Fighting thin air

FRFI 167 June / July 2002

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

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

 

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Imperialism out of Afghanistan

FRFI 164 December 2001 / January 2002

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

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

 

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WAR IN AFGHANISTAN Deeper into the mire

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

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

 

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

FRFI 209 June / July 2009

War in Afghanistan and Pakistan escalates 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jim Craven, Trevor Rayne
and Andrew Alexander

 

AFGHANISTAN: bowing to the empire

FRFI 165 February / March 2002

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

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

 

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A revolution betrayed

FRFI 166 April / May 2002

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

 

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Afghanistan: a little local difficulty

FRFI 178 April / May 2004

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

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

 

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Afghanistan: Resistance flares in face of British forces

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

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

 

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Resistance flares in Afghanistan

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

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

 

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Afghanistan – cracks open up in the imperialist front

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

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

 

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Resistance grows in Afghanistan

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

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

 

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Afghanistan: death toll rises

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

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

 

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Afghanistan / FRFI 199 Oct / Nov 2007

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

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

 

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Imperialists under fierce attack in Afghanistan

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

 

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

FRFI 204 August / September 2008

Resistance in Afghanistan cannot be contained

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

FRFI 207 February / March 2009

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

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

 

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