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From the archives

Argentina: new president, continuing misery

FRFI 173 June / July 2003

eu referendum

The ruling class brought the presidential election forward by six months to forestall growing grassroots action. Now, under slogans of ‘no more social spending’ and ‘security is a priority’, the state has directed more intense attacks on the organisations of the poor. Read more


Who owns England: questions answered and questions unasked

The Myth of Capitalism cover blur min

Despite the limitations in the scope of his investigations, Shrubsole’s book is a wonderful read and a great achievement. It is a heartfelt plea for proper, equitable land use, restoration of the damaged environment and an end to the secrecy surrounding land ownership.


Obama’s surge means more brutality for Afghan people

FRFI 213 February / March 2010

Imperialist propaganda claims that the massive build up of forces in Afghanistan will be underpinned by a new emphasis on nation building, reconstruction and winning local ‘hearts and minds’. The US military has even employed a team of anthropologists to help them negotiate Afghan culture. In December, a raid by US forces on the village of Changowlak was intended to illustrate this sensitive new approach. Some of the supposed insurgents captured were later released, to their families’ delight. The officer in charge, US Captain Terrell, then addressed the community. ‘We went to a lot of trouble to get this area, and now it belongs to you’ he said. ‘But you must tell us if you see the Taliban. If you put something on the ground and cover it up, we are going to shoot you. If we see you carrying a weapon, we will shoot you. These are the rules you must learn from now on.’ JIM CRAVEN reports.

On the night of 26 December, US forces raided a village in Kunar province. They shot and killed a student and a 12-year-old shepherd boy. They then took seven more children from their beds, handcuffed them and shot them. Two of the victims were still at primary school. A local farmer who went to investigate was also shot and killed. NATO admitted the forces responsible were ‘non-military’, meaning a secret paramilitary unit. US commanding officer in Afghanistan, General McChrystal, ran such death squad operations in Iraq.

On 13 January, at least eight people were killed and 13 wounded when US and Afghan forces opened fire on a demonstration in Gamsir in Afghanistan. US troops claimed they were firing at a Taliban sniper. The paramilitaries involved in the Kunar massacre could well have been employed by the private contractors Blackwater (now re-named Xe Services – see Iraq article on p9). The number of armed private contractors in Afghanistan doubled to more than 10,000 between June and September last year. On top of the 140,000 US/NATO troops soon to be operating in Afghanistan, there are likely to be well over 150,000 private personnel contracted to the US Department of Defense and other agencies. It is clear that any social or cultural operations carried out by the occupying forces are intended only to improve the effectiveness of their campaign of overwhelming force.

US rejects Taliban peace offer

President Obama claims that the US aim in Afghanistan is the military defeat of Al Qaida and the ‘neutralisation’ of the Taliban. But US national security adviser James Jones has admitted that there are fewer than 100 Al Qaida operatives in Afghanistan and that they have ‘no bases (and) no ability to launch attacks on either us or our allies’. Nor are Al Qaida and the Afghan Taliban closely allied. The former Taliban government did not invite Osama bin Laden into Afghanistan, indeed they offered to co-operate with the USAfghanistan’. The peace offer was ignored by the USUS to engage in direct negotiations with the Taliban leadership. to get rid of him. In a proposal for peace negotiations made in early December, Mullah Omar, leader of the Afghan Taliban, stated that his Mujahideen movement has ‘no agenda for meddling in the affairs of other countries and is ready to give legal guarantees if foreign forces withdraw from government despite a public plea from Afghan President Karzai for the

Understanding that they cannot win the war, the imperialists want to make sure they don’t lose it. Most accept that negotiations with the anti-occupation forces will be necessary and, indeed, communications through ‘unofficial’ channels have been taking place for many months. But the US hopes to negotiate from a position of strength. Islam Online (based in Qatar) claimed in November that the US had offered the Taliban control of six provinces in the south and north-east of Afghanistan if they would accept the presence of NATO forces and eight US army and air bases. US Defense Secretary Robert Gates has said, however, only after the Taliban’s ‘momentum’ has been stopped and they suddenly realise they are ‘likely to lose’ that they would be willing to negotiate on US terms.

The occupying forces face massive problems. Anti-occupation forces now hold 80% of the country. 2009 was by far the deadliest year of the war for occupying troops with 316 US, 108 British and 95 others being killed. International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) casualty rates are expected to rise to 300–500 per month this spring. The British Ministry of Defence recently revealed that one in five of combat forces are unfit for active duty. France and Turkey have refused to send further troops. The imperialist forces have a limited window to gain the upper hand before casualties, public opinion and failing political will among some NATO countries take their toll.

President Obama has promised to begin troop withdrawals by the summer of 2011. The anti-occupation forces have no such deadlines. A morbid joke circulating among the Afghan people says that ‘The Americans have the watches, but we have the time’.

Afghan security forces penetrated

A second stated US aim is, therefore, to massively increase the size of the Afghan army and police to eventually take over responsibility for much of the security. After eight years of training, however, the Afghan army is ineffective, the police force riddled by corruption and incompetence and Afghan President Karzai recently said that it will be ‘15 to 20 years before Afghanistan is able to sustain its own security forces’. The ease with which Afghan security can be infiltrated has been illustrated by several incidents recently in which anti-occupation fighters posing as Afghan army, police or intelligence agents, have been able to attack from within. In November, an Afghan policeman shot dead five British soldiers after a joint patrol. On 14 December three Afghan policemen in Helmand killed seven of their ‘colleagues’ and on 30 December seven CIA agents, including the head of team, were killed in Khost province by a suicide bomber acting as a double agent. On 18 January, around 20 Taliban fighters walked through what is supposed to be the tightest security cordon in Kabul, around the Presidential Palace area, attacking government buildings and holding the Afghan army at bay for over three hours.

A wider problem in expanding the role of the Afghan army lies in the fact that it is presently controlled mainly by officers from the Tajik minority, whereas the base of the anti-occupation resistance is in the Pashtun heartlands.

In league with the warlords

The present Afghan government is too weak to unite the country and the armed forces. Following the fraudulent elections, President Karzai was told by the imperialist powers that he must tackle corruption. In reality, the US has always been willing to use the corrupt and brutal Afghan warlords when it suits their purpose. One of President Karzai’s own brothers Ahmed Wali Karzai, is on the CIA payroll and runs a private militia hired by the US. Another is a major drugs baron. In 2001, the CIA gave millions of dollars to Northern Alliance commanders, including war criminals. Many are still on the US payroll, including Abdul Rasul Sayyaf, the man who invited Osama bin Laden to Afghanistan in the 1980s.

President Karzai dropped two ministers accused of corruption from his proposed cabinet but retained Ismail Khan, accused of war crimes by Human Rights Watch. He also retained ministers favoured by the US in defence, interior, finance and agriculture. Afghan MP Mirahmad Joyanda said ‘Nothing has changed. Half of the cabinet remains. The other half is introduced by warlords’. In January, the Afghan parliament rejected 17 of Karzai’s 24 nominees, describing them as unqualified and corrupt election cronies. Later the same month, almost half of a new cabinet was rejected for the same reasons.

Pakistan dragged into chaos

Obama’s third professed goal is to partner Pakistan against the ‘common enemy’. In the past year US drone missiles have attacked western Pakistan on at least 44 occasions. The US military claim five Al Qaida and Taliban leaders have been killed in these raids. Officials in Pakistan say 708 civilians were also killed in the process. The 16 strikes needed to kill Taliban leader Baitullah Mehsud cost up to 321 lives. Most attacks are based on information from Pakistani and Afghan tribesmen, some with their own local scores to settle. The drones are guided by CIA functionaries on video screens in Langley, Virginia; killing, with the touch of a button, unseen numbers of men, women and children 7,000 miles away.

The Pakistan Institute of Peace Studies says that over 12,600 people have been killed in Pakistan as a result of the US-backed campaigns by the Pakistani army against supposed insurgents, a figure that does not include the large number of deaths amongst the million refugees fleeing the fighting. A further 13,000 people have been arrested. According to Amnesty International, many prisoners have been subject to torture and rape.

The US lumps together all the Taliban as part of this ‘common enemy’ but there are several distinct groups. The Pakistani Tehrek-e-Taliban, led by Hakimullah Mehsud, is the group that occupied the Swat Valley and is fighting the Pakistani army. It is held chiefly responsible for the bomb attacks in Pakistan against military and civilian targets. Other Pakistani groups have no argument with the Pakistani armed forces. The Afghan Taliban has refused to back the Mehsud Taliban. In October, Mullah Omar said ‘We do not have any agenda to harm other countries, including Europe’. His spokesman, Qari Yousaf Ahmedi, said ‘We are fighting occupation forces in Afghanistan...US and other forces have attacked our land and our war is only against them. What is happening to Pakistan is none of our business.’

Many in the Pakistani army and ruling class see the Afghan Taliban as a strategic rearguard defence against Indian incursion. They are angry at US nuclear and other agreements with India and the presence of the Indian paramilitary patrols defending Indian road-building in southern Afghanistan. The majority of people in Pakistan are opposed to the US occupation of Afghanistan and see the US as an enemy. But the US is preparing for a long-term presence, building a huge embassy and CIA headquarters in Islamabad. The CIA is said to run a secret drone base, which employs Xe Services personnel, in the Balochistan province of Pakistan. The US claims some Taliban are being protected by Pakistan and wants to extend drone raids to Quetta, the capital of Balochistan, which has a population of 800,000. Balochistan has big oil and gas reserves and occupies a long section of coast in the Gulf of Oman through which the bulk of the world’s oil shipping has to pass. Any US oil pipeline from the Caspian Sea would have to pass through the region. Balochistan has its own independence movement, which the Pakistanis claim is being aided by India and which is asking for US assistance. The Baloch homeland extends into Iran.

The future of the already unpopular Pakistani government is thrown into further doubt by the annulment of an amnesty for President Zardari against corruption charges. USIndia and Pakistan have nuclear weapons. interference in the region is in danger of igniting a much wider conflict. Both

Perpetual war

Although the US knows it cannot win the war, to appear defeated would be a major blow to its global strategy of limiting the rise of rival economic powers by maintaining military and hence political domination. Obama’s promise to start withdrawing troops from Afghanistan in 2011 was therefore soon wrapped round with conditions.

Obama has reiterated Bush’s doctrine of taking unilateral, pre-emptive action. In his Nobel Peace Prize acceptance speech he claimed this was not to ‘impose our will’ but ‘out of enlightened self-interest – because we seek a better future for our children and grandchildren, and we believe that their lives will be better if other people’s children and grandchildren can live in freedom and prosperity’. To conflate the interests of the oppressor and the oppressed, the exploiter and the exploited in this outrageous way, Obama has to invent a ‘common enemy’.

That is not to deny the tragic reality of the slaughter of innocent people by some amongst this ‘enemy’ but Obama chooses to ignore that they are fired by the very imperialist domination that Obama seeks to continue. The US, therefore, has a self-perpetuating rationale for war; permanent and global. Obama said, ‘The struggle against violent extremism will not be finished quickly and it extends well beyond Afghanistan and Pakistan’.

On 3 January, the US Transportation Security Administration added, alongside its list of so-called ‘rogue states’ and the four ‘state sponsors of terrorism’, a further ten ‘terrorist leaning countries’. Which of their children and grandchildren will be the next targets for the operators in Langley, Virginia?


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