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Afghanistan – Obama’s surge threatens Kandahar / FRFI 215 Jun/Jul 2010

FRFI 215 June/July 2010

An Afghan businessman described the imminent attack by imperialist forces on Kandahar city – ‘The storm is coming. I try telling people. You have two options: get out now, or climb down into your bunker and hope that the storm will pass and that you’re still alive six months from now.’ 12,000 US, British and Canadian troops, together with 10,000 members of the Afghan National Army (ANA) have moved to isolate the city and surrounding area. Operation Hamkari is planned to begin in June and continue until at least the beginning of Ramadhan in August. JIM CRAVEN reports.

When General McChrystal took command of the occupying forces last year, he claimed his priority was to gain the trust of the Afghan people and prevent civilian casualties, admitting later ‘We’ve shot an amazing number of people [who did not pose a threat]’. The use of such overwhelming force in Kandahar, as with the attack on Marjah in February, however, is intended to intimidate the local population and prevent them from supporting the anti-occupation forces. In Marjah, 26,000 people had to flee their homes. In the densely populated streets of Kandahar the fighting will claim many more victims. McChrystal’s true priority is not concern for the Afghan people but dead and captured Taliban fighters and apparent (though bogus) military victories with which to persuade public and political opinion back home that US forces should stay in Afghanistan.

The attack on Marjah, however, was a failure. A Pentagon report in May admitted that ‘government and development was slow’ and that the Taliban have ‘re-infiltrated the cleared areas’. This is a major setback for McChrystal’s ‘oil spot’ strategy. More occupying forces will have to be used to hold the ‘captured’ areas. McChrystal, who described the situation as ‘stalemate’, may have to curtail his plan to win control of 85% of Helmand and Kandahar provinces.

Dirty war

Half of the civilians killed by the International Security Assistance  Force (ISAF) last year were attributed to night time raids. In March, McChrystal said ‘Nearly every Afghan I talk to mentions them as the single greatest irritant’. Yet, in the first six months of McChrystal’s command, known night raids increased from 20 to 90 per month. 5,800 members of the US Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC) assisted by special forces from Britain and other ISAF countries are active in Afghanistan; twice the number used by McChrystal in Iraq. They are supported by a network of mercenary spies and assassins organised by Michael Furlong, a Pentagon ‘dirty tricks’ operator, who previously worked in the Balkans and Iraq.

These death squads have been operating around Kandahar and elsewhere for several weeks. The imperialist military invariably try to cover-up the slaughter, but the resistance of the local people and the persistence of journalists such as Jerome Starkey of The Times have brought some of the massacres to light. When a school principal and a religious leader were killed in a night-time raid in Logar, crowds set fire to 12 NATO fuel trucks. Local teacher Mohammad Sharif said, ‘They are raiding houses at night killing innocent people’. A neighbour of Afghan MP Safia Saddiqi was shot dead during a raid on her home. In a US special forces raid in Khataba in February, two pregnant women, a teenage girl and two local men were killed. The soldiers tried to conceal the murders by digging bullets out of the bodies with knives, cleaning the wounds and then lying to their officers.

Growing support for anti-occupation fighters

A recent survey of the Afghan people found that 56% consider the ISAF forces and the ANA to be the greatest threat to security. 85% described anti-occupation fighters as ‘our Afghan brothers’. A Taliban commander, code-named ‘Mubeen’, said that anti-occupation forces have been moving fighters and supplies into Kandahar during the winter. Over the past few weeks they have launched a series of attacks across the city, mainly at Afghan government, security and foreign targets, though many civilians have also been killed in the attacks. As a result, the UN has scaled down its operations in the city. ‘Mubeen’ claimed that, ‘Because of the American attitude to the people, they are sympathetic to us. Every day we are getting more support. We are not strangers. We are not foreigners. We are from the people.’ If, however, the occupation forces proved too strong, ‘Mubeen’ explained, ‘we will just leave and come back after’.

A western diplomat in Kandahar admitted that the planned attack posed a ‘daunting challenge...so much more complicated [than the attack on Marjah]’. A NATO report found ‘endemic corruption, along with a lack of security and basic services in Kandahar... sets conditions for the population either not to support the government, or worse yet, support the Taliban’.

The city is rife with criminal syndicates. Prominent among them is the president’s half brother, Ahmed Walid Karzai, the so-called ‘King of Kandahar’. Maldai Ishaq Zai, an Afghan MP from Kandahar told the Financial Times ‘If the offensive goes on while Ahmed Karzai is still there, it will fail. There is a very big risk he will take advantage of it to widen his influence’. A NATO official admitted ‘There is no clear policy on what to do about Ahmed Karzai’. The imperialists initially put him on a ‘kill or capture’ list but recently a senior British official said Ahmad Karzai ‘can play a part in maintaining stability in the future’.

Karzai pulls strings

This change of attitude towards his brother was no doubt a concession to President Karzai, who has been exploiting his fraudulent electoral victory to strengthen his position. In April, he accused the imperialists of corrupting the presidential elections by bribing the electoral commission because they did not want a strong and effective Afghan government. He then personally appointed all five members of the Electoral Control Commission that will oversee the September parliamentary elections. On a visit to Kandahar, Karzai promised local leaders that the planned offensive would not take place if they were against it. He has unilaterally called a jirga, a gathering of tribal elders, to discuss conditions for a peace settlement with the Taliban. The US wants to significantly weaken the anti-occupation forces before entering negotiations. Mullah Omar, leader of the Afghan Taliban, told The Sunday Times he was prepared to engage in ‘sincere and honest’ talks but that all foreigners must leave.

Karzai has also been trying to widen his foreign support. In the spring, he visited China and Iran, and Iranian President Ahmadinejad was invited to Kabul. Last autumn, the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO), which includes China and Russia (Iran has observer status), was approached by the Taliban to ‘render assistance in the work of liberation of the people and countries of the region from the claws of the colonialists and take a decisive stand regarding the West’s invasion of Afghanistan’. At present the SCO accepts the occupation of Afghanistan, not wanting to take on any military burden. As economic rivals opposed to US domination, however, they will seek every opportunity to further their own interests in Afghanistan. China is already mining in east Afghanistan and providing aid with no strings attached. In March, China accused the US of using the occupation to gain priority in economic contracts. An editorial in the influential China Daily stated, ‘China cannot stay oblivious to the Afghanistan issue. The chaos caused by the war in Afghanistan is threatening the security of China’s northwest region.’

Imperialist strategy falters

When President Obama addressed US soldiers in Kabul in March he made no mention of his promise to begin withdrawing troops next summer. As Majib Rahman, an Afghan civil engineer, pointed out to USA Today, ‘[Obama] wanted to show the troops’ presence to Iran, to China, to Russia – to show them their dominance in the region.’ A Pentagon report to Congress, however, admitted that occupying forces only had sufficient resources to operate in 48 out of the 121 districts regarded as the most important in the fight against the Taliban.

The US and Britain have repeatedly said that any reduction in their forces would depend on the ability of Afghan forces to take over. But US ambassador Karl Eikenberry admitted, ‘We overestimated the ability of the Afghan forces.’ In the attack on Marjah the ANA fell apart and went on the rampage in the local bazaar. The International Crisis Group reported that the ANA was ‘riddled with corruption, ethnic friction and rivalries among its leaders’ and that these ‘could risk the army’s disintegration after the withdrawal of international forces’. Leaked British Foreign Office papers show the Afghan National Police are involved in bribery, drugs and intimidation and have ‘limited engagement with the community’. Building an effective force, the reports say, ‘will take many years’ and ‘the scale of the challenge is immense’.

The present strategy of military surge, followed by the imposition of Western style ‘governance and development’, is based on the imperialist conceit that the Afghan people would welcome these ‘improvements’ to their traditional ways. The strategy is failing on both counts. When asked by a US captain what he thought could be done to improve the situation in Afghanistan, a 17-year-old boy from the Zhari district promptly responded, ‘Whenever you guys get out of here things will get better.’

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