Fighting thin air

FRFI 167 June / July 2002

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

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

 

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Imperialism out of Afghanistan

FRFI 164 December 2001 / January 2002

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

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

 

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War in Afghanistan Deeper into the mire

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

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

 

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War in Afghanistan and Pakistan escalates

FRFI 209 June / July 2009

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

 

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Afghanistan: bowing to the empire

FRFI 165 February / March 2002

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

 

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A revolution betrayed

FRFI 166 April / May 2002

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

 

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Afghanistan: a little local difficulty

FRFI 178 April / May 2004

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

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

 

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Afghanistan: Resistance flares in face of British forces

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

 

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Resistance flares in Afghanistan

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

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

 

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Afghanistan – cracks open up in the imperialist front

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

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

 

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Resistance grows in Afghanistan

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

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

 

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Afghanistan: death toll rises

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

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

 

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Afghanistan

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

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

 

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Imperialists under fierce attack in Afghanistan

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

 

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Resistance in Afghanistan cannot be contained

FRFI 204 August / September 2008

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

 

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US forces mass in Afghanistan

FRFI 207 February / March 2009

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

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

 

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