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.