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Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg told the House of Commons: ‘Let me be absolutely clear that we will see our troops withdrawn from Afghanistan from a combat role by 2015.’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 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.