Why the US is losing the war in Afghanistan

By Hamish Chitts

Barack Obama’s first military act as US president was to order two remote-controlled air strikes that killed 22 people, many civilians, in Waziristan, northern Pakistan. The Hellfire missile attacks on two villages were accompanied by presidential rhetoric about “smart power” and “tough love” that could easily have been spoken by his predecessor, George Bush.

Obama’s continuation of US bombing of territory of its supposed ally without consultation with and against the wishes of the Pakistani government’s, his plan to “surge” 30,000 troops into Afghanistan, tensions between NATO members over Afghanistan and even growing tensions between the US and its puppet government in Kabul are all signs that US imperialism has already lost the war. But as in Vietnam and in Iraq, many more civilians, resistance fighters and soldiers will die before Obama or another president decides that the US can withdraw “gracefully”.

Unpopular occupation

The US and its allies have knowingly installed a corrupt puppet government whose powers don’t extend far beyond the outskirts of the Afghan capital, Kabul. A Kabul resident quoted in a January 19 article in the French newspaper La Depeche said: “Nobody I know wants to see the Taliban back in power, but people hate [puppet president] Hamid Karzai and his deeply corrupted government. The parliament and the government are useless and don’t care about our security. With so many internally displaced refugees pouring into Kabul from the countryside, there’s mass unemployment — but of course there are no statistics.”

Warlords and opium barons installed by the US as local governors rule the rest of the country with an iron fist in their own interests. These brutal unelected officials are judge and jury, with their own militias (backed by foreign troops) as executioners.

Eman Mansour wrote in the Scottish fortnightly Journal on January 16: “The US government brought back to power the men who devastated the country and the lives of the people like no government before. These are the criminals of the Northern Alliance who fought among themselves from 1992-96, immersing the country into deep turbulent years of unimaginable crimes: abductions, torture, rape, looting and forced labour.”

The Taliban regime quickly collapsed in 2001 because it did not have popular support. Now more and more people are realising that the new regime of old criminals is no better or worse than the Taliban. This is one of the main reasons more and more Afghans are joining the growing resistance against the US occupation.

The high number of civilians killed by US, NATO and allied forces is another reason for people joining the resistance. A report released by an independent Kabul-based group called Afghanistan Rights Monitor on January 20 said that military operations conducted by US-led NATO and coalition forces in 2008 caused at least 1100 civilian deaths and 2800 injuries and displaced from their homes around 80,000 people. Around 680 died in air strikes, it said, adding that US combat aircraft conducted at least 15,000 close air support missions over the year. Afghan forces had meanwhile killed around 520 civilians, the report said.

The ranks of those fighting against the occupation grow with people who have lost friends and relatives in indiscriminate attacks on villages. In a sign that things aren’t going well for the US, Hamid Karzai said on January 20 that the US and its military allies have not heeded his calls to stop air strikes in civilian areas. Karzai told the Afghan parliament: “For years the Afghan people have come to me and said, ‘We are allies and we are committed to fighting terrorism and we welcomed the international community in Afghanistan — why are we the victims of air strikes?’”

Previous surges

During the Vietnam War, US troop numbers were increased from 25,000 “advisers” to 120,000 troops in just seven months between March and November 1965. Only a few months later, in February 1966, the US military argued that this first surge had prevented the immediate fall of the South Vietnamese government, but that another would be necessary to conduct offensive operations to defeat North Vietnamese and National Liberation Front forces. A year and a half later, the US troop level had reached 429,000 — plus tens of thousands of “allied” troops, including Australians. These surges were not enough to defeat the people of Vietnam, and the US eventually had to withdraw, but only after many more years of carnage, including “Vietnamisation”, in which the US sought to have Vietnamese kill each other on its behalf.

On January 10, 2007, Bush announced the deployment of “20,000 additional American troops to Iraq”. The full increase turned out to be 28,000 by mid-June 2007, and this level has been maintained although Obama is now talking about reducing troop numbers in Iraq for his surge in Afghanistan. While the US claims that Iraq is now more secure, the surge has not worked. The resistance has not been defeated and history is repeating itself as the US and allies like Australia, knowing that they cannot win the war, continue to build up and re-equip Iraqi forces. The “Iraq-isation” of the war is a sign of defeat, just as “Vietnamisation” of the Vietnam War was.

On January 27, the first troops from the Third Brigade of the 10th Mountain Division settled in Logar and Wardak provinces, neighbouring Kabul, as part of Obama’s promised increase of up to 30,000 extra US troops in Afghanistan by the middle of this year. This surge will double US forces to 60,000. However, as in Vietnam and Iraq, the increased number of civilian casualties caused by troop escalations is likely to win more people to the resistance.

The cost of saving face

One particularly disgusting aspect of US imperialism is its willingness to prolong war, to kill more people, including the soldiers it holds in such esteem, so that it can save face or withdraw gracefully. In Vietnam, the US continued the war for five years after it had decided to pull out. Hundreds of thousands of civilians, resistance fighters and soldiers died during those five years. The US also knows it has lost in Iraq, but its military and civilian leaders are now talking of combat operations until at least 2011, meaning more years of misery and death for everyone involved, especially the Iraqi people.

Obama’s commitment to the occupation of Afghanistan hasn’t been given a timetable yet, but it has already been going on for more than seven years. The greater the number of US troops involved in the fighting, the longer it will take for the US to withdraw.

The occupation of Afghanistan is not a “good war”, as our politicians claim. The fact that more and more Afghans are taking up weapons to resist the occupation proves that US imperialism is not interested in Afghan freedom and democracy. The Afghans’ struggle is to remove a brutal foreign occupier. How many more people have to die attempting to prevent this?

Australian Labor PM Kevin Rudd is also considering increasing Australian troop numbers in Afghanistan. Australia’s contingent of 1090 troops is the largest non-NATO contingent fighting in Afghanistan. Eight Australian soldiers have already died pointlessly in this war. How many more soldiers will Rudd allow to be killed while the US looks for a way to withdraw gracefully? As the corporate media and politicians try sell this unjust war, we need to continue increasing the political pressure on the Rudd government to withdraw from the occupations of both Iraq and Afghanistan.

[Hamish Chitts is a member of the Revolutionary Socialist Party and one of the founders of Stand Fast — veterans and service people against the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. For information about Stand Fast visit www.stand-fast.webs.com or phone 0401 586 923.]