Created: Tuesday, 15 February 2011 13:47
FRFI 219 February / March 2011
Reviewing the war on Afghanistan in December 2010, President Obama claimed that US/NATO troops had arrested and reversed the Taliban’s momentum. The US military claimed it had killed over 1,260 Taliban leaders and fighters and captured 2,360 in the previous three months. Since July 2010, when General Petraeus took command of US and NATO forces, there has been a 300% increase in special forces’ night-time raids. In Kabul, the CIA now has its biggest foreign station since the Viet Nam war, with a private army of 3,000. The number of bombs and missiles launched by the occupying forces increased by almost 50% last year. One US official proclaimed, ‘We’ve taken the gloves off, and it’s had a huge impact.’ JIM CRAVEN reports.
This assessment was for public consumption, given that 60% of the US population does not believe the war is worth fighting and there is a majority against the war in all 49 countries that make up the occupying coalition. Brian Katulis of the Centre for American Progress said, ‘A big part of the whole exercise in terms of strategic communications has been to reconstruct the narrative.’
Attacks by the anti-occupation forces increased by 66% last year. 711 members of the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) were killed compared with 521 in 2009. The advances claimed by US troops in Kandahar were due largely to the withdrawal of anti-occupation forces. As Antonio Giustozzi, an expert in the Afghan insurgency at the London School of Economics, commented: ‘The fact that the Taliban refused engagement is not good. They seem to have left behind cadres who can challenge ISAF’s control from underground.’ Obama’s review admitted that the gains were ‘fragile and reversible’. Meanwhile, anti-occupation fighters have opened new fronts in the north and west of the country. A report from 16 US intelligence agencies in December 2010 said that large parts of Afghanistan were in danger of falling to the Taliban.
Occupation brings suffering
The US army manual on counter-insurgency, co-authored by General Petraeus, states that only one-fifth of the task is military. The rest is political: building a form of governance that is competent and popular enough to deny sufficient support for the insurgency to survive. In Obama’s terms they need to ‘win hearts and minds’ to make any military gains ‘durable and sustainable’. But, with the racist contempt for the local population that characterises all imperialist invasions, the occupiers imposed their rule through a gang of self-seeking criminals who are detested by the Afghan people. ‘US support for a corrupt regime is part of the foundations on which insecurity rests’, said one Afghan MP. A report from the Chatham House think tank stated: ‘US reliance on corrupt and abusive warlords, rigged elections and the use of state by top officials to enrich themselves ... [is leading to] ... political marginalisation and support for the Taliban.’ The report concluded, ‘Military operations would have little point if nothing was done to improve the abusive administration driving much of the insurgency.’ But having put their puppets in place, the imperialists are unable to always make them dance to their tune. US Ambassador Karl Eikenberry has said that Afghan President Karzai is ‘unable to grasp the most rudimentary principles of state building’. Karzai reportedly told General Petraeus, ‘If I had to choose sides today, I’d choose the Taliban.’
Since 2001, the US has provided $52 billion of aid to Afghanistan, two-thirds of which was diverted for security purposes. Much of the remainder has been creamed off by crooked contractors and their overlords. Scrutiny of development projects has been weak. In some isolated areas, photographs are forged to illustrate non-existent projects. An Afghan minister said, ‘The ISAF effort is a complete failure. When I meet with US Provincial Reconstruction Teams they think they know better than the Afghan people.’
Nine million Afghans live in poverty and a further five million live on less than $2 a day. The Famine Early Warning Network has warned that half the Afghan population is not getting enough to eat. A UN report in December 2010 stated that Afghan women still suffer horrendous abuse. In November, OXFAM reported that: ‘Security for the vast majority of Afghans is rapidly deteriorating. It is likely that increased violence in 2011 will lead to more civilian casualties.’ Far from ‘winning hearts and minds’, the occupying forces are distrusted, even hated. As Yama Torabi of Integrity Watch pointed out, ‘Villagers don’t forgive the US army for killing their sons just because it has built a road or a bridge.’ According to a BBC/ABC poll in December, over half the population want foreigners to begin withdrawing by June 2011 and, in areas where the fighting is most intense, the proportion approving attacks on the occupying forces has more than tripled to 40%.
More killing in Pakistan
Another major problem for the imperialist strategy is that anti-occupation fighters are able to find refuge and support over the border in northwest Pakistan. Bill Harris, former top diplomat in Kandahar, pointed out, ‘We’re on a bullet train to failure in Afghanistan if we try to fight the war to any kind of conclusion with Pakistan sanctuaries open.’ Last year the US more than doubled the number of missile strikes from Predator drones in the area. It has special forces and Xe Services (Blackwater) mercenaries operating in Pakistan and more than 300 CIA operatives on the border. It is also threatening to send in its own troops and to bomb other areas such as Baluchistan on the Iranian border. The attacks are supposedly aimed at Taliban leaders but the victims are often Pakistani villagers. Last year around 1,000 civilians were killed. The Conflict Management Centre said, ‘The assassination campaign is turning out to be a revenge campaign.’ The Pakistan government pays lip service to the massive popular resentment in the country but, as the WikiLeaks documents revealed, Prime Minister Gilani told the US government, ‘We’ll protest in the National Assembly and then ignore it.’
There are, however, powerful sections of the Pakistan ruling class and military who regard Afghanistan as a strategic rearguard against India and consider the Afghan Taliban as allies. At present, they are refusing to attack Taliban bases in North Waziristan despite US pressure and offers of aid if Pakistan complies. WikiLeaks revealed that Ambassador to Pakistan Ann Patterson told the US government: ‘There is no chance that Pakistan will view enhanced assistance... as sufficient compensation for abandoning support for these groups in Pakistan.’ General Kayani, chief of the Pakistan army, warned that, should any pro-India government emerge in Afghanistan, ‘The Pakistan establishment will dramatically increase support for Taliban groups in Pakistan and Afghanistan as an important counterweight.’
Despite being unable to win the war, the US cannot afford to lose it. Afghanistan is an important strategic base and provides access to the oil and gas reserves of the Caspian Basin. In December, President Karzai signed a treaty to resume construction of the gas pipeline from Turkmenistan as an alternative to supplies through Russia and Iran. US forces are due to begin leaving this summer, but that will be a token withdrawal. Afghan security forces are supposed to take over the lead role by the end of 2014. But Obama’s review made it clear that the US would still ‘support Afghanistan’s development and security as a strategic partner’ and have ‘a long-term commitment to training and advising Afghan forces’. A new HQ for US special operations has been built and Baghram air base, which already houses 20,000 troops, is being extended. In 2007, Admiral William Fallon told Congress that Baghram would become ‘the centrepiece for future access to and operations in Central Asia’. In January, leading Republican Senator Lindsay Graham called for permanent bases in Afghanistan, saying, with breathtaking arrogance: ‘I think it would be enormously beneficial to the region as well as Afghanistan. If the Afghan people want this relationship they are going to have to earn it.’
The dilemma of ‘can’t win – can’t lose’ faced by the US in Afghanistan is not simply the result of a confused and contradictory strategy. The war, like that in Iraq, is being fought to maintain US global hegemony and deter imperialist rivals and other rising powers. As the crisis of capitalism deepens so will such threats to US domination. The USKabul, ‘It is impossible for this situation to change without a revolution.’ He spoke in the context of Afghanistan, but he speaks for us all. has no clear vision of what final victory or peace might look like. Their strategy can only be to keep threatening and keep fighting. We face the prospect of perpetual conflict until such time as another global war establishes the undisputed supremacy of one imperialist power or another, or until the people of the world rise up and change the order of things. One man told a reporter in