By the end of March, 10 Australian soldiers had been killed in the US-led occupation of Afghanistan, including nine in the past 18 months. Last month alone, there were two Australian Defence Force deaths in separate incidents as the Rudd government endorsed Washington’s decision to escalate the occupation forces’ war in Afghanistan. Total “coalition” fatalities in Afghanistan had reached at least 1061 by the end of March, 90% of which have occurred since 2005. The number of Afghan war dead is unknown.
On March 27, US President Barack Obama announced what he called “a broad new approach on Afghanistan”. Obama actually narrowed official US goals – replacing the stated aim of bringing “democracy” to Afghanistan with a more limited mission to “defeat” the Saudi Arabian millionaire Osama bin Laden’s al Qaeda terrorist network. “I want the American people to understand that we have a clear and focused goal: to disrupt, dismantle and defeat al Qaeda in Pakistan and Afghanistan, and to prevent their return to either country in the future”, Obama said.
In addition to the plan announced in February to send an extra 17,000 US troops to Afghanistan, Obama now plans to send 4000 more to serve as trainers and advisers to the US-created Afghan army. The new strategy calls for a “civilian surge” involving mainly international police training Afghan police and greater economic aid for Afghanistan and neighbouring Pakistan. With the arrogance typical of the world’s self-appointed cop, Obama proclaimed benchmarks for the governments in Islamabad and Kabul to measure their progress in fighting “al Qaeda”.
War against al Qaeda?
In reality, the imperialist powers’ counter-insurgency war in Afghanistan is against Afghan anti-occupation guerrillas organised by the leaders of the Taliban, an Afghan Islamist movement created, with Washingtion’s approval, by the Pakistani military intelligence agency in 1994-95. The Taliban ruled most of Afghanistan from 1996 to the end of 2001. Following the 9/11 al-Qaeda terrorist attacks, Washington decided to invade and occupy Afghanistan as a propganda preparation for the prime target of its “Global War on Terror” – US-imposed “regime change” in oil-rich Iraq.
After six years of counterinsurgency war in Iraq, in which more than 1 million Iraqis and 4300 US troops have been killed, Obama announced on February 26 that “by August 31, 2010 our combat mission in Iraq will end”. However, he also announced that he plans to leave up to 50,000 US troops engaging in “targeted counter-terrorism missions” in the Iraq warzone for an indefinite time after this date. Bringing US troop numbers in Iraq to the same level as in Afghanistan is thus being sold by the Obama administration to the US public as the “end” of Washington’s Iraq war. Immediately after Obama made his Iraq “Mission Accomplished” announcement, NBC Pentagon correspondent Jim Miklaszewski reported that “one senior military commander told us that he expects large numbers of American troops to be in Iraq for the next 15 to 20 years”.
In an interview with the Australian Broadcasting Corporation’s March 26 7.30 Report television program, David Kilcullen, a former Australian army officer who now works as a top ranking US State Department counterinsurgency warfare adviser, estimated that it would take at least another 10 years for the US-led occupation forces to militarily defeat the Afghan resistance forces.
Obama’s new strategy for Afghanistan demands that Washington’s puppet Afghan government do more to fight corruption, curb the drug trade and share power with the regional authorities. These noble-sounding goals are purely for US public consumption however. The majority of the warlords now ruling Afghanistan have been bribed to remain loyal to the US since the formation of the Northern Alliance that defeated the Taliban government in 2001. Now the receivers of these bribes are expected to fight corruption!
Obama’s idea of Afghan President Hamid Karzai’s government sharing power with Afghan regional authorities is a veiled admission that the supposedly democratically elected central government controls little more than Kabul itself.
While urging a counter-narcotics effort to curb “one of the Taliban’s key funding sources”, Obama ignored the fact that many officials in the Afghan puppet regime make a lot of money from opium. In a 2007 report for the US Army War College’s Strategic Studies Institute, John Glaze wrote: “Afghan government officials are now believed to be involved in at least 70 percent of opium trafficking, and experts estimate that at least 13 former or present provincial governors are directly involved in the drug trade ... In some cases ... [local leaders] are the same individuals who cooperated with the United States in ousting the Taliban in 2001.” US officials know that if they tried to eliminate the Afghanistan opium trade, they would lose most of their Afghan collaborators. The new counter-opium effort will be aimed only at the 30% of the opium trade protected by the Taliban resistance forces.
Rudd’s honour guard at Pentagon
On March 26, a week after the latest ADF fatality in Afghanistan, a military honour guard welcomed Australian PM Kevin Rudd to the Pentagon. This was the first time in his 27 months as US war secretary that Robert Gates had welcomed a foreign head of government in this way. A spokesperson for Gates said: “It was not merely a sign of respect for the prime minister, but a measure of our appreciation for Australia’s contributions on the battlefields of Afghanistan”. Rudd enjoyed US military honours in Washington because he’s been willing to sacrifice soldiers’ lives for the imperalist occupation of Afghanistan, despite a majority of Australian voters now being opposed to Australia’s involvement in this war.
In New York the next day, Rudd described Obama’s new Afghanistan strategy as “absolutely right” and a “credible long-term strategy denying terrorists a safe haven in Afghanistan”. Rudd then invoked the 9/11 attack on the New York World Trade Center to justify the continuing occupation of Afghanistan, ignoring the fact that none of the perpetrators of that attack were Afghans and that al Qaeda is headquartered in Pakistan.
The Rudd government claims that the soldiers it has sent to Afghanistan have died fighting for “freedom”, but the realities of the occupation show it is not for the “freedom” of the Afghan people. A recent survey by several aid agencies found that, while in 2004 nearly 80% of Afghans surveyed thought security was improving, now nearly 80% say security has worsened. While the killing of civilians by foreign bombs and village searches by occupation troops has turned many Afghans against the occupation, it is the US- (and Australian-) backed warlords and opium barons who have made life for many Afghans even worse than it was under the religious fanaticism of the Taliban. According to the Afghan news website Quqnoos, just one hospital, the Ibn-e Sina Emergency Hospital in Kabul, has had more than 600 suicide attempts referred to it during the past 12 months. The deputy director of the hospital said they are “mainly women, trying to commit suicide to flee violence in life”. This is in the capital, Kabul, which has supposedly enjoyed “freedom” for seven and a half years!
At the beginning of March, the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission said that poverty has forced 80% of the children in western Ghor province into labour. Marzai Rahimi, head of the child development section of the commission in Ghor, said that “the children who are forced into labour are aged between 7 years and 16 years”. She said that 60% of girls were forced into marriages before reaching adulthood. “When these girls go to the houses of their husbands, they force them into labour”. Particularly in poor rural communities, child slavery and debt bondage are growing, but are often disguised as marriage, labour or family affairs.
Extreme poverty, lack of awareness about child rights, weak law enforcement and conservative traditions have forced many children into debt bondage. Destitute parents sometimes offer their young daughters as “loan brides” in order to pay off debts, settle feuds or achieve other social and economic benefits. Drug smugglers who pay poor farmers in advance often demand young brides when farmers fail to produce opium and lack other means to repay their debts. In the western province of Herat, the department of women’s affairs and a local rights group said more than 150 cases of selling children, mostly girls, were reported in 2008.
The Rudd government’s commitment to Obama’s war escalation in Afghanistan will lead to more deaths of Australian soldiers and more Afghan deaths. What are these deaths for? Is it to continue a war originally undertaken as a propaganda preparation for the harder-to-sell invasion of Iraq? Is it for military honour guards when Australian politicians go to Washington? Is it to maintain a regime of thugs and opium barons that brutalises its own people? The US-led forces have already politically lost this war. It is time to bring all the troops home now.