, prompting Pakistan’s interior minister Rehman Malik to say, ‘We will have to see whether we are allies or enemies.’ More than 75% of all non-lethal NATO supplies use this route through the Khyber Pass. As the backlog of trucks piled up, dozens were destroyed by supporters of the Afghan anti-occupation forces.

Many in the Pakistan military see the Afghan Taliban as Pashtun freedom fighters combating foreign occupation. With a negotiated settlement in sight and the possibility that the Taliban will control Pashtun areas, they believe their support could give Pakistan a strong say in the region and more influence over the US. Although the US has cemented its strategic partnership with Pakistan’s rival India over the past few years and, despite its present frustrations with Pakistan, it cannot afford to lose its grip on the country. Recently it offered Pakistan a $2 billion arms deal in addition to $7.5 billion in civil aid over five years.

Carve-up

Other regional powers are competing for a stake in Afghanistan’s future. Russia, which is training Afghan army officers, is supplying helicopters to Poland that may be available for use in Afghanistan. It is also offering to remove restrictions on the US/NATO supply route through Russia in return for a restraint agreement with NATO and their acceptance of the present position in Georgia. In the summer, Iran organised a conference on Afghanistan with India, Pakistan and Tajikistan. The US has signalled to Iran that it would put aside major differences if Iran were to help facilitate talks. President Karzai has admitted his chief-of-staff receives around $1 million once or twice a year in ‘official aid’ from Iran. Both China and India are keen to secure Afghan mineral and energy resources to fuel their expanding economies. India, worried about Pakistan’s future influence, already has a $1.3 billion development programme in Afghanistan. China is extracting copper south of Kabul and has promised to build a smelter and railway line if it can mine iron ore at Hajigak.

Meanwhile, the Afghan people continue to suffer. Less than half the registered electorate bothered to vote in September’s parliamentary elections and a quarter of those votes were declared invalid. As Darya Khan, a 40-year-old driver, told The Guardian ‘Democracy, what’s that? I’m not going to vote. The people who get elected are just in it for themselves. They are not working to benefit the country, they are not thinking about the poor.’

Jim Craven

 

Afghanistan: imperialists losing the war / FRFI 217 Oct/Nov 2010

FRFI 217 October/November 2010

With the arrival in August of the final contingent of Obama’s ‘surge’, the number of imperialist troops in Afghanistan rose to over 140,000. They are supported by more than 200,000 members of the Afghan national police and army against an estimated 28,000 anti-occupation fighters. But the imperialists are losing the war. JIM CRAVEN reports.

July was the deadliest month so far for US troops in Afghanistan, with 66 soldiers killed. Almost 200 members of the occupying forces were killed during June and July. These included 38 British soldiers. The number of seriously injured soldiers losing limbs in the first six months of 2010 was five times that for the corresponding period of 2009.

Six months after the launch of the attack on Marjah, occupying forces have still to secure the area. The operation had been intended as a quick victory for the imperialists in order to persuade an increasingly sceptical section of the ruling class back home that military successes were possible. In July, British troops tried to clear anti-occupation forces from the town of Sayedabad. The Taliban offered no resistance but simply ‘melted away’ to fight at another place and time of their choosing. The anti-occupation forces are spreading the struggle to new areas and launching more sophisticated guerrilla-style attacks on International Security Assistance Force bases.

On 18 September just 31% of the registered electorate voted in parliamentary elections; 1,053 polling stations did not open because of security risks and 21 civilians plus nine police officers were killed during the voting. Two days later British forces withdrew from Sangin where almost a third of the 337 British soldiers killed in Afghanistan had died. Sangin is the last of the formerly British-controlled towns to be handed over to US forces. Overstretched, the imperialists have had to postpone the planned attack on Kandahar, an attack they consider crucial to the success of the surge.

No end to war

Regardless of these setbacks, there has been a major effort to play down President Obama’s promise to start withdrawing troops by July 2011. General James Conway, commander of the US marines, said the plan was giving ‘sustenance’ to the Taliban, a sentiment repeated by Afghan President Karzai. Conway believed it would be years before US troops could leave Helmand and Kandahar. Commander of the occupying forces, General David Petraeus, has stated on several occasions that his strategy would not be bound by the deadline. However other members of the imperialist coalition have already lost the will to continue the fight. The Dutch contingent of 1,900 troops left in August. Canadian and Polish forces are due to pull out in the next year or so. The US and Britain are trying to force the Taliban to the negotiating table but most other members of the coalition want discussions now, with military tactics shaped by the talks.

The US ruling class is increasingly confused and divided. When Congress passed a $60bn supplementary war funding bill in July, David Obey, who introduced the bill, nevertheless voted against it, saying that the current strategy was ‘a recruiting incentive for those who most want to do us ill’. President Obama’s apparently blinkered approach to the situation was highlighted by Richard Haas, president of the Council on Foreign Relations. Haas pointed out, ‘Obama has had several opportunities to reassess the US goals and interests and in each instance he has chosen to escalate.’

Civilian casualties

In August, the UN reported a 31% increase in civilian casualties this year. Staffan de Mistura, UN chief in Afghanistan, said that women and children were ‘increasingly bearing the brunt of this conflict’. The report stated that large-scale military operations by the occupying forces were ‘deeply unpopular’ because ‘they are believed to result in further insecurity and less protection for the area and its inhabitants’. The UN claimed, however, that there had been a 30% fall in the number of civilian casualties caused by US/NATO forces, mainly due to a 64% reduction in aerial attacks. Only 12% of the total had been the direct result of US/NATO actions, compared with 76% by anti-occupation forces. The UN also reported that the number of assassinations by anti-occupation forces had doubled this year to an average of about 30 per month. The Taliban were concerned enough by the UN figures to call for a joint commission to investigate civilian casualties, involving the UN, the Organisation of the Islamic Conference, NATO and themselves.

Despite the supposedly stricter rules of engagement and reductions in the use of air power, atrocities by the imperialist forces against civilians are still frequently occurring. At the end of July, people in Regey in Helmand were warned by the Taliban to take cover from imminent fighting. The villagers left to seek safety some distance away, only to be attacked by NATO rockets. At least 52 people were killed.

Wikileaks’ Afghan War Diary revealed 76,900 classified documents not previously seen by the public in July. They describe many such incidents as that in Regey over the past six years. A recent BBC documentary, Wounded Platoon, showed how many US troops, through the brutalisation of their training and the stress of war, come to view the Afghan people as a non-human undifferentiated mass: ‘They aren’t like us,’ ‘They’re all guilty,’ ‘We just get gun-happy and shoot at any male,’ were among the soldiers’ reactions. More than 300,000 US soldiers who have served in Iraq or Afghanistan are believed to be suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder. In the past few years more US troops and veterans have committed suicide than have been killed in Afghanistan.

The Wikileaks documents detail 21 incidents in which British troops fired on civilians. They killed 26 people (including 16 children) and wounded another 20. The Ministry of Defence announced it would urgently investigate the events. Of course, the fact that they had not already investigated incidents reported in the imperialists’ own intelligence documents suggests they were hoping to maintain a cover-up; their usual reaction to such events. When US forces dropped six 2,000lb guided bombs on a village celebration, killing up to 300 civilians, they claimed they had struck a Taliban conference and that 150 Taliban fighters had been killed. Such systematic deceit is, perhaps, the most telling feature confirmed by the Wikileaks documents and must throw doubt on any claims by the imperialists concerning civilian casualties.

 

Afghanistan: Imperialists divided / FRFI 216 Aug/Sep 2010

FRFI 216 August/September 2010

The imperialists’ strategy in Afghanistan is in chaos. On 21 July British Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg told the House of Commons: ‘Let me be absolutely clear that we will see our troops withdrawn from Afghanistan from a combat role by 2015.’ On the same day, in the US, Prime Minister Cameron said that Britain could begin to reduce troop numbers in Afghanistan from July 2011, but only on condition that Afghan forces take the lead in security operations. The day before, speaking after a conference of foreign secretaries in Kabul, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton proclaimed the conference a ‘turning point’, and, while endorsing Afghan President Karzai’s proposal that from 2014 Afghan forces take responsibility for security, suggested that US troops might stay in the country for decades.  The divisions within and between the different ruling classes of the occupying powers result from their failure to subdue the anti-occupation forces, and the realisation that they face defeat in Afghanistan. JIM CRAVEN and TREVOR RAYNE report.

This summer is the deadliest period since the 2001 invasion for US/NATO troops, with 102 killed in June and rising numbers of casualties in July. Twenty British soldiers were killed in June and 15 killed in the first three weeks of July. The rate of occupation forces’ deaths in the first six months of 2010 is twice that for the same period in 2009. Significantly, the proportion killed by small arms fire has tripled since last year, indicating that the anti-occupation forces are strong enough to operate at close range and find protection among the local population. US intelligence estimates that 75% of anti-occupation fighters operate within five miles of their home village. A US Department of Defence survey of 121 priority districts found 50 actively support or are sympathetic to the anti-occupation fighters, compared with just 28 sympathetic to the Afghan government. The US Government Accountability Office says that the Taliban has set up a ‘widespread paramilitary shadow government... in a majority of Afghanistan’s 34 provinces.’ The plan to hand over security to the Afghan government is implausible.

In June US General Stanley McChrystal, commander of the occupying forces in Afghanistan, was sacked, supposedly for criticising members of the US administration in a Rolling Stone magazine interview. In reality, he was removed because his counter-insurgency strategy is failing and he was honest enough to admit it. McChrystal described the insurgency as ‘resilient and growing’ and warned NATO not to expect any progress in the next six months. He considered Marjah, the area ‘captured’ by the imperialists in April and meant to be a model for the counter-insurgency strategy, to be a ‘bleeding ulcer’. McChrystal’s Chief of Operations, Major-General Bill Mayville, commented, ‘It’s not going to look like a win, smell like a win or taste like a win. This war is going to end in an argument.’

McChrystal’s dismissal

McChrystal’s dismissal underlines the increasing divisions within and between the ruling classes of the imperialist nations. US Vice-President Biden opposed the troop ‘surge’ and expects Obama’s July 2011 deadline ‘to see a whole lot of people moving out’. Defence Secretary Robert Gates, however, insisted: ‘That, absolutely, has not been decided.’ Head of the US Republican National Committee Michael Steele said he believes the war is unwinnable, provoking the anger of conservative Republicans such as former presidential candidate John McCain, who insist the war can and must be won with greater aggression.  Britain’s ambassador in Afghanistan, Sir Sherard Cowper-Coles, has been put on ‘extended leave’ after disagreements with the US/NATO military and calling for the removal of President Karzai and talks with the Taliban. British General Sir David Richards, who also suggested talks with the Taliban would be useful, is nevertheless to be promoted to Chief of the Defence Staff, replacing the discredited Sir Jock Stirrup, who will take early retirement. A Taliban spokesman contemptuously rejected Richards’ approach.

The Netherlands, Canada and Poland will withdraw their troops from Afghanistan within the next 18 months. A Polish military official described the situation as getting ‘systematically worse’. There is a growing feeling among many coalition nations that there is no longer much to be gained economically or politically by supporting US imperialist ventures. German defence minister Karl Theodor zu Guttenberg recently argued for the Afghanistan war to be scaled down and measures put in place to ensure that NATO is never again committed to an open-ended mission. Significantly, the British government, which depends on US military power to defend British overseas interests (second only to those of the US), disagreed, arguing that counter-insurgency warfare was the shape of the future.

McChrystal’s plan had been to clear Marjah of anti-occupation fighters, impose sound local government and win the hearts and minds of the local people with aid and reconstruction. The intention was that local support for the occupying forces would then spread to the surrounding areas while US/NATO forces cleared another area of insurgents and so on until each of the ‘oil spots’ joined up into a secure zone overseen by Afghan security forces. In the event, the anti-occupation forces, employing the usual guerrilla tactics, mainly withdrew and then re-infiltrated at a later date. Haji Mohammed Hassan, a tribal elder who has left the area said, ‘There was no security. By day there is government. By night it’s the Taliban.’ The occupying forces are attacked every day; never knowing who will attack them or when. One British soldier told the Financial Times, ‘Whoever’s in the area will decide what they want to do, if they want to hit us or not. The Taliban are probably watching us.’ Another said, ‘I’m sure I’ve shaken hands with them on a daily basis and not even known who they were.’ Counter-insurgency theory usually insists that a successful operation requires about one soldier for every 50 members of the local population. In Marjah, 15,000 troops were used against a population of about 35,000. Little wonder that McChrystal postponed the planned attack on Kandahar, a city of half a million, saying, ‘When you go to protect people, the people have to want you to protect them.’

The Afghan army went on the rampage in the local bazaar after the attack on Marjah. General McChrystal rated only 30% of the Afghan army and 12% of the police as ‘effective’ and even fewer capable of acting independently. Arnold Field, the US Special Inspector General for Afghan Reconstruction, reckons even these figures are overestimates. He found some army units as low as 59% of their supposed size. On average, only 74% of Afghan soldiers in combat units were found present for duty. In some areas 50% of police failed drug tests. Field said there was a shortfall of more than 200 training teams. Whereas ISAF claim 234,000 Afghan army and police are trained and ready, Field put the figure at barely 34,000. A purge of the police force by the Afghan Ministry of the Interior led to more than one in five senior officers being sacked or prosecuted for corruption or misconduct. Afghan forces have been infiltrated by anti-occupation fighters. In July, three British soldiers were killed by an Afghan soldier they considered reliable; the second such incident in eight months.

The Medical Research Council calculates that British casualties are running at four times the rate of US forces. British troops are being withdrawn from Sangin, where almost a third of their casualties have occurred, amid US criticisms that they underestimated the Taliban threat and were prepared only for a peacekeeping role. When British troops were first deployed to the area in 2006, then Labour Defence Secretary, John Reid, said he hoped they would return without a shot being fired.

The new US commander in Afghanistan, General David Petraeus, said that he would relax the rules of engagement and limits on air power that McChrystal had supposedly introduced to try and reduce civilian casualties. US troops complained that the rules hindered them. Petraeus indicated his forces would be given more scope to kill by saying ‘[fighting] may get more intense in the next few months’. The new US chief of Central Command, replacing Petraeus, is General James Mattis, known as ‘Mad Dog Mattis’. In 2005 he told an audience, ‘It’s a hell of a lot of fun to shoot [Afghans].’ The rule he gave his troops to live by was, ‘Be polite, be professional, but have a plan to kill everybody you meet’. Defending Mattis’s appointment, Robert Gates described him as, ‘One of our military’s outstanding combat leaders and strategic thinkers.’ Petraeus plans to pay for local anti-insurgent militias, as he did in Iraq. President Karzai opposes the idea, believing it to be a recipe for endless conflict, which may be precisely the imperialists’ reason for doing it. Petraeus says ‘we are in this to win’ but the imperialists are playing for time, intensifying and prolonging the slaughter in the hope of bringing the anti-occupation forces to the negotiating table on terms more favourable to the invaders.

The New York Times revealed that many members of the Afghan government have already moved large fortunes and their families to safe havens outside the country. Something like a quarter of Afghanistan’s GDP goes in bribes to these people and others such as Karzai’s brother, the so-called ‘King of Kandahar’. These parasites are despised by Afghanistan’s people; it is nonsense to propose that they can provide the country with a stable government or lead the security forces; McChrystal said as much.

 

Afghanistan – Obama’s surge threatens Kandahar / FRFI 215 Jun/Jul 2010

FRFI 215 June/July 2010

An Afghan businessman described the imminent attack by imperialist forces on Kandahar city – ‘The storm is coming. I try telling people. You have two options: get out now, or climb down into your bunker and hope that the storm will pass and that you’re still alive six months from now.’ 12,000 US, British and Canadian troops, together with 10,000 members of the Afghan National Army (ANA) have moved to isolate the city and surrounding area. Operation Hamkari is planned to begin in June and continue until at least the beginning of Ramadhan in August. JIM CRAVEN reports.

When General McChrystal took command of the occupying forces last year, he claimed his priority was to gain the trust of the Afghan people and prevent civilian casualties, admitting later ‘We’ve shot an amazing number of people [who did not pose a threat]’. The use of such overwhelming force in Kandahar, as with the attack on Marjah in February, however, is intended to intimidate the local population and prevent them from supporting the anti-occupation forces. In Marjah, 26,000 people had to flee their homes. In the densely populated streets of Kandahar the fighting will claim many more victims. McChrystal’s true priority is not concern for the Afghan people but dead and captured Taliban fighters and apparent (though bogus) military victories with which to persuade public and political opinion back home that US forces should stay in Afghanistan.

The attack on Marjah, however, was a failure. A Pentagon report in May admitted that ‘government and development was slow’ and that the Taliban have ‘re-infiltrated the cleared areas’. This is a major setback for McChrystal’s ‘oil spot’ strategy. More occupying forces will have to be used to hold the ‘captured’ areas. McChrystal, who described the situation as ‘stalemate’, may have to curtail his plan to win control of 85% of Helmand and Kandahar provinces.

Dirty war

Half of the civilians killed by the International Security Assistance  Force (ISAF) last year were attributed to night time raids. In March, McChrystal said ‘Nearly every Afghan I talk to mentions them as the single greatest irritant’. Yet, in the first six months of McChrystal’s command, known night raids increased from 20 to 90 per month. 5,800 members of the US Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC) assisted by special forces from Britain and other ISAF countries are active in Afghanistan; twice the number used by McChrystal in Iraq. They are supported by a network of mercenary spies and assassins organised by Michael Furlong, a Pentagon ‘dirty tricks’ operator, who previously worked in the Balkans and Iraq.

These death squads have been operating around Kandahar and elsewhere for several weeks. The imperialist military invariably try to cover-up the slaughter, but the resistance of the local people and the persistence of journalists such as Jerome Starkey of The Times have brought some of the massacres to light. When a school principal and a religious leader were killed in a night-time raid in Logar, crowds set fire to 12 NATO fuel trucks. Local teacher Mohammad Sharif said, ‘They are raiding houses at night killing innocent people’. A neighbour of Afghan MP Safia Saddiqi was shot dead during a raid on her home. In a US special forces raid in Khataba in February, two pregnant women, a teenage girl and two local men were killed. The soldiers tried to conceal the murders by digging bullets out of the bodies with knives, cleaning the wounds and then lying to their officers.

Growing support for anti-occupation fighters

A recent survey of the Afghan people found that 56% consider the ISAF forces and the ANA to be the greatest threat to security. 85% described anti-occupation fighters as ‘our Afghan brothers’. A Taliban commander, code-named ‘Mubeen’, said that anti-occupation forces have been moving fighters and supplies into Kandahar during the winter. Over the past few weeks they have launched a series of attacks across the city, mainly at Afghan government, security and foreign targets, though many civilians have also been killed in the attacks. As a result, the UN has scaled down its operations in the city. ‘Mubeen’ claimed that, ‘Because of the American attitude to the people, they are sympathetic to us. Every day we are getting more support. We are not strangers. We are not foreigners. We are from the people.’ If, however, the occupation forces proved too strong, ‘Mubeen’ explained, ‘we will just leave and come back after’.

A western diplomat in Kandahar admitted that the planned attack posed a ‘daunting challenge...so much more complicated [than the attack on Marjah]’. A NATO report found ‘endemic corruption, along with a lack of security and basic services in Kandahar... sets conditions for the population either not to support the government, or worse yet, support the Taliban’.

The city is rife with criminal syndicates. Prominent among them is the president’s half brother, Ahmed Walid Karzai, the so-called ‘King of Kandahar’. Maldai Ishaq Zai, an Afghan MP from Kandahar told the Financial Times ‘If the offensive goes on while Ahmed Karzai is still there, it will fail. There is a very big risk he will take advantage of it to widen his influence’. A NATO official admitted ‘There is no clear policy on what to do about Ahmed Karzai’. The imperialists initially put him on a ‘kill or capture’ list but recently a senior British official said Ahmad Karzai ‘can play a part in maintaining stability in the future’.

Karzai pulls strings

This change of attitude towards his brother was no doubt a concession to President Karzai, who has been exploiting his fraudulent electoral victory to strengthen his position. In April, he accused the imperialists of corrupting the presidential elections by bribing the electoral commission because they did not want a strong and effective Afghan government. He then personally appointed all five members of the Electoral Control Commission that will oversee the September parliamentary elections. On a visit to Kandahar, Karzai promised local leaders that the planned offensive would not take place if they were against it. He has unilaterally called a jirga, a gathering of tribal elders, to discuss conditions for a peace settlement with the Taliban. The US wants to significantly weaken the anti-occupation forces before entering negotiations. Mullah Omar, leader of the Afghan Taliban, told The Sunday Times he was prepared to engage in ‘sincere and honest’ talks but that all foreigners must leave.

Karzai has also been trying to widen his foreign support. In the spring, he visited China and Iran, and Iranian President Ahmadinejad was invited to Kabul. Last autumn, the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO), which includes China and Russia (Iran has observer status), was approached by the Taliban to ‘render assistance in the work of liberation of the people and countries of the region from the claws of the colonialists and take a decisive stand regarding the West’s invasion of Afghanistan’. At present the SCO accepts the occupation of Afghanistan, not wanting to take on any military burden. As economic rivals opposed to US domination, however, they will seek every opportunity to further their own interests in Afghanistan. China is already mining in east Afghanistan and providing aid with no strings attached. In March, China accused the US of using the occupation to gain priority in economic contracts. An editorial in the influential China Daily stated, ‘China cannot stay oblivious to the Afghanistan issue. The chaos caused by the war in Afghanistan is threatening the security of China’s northwest region.’

Imperialist strategy falters

When President Obama addressed US soldiers in Kabul in March he made no mention of his promise to begin withdrawing troops next summer. As Majib Rahman, an Afghan civil engineer, pointed out to USA Today, ‘[Obama] wanted to show the troops’ presence to Iran, to China, to Russia – to show them their dominance in the region.’ A Pentagon report to Congress, however, admitted that occupying forces only had sufficient resources to operate in 48 out of the 121 districts regarded as the most important in the fight against the Taliban.

The US and Britain have repeatedly said that any reduction in their forces would depend on the ability of Afghan forces to take over. But US ambassador Karl Eikenberry admitted, ‘We overestimated the ability of the Afghan forces.’ In the attack on Marjah the ANA fell apart and went on the rampage in the local bazaar. The International Crisis Group reported that the ANA was ‘riddled with corruption, ethnic friction and rivalries among its leaders’ and that these ‘could risk the army’s disintegration after the withdrawal of international forces’. Leaked British Foreign Office papers show the Afghan National Police are involved in bribery, drugs and intimidation and have ‘limited engagement with the community’. Building an effective force, the reports say, ‘will take many years’ and ‘the scale of the challenge is immense’.

The present strategy of military surge, followed by the imposition of Western style ‘governance and development’, is based on the imperialist conceit that the Afghan people would welcome these ‘improvements’ to their traditional ways. The strategy is failing on both counts. When asked by a US captain what he thought could be done to improve the situation in Afghanistan, a 17-year-old boy from the Zhari district promptly responded, ‘Whenever you guys get out of here things will get better.’

 

Afghanistan – new imperialist onslaught / FRFI 214 Apr / May 2010

FRFI 214 April / May 2010

In February, when the occupying forces launched their latest onslaught in Afghanistan, US commander General McChrystal claimed that his priority was to avoid civilian casualties. Within two days of the start of Operation Moshtarak, 12 civilians (including six children) were killed by NATO missiles in the Nad-e-ali district. A week later, 27 civilians were killed when their minibuses were hit by an airstrike in Uruzgan. JIM CRAVEN reports.

In the region of Marjah, the target for Operation Moshtarak, 26,000 people had to flee their homes according to the UN; houses and irrigation ditches were destroyed, farmers arrested and homes and schools occupied by US forces. 15,000 US, British and Afghan troops were deployed against an estimated 1,000 anti-occupation fighters. The use of such overwhelming force was intended to terrorise the Afghan people and divide them from the anti-occupation forces. Most of the anti-occupation forces simply withdrew. As one of their leaders told the Pakistani newspaper Dawn, ‘We are men from the villages, we know the area, we can hide our guns in the village and we can use them again when we have the opportunity.’ A US military adviser was soon admitting, ‘The Taliban are re-organising. The capability they lost two weeks ago is coming back.’

Throughout the operation, the capitalist media led us to believe that Marjah was an important Taliban stronghold with a population of 80,000. In fact, Marjah is little more than a scattering of farming villages. Two US military academics disparagingly described it as a ‘nearly worthless postage stamp of real estate that has tied down about half of the combat power of the international coalition’. The media deception was intentional: to make an increasingly sceptical western audience believe that major battles could still be won and so delay the drawdown of International Security Assistance Forces (ISAF). As General McChrystal said, ‘This is all a war of perceptions’: a phrase taken directly from General Petraeus’s US handbook on counter-insurgency operations, where he emphasises the importance of ‘establishing the counter-insurgency narrative’ and conducting it ‘continuously using the news media’.

Puppet governors

The imperialists claim their strategy is to clear areas of anti-occupation forces and then hold the ground by gaining the trust of local people through reconstruction projects and by establishing strong local governance. US Ambassador Karl Eikenberry has admitted, however, that no ‘trained and honest’ Afghan authority exists at any level and that it ‘would take years to build’. The occupying powers intend to drop in puppet governors and teams of US and British diplomats; what McChrystal calls ‘government in a box’. First results were not promising. In Shawal, near Marjah, people proved reluctant to accept US aid. After two weeks, no community leader had come forward to reveal where bombs were planted or to offer hospitality to the Afghan army.

Haji Shamshullah explained, ‘The British and you have the guns, the Taliban have the guns, we are just the people whose lands you are using to do your fighting. We hear fine words now, but will you be here in the future to protect us when the Taliban come back to punish us for co-operating with you? Or will you do what you have done in the past, come here, say fine words and then just leave?’  Captain Duke Reim, US commander in Pashmul said that 95% of the population are Taliban or help the Taliban, while the local governor admitted, ‘People here are on the side of the insurgency and have no trust in the government.’ When Afghan President Karzai visited Marjah after the attack, local leader Haji Abdul Aziz told the New York Times, ‘The warlords who ruled us for the past eight years, those people whose hands are red with the people’s blood, those people who killed hundreds – they are still ruling over the nation.’

The man chosen as new puppet governor for the district, Haji Abdul Zahir, lived in Germany for many years. On his first visit to Marjah, he stayed for just two hours and never strayed more than 100 yards from his plane. President Karzai’s preferred choice for the job was Abdul Rahman Jan, former chief of the district police, a force described as ‘so corrupt and ruthless – their trademark was summary executions – that many residents welcomed the Taliban as a more humane alternative’. Haji Abdul Jabar, another puppet governor already installed in Arghandab, the ‘gateway’ to Kandahar, told the Financial Times, ‘I don’t trust the local people, so I don’t go out much. They may try to shoot me.’

US special envoy Richard Holbroke has admitted that, in the long-term, the imperialist forces ‘can’t occupy every piece of terrain, so the real key is building and transferring control to Afghan security forces’, which he describes as ‘an extremely difficult part of a (daunting) process’. The Afghan people do not trust the police or the army.  Canadian military chaplains have accused Afghan soldiers of raping young boys. They were told by ISAF commanders ‘not to interfere in incidents in which Afghan forces were having sex with children’ and that, despite being against Afghan law, it ‘should be seen as a cultural issue’.

Problems mount

99 ISAF personnel were killed in January and February; by far the worst winter months of the war for occupation forces. A National Audit Office report said there was ‘a very real risk of increased casualties’ and hospitals might have to displace civilians for military patients. An international conference in London in January agreed to establish a $650 million slush fund to try and buy off some of the anti-occupation fighters. But Major-General Michael Flynn, senior US intelligence officer in Afghanistan, said that the insurgency was ‘increasingly effective’ and could ‘sustain itself indefinitely’ and that the Taliban had ‘shadow governors’ in 33 out of the 34 provinces. Support for the war among many NATO members remains weak. The Dutch government collapsed in February over the question of support for the war, and its 2,000 troops will now be withdrawn. 3,000 Canadians are also due to leave later this year.

In February, a joint US/Pakistan operation in Karachi captured the Afghan Taliban’s second in command, Abdul Ghani Baradar. Commentators speculated that the arrest marked a new era of co-operation. The Pakistani military, however, refused to hand over Baradar and six other Taliban leaders and denied the CIA access to them. A request for extradition to Afghanistan was blocked by the Punjab high court. Many in the Pakistani ruling class regard the Taliban as allies and Afghanistan as a strategic rearguard against aggression by India. Baradar has previously negotiated with Karzai. The Pakistani military will want to use him as a conduit for further talks to put pressure on the US for an early negotiated settlement that is in its favour and against what it regards as Indian interference in Afghanistan. Pakistan has also refused US demands to immediately launch a new wave of attacks on Taliban strongholds in the border region.

More carnage planned for Kandahar

The imperialists cannot win. They will eventually have to negotiate with the anti-occupation forces. Unofficial talks have been going on for several years. President Karzai is trying to enlist the support of Saudi Arabia to arrange direct talks with Mullah Omar, leader of the Afghan Taliban, but US Defence Secretary Gates, Secretary of State Clinton and General McChrystal hope to weaken the Taliban before talking. They are perfectly happy to wreak more death and destruction just to strengthen their position at the negotiating table. In Britain too, whereas there were some differences among the British ruling class over Iraq, all their main parties are united in support of the slaughter in Afghanistan.

The imperialists’ next target this summer will be Kandahar, a city of 900,000 people. In the congested backstreets of Kandahar the casualties could be horrific. Agence France Presse reported that, ‘Anger, frustration and a hunger for revenge are running high among US marines... Commanders are trying to keep the men’s rage in check.’

 

Afghanistan war unwinnable / FRFI 212 Dec 2009 / Jan 2010

FRFI 212 December 2009 / January 2010

The successes of the anti-occupation forces in Afghanistan and concern at the rise in casualties among the occupying forces are creating divisions within the ruling classes of the imperialist countries. Pressure to bring the troops home is being held in check only by a massive public relations campaign to ‘support our heroes’, which in Britain reached almost hysterical proportions around Remembrance Day. Polls indicate that 58% of US people are opposed to the war. Two-thirds of people in Britain believe the war is ‘unwinnable’ and 35% want an immediate withdrawal. Despite these conditions, the anti-war movements in both countries remain hopelessly weak because their organisers refuse to break with the governing parties that defend their privileged lifestyles. JIM CRAVEN reports.

The International Council on Security and Development reports that anti-occupation forces in Afghanistan now have a permanent hold on 80% of the country, up from 54% two years ago. Attacks increased by 60% between October 2008 and April 2009 and in August new fronts were opened in the north and west of the country. The rate of casualties among the occupiers is higher than in the most intense period of the war on Iraq. 59 US soldiers were killed in October. At the present rate, more than 100 British soldiers will have been killed during 2009 and over 400 wounded. As of 21 November 2009, 235 British troops have been killed in Afghanistan since 2001. The thousands of Afghans killed are not recorded.

Counter-insurgency plans

According to the New York Times, President Obama will be sending a further 34,000 troops to Afghanistan. 34,000 US troops would mean Obama has more or less come down on the side of General McChrystal, US commander in Afghanistan. McChrystal, an expert in undercover assassination operations, wants an extra 40,000 troops to wage a counter-insurgency campaign to ‘clear, hold and build’ small strategic areas that could then spread and join to create larger areas under their control. Bribery is integral to the spread. This ‘oil spot’ strategy has been used in previous colonial campaigns, but, with the possible special exception of the British in Malaya (1948-60), without success. Each additional 1,000 US troops cost $1 billion a year in a country where 70% of people live on $1 or less a day. McChrystal will no doubt point to the relative stability following the US ‘surge’ in Iraq. Notwithstanding the fact that security in Iraq remains volatile (see article on page 3), the situation there was quite different, with an elected (if sectarian) government having the tacit support of the majority and resistance forces quelled by a combination of sectarian conflict and bribery by the occupying powers.

In Afghanistan the occupying forces find it impossible to hold any areas they clear. Soldiers sardonically refer to their operations as ‘mowing the lawn’ because the anti-occupation forces simply retreat and return. The US Brookings Institute has estimated that it would require a force of around 500,000 to sustain a successful counter-insurgency campaign. The US and International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) are presently less than 100,000 combined. Consequently, McChrystal wants a massive increase in the Afghan army and national police, to total 240,000 and 160,000 respectively over the next few years. The imperialists admit, however, that even the present Afghan army will not be ready for independent action in the foreseeable future. The Afghan police, underpaid, poorly trained and unreliable, have been accused of murder, rape and corruption. For the imperialist forces, they are part of the problem rather than the solution; vividly demonstrated in November, when an Afghan policeman shot dead five British soldiers following a joint patrol.

The ‘hold’ part of McChrystal’s strategy depends on winning the trust of the local people and having a national government working for their benefit. Neither could be further from reality. As McChrystal admits, ‘The weakness of state institutions, malign actions of power brokers, widespread corruption and abuse of power by various officials and ISAF’s own errors, have given Afghans little reason to support their government.’ ISAF’s ‘errors’ include at least 450 civilian deaths at the hands of the imperialist forces in the first six months of 2009.

Fraud and corruption

The Afghan people see the occupying forces as complicit in the corruption and abuse of the government. Following the fiasco of the presidential election, things are set to get worse. Only a third of the Afghan people were recorded as bothering to vote and millions of those votes were fraudulent. The imperialists sacked UN deputy representative Peter Galbraith for suggesting a full inquiry. Hoping to salvage some credibility for a ‘democratic Afghanistan’, the imperialists then humiliatingly forced President Karzai to agree to a run-off vote with second placed Abdullah Abdullah, expecting a compromise coalition agreement rather than risking another divisive election. In the end Abdullah withdrew and Obama and Brown were left to telephone their congratulations to Karzai, whom they had attacked as incompetent and corrupt; winner of an election the whole world knew to be a fraud. This was in stark contrast to their vitriolic attitudes towards the election of Hamas in Palestine (2005), which observers agreed was generally free and fair.

So, the imperialists have no option but to work with Karzai, for the time being. But Karzai has little power outside the capital. To ‘win’ the election he had to make deals with brutal warlords such as Rashid Dostum and Mohammed Fahim, who will demand their cut of the cake. Dostum has already been reinstated as head of the Afghan army on a salary of $80,000 a month. Karzai’s running mates were drug trafficker Muhammed Qasim and war criminal Karim Khalil. Following Karzai’s victory, Obama and Brown publicly insisted that Karzai must promote good governance. Brown said, ‘I am not prepared to put the lives of British men and women in harm’s way for a government that doesn’t stand up against corruption.’ But one of Karzai’s first announcements upon victory was that he would not be sacking any corrupt officials. Dauod Sultanzoy, an Afghan MP, said, ‘It’s a free for all. From now on Mr Karzai is not going to be accountable. The distance between the government and the people will widen.’ Malalai Joya, an Afghan woman MP, previously pointed out, ‘Your governments have replaced fundamentalist Taliban rule with another fundamentalist regime of warlords.’ With more US troops Karzai may consider his position as a political underpinning of the occupation strengthened.

Despite their moral posturing, the imperialists have no qualms about working with warlords. To protect convoys the occupying forces frequently hire ‘security’ organisations which are the private militias of warlords, among them Hashmat Karzai, the President’s brother. In October, the New York Times revealed that Ahmed Karzai, another brother, was on the CIA payroll. He is a leading drug trafficker and organised much of the electoral fraud in the south of Afghanistan. As in Vietnam and Nicaragua, and with the Miami Cuban mafia, the US has always tolerated and empowered drug barons in the pursuit of foreign policy objectives.

Ruling classes split

McChrystal’s strategy has split the US ruling class. He has the support of General Petraeus and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, but was reprimanded by Obama’s national security adviser, General James Jones, for publicly promoting his plans. Vice-President Biden, speaker of the house Nancy Pelosi and chair of the armed services committee Carl Levin oppose the counter-insurgency campaign and ‘nation building’ and favour fewer troops and greater use of air power and special forces in a more focused counter-terrorism campaign. In November, US Ambassador to Afghanistan Karl Eikenberry, former US commander in Afghanistan, said no more troops should be sent to the country. Others have jumped ship entirely. Matthew Hoh, US representative in Zabul Province, resigned in October, saying ‘the bulk of the insurgency fights not for the white banner of the Taliban but rather against the presence of foreign soldiers and taxes imposed by the unrepresentative government in Kabul’. Lieutenant Colonel David Kilcullen, Petraeus’s counter-insurgency adviser in Iraq, described the air attacks on the Afghanistan/Pakistan border as ‘not moral’.

In Britain, Prime Minister Brown has said he wants a further 500 British troops in Afghanistan and insists that British forces are well equipped. The Conservatives have signed up former British Army chief General Dannatt, an ardent critic of government policy, as a special adviser. General David Richards, head of the British Army, wants another 1,000 British troops and expects a commitment of up to 40 years in what he calls a ‘noble conflict’. However, Kim Howells, former Labour minister and chair of the parliamentary intelligence and security committee (and agent of the ruling class during the miners’ strike), stated that it was time to bring the troops home. Former head of the armed forces in Helmand, Major General Andrew McKay, has resigned, saying there was insufficient emphasis on reconstruction in Afghanistan.

US Defence Secretary Gates expressed the imperialists’ dilemma, ‘How do we signal resolve and at the same time signal to the Afghans and the American people that this is not open ended?’

US force new onslaught in Pakistan

In October, after months of pressure from the US, the Pakistani Army launched a major offensive against the Taliban and other anti-occupation supporters in the Waziristan border region. 30,000 troops are backed by helicopter gunships and F-16 fighters. The attack was preceded by weeks of intense bombardment by US drones. The Pakistan Army has sealed off the area to the media and cut phone lines but some of the 250,000 refugees fleeing the fighting report that civilians are being targeted, houses, mosques and shops bombarded and roadblocks and civilian curfews being enforced. According to one analysis, the Pakistani Army is operating a pincer movement to push the Taliban into a small zone between Ladha and Maheen where they plan to kill up to 15,000 militants and occupy their former bases and training camps. Other reports say that the Taliban have been joined by Kashmiri and Punjabi fighters and others from former Soviet Republics like Tajikistan and that they have re-taken towns such as Kotkai, and are moving back into parts of the Swat Valley cleared by a previous Pakistani Army offensive.

Despite the offensive, there is massive hostility towards the US among the Pakistani ruling class and the people. According to a Pew Global Attitudes survey, 80% of the population oppose co-operation with the US and 64% regard the US as an enemy. Many in the Pakistan Army are angry that the US is promoting the interests of India with special nuclear and arms deals. They see Afghanistan and the Taliban as a strategic rearguard defence in their dispute with India. They were outraged when, in announcing a $7.5 billion aid package to Pakistan, the US imposed the condition that it regularly certifies Pakistan is fighting Islamist extremists, closing training camps and preventing nuclear proliferation. Hillary Clinton stoked the anger when visiting Pakistan she said she found it ‘hard to believe’ that the Pakistan government did not know the whereabouts of Al Qaeda and could not ‘get at them if they really wanted to’.

The Pakistani offensives in Waziristan and previously in the Swat Valley have led to an escalation of bloody bombings in several Pakistani cities. Taliban targets have included the Army and the intelligence service headquarters and civilians. The US seems determined to drag Pakistan into the turmoil. They are building a massive embassy complex in Islamabad and growing numbers of Blackwater/Xe Services personnel are being employed. The whole region is being destabilised by US actions.

No more excuses

The imperialists are running out of excuses for invading Afghanistan – capturing Bin Laden, building democracy, establishing human rights, emancipating women, constructing a better life for the people, ending the drugs trade, have all proved to be lies. Now, they are reduced, as Brown said, ‘to protecting our nation from global terrorism’. But attacks on western targets have been in response to the imperialists’ global onslaught, not the cause of it. They have been and could be planned anywhere in the world, though none have originated in Afghanistan.

General James Jones admitted there were only about 100 Al Qaeda fighters in Afghanistan. A US intelligence report stated that 90% of the so-called Taliban are ‘a tribal localised insurgency (who) see themselves as opposing the US because it is an occupying power’, and went on to say that they have no goals beyond Afghanistan’s border.

As we have pointed out in FRFI over the past few years, the imperialists will talk, indeed already are

talking, to the Taliban. Their opposition to fundamentalist Islam is just another posture. After all, they created and armed the mujahedeen, for anti-Soviet purposes, from whom the Taliban originated. They feted the Taliban in the 1990s when they wanted an oil pipeline through Afghanistan; they cosy up to the fundamentalist regime in Saudi Arabia. But while a leaked British government document and Chief of Staff Sir Jock Stirrup both agree ‘we want to talk to all the people fighting us’, the British Prime Minister hastily denies they would talk to anyone but those willing to lay down their arms.

Never ending war

The imperialists have woven such a tangled web of deceit that they no longer know which way to wriggle. When asked what success in Afghanistan would consist of, special envoy Richard Holbrooke could only reply ‘we’ll know success when we see it’.

The wars in Afghanistan and Pakistan, as in Iraq, have nothing to do with fundamentalist ideology, terrorism or weapons of mass destruction. They are part of the US strategy to maintain global domination and the exploitation of resources in the face of possible challenges from rising economic powers such as Europe, China, Japan and Russia. Such wars will continue and expand until such time as the working class and the poor and oppressed of the world are strong enough to reclaim the world in their interests rather than those of the rich minority.

In the world of imperialist mystification, it takes a more honest bourgeois commentator to admit this truth. Anthony Cordesman of the Centre for Strategic and International Studies expects casualties in Afghanistan and Pakistan to more than treble. He says President Obama must tell the American people how wars being fought by US troops affect ‘the broader challenges of regional stability in the west, north and east’. Cordesman concludes, ‘We must stop taking the easy route of focusing on international terrorism ...any form of victory in Afghanistan and Pakistan will be part of a much longer struggle...that will endure indefinitely into the future.’

If the US commits 30,000-40,000 more troops to Afghanistan it will be to prevent the imperialists losing the war – they cannot win. Political movements in the US and Britain against the war are needed to end this carnage.

 

Afghanistan: Imperialist propaganda cannot mask paralysis / FRFI 211 Oct / Nov 2009

FRFI 211 October / November 2009

The imperialists intended the 20 August presidential elections to give a cloak of legitimacy to the Afghan government and their forces’ occupation of the country, but the outcome has further undermined the credibility of both. Ballots from over 600 polling stations have been quarantined and there are 720 major charges of electoral fraud. President Karzai is exposed as a cheat. In September US General Stanley McChrystal’s report to the Pentagon on the situation in Afghanistan was leaked; it describes a failing military endeavour, a corrupt government without popular support and time running out fast for the invaders. Despite deploying extra troops and launching intensive campaigns over the summer, the occupying forces have been fought to a standstill. On 21 September the 217th British soldier was killed in Afghanistan since 2001; more than in the Iraq war. In August 77 NATO troops were killed, and by 21 September a further 55 were dead. Many more Afghan people were killed. The US and British states are on the road to disaster in Afghanistan.  Jim Craven and Trevor Rayne report.

By means of their superior fire power, the imperialists had hoped to clear areas of Taliban and other anti-occupation forces. The plan was to hold these areas while pushing back the Taliban still further so that the cleared ‘oil spots’ gradually spread and coalesced into larger regions under imperialist control, a tactic sometimes called ‘clear, hold, build’. The anti-occupation forces, however, are guerrilla fighters, able to withdraw from conflict whenever they consider the enemy too strong. They can simply melt back into the mountains or the villages and people from whom they receive support and later direct their attacks elsewhere. When some British troops were pulled out of Sangin in the summer to join Operation Panther’s Claw in Helmand, the Taliban redirected attacks to Sangin, killing 14 British soldiers in five weeks. Even when the imperialist forces are able to engage and kill the anti-occupation forces there is a supply of recruits ready to replace their lost fighters. In a remarkable interview in The Times, a Welsh Guards officer spoke openly of the physical and psychological pressures of fighting in Afghanistan, the officer said, ‘They (the Taliban) come back undaunted to the same firing points despite our overwhelming fire power. We will not be able to reduce their numbers to a level where they are tactically defeated.’

The imperialists do not have sufficient forces to control areas they do capture. They need the support of tribal leaders and the local people. But local leaders often prove unreliable allies, ready to switch allegiances, either for safety or to line their pockets. And among the Afghan people support for the Taliban is widespread, many finding them preferable to the corrupt and incompetent Afghan government. Polls demonstrate that more than half the Afghan population is now opposed to the imperialist occupation. In Pakistan nearly two-thirds of people polled regarded the US as an enemy.

Movement paralysed

Having to constantly switch between one battle zone and the next, to defend ground and pursue the enemy, the imperialists depend on rapid movement of their inadequate resources together with maintaining the lines of communication and supply that such movement demands. The anti-occupation forces have paralysed this movement by the simple expedient of improvised explosive devices (IEDs) – mines and booby-trapped bombs. At times, US/NATO convoys are reduced to a snail’s pace because they must be preceded by bomb detection teams working on foot. Many of the recent casualties have been caused by IEDs that weren’t found. Speaking of these horrific deaths the Welsh Guard said, ‘Each death is zipped up in a mental body bag. However, unlike a real body bag, which fortunately disappears, that mental body bag remains in the morgue of your subconscious.’

Mentally paralysed

More airpower would help overcome these problems for the imperialist forces, but they do not have enough helicopters. Because of equipment shortages, troops expend an enormous number of hours and manpower just standing still. In an army where recruits are led to expect their superior armaments will ensure easy victories and rapid advances, such impotence is bound to undermine morale. It appears the imperialist troops are becoming psychologically as well as physically paralysed. As Mao pointed out, in guerrilla warfare the mindset of the enemy, not weaponry, is the determining factor for victory.

Air strikes have increased since President Obama took office, but they carry with them further problems for the imperialist strategy. Indiscriminate bombings have massacred thousands of Afghan civilians and become a major source of opposition to the occupation. On 4 September, 119 people, including scores of children and other civilians were killed in a fireball when a German commander called in US F-15 fighters to attack two hijacked oil tankers in Kunduz. The Guardian described it as the ‘deadliest military operation by Germany since the end of the Second World War’. President Karzai said, ‘What an error of judgment’! Overall, civilian casualties increased by 25% during the first six months of this year. An estimated 30,000 Afghan civilians have been killed so far.

General McChrystal intends the occupation forces to change strategy and fight a counter-insurgency war with ‘less armour and less distance from the population... personnel must be seen as guests of the Afghan people and their government, not an occupying army’. The concept of US and NATO armies being ‘guests’ would be laughable if it were not so tragic. Anti-occupation forces will exploit any attempt by the occupiers to get close to the population and will use civilians to move material, as the Vietnamese did against the US. The occupiers will be very visible and their opponents close to invisible to them. McChrystal wants the Afghan Army and Police Forces (ANSF) to more than double in size, quickly. This is absurd as a central plank of strategy given the composition and corruption of the puppet state with its shifting coalition of warlords; it will not function in a unified, coherent way and will galvanise forces against it.

War propaganda and electoral farce

With the almost weekly return of dead servicemen and women, the failure to make military progress and the ongoing criticism of equipment and strategy, support for the war is dwindling in the imperialist countries. Polls show that more than half the US population is now opposed to the war and that in Britain 47% want troops withdrawn. Consequently, the imperialist propaganda machine has gone into overdrive. The returning dead are lauded as heroes whose deaths must not be in vain – ‘the old lie’ – so more young people must die, whose death in turn must be honoured by still more deaths.

Attempts to present the war as a means of bringing democracy to the country are patently ludicrous. The presidential election in August, described by the Afghan woman MP Malalai Joya as a ‘show... put on by and for the West to legitimise its future puppet in Afghanistan’, is a propaganda nightmare. 100,000 occupying troops and 180,000 Afghan army and police were unable to prevent attacks by the anti-occupation forces right into the heart of Kabul, even firing mortars at the Presidential Palace. Anyone opposed to the occupation was not able to stand for election

To bolster his support, President Karzai invited home from exile in Turkey the brutal Uzbek warlord Rashid Dostum, who is alleged to have murdered 1,000 Taliban captives in 2001 by incarcerating them in metal shipping containers placed in the baking sun. One of Karzai’s vice-presidents elect is Mohammed Fahim, suspected of murdering prisoners of war in the 1990s, together with kidnappings and other crimes. Karzai also promised jobs to several other warlords guilty of multiple human rights abuses. His electoral adviser was Abdul Sayyaf, the man who first invited Osama bin Laden to Afghanistan. Karzai’s brother, Ahmed, himself a leading drugs baron, toured Kandahar offering local leaders $20,000 to support Karzai. On 17 September the ballot, in which about one third of the electorate participated, gave Karzai 54.6% and former foreign minister Abdullah Abdulla 27%; a candidate needs 50% of the votes to be declared outright winner. Abdullah Abdulla threatened street demonstrations ‘like those in Iran, only with Kalashnikovs’, if Karzai was declared the winner. The US government announced that it would wait until the investigation of claims of fraud was completed before acknowledging a victor or determining whether a second round of voting should take place.

Women’s barbaric treatment

After eight years of imperialist occupation conditions remain grim for the Afghan people with among the worst poverty, illiteracy, health, infant mortality and malnutrition in the world. But life for Afghan women is even worse. 85% of them have no formal education. According to Women for Women International, 80% of Afghan women are affected by domestic violence, almost half are forced into marriage before the age of 16 (some as young as nine) and 47% say they need their husband’s or family’s permission to walk down the street. Where women are allowed to work, their wages are just one third of men’s. In rural areas, up to 90% of women have no health care. Life expectancy is 44 years. The maternal mortality rate is between 1,600 and 1,900 deaths per hundred thousand live births, which means one Afghan woman dies in childbirth every 30 minutes. In areas controlled by the Taliban there are reports that girls are not allowed to attend school nor women to work and that there are severe punishments for women who contravene Sharia law.

Probably the most abhorrent aspect of Karzai’s election campaign was his agreement to pass the Personal Status Law to placate Shia religious leaders. The law legitimises rape. It allows Shia men to deny their wives food and sustenance if the women don’t submit to the men’s sexual demands and it permits rapists to avoid prosecution by paying ‘blood money’. The law also grants the guardianship of children exclusively to fathers and grandfathers and gives husbands the right to forbid their wives from working or even going out of the house. The law contradicts the so-called Afghan constitution and international treaties that Afghanistan is supposed to be party to.

Given the vacuity of any claim to be bringing democracy and human rights to Afghanistan, the imperialist propaganda machine has returned to the theme of preventing terrorism at home in order to justify its war. Gordon Brown spoke of ‘a chain of terror linking Afghanistan and Pakistan to the streets of Britain’ and President Obama told a recent meeting of the Veterans of Foreign Wars, ‘If left unchecked, the Taliban insurgency will mean an even larger safe haven from which Al Qaeda would plot to kill more Americans.’ Of course, even if there were any truth in these claims, they beg the question why the people of the Middle East and Central Asia would want to hit back at the US and Britain. Hardly surprising, while the imperialists continue to attack, occupy and exploit their countries. General Sir Richard Dannatt, until recently head of the British army, supported the anti-terrorism excuse for the war, despite previously pointing out that the majority of the anti-occupation fighters were not terrorists but sons and brothers from Afghan and Pakistani families killed and damaged by the war. Former major Eric Joyce, a parliamentary aid to Labour Defence Secretary Bob Ainsworth, resigned his post in September saying the war in Afghanistan has nothing to do with the defence of Britain against terrorism and called for a timetable for troop withdrawal.

Strategic commitment

The imperialists show no signs of pulling out. Afghanistan is crucial to them as a strategic centre for dominating the region and for access to the oil rich Caucasus. General Dannatt said British troops face at least five more years of intense fighting. He and his successor, General David Richards, have spoken of a ‘commitment’ to Afghanistan for 40 years – could there be a greater indictment of the entire enterprise? They want 2,000 more British troops in the country. US commander General McChrystal wants 30,000 more US troops. Speaking to the US Veterans of Foreign Wars, President Obama boasted that he would maintain increased military spending and revamp the US military to better serve US global domination: ‘We need to keep our military the best trained, the best led, the best equipped fighting force in the world... and that’s why we’ve increased the size of the army and the Marine Corps two years ahead of schedule.’ The new military would be designed to respond to multiple conflicts simultaneously, be lighter, more high-tech and ready to deploy quickly all over the world.

In stark contrast, the US military and NATO appear ever-more bogged-down and futile in Afghanistan and their credibility is being strained. Disenchantment is reflected among leading US Democratic Party members and the NATO allies; some are seeking an exit strategy. The US government has said it will assess McChrystal’s proposed strategy before posting more troops. The Netherlands and Canada have said respectively that they will reduce and pull their troops out soon. The spectre of the humiliation in Vietnam still haunts Washington. In early September British Prime Minister Brown, French President Sarkozy and German Chancellor Merkel called for an international conference to transfer responsibility for the war on Afghanistan to the United Nations. As the ground gives way beneath the occupation armies in Afghanistan, so divisions within the ruling classes and between the imperialist powers are likely to increase; a substantial anti-war movement could then be decisive in ending this carnage – but it still does not exist, neither in Britain nor the US.

 

Fighting thin air

FRFI 167 June / July 2002

Britain’s contribution to the ‘war on terrorism’ looked a sorry picture by mid-May. The Royal Marine commandos sallied forth only to find no one there. An arms cache had been located and destroyed, but it belonged to an ally and not an enemy. Eventually al-Qaida forces were located, attacked and killed but they turned to out to be celebrants at a wedding party. Defence Secretary Geoff Hoon pronounced ‘every confidence’ in the officer in charge of British forces in Afghanistan. A day later Brigadier Roger Lane was being returned to a posting ‘at headquarters’. Behind this farce the tragedy of Afghan people continues and the undertow of menace threatens the world. TREVOR RAYNE reports.

Between October 2001 and April 2002 the US military claim to have dropped 22,000 bombs and missiles on Afghanistan, averaging over 100 a day. The number of civilians killed by the US and allied intervention is put by aid organisations at up to 8,000 killed directly by explosives and over 20,000 killed indirectly by disease, starvation and cold accompanying displacement from their homes. By mid-May 37 US military personnel had been killed in or around Afghanistan. British casualties in ‘peacekeeping missions’, including Afghanistan, under the Labour government since 1997 have reached approximately 60 dead.

 

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Imperialism out of Afghanistan

FRFI 164 December 2001 / January 2002

The US and British governments say they do not know when this war will end or where it will end. The retaliatory attack was launched by the US and Britain on 7 October. After one month 7,000 bombs and missiles had been dropped on Afghanistan. Reports from Pakistan said 1,500-2,000 civilians had been killed by the bombardment. Four US airmen were killed in accidents. Two million people, trapped in the central highlands, faced starvation. 115,000 Afghan refugees had been added to those previously displaced. On 9 November Northern Alliance forces took Mazar-e-Sharif from the Taliban and on 13 November they entered Kabul. Captives were killed, between 500 and 600 were massacred in Mazar. Britain and the US share responsibility for this war crime, as TREVOR RAYNE shows.

Since 1979, when the US and Britain backed the counter-revolutionary war against the Afghan government, 2.5 million Afghans, 10% of the population, have been killed. 6.3 million Afghans, 30% of the people, are refugees. The Taliban and the Northern Alliance have served imperialism in this destruction.

 

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WAR IN AFGHANISTAN Deeper into the mire

‘Mr President, I’m not saying we wouldn’t get our hair mussed. But I do say ... no more than ten to twenty million killed, tops ... depending on the breaks.’
General Turgidson, Dr Strangelove

The clamour for more helicopters and equipment for British forces in Afghanistan and the tears and pomp for British war dead will not reduce the rising number of Afghani and British casualties in an immoral, imperialist war. Thousands of Afghani civilians have lost their lives. More weapons will sink British forces deeper into the mire. The grief of dead soldiers’ families is exploited by the government to rally public support for the war. British imperialist forces are employed to kill and, if necessary, to be killed. ANDREW ALEXANDER reports on a war that has cost Britain over £4.5bn to date and has implications for an entire region.

 

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War in Afghanistan and Pakistan escalates / FRFI 209 Jun / Jul 2009

FRFI 209 June / July 2009

War in Afghanistan and Pakistan escalates 

When Britain sent its first major contingent of 4,000 troops to Helmand, Afghanistan, in 2006 the then Labour Defence Secretary John Reid said he hoped ‘not a shot would be fired in anger’. There are now more than 8,000 British troops in the province. They have fired over six million bullets. US, British and other NATO forces are escalating the war in Afghanistan and Pakistan. Top British military commanders want to send up to 4,000 more British troops. Defence Secretary John Hutton and Prime Minister Gordon Brown are believed  to agree, but the Treasury is resisting the demand.

The US has begun to send 17,000 additional troops, together with 4,000 training personnel, to what President Obama calls ‘the good war’. In the first week of May alone 150 civilians were killed in Farah province by US special forces. Previous top US commander in Afghanistan, Lt-General David McKiernan, requested an extra 10,000 troops by early 2010. The additional troops would bring the combined US/NATO force in Afghanistan to around 110,000. The imperialists plan to double the size of the Afghan army to 134,000 and, by 2011, to increase it to 230,000. Such numbers emphasise the importance of the region for US imperialism’s strategy of global domination.

The Taliban have extended their control of Afghanistan from 54% to 72% of the country since the imperialists’ decision in 2006 to increase occupying forces. Only one of four main roads out of Kabul is safe. The key imperialist supply route to the south is under constant threat. The Afghan and Pakistan Taliban have reportedly signed a pact to fight occupation forces inside Afghanistan and to stop attacks on ‘fellow Muslims in the tribal areas and elsewhere in Pakistan’ which are ‘harming the war against US and NATO forces’. However, on 27 May the Pakistani Taliban claimed responsibility for bombings in Lahore that killed at least 24 people, saying they were in retaliation for army operations in the Swat Valley.

The US is expanding major operations beyond Afghanistan into Pakistan. US Under Secretary of Defence Michelle Flannery said, ‘Afghanistan and Pakistan are two countries that comprise a single theatre for our diplomacy. The future of the two countries is inextricably linked.’

War in Pakistan
In March, President Obama said the US aimed to destroy Taliban and Al Qaeda bases in Afghanistan and Pakistan. He promised that if the Pakistan government forces played their part the US would provide $1.5 billion aid a year for the next five years. If not, Obama threatened unilateral action in Pakistan. A few days later US Lt-Colonel Mark Wright offered joint military operations with Pakistan Frontier Corps in the northwest tribal areas. In fact, the US has been attacking this area for some time. Special forces have made secret incursions and, since August 2008, the US has launched over 60 unmanned drone attacks, some from inside Pakistan. They claim these missile attacks were aimed at Taliban and Al Qaeda bases, but no more than ten have hit their intended target and over 700 Pakistani civilians have been killed as a consequence. Obama plans to extend these attacks into Baluchistan. The Pakistani army has been fighting in the region for several months with over 1,500 soldiers killed. The war has cost Pakistan over $35 billion.

Mass depopulation
US air strikes on the border areas and the failure of the Pakistani ruling class to tackle its appalling poverty mean there is little support for the military actions. 89% of the Pakistani population oppose the war. A Pakistan government attempt to broker a truce by agreeing to introduce Sharia law in the Swat Valley and adjoining districts came to nothing when the Taliban advanced to within 60 miles of Islamabad, seizing the town of Buner in April. US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton accused Pakistan’s President Zardari of ‘basically abdicating to the Taliban and extremists’. The US has long known that elements in the Pakistan army and intelligence service support the Taliban and undermine efforts to defeat them. After Pakistani paramilitaries had been routed by the Taliban, the Pakistan army mounted a counter-attack from 8 May in the Swat Valley, Lower Dir and Buner. 18,000 Pakistan army troops backed by aerial support and heavy artillery attacked. The situation in Mingora, population 250,000, was likened to Fallujah in November 2004: 10,000 people were reported left in the city. The UN has registered 1.45 million people as refugees as they flee the onslaught. This is the biggest civilian displacement on the sub-continent since the 1947 partition.
In Britain, opposition to the escalating war in Afghanistan and Pakistan is feeble. Barbarism is becoming systemic; having been made acceptable, the atrocities increase.
Iraq: British retreat,

US bunkers down  
As British troops prepared to withdraw from Iraq at the end of April amid the usual flag-waving jingoism, Hassan Juma’a of the Oil Workers’ Federation delivered the verdict of the Iraqi people: ‘My final message to the British warmonger is “good riddance”. The curse of your Iraqi victims will always be with you, for you killed innocent people and tortured captives. Go to the dustbin of history, and never forget heroic Basra and the great struggle of the Iraqi people.’ 400 British troops will remain to train Iraqi army and naval officers but the occupation of Basra has been taken over by US forces. Hassan Juma’a pointed out, ‘The US will treat its junior partner with contempt – the master will no doubt seek to establish sole control of Iraq and its resources.’

Rising violence
Under the Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA) with the Iraqi government, US combat forces are supposed to withdraw from Iraqi cities by 30 June this year and leave the country by August 2010. However, rising violence and sectarian tensions, deliberately fuelled by the occupiers, have demonstrated that President Obama’s plans to withdraw US troops do not amount to the end of the war on Iraq.

The US claimed that the reduction in violence last year resulted from its military ‘surge’. The main factors, however, were the decision of Sunni resistance fighters to take pay and protection from the imperialists as part of the Awakening Councils, Al Sahwa, in return for suspending their opposition to the occupation, and a ceasefire called by the Shia cleric Moqtada Al Sadr, under pressure from Iran. Working class opposition was suppressed by house to house searches and arbitrary arrests, by brutal attacks on the poor Shia districts of Baghdad and by continuing repression of the trade unions. Sectarianism, generated by the occupation, resulted in the division of the country largely along religious and ethnic lines, reinforced in Baghdad by a maze of concrete walls and military checkpoints. The Iraqi bourgeoisie, Shia, Sunni and Kurdish, looked forward to reaping the profits of this improved security, each within its own region. It gave the Iraqi government, dominated by the parties of the elite and merchant classes, strength to push its interests in the SOFA negotiations.

Iraqi government threatens Sunnis and Kurds
This state of affairs is breaking up because the Shia parties, forming the majority of the government, want to retain control of resources against demands of the Sunnis and Kurds. The Iraqi government has been arresting leaders of Al Sahwa since spring 2008. Many of them are former members of the Baathist Party and regarded by the Shia as a threat to their dominance. They want to finish Al Sahwa before the US troops draw down. When local Al Sahwa leader Adil Al Mashadani was arrested in Fadhil on 29 March, an uprising by local Sunnis was put down with help from US forces. The understanding when Al Sahwa was created was that members would receive work in the Iraqi security and state services as part of a wider integration of Sunnis into the government, but by the end of March only 5,000 had been given jobs. There are an estimated 100,000 members throughout Iraq. Most have not been paid for several months.

In the oil-rich north, the Kurdish regional government has threatened autonomous action. Clashes followed gains made by Sunni parties in recent provincial elections. Iraqi government troops were sent to the region and the Kurds threatened civil war. A promised referendum on the status of Kirkuk has been cancelled by the Iraqi government. At present there is an uneasy stand-off and the situation is exacerbated by the threat of a Turkish invasion should the Kurds declare an autonomous state.

SOFA loopholes allow US to stay
In the SOFA negotiations the US hoped for a stronger and more permanent military occupation but they were in no position, politically, to ignore the demands of an increasingly confident Iraqi government backed by the Iranians. They knew that while stability remained fragile, the Iraqi ruling class would require their protection. The result was an agreement with so many loopholes that the US could be confident of retaining strategic military bases in Iraq and consequently privileged access to its oil.

Operations against Al Sahwa have been defined as counter-terrorism, as have those against Turkish/ Kurdish PKK guerrillas operating in the north, thus triggering one of the conditions that permit US combat operations to continue beyond the date set by SOFA. Some combat forces have simply been renamed as ‘advisory and assistance brigades’. The US commander in Iraq, General Ray Odierno, made it clear that US troops are prepared to ‘maintain a presence’ in Iraqi cities after the deadline if asked to do so. Sure enough, according to the New York Times, negotiations are already under way to create exceptions to the 30 June deadline. They include redefining the term ‘city’.

The US cannot afford to have many troops tied down in Iraq; it needs to reinforce those in Afghanistan. But it is in the interests of the US to be seen as the only force capable of preventing chaos, especially at a time when the Iraqi people are due to vote in a referendum on SOFA, defeat in which would mean all US troops leaving by next year. By keeping Iraqi security forces sufficiently weak the US hopes to maintain its military domination of the country. The US Government Accountability Office reported that, although the number of Iraqi army and police forces had almost doubled between January 2007 and October 2008, the proportion capable of undertaking independent operations remained about 10%.

Iraqi people continue to suffer
The suffering of the Iraqi people continues. The UN reports that only 40% of children have access to safe water and that water treatment plants are operating at just 17% capacity. There were 10,000 cases of cholera last year. The number of health professionals has halved since 2003. Families receive on average just three hours’ electricity per day. Two million Iraqi refugees live abroad. Despite their dreadful circumstances they are too fearful to return. The Iraqi government has withdrawn the meagre offer of free transport and $600 for those wishing to return. According to the International Organisation for Migration at least a further 1.6 million Iraqis have been internally displaced. They suffer overcrowded housing, food shortages, unsafe water, no electricity and lack of health and education services. Among them unemployment averages 66%, but rises to almost 100% in some areas.

So far the US government has offered $9.5 billion for Iraqi reconstruction. It provided over $700 billion to bail out Wall Street. The Iraqi government has reduced its modest social and infrastructure budget due to falling oil revenues. Bidding by the oil multinationals, including BP and Shell, for Iraqi oil is expected to commence at the end of June despite the government still not passing a law allowing this plunder. Iraq has known reserves of 115 billion barrels of oil, exceeded only by those of Saudi Arabia and Iran. The Financial Times (7 May 2009) explains that the Iraqi government has become desperate to get the contracts signed as oil prices have fallen and the budget has consequently suffered: ‘For the companies, the drop in the oil price may have drastically reduced available cash but not enough to force them to forgo the biggest investment opportunity since the fall of communism.’

Jim Craven, Trevor Rayne
and Andrew Alexander

 

AFGHANISTAN: bowing to the empire

FRFI 165 February / March 2002

The USA-led ‘war on terrorism’ threatens the world. Divisions between the allies are opening up with European alarm at the USA. Russia and China have told the USA they do not want a permanent US military force in Central Asia. India and Pakistan confront each other armed with nuclear weapons. Repressive regimes from Israel to Zimbabwe use the ‘war on terrorism’ to attack opponents. State racism crushes civil liberties in the USA, Britain and Europe. TRE VOR RAYNE reports.

It took two months for the US and British attack on Afghanistan launched on 7 October to remove Taliban rule from Kandahar. The Economist (22 December 2001) gave thanks, ‘Their military achievements in Afghanistan should make Americans proud, and the world optimistic…There has been no "humanitarian disaster".’ This regardless of the report in The Economist two weeks before that 20 children and old people were dying every day of cold and hunger in one refugee camp and that this disaster was being repeated in camps across Afghanistan. The Economist proceeded, ‘And although some innocent lives will always be lost… its [US] technology and discipline have proved good enough to keep the numbers low.’ On 20 December press footnotes recorded that the numbers killed in the World Trade Centre had been recalculated at below 3,000. That same day the British press published US academic research estimating that 3,767 Afghan civilians had been killed by US bombing between 7 October and 10 December. The magazine concluded, presumably tongue in cheek, ‘America should be "humble but strong". Both characteristics have been necessary since 11 September. Both can be displayed with pride.’

 

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A revolution betrayed

FRFI 166 April / May 2002

The 1978 Afghan Revolution was a genuine seizure of power by the oppressed from the exploiters. With few exceptions, the Left in the imperialist countries slandered the revolution as a coup d’état. Recently Clare Fermont of the SWP went as far as to say revolution in Afghanistan was impossible: ‘the lack of economic development meant there was no social basis for a “social democratic” movement, let alone a socialist one.’ (Socialist Review, October 2001).

 

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Afghanistan: a little local difficulty

FRFI 178 April / May 2004

Timed to coincide with US Secretary of State Colin Powell’s mid-March visit to Kabul and Islamabad, a US-led force of 13,500 troops launched the suitably dramatically named Operation Mountain Storm in search of Osama bin Laden, along the Afghan border with Pakistan. Across the border the Pakistan army entered the semi-autonomous province of South Waziristan. Al Qaida fighters would be caught between the ‘hammer and the anvil’, they said. Powell expressed satisfaction with the show: ‘The action yesterday suggests that Pakistan has picked up the pace. We hope they continue to do that.’

Entering into the spirit of the performance, Pakistani agents reported Bin Laden’s number two, Ayman al-Zawarhi, trapped in South Waziristan. In their enthusiasm the agents must have improvised, for next we learned that the slippery fellow had escaped down a mile-long tunnel. The capture of Bin Laden is a priority for Bush’s presidential election campaign. Task Force 121, the team that found Saddam Hussein, has been drafted in.

 

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Afghanistan: Resistance flares in face of British forces

When the then British Defence Secretary John Reid announced in April that an extra 3,200 British troops were to be sent to Afghanistan, he said he hoped they might get through their deployment without a shot being fired. This was a preposterously disingenuous statement meant to sustain the stereotypical image of British ‘Tommy Atkins’ as the friendly peacemaker risking his life to bring harmony to troublesome foreigners. The reality is that the level of violence is now greater than at any time since the invasion of Afghanistan in 2001. Over 600 people were killed in May alone. The British force is carrying out ruthless search and destroy missions, engaging in firefights with the Taliban and other resistance fighters every day. As junior defence minister Tom Watson more truthfully admitted on 3 July, ‘That was why we sent an air-mobile battle group, artillery and Apache attack helicopters.’ Still the deceit continued. The same day the Ministry of Defence said there were no plans to increase the total force on the ground and denied reports that commanders had called for more armoured vehicles, helicopters and jets. A few days later it was announced that a further 800 British Army personnel were going to Afghanistan along with extra support ordinance. This will bring the total British presence in Afghanistan to around 6,000, approaching the 7,200 in Iraq. The total NATO force in Afghanistan is 25,000, including US troops, and came under British command in July.

Despite all this, the resistance to imperialist occupation is growing. On 30 May a recklessly driven US Humvee ploughed into civilians in Kabul killing five Afghans. In the riots that followed Afghan police joined the demonstrators. Twelve people were killed when US troops fired on the protesters. Hundreds of Taliban fighters stormed the town of Musa Qala on 18 May, killing 13 police. They now have control of the area around Kandahar and hit the airbase there with two rockets at the end of June. In an attack on the British base at Sangin on 2 July two British soldiers were killed. Troops there face fierce resistance from local people. Six British soldiers were killed in less than four weeks at the beginning of the summer. For the first time the resistance entered Kabul at the beginning of July when four bombs exploded in 48 hours.

 

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Resistance flares in Afghanistan

Attacks by resistance fighters in Afghanistan during the early autumn were described by one British officer as ‘the most intensive fighting British forces had seen since the Korean War’. The frequency of attacks is now more than four times what it was a year ago, running at an average of 600 attacks each month. In October, Brigadier Ed Butler, former commander of British forces in Afghanistan, admitted that his troops had come close to running out of supplies and that ‘some may have underestimated the tenacity and ferocity of the Taliban’. He now suggests imperialist forces may have to be in Afghanistan for 20 years. US Ambassador Ronald Neumann agrees, saying that the US would remain ‘multiple years’ and spend ‘multiple billions’ to avoid failure.

Resistance fighters are not just Taliban
To describe all those opposing the occupation of Afghanistan as Taliban is mere propaganda on the part of the imperialists. Anyone who opposes the puppet government of Hamid Karzai or the rampant corruption of its local officials are labelled Taliban. It is part of the same terror and divide and rule tactics the British have always used in counter-insurgency operations. So, for example, local warlords are sent to patrol tribesmen with whom they have blood feuds. When the tribesmen defend themselves or fight back they too are labelled Taliban.

 

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Afghanistan – cracks open up in the imperialist front

The imperialist forces face deepening problems in Afghanistan. By the end of last year 36 British and 34 Canadian troops had been killed: a death rate for British forces greater than in Iraq. Over 100 suicide attacks took place in 2006 compared with just 17 in the previous 12 months. Taliban and other attacks on Afghan forces increased by more than 300% in 2006 and on NATO forces by over 270%. The British and Canadians continue to meet fierce resistance wherever they go in the south. In Musa Qala the British brokered a peace deal with the village elders which the Afghan resistance has respected, but the deal only applies within the town, so British forces continue to face major attacks just outside its boundaries.

When NATO forces respond they often do so in an indiscriminate manner. In Punjwayi during Operation Medusa NATO claimed to have killed more than 1,000 resistance fighters and captured huge stockpiles of weapons but air attacks killed many civilians. In October at least 30 nomadic herders were killed by NATO air strikes. At the beginning of December in Kandahar British troops opened fire indiscriminately following a bomb attack on their convoy. Witnesses said most of the 23 killed and injured civilians were the victims of the gun fire not the bomb. Such incidents only anger the local people and draw new recruits into the resistance.

 

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Resistance grows in Afghanistan

The suicide bombing at the Bagram air base in February graphically illustrated the deepening problems for the imperialist forces in Afghanistan. After five years of occupation they could not even protect the most heavily guarded base in the country when US Vice President Cheney was visiting. A report by the US Centre for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) said that the occupation was fuelling the Afghan resistance and that NATO operations were doing more harm than good. It criticised NATO for overestimating the number of resistance fighters it has killed and for blaming civilian deaths on the Taliban. The report admitted that most Afghanis were disillusioned with the occupation and that indiscriminate actions by the imperialist forces were ‘creating ten enemies out of one’.

At the end of February, a rally of 25,000 people in Kabul quickly turned into a demonstration against the occupation with chants of ‘Death to America’ and ‘Death to the enemies of Afghanistan’. The CSIS report went on to criticise what it called ‘abusive elements’ in the Afghan government and police and among local commanders. It said the Afghan army ‘remains ineffective and is held in low esteem’ and that the legitimacy of the government has ‘deteriorated’. The outgoing commander of US forces, General Kark Eikenberg agreed that ‘a point could be reached at which the government of Afghanistan becomes irrelevant to its people’.

 

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Afghanistan: death toll rises

The imperialists are resorting to ever more brutal tactics to suppress resistance, in particular the indiscriminate bombing of civilian targets. On 18 June seven children were killed in an attack on a religious compound in Paktika. Four days later US warplanes massacred 25 civilians in Kunjakak, including three children. At least 107 people were killed on 29 June in Hyderabad in Helmand province. Mayor Dur Ali Shah said 45 of them were civilians. Earlier a joint patrol convoy of US and Afghan puppet forces had come under fire and the resistance fighters then retreated to Hyderabad. That evening, without warning, US aircraft attacked the whole village, destroying homes, businesses and livestock. Such collective punishment is proscribed by the Geneva Convention. Its purpose was to terrorise and intimidate the Afghan people.

In the first five months of 2007 the imperialists launched over 1,000 air strikes, four times the number carried out in Iraq. A report by the International Committee of the Red Cross highlighted the ‘growing number of civilian casualties’. The number of civilians killed by the occupying forces far outnumbered those killed in operations by resistance fighters. Even puppet President Hamid Karzai said he was ‘disappointed and angry’ at the level of civilian casualties and a NATO spokesman conceded he was right to be.

 

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Afghanistan / FRFI 199 Oct / Nov 2007

When British troops left for Afghanistan, the then Labour Defence Secretary John Reid, suggested they might soon return without a shot being fired. Two years on and two million rounds of ammunition later and the present Defence Secretary, Des Browne, has spoken of a ‘long-term commitment’ of anything from 10 to 30 years, claiming the Labour government ‘never underestimated the degree of difficulty we face’. The number of British troops in Helmand is set to rise to 7,700 this autumn.

As in Iraq, differences are emerging between the British and US forces. British commanders have asked that US special forces be removed from their area because the number of civilian casualties is damaging their so-called ‘hearts and minds’ campaign. A senior British officer stated that the US caused ‘the lion’s share’ of the more than 300 Afghan civilian casualties so far this year. The new NATO commander in Afghanistan, US General Dan McNeil, has aborted agreements made by British forces with local leaders in Helmand Province.

 

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Imperialists under fierce attack in Afghanistan

Problems mount for the imperialist occupation of Afghanistan. A US Congressional Committee reported, ‘There is no security in Afghanistan. The central government’s grip does not extend much beyond the environs of Kabul. In the provinces there is no functioning local government.’ Violent incidents in the country are up 30% compared with last year, now averaging 550 every month. According to the US Council on Foreign Relations, 5,100 people were killed in the country in the first nine months of this year, 50% up on the same period of 2006. According to The Guardian, ‘The possibility of military failure, previously unthinkable, is now openly discussed.’

 

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Resistance in Afghanistan cannot be contained / FRFI 204 Aug / Sep 2008

FRFI 204 August / September 2008

Resistance in Afghanistan cannot be contained

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!

 

US forces mass in Afghanistan / FRFI 207 Feb / Mar 2009

FRFI 207 February / March 2009

In his farewell speech to cadets at the US military academy, President Bush said, ‘We’ve reshaped our approach to national security [and] laid a solid foundation on which future presidents and future military leaders can build...We must stay on the offensive.’
Speaking on NBC news in December President-elect Barack Obama said, ‘Afghanistan and its border regions with Pakistan...is the central front...in the war against terrorism.’ Obama wanted ‘a new national security strategy that uses all elements of American power’. JIM CRAVEN reports.

US foreign policy depends not on the individuals in power but on what the ruling class and US imperialism demands. Obama will send an extra brigade of soldiers to Afghanistan in January, to be followed by a further 26,000 combat troops and support personnel, almost doubling the present US forces in the country to a total of 60,000. The number of mercenaries will also be significantly increased. Britain has been asked to send another 3,000 to 5,000 troops. On 25 January Vice President Biden said he expected ‘an uptick’ in US casualties. President Obama sanctioned two missile attacks on Pakistan on 23 January, resulting in the deaths of 22 people including children.

 

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