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!