Imperialist shambles in Afghanistan/FRFI 235 Oct/Nov 2013

Fight Racism! Fight Imperialism! 235 October/November 2013

Henry Kissinger recently described President Obama’s exit strategy in Afghanistan as ‘all exit and no strategy’. Although wrong (the US still hopes to retain a military presence after the 2014 ‘exit’), Kissinger’s quip reveals something of the shambles into which US and British plans have fallen.

In September, the Pakistani government announced that it was releasing Mullah Abdul Baradar, second-in-command of the Afghan Taliban, as a means of promoting peace talks. Earlier it had released seven other Taliban prisoners. The move indicates the extent to which Pakistan retains the initiative in reaching a settlement in the war on Afghanistan despite all the threats, bribes and promises thrown at it by the Obama administration. Baradar was captured in a joint US/Pakistan special forces operation a couple of years ago but Pakistan refused to hand him over to the US. If Baradar is (or has been) released he will not be transferred to Afghan custody but allowed to return to Taliban bases on the Afghan border where, no doubt, the Pakistani intelligence service will retain close contact. Pakistan’s Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif has also suggested to Afghanistan’s President Karzai that the Taliban should open a new office for talks in Turkey or Saudi Arabia. The Taliban closed its office in Qatar following the summer fiasco when the US abandoned planned talks there following objections from President Karzai. Although it is said that Obama can hardly bear talking to Karzai, the US obviously believes a corrupt stooge who occasionally rattles his cage is more important to them than a peace settlement. This is despite the fact that the Taliban still adamantly refuse to talk to Karzai and that, even if he survives beyond the withdrawal of US troops in 2014, Karzai and his loathed cronies are likely to be quickly overthrown, if not by the anti-occupation forces then by rival crooks and warlords. 

Imperialists fund the Taliban

Indicative of the confusion in US and British strategy was a report from the US Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction in August, which said that the US government had awarded contracts worth $150m to 43 companies known to support the Taliban. The British Foreign Office refused to respond to questions as to whether any such contracts were awarded by the British government.

Despite claims that the Taliban has been severely weakened and that Afghan national forces are able to manage security, the anti-occupation struggle appears to be unabated. At the end of August, the district governor in Kunduz Province was killed together with seven others. A few days later, the Taliban attacked an Afghan intelligence outpost near Kabul, killing four Afghan soldiers. On 12 September they attacked the US consulate in Herat. The last week in August was the worst so far for casualties among the Afghan security forces. Civilian casualties increased by nearly a quarter in the first half of 2013 compared with last year. The vast majority of these are the result of attacks by the anti-occupation forces. However, many civilians are still victims of the imperialists. A US soldier on trial for the massacre of 16 villagers in Kandahar last year apologised and claimed he did it behind ‘a mask of fear, bullshit and bravado’. On 7 September, a NATO air strike killed nine civilians, including children, when it hit a truck believed to have been carrying six anti-occupation fighters. They were also killed. The total number of people killed in the US drone campaign is at least 3,600. The British government confirmed that the number of British drone missions undertaken in Afghanistan rose from 296 in 2008 to 892 in 2012, while the number in which weapons were released increased from 14 to 92 over the same period. The government did not have data on casualties or on the extent of flights over civilian areas. Armed forces minister Andrew Robathan said, ‘We have no reason to believe the presence of any type of aircraft in Afghanistan has any psychological impact on the civilian population’ – thus revealing the hypocrisy behind the holier-than-thou expressions of concern the imperialists use to justify their global aggression. 

US rivals gain ground in Asia

Part of the reason why Afghanistan is so strategically important to the imperialists is that it lies close to the oil-rich Central Asian republics. But while the US has been preoccupied with Afghanistan itself, its rivals have been advancing towards the Caucasus. Kyrgyzstan has set a deadline for the closure of the US airbase at Manas, while Russia, which has its own base in the country, has recently signed military deals worth more than a billion dollars with both Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan. China is also planning deals with Kyrgyzstan, including the redevelopment of Manas airport. It has also recently signed a bilateral energy deal with Turkmenistan and wants to negotiate with Tajikistan about its huge natural gas reserves. China is even making inroads in Uzbekistan, which remains friendly to the US military. Trade between the two countries grew by 60% in the first half of this year and China plans to extend this and political co-operation still further.

Jim Craven

Afghanistan Karzai scuppers peace talks/FRFI 234 Aug/Sep 2013

Fight Racism! Fight Imperialism! 234 August/September 2013

The US and its imperialist allies know they have lost their war on Afghanistan. At a time of economic crisis and with other conflicts looming, they are desperate to extricate themselves as soon as possible. Yet they cannot be seen to be defeated or to give way entirely in a region that is strategically crucial to their global domination. Their hope is to achieve a settlement before the bulk of occupying forces leave in 2014 and, if possible, retain a sizeable military and diplomatic presence to police the outcome after that. Consequently, the first official talks between the US and the Taliban (unofficial contacts had been maintained for several years) were scheduled to start on 20 June; just two days after the occupying forces had ostensibly handed responsibility for combat operations to the Afghan national security forces (ANSF). The ‘evil enemy’ were to become ‘partners in peace’, just as FRFI predicted many years ago. JIM CRAVEN reports.

The talks, brokered by the Qatar and Pakistan governments, were due to take place at an office opened by the Taliban in Doha, the capital of Qatar. Unfortunately for the imperialists, they had not allowed for the fact that their Afghan presidential puppet might shake his strings. Karzai accused the US of duplicity, withdrew the offer to send his High Peace Council to Doha and insisted the talks be moved to Afghanistan. In retaliation, he cut negotiations with the US on a long-term strategic agreement. Karzai argued that his Afghan constitution must be preserved and that the Taliban must renounce violence before he would participate. He was particularly peeved that the Taliban flew their flag and that their office was entitled ‘The Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan’, the term the Taliban used for the country when they were in power, thus suggesting they were a government in exile. In a farcical attempt to appease Karzai, the Taliban flagpole was cut to half size and the brass plaque removed. The talks still floundered. Two weeks later, in a video conference intended to reconcile the two sides, Karzai accused the US of seeking a separate deal with the Taliban in Pakistan.

Karzai, of course, has his own agenda. His life may depend on it. He wants to be seen as a nationalist who has stood up to the invaders. In May, he eventually reached an agreement with the US that all Afghan prisoners would be handed over to Afghan control within 96 hours of capture. He then gave British forces a two-week deadline to hand over the 80-100 prisoners held at Camp Bastion. In July, Karzai ordered the arrest of Zakaria Kandahari, accused of aiding US special forces in the torture, murder and mutilation of villagers in Wardak province in 2012. Karzai claimed Kandahari had been allowed to escape by the US.

Anti-occupation forces’ complex response

The position of the Taliban has long been that it would not engage in negotiations while foreign troops remained in Afghanistan; would not talk to Karzai, whom it regards as a corrupt stooge of the occupiers, and would not recognise the Afghan constitution, which it sees as having been imposed from outside. Now, some Taliban leaders have expressed willingness to compromise on the question of the occupying forces and, following the cancelled talks, said they would speak with all sectors of Afghan society, though only after they had negotiated with the US. The position is said to have the backing of the Afghan Taliban leader Mullah Omar, although others claim the leaders making these statements are peripheral. The Taliban is not one united and centralised organisation. Especially since the assassination of many of its leaders, the Taliban has become more localised in its structure. Furthermore, the Taliban constitutes only one part of the anti-occupation forces. Other sections include the Haqqani Network, which has close links with Pakistan and has made no indication that it is ready to talk yet. Another is Hezb-i-Islami, the militia of northern warlord Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, once funded by the CIA and considered a rival of Mullah Omar. Hezb-i-Islami has two ministers in the Karzai government, emphasising the complex relationships of the ‘two sides’. It is also questionable whether the fighters on the ground will be as ready to compromise as some of their leaders.

Researchers from King’s College London, who interviewed over 50 Taliban leaders and commanders, found strong support for talks following heavy losses in recent months. The Taliban also accepted that it could never conquer the whole country. However, the academics concluded that the Taliban would not give ground easily in negotiations, that it was very resilient and that the struggle in the south and east of the country was likely to continue for some time. ‘What we find’, said the researchers, ‘is an insurgency driven both by a strong unifying strategic narrative and purpose – jihad against foreign invaders – and by local conflict dynamics – rivalry between kinship groups and competition over land, water and drugs.’

British failure

In June, General Nick Carter, commander of British forces in Afghanistan, admitted that the occupying powers should have talked to the Taliban back in 2002. He also accepted that the insurgency was strong enough to prevent the Afghan government controlling the whole country. A British military official conceded further that the Taliban will share power and that Taliban fighters might even join the Afghan army.

Publicly, the imperialists still claim the ANSF will be capable of maintaining security after 2014, but they have been reduced to gobbledegook statements such as this from ISAF commander US Gen Joseph Dunford: ‘The – the challenges they’ve had against the Taliban, they’ve absolutely confronted those. And – and not had an issue, you know’. Well, among these ‘non-issues’ are that 350 members of the Afghan army were killed in five weeks (many more than the total US casualties in the whole of last year): that the annual desertion rate stands at around 30%; that they have virtually no logistical expertise (a recent operation had to be abandoned because the vehicles ran out of petrol) and that they will have no Afghan air support for another five years. In his recent book Investment in Blood, Frank Ledwidge reports British soldiers as saying the idea that the ANSF could hold Helmand was ‘laughable’.

Ledwidge, a former serving officer and military adviser to the British government in Afghanistan, Iraq and Libya, believes that Helmand is no more secure now than it was in 2006 when British troops arrived. The King’s College researchers went further, saying: ‘Far from helping to secure Helmand, the arrival of the British triggered a violent intensification of the insurgency’. Ledwidge reports that many disillusioned young British officers are leaving the army. When asked what they had achieved, one infantry officer replied ‘Fuck all’. Ledwidge rightly argues that the main purpose of Britain’s involvement is to retain close links with the US, on whose military power British imperialism depends to defend its foreign interests. The cost of the war to Britain since 2006, according to Ledwidge, is at least £37bn, or £15m a day, equivalent to £25,000 for every person in Helmand: more than they could hope to earn in a lifetime. The main beneficiaries have been development consultants, drug lords and international arms companies. As well as the more than 440 British personnel killed in Afghanistan, Ledwidge estimates that there are more than 2,500 wounded and 5,000 psychological casualties who will need continuing care. In fact, for the past two years, in both Britain and the US, more serving personnel and veterans have committed suicide than have been killed in battle. David Somers, a US veteran of more than 400 combat missions, wrote in his suicide note: ‘I was made to participate in things the enormity of which is hard to describe. War crimes, crimes against humanity ... [to return to society and to] move on in life after being part of such a thing would be the mark of a sociopath.’

British attempts to eradicate poppy production have been another complete failure. The poppy harvest over the past two years has reached record levels and Afghanistan now supplies around 97% of the world’s heroin. The opium industry has helped to fund the insurgency (the Taliban regards heroin addiction as a western problem) but it restricts the development of a wider economy because it is so lucrative and is central to the rampant crime and corruption among the Afghan elite. The drugs trade was developed by CIA Operation Mosquito in the 1980s to fund the anti-Soviet war. The trade in opiates today is worth over $3bn a year. This compares with an official GDP of $15.7bn. Most of this, however, comes from international military and development aid and spending by the occupying forces. The estimated domestic revenue is just $2.4bn, but Afghan government expenditure is around $7bn a year. In other words, the Afghan government could not continue with even its modest provisions without the $8bn a year promised by other countries for the 10 years after 2014. However, only three of 17 benchmarks set for that aid have been met. There is still no legal framework for elections, weak prison sentences are being given to those responsible for major fraud and laws intended to safeguard women are being revoked. The National Assembly includes at least 17 drug traffickers and 24 members of criminal gangs, as well as 19 members who face charges of serious war crimes or human rights violations. A UN report in 2012 estimated that $4bn a year is paid in bribes. The deputy head of the Afghan Central Bank states that wealthy and corrupt officials take a further $8bn a year out of the country.

Afghanistan: Anti-occupation forces launch spring offensive/ FRFI 233 Jun/Jul 2013

Fight Racism! Fight Imperialism! 233 June/July 2013

Despite all the attempts by US and British government propaganda to have us believe that their troops are winning the battle in Afghanistan, Brigadier Bob Bruce, commander of the British task force in Helmand, admitted in March that: ‘We know for a fact there is no military solution to the insurgency; there is no way the military is going to win a counter-insurgency [war] because it is essentially a political issue. It is a matter of offers: the offer the government makes to the people and the offer the insurgents make to the people.’

Well, the ‘offer’ presently being made by President Karzai has little to recommend it. After ten years of acting as imperialism’s stooge, Karzai heads a country that is the second poorest in the world. Nine million people (36% of the population) live in absolute poverty and less than a quarter has regular access to safe drinking water. Life expectancy in Afghanistan averages 48.6 years. It is one of only five countries where life expectancy for women is less than for men. Maternal mortality is the second highest in the world. Four out of every five women will experience some form of domestic violence. Karzai passed a law that legalised marital rape. A spokeswoman for a women’s group in Kandahar said, ‘It is like the Taliban times for women now. We cannot come out of the house to earn extra money or get an education. The only difference is that our honour was safe then.’

Karzai’s government is thoroughly corrupt, riddled with warlords and drug dealers. Despite the imperialist governments’ protestations, they have fuelled this corruption. In April, Karzai admitted that he had received tens of millions of dollars (what he called ‘small amounts’) from the CIA and MI6. The money has been used to prop up other warlords and gangsters. The CIA also paid for the Kandahar Strike Force, operated by Karzai’s half-brother Ahmad Wali, a leading drugs baron, until he was executed by anti-occupation forces. MI6 money funded a would-be Taliban leader in talks with Karzai. He proved to be an impostor. The CIA still funds NDS, the Afghan secret service. A joint CIA/NDS operation in Kunar Province on 13 April killed 17 civilians.

No negotiations with Karzai

Yabi Torami, an Afghan anti-corruption campaigner, has pointed out that in a country known for mutilating and hanging deposed leaders, Karzai is desperate to portray himself as a patriotic and nationalist leader so as to be able to negotiate with the Taliban. This explains his occasional outbursts against the foreign invaders. However, the Taliban see Karzai as a puppet of the invaders. A report by the Royal United Services Institute last autumn, based on interviews with four Taliban leaders, claimed that some Taliban were ready to negotiate a peace settlement and even to compromise on the US presence and to break with Al Qaeda, but even they were opposed to any constitutional prop for Karzai. Michael Semple, former UN envoy, described these people as ‘the outer fringe’ of the Taliban. Initial talks between the anti-occupation forces and the US broke down over a year ago, when the US reneged on a promise to release Taliban prisoners from Guantanamo.

In March, Karzai travelled to Qatar, hoping Emir Sheikh Hamad would facilitate meetings with the Taliban, which had opened an office in the capital, Doha. However, a Taliban spokesman said the office had nothing to do with starting negotiations and repeated that the Taliban would not talk with Karzai. The US and Britain have been pushing Karzai to settle differences with Pakistan in order that Pakistan might facilitate talks. However, Pakistan is apparently setting preconditions for participation in any peace process: demanding that Afghanistan severs ties with India, that Afghan army officers be sent to Pakistan for training and that a strategic partnership deal be signed immediately. These are unacceptable to the Afghan government.

War goes on

Anti-occupation fighters have launched a spring offensive. At the beginning of April, nine fighters stormed a courthouse in Farah, western Afghanistan, to free Taliban prisoners. They and 44 others were killed in what was the deadliest attack since 2011. On 1 May, three British soldiers were killed and six others injured when their Mastiff vehicle hit a roadside bomb. The 16-ton Mastiff was thought to be impregnable to such attacks.

Occupying forces are continuing the process of ostensibly handing control to Afghan national security forces (ANSF). In March, the prison at Bagram base was handed over, though only after the US insisted that it could hold anyone it captured for 96 hours and that it retained around 50 high category prisoners. The prison has been rebuilt on a new site and renamed the Afghan National Detention Facility. UN officials believe prisoners will continue to be tortured there. The US is spending over $10 billion a year on the ANSF; equivalent to half of Afghanistan’s GDP. However, only five of 26 ANSF brigades are capable of acting independently. ANSF casualties are far greater than among all the occupying forces. 1,100 ANSF members were killed in just six months of fighting last year. In a battle at Badakhshan in late March, anti-occupation fighters were able to keep their troops supplied and the ANSF pinned down. Eventually, the ANSF was forced to call in ISAF air strikes. Major Jan Agha Mohamed of the ANSF said, ‘The dushman (rebels) knew the ground well, so they could set up traps for us. We lost many men due to this.’

British troops are due to be cut from around 8,000 to 5,200 by the end of this year. The military’s lack of confidence in the ANSF taking control is highlighted by the fact that the Quick Reaction Force and Brigade Reconnaissance Force will be on permanent standby. British commander Lt-General Nick Carter has warned that any further withdrawal that is not in line with the current plan would be ‘unforgivable’ and would damage Afghan confidence. General Dunford went further, fearing ‘capital flight, families leaving the country and lack of support for government forces in case the Taliban came back’. Acting British ambassador Nic Hawley admitted it was ‘inevitable’ that there will be parts of Afghanistan not in ANSF control in 2014.

By the end of 2014, when all combat forces are supposed to have left the country, the US hopes to have around five operating bases and a large embassy in Kabul, though as yet there is no agreement on immunity from prosecution for US personnel, the issue that caused the US to pull out most of its forces from Iraq. Some elite special forces will remain in Afghanistan, as well as a large number of mercenaries, giving a total ‘force’ as high as 20,000. At present, the US employs over 110,000 privately contracted workers in Afghanistan, including over 33,000 US citizens. In 2011, casualty rates among mercenaries were higher than among regular troops, highlighting their growing importance at a time of financial cutbacks and widening conflicts. The present US/Afghan strategic agreement has no time limit for the US presence.

By such means, the imperialists hope to salvage something of their strategic plan to use Afghanistan as a base to secure oil supplies from the Caspian basin and promote regime change throughout the region.

Jim Craven

Imperialists struggle to avoid defeat in Afghanistan /FRFI 231 Feb/Mar 2013

Fight Racism! Fight Imperialism! 231 February-March 2013

Visiting Afghanistan before Christmas, British Prime Minister David Cameron claimed ‘The Afghan army is doing better than we expected, and that is why we are able to bring home so many troops.’ Despite his confidence, there was a security news blackout on his trip to Camp Bastion, where a few months earlier members of the anti-occupation forces had killed two US marines and set fire to Harrier jets. Days before Cameron’s visit, the government announced that some British troops will withdraw from Afghanistan earlier than previously planned. Around 4,000 will return home by October this year, leaving about 5,000, who are due to return before the end of 2014. British military ‘trainers’ and special forces will remain after this date. Clearly, there has been disagreement between the government and the military over the withdrawal. With the war costing £4bn a year at a time of financial crisis, Cameron and the Treasury wanted an even faster withdrawal. But only six months ago the military wanted to ‘hold on to everything for as long as we can’. The decisive factor was the number of British troops being killed by the very Afghan forces that Cameron was praising. JIM CRAVEN reports.

In 2012, 14 out of the 42 members of the British forces killed, died at the hands of Afghan security forces. A further 47 members of International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) were also killed in such ‘green on blue’ incidents. The situation has become so critical that occupying forces have been ordered to carry loaded weapons at all times and those training Afghan forces are accompanied by armed guards. In recent months over 400 members of the Afghan army and police have been arrested for suspected links to the Taliban. 500 counter-intelligence officers have been embedded in the Afghan security forces to try and identify others. The entire police force is to be re-vetted.

False optimism

Whatever false optimism Cameron parades in public, the reality is, as a Pentagon report pointed out last year, only one of the 23 combat brigades in the Afghan National Army (ANA) is capable of operating without the support of the occupying forces. The state of the Afghan National Police (ANP) is even worse. In October, Foreign Office papers reported, ‘The ANP is viewed negatively by the population, with multiple reports of illegal taxation, extortion and other serious crimes.’ They concluded, ‘Unless radical change is introduced to improve the...integrity and legitimacy of officers...then the organisation will continue to provide an ineffective and tainted service to citizens...for decades to come.’

In December, US commanders claimed to have made ‘astounding’ gains around Kandahar and that the Taliban had failed to regain lost ground. Even if true, this ignores the obvious fact that anti-occupation forces, realising that the bulk of US/NATO forces will be withdrawing within the next two years, will not be taking unnecessary risks now. At the same time, the tactics being used by the imperialist forces create new recruits for the anti-occupation forces. Neil Shea, a journalist embedded with US troops involved in night raids, has written, ‘They were men who enjoyed demolishing Afghan houses; men who shot dogs in the face. They tornadoed through houses and left such destruction that their ANA allies at first tried to stop them, then grew angry and sullen.’ A US veteran of the raids, Graham Clumpfner, said, ‘Even if there wasn’t a terrorist before, there was when we left. We were radicalising the entire population just by our presence.’ The Pentagon report admitted, ‘The insurgency has retained its capability to carry out attacks at roughly the same level as last year. Despite the tactical progress of ANSF-ISAF joint operations, the insurgency remains adaptable, with a regenerative capacity.’

Desperate for peace talks

Russia’s chief diplomat in Afghanistan, Andrey Avetisyan, told The Guardian that it is an open secret that US/NATO wants the Afghan forces to hold out for at least three years in order to avoid their war being labelled a defeat. Three years is the time the Najibullah government survived after the withdrawal of Soviet troops in the 1980s. Given the present state of the Afghan national forces, however, no-one believes they can survive without some sort of negotiated settlement. When talks began last year, the US reneged on an understanding to release Taliban prisoners from Guantanamo, causing the anti-occupation negotiators to walk out. Afghan President Karzai is now seeking the help of Pakistan to get negotiations under way. In recent months, relations between the two countries have eased. Now that it sees the possibility of furthering its own interests, the Pakistani government has released several Taliban leaders previously imprisoned for (from Pakistan’s point of view) prematurely pursuing peace talks. In December, exploratory discussions facilitated by Pakistan began in Paris between Afghan officials and some Taliban leaders. However, Pakistan has still not released Mullah Abdul Baradar, the Afghan Taliban’s second in command, regarded as crucial to any meaningful negotiations.

At present, the Taliban says it will not negotiate a settlement if Afghan President Karzai makes any deal with the US that allows a single member of foreign forces to remain in the country. But Karzai knows that his corrupt regime would be overrun by the anti-occupation forces if the US left. In any case, the US has no intention of leaving completely. In January 2013, Karzai met President Obama to discuss a Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA). Rangin Spanta, an Afghan national security adviser, said the Karzai government would provide bases for foreign troops and allow drone flights from Afghanistan to attack Taliban and Al Qaeda targets in Pakistan. The US is already building a base – Camp Integrity – on a 10-acre site outside Kabul, which will have a fortified armoury and a training centre for 7,000 elite troops, including special forces. It is being built by the Academi company, formerly called Blackwater, a company responsible for the murder of civilians in Iraq.

In announcing the troop withdrawals, British Defence Secretary Philip Hammond claimed, ‘It’s a far better place than when we came in 2001 – the economy has grown, there are more children in school and there are more health services available.’ What he failed to mention was that the indices of all these activities were growing steadily during the communist government of the 1980s but plummeted when that government was overthrown by the Taliban and northern warlords, equipped and supported by the US and its allies. Nor did he mention the thousands of Afghan people killed or the millions who have lost their homes because of the invasion; nor the 24 million Afghans who have no access to clean drinking water, the more than one million children suffering acute malnutrition or the 50,000 children who die each year from diarrhoeal diseases – all of whose lives could have been transformed by just a fraction of the $500 billion spent on the war or the $100 billion of ‘aid’ squandered by the corrupt bunch of gangsters Hammond and his like keep in power.

Afghanistan: murder and mayhem/ FRFI 230 Dec 2012/Jan 2013

FRFI 230 December 2012/January 2013

The 11 November 2012 BBC coverage of the Remembrance Day ceremony held in Whitehall, London included a list of names of those British soldiers killed in Afghanistan since 11 November 2011. There were 52 names, an average of one soldier killed each week for a year. On that day another British soldier was killed by a member of the Afghan National Army during a game of football, bringing the total British dead in 11 years of war in Afghanistan to 438. The British rate of deaths as a proportion of troops deployed in Afghanistan is almost four times that of its US counterparts. No mention was given in the broadcast of Afghan deaths in these 11 years; the number of civilians killed is estimated to be between 12,500 and 20,000. No estimate was given for Taliban dead. These deaths result primarily from the US and British ruling classes’ determination to remain global powers, and in Afghanistan they are failing.

There are 120,000 International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) troops in Afghanistan of which 68,000 are from the US and over 9,000 from Britain (the second largest foreign contingent). The US and British governments state that they will withdraw their troops by the end of 2014, but the US is negotiating a Bilateral Security Agreement that seeks to retain a military presence in Afghanistan until 2024. The US and British governments claim that as their forces wind down so the Afghan government forces will take over. This is preposterous! The US spent $50bn setting up the Afghanistan National Security Forces and $10-12bn a year to maintain them; this is when Afghanistan’s GDP is about $20bn. However, by 31 October, 53 NATO soldiers had been killed by these self-same Afghan forces in 2012; so-called ‘green-on-blue’ killings.

16% of the ISAF Coalition casualties in 2012 were the result of ‘green-on-blue’ attacks. Joint patrols between ISAF and Afghan forces have been ended; they do not trust each other. In October the outgoing head of the International Committee of the Red Cross delegation to Afghanistan, Reto Stocker, said that the conflict had ‘taken a turn for the worse’ and that ‘hope for the future is steadily declining’. The country is in chaos. Fuel theft is rampant; the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction is unable to account for $1.1bn of fuel given to the Afghan National Army over a number of years and the state police forces are unable to patrol for lack of petrol and diesel. Taliban factions extract protection charges on construction projects, extort money from private contractors who service the occupation armies, and charge tolls for their use of main roads. Increasingly, ISAF bases are supplied by air drops: the number of roadside bombs makes travel by road too dangerous. The border police run the customs for their own profit. Opium poppy cultivation now accounts for 92% of the global supply.

The US and British states increasingly resort to drones to continue the conflict (see ‘Afghanistan and Pakistan – drones and the new doctrine of war’, FRFI 228, August/September 2012). Robotic warfare removes the pilot from the battlefield; drones can attack where previously special forces would have been deployed. The British Ministry of Defence states that up until the end of September 2012 the RAF’s five Reaper drones had flown 39,628 hours and fired 334 missiles and bombs; their rate of use has doubled in 15 months. Hitherto, these drones were operated from Creech Air Base in Nevada, US. On 23 October The Guardian revealed that within six weeks the RAF is to deploy a further five Reapers over Afghanistan, piloted from RAF Waddington in Lincolnshire. Britain, France and Israel are testing a new Watchkeeper drone at Aberporth, west Wales.

The Financial Times reports that under US President Obama drones have killed people in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Yemen, Iraq, Somalia and Yemen: Drones are cheaper than fighter jets; each F-35 fighter costs about $130m, while a Reaper drone costs $53m. The ability to wage war without risking casualties to their own soldiers makes selling the war to their domestic populations easier for the US and British governments. The idea of technological omniscience over their subjects has always appealed to the imperialists. Drones and robotic warfare increase the likelihood that the imperialists will wage war and prolong war. Despite typical claims from the RAF and CIA that drone strikes are surgically precise, a Stanford and New York University study states that just 2% of those killed by drones were ‘militants’ (Living under drones, September 2012).

Relatives of a Pakistani man killed in a ‘surgically precise’ drone strike have brought their case to the High Court in London. They allege that the British Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ) provided the US with information for the strike, which could be deemed to be encouraging or assisting murder under UK law. The man killed was chairing a meeting of tribal elders in March 2011 to discuss chromite mining rights in North Waziristan. He was among at least 42 people, including a child and local police officers, killed by the drone-fired missile. The British government will do all that it can to keep the facts hidden and to maintain its murderous alliance with the US. While the BBC summons up a show of solemnity to read out the roll call of the dead, the war criminals – the ministers and former ministers – who sent them to war wear poppies to hide their guilt in another war without honour.

Trevor Rayne

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