'Intelligent discontent is the mainspring of civilization.' -- Eugene V. Debs

Monday, July 07, 2008

Free Fire Zone Afghanistan (Part 3) 

US air strikes in Afghanistan continue to result in large numbers of civilian casualties, as has been described here and here:

Afghan officials are investigating reports from a remote area of eastern Afghanistan that US warplanes bombed a wedding party this morning, killing more than 20 civilians including women and children.

The incident in Deh Bala, a mountainous district of Nangahar Province very close to the Pakistan border, is the second alleged episode of “collateral damage” involving American aircraft in three days.

President Hamid Karzai ordered a formal investigation into another episode in the province of Nuristan on Friday in which 15 civilians were reported killed after US planes bombed two vehicles.

Both claims have been challenged by American army spokesmen who said that groups of Taleban insurgents were clearly identified in each of the bombings.

This war was lost a long time ago, but it will not end as long as the US and NATO can continue to angrily kill Afghans with munitions dropped from the sky. As I said in May 2007: One wonders if NATO is subjecting the Afghans to the kinds of indiscriminate, violent brutalities that occupation forces have inflicted upon people so often in the past when it is no longer possible to evade recognition of defeat.

Astoundingly, there is public sentiment in support of the notion that we must continue to fight in Afghanistan, a fine euphemism for the indiscriminate killings perpetrated by the US and NATO, while coming around to the belief that we should withdraw from Iraq. Perhaps, the basis for this attitude is nothing more than a feeling that we must win somewhere.

Such a perspective is deeply rooted in the Obama campaign, which has emphasized the need to withdraw from Iraq so as to intensify the conflict in Afghanistan. It is truly comical, as recognized by Ted Rall in March:

It has long been an article of faith among Democrats that Afghanistan is the "good war," a righteous campaign that could be won with more money and manpower. But the facts say otherwise. The U.S. Air Force rained more than a million pounds of bombs upon Afghanistan in 2007, mostly on innocent civilians. It's twice as much as was dropped in Iraq--and equally ineffective.

Six years after the U.S. invasion of 2001, according to Director of National Intelligence Michael McConnell, the U.S./NATO occupation force has surged from 8,000 to 50,000. But the Americans are having no more luck against the Afghans than had the Brits or the Soviet Union. The U.S.-backed government of Hamid Karzai controls a mere 30 percent of Afghanistan, admits McConnell. (Regional analysts say in truth it is closer to 15 percent.) Most of the country belongs to the charming guys who gave us babes in burqas and exploding Buddhas: the Taliban and likeminded warlords. "Afghanistan remains a failing state," says a report by General James Jones, former NATO Supreme Allied Commander. "The United States and the international community have tried to win the struggle in Afghanistan with too few military forces and insufficient economic aid."

If he becomes president, Obama says he'll "ask more from our European allies" to win in Afghanistan. But he won't get it. As The New York Times puts it: "Why help the United States in Afghanistan, the European logic goes, when America would be able to handle Afghanistan much more easily if its GIs weren't bogged down in Iraq?"

Obama says he would send two more American combat brigades--between 3,000 and 8,000 troops. If 158,000 troops can't subdue Iraq, how can 58,000 do the job in Afghanistan?

They can't.

Afghanistan's population is 19 percent larger than that of Iraq. Its area is 49 percent bigger, with infinitely rougher terrain. Obama's proposed "surgelet" would result in troop strength of less than one sixth of the 400,000 dictated by official U.S. counterinsurgency doctrine for a nation the size of Afghanistan.

Afghans say spring could mark the beginning of the end of the United States' first experiment in post-9/11 regime change. For more than a year, Taliban commanders have controlled the key Kabul-to-Kandahar highway. "On one convoy last year we were 40 vehicles and only 12 got through," Sadat Khan, a 25-year-old truck driver explained to the UK Telegraph as he pointed to "roughly patched bullet holes in the cab of his truck." Cops loyal to Karzai expect to be massacred. "Maybe we will lose 30 per cent of us this spring, maybe 60 per cent," police commander Mohammad Farid told the paper. He'd already been shot.

The Taliban say they'll retake Kabul this year and reestablish the Islamic fundamentalist government led by Mullah Omar. No one knows whether they'll succeed. But they've already begun to strangle the city of Kabul. They're destroying its nascent telecommunications infrastructure, driving out foreign NGOs and businesspeople with terrorist attacks, and cutting off access to the remaining highways. Talibs promise to continue to target NATO troops, betting that Canada and other members of the coalition will pull out under pressure from antiwar voters. Bogged down in Iraq, the U.S. won't be able to send more soldiers to Afghanistan. Karzai's puppet regime won't last long.

If Obama is so eager to keep fighting Bush's wars, he'd be smarter to focus on the more winnable of the two: Iraq.

In recent days, Obama has been hinting that he is willing to be flexible in regard to his timetable for withdrawing from Iraq. Does such flexibility suggest that he now understands that pulling troops from Iraq for Afghanistan is like jumping from the frying pan into the fire? Has he recognized that muddling along with two occupations, as Bush has done, is politically more defensible than trying to terminate one and creating unachieveable expectations of prevailing in the other?

Maybe, Bush and the people around him aren't so stupid after all. Empires rarely release their possessions non-violently, with the USSR being a rare exception in Eastern Europe, so we can anticipate that the violence associated with the occupations of Iraq and Afghanistan will continue indefinitely regardless of the winner of the presidential campaign. It provokes a more disturbing question that I have asked before. How long can we inflict such violence upon the people of Iraq and Afghanistan before there is blowback that results in the deaths of Americans outside of these two countries?

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