Divisions in NATO aid Afghan resistance

FRFI 203 June / July 2008

In 2006, the then Labour Defence Secretary, John Reid, claimed British forces were in Afghani­stan to ‘help and protect the Afghan people reconstruct their own economy and democracy’. The following year was the deadliest since the 2001 invasion with over 6,200 Afghan people killed. Louise Arbour, UN Commissioner for Human Rights, said that civilian casualties have reached ‘alarming levels’ and an Oxfam report said the humanitarian crisis in Afghanistan was ‘comparable with sub-Saharan Africa’.

With the spring the struggle in Afghanistan has intensified again. The US launched unmanned Predator aircraft attacks on the Pakistan border and urged the Pakistan government to move troops into the region. Pashtuns on both sides of the border united. The resistance spread into the Swat Valley and rockets were fired at the provincial capital Peshawar. The Pakistan army suffered thousands of casualties.

In May, 2,300 US troops lead a major attack on the town of Garmser in Helmand province, believed to be a rallying point for resistance fighters from Pakistan. Many of these US troops, newly arrived in Afghanistan, were veterans of battles in Iraq. The Afghan fighters offered little resistance, choosing to tie-up their attackers and concentrate their offensives further north.

Attacks by the Afghan resistance now average almost 550 per month. They control large swathes of the country, forcing the imperialists to rely on missiles and bombs. These lead to greater civilian casualties and turn more Afghanis against the occupation.

Imperialists divided
Divisions between NATO countries continue to create further problems for the occupiers. The Canadians, who along with the US, British and Dutch forces have borne the brunt of the fighting, threatened to pull out unless other NATO members committed more troops to the main southern combat areas. French President Sar­kozy, attempting to maintain a working relationship with the US, agreed to send an additional force of 1,000. However, many of these are civilian construction workers and the contingent will be posted in the less troubled east, only relieving US troops to assist the Canadians. German Chancellor Merkel had ‘absolutely no time’ to consider re-deploying German troops to the south. NATO members are also refusing to supply more helicopters, essential for transport and attack – and due to be in even shorter supply if reports that the resistance fighters are buying Stinger anti-aircraft missiles prove true.

In January the US sent a further 3,500 marines to Afghanistan. They want Britain to extend tours of duty for its troops and establish a permanent US and British command in the south. Britain has refused both requests. Given the reticence of other NATO countries, the US expects to have to send another 7,000 troops by 2009. This would bring total US and NATO forces to around 70,000. Even with 70,000 members of the Afghan army the total is way below the 400,000 that US counter-insurgency doctrine says are needed to control Afghanistan.

Afghan forces unreliable
Meanwhile, British commander Brig­a­dier General Mark Carleton-Smith, has suggested that Afghan forces could take over security in Gereshk, Lashkar Gah and Sangin, while in the same breath saying it could take another eight years to build the Af­ghan army. Britain is already preparing to extend troop deployments beyond the present 2009 deadline.

The fragility of Afghan security was demonstrated at the end of April when resistance fighters bombed a military parade in Kabul, killing two government officials and narrowly missing the President Hamid Karzai. The British and US ambassadors had to run for cover as none of the forces involved in the event were armed. Just one month before Karzai had claimed the Afghan army were ready to take over security in Kabul.
Jim Craven