7 October 2012 marked the eleventh anniversary of the start of the US-led predatory war in Afghanistan. Following the 9/11 events in New York and Washington in 2001, in which 2,977 people were killed, and using these events as a pretext for a war long in preparation, the US and other imperialist countries and their satellites invaded Afghanistan and overthrew its legitimate government, calling this barbaric war of pillage and spoliation ‘Operation Enduring Freedom’.
Losses of Afghan and Iraq wars
Not content with one illegal war of aggression, and puffed up by its apparent early successes, the US, leading a coalition of the willing, the coerced and the subservient, marched into Iraq in ‘Operation Iraqi Freedom’, lacking even the shred of a pretext, let alone a cause, for the war against Iraq. It managed to overthrow the Iraqi regime, capture its head of state, Saddam Hussein, and have him subsequently subjected to judicial murder in a kangaroo court lacking all credibility.
The latter war lasted 8 years and 8 months. By December 2011, when the main body of aggressor troops left, 4,486 US and 318 non-US soldiers had been killed in Iraq. Operation Enduring Freedom, the longest war in US history, marches on and is not due to wind down until the end of 2014. By the beginning of October 2012, the Afghan war had claimed the lives of 3,196 aggressor troops, 2,130 of them Americans and 433 British.
Thus, these two wars have so far claimed the lives of 8,000 soldiers of the invading armies. In addition, 6,500 veterans are documented as committing suicide each year; that is, 18 veteran suicides every day (one every 80 minutes), according to the Department of Veteran Affairs. Even on the assumption that a mere half of the veteran suicides can be attributed to the veterans of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, and extra 36,0000 deaths would have to be included in the total casualty lists. Let it be remarked in passing that, for every successful suicide attempt, 20 failed attempts are made.
In comparison with the loss of human life suffered by the victims of these imperialist wars, the imperialist losses simply fade into insignificance. By 2007, the Iraq war had claimed the lives of 1.5 million Iraqis according to the British Opinion Research Business Survey. Even though this war carried on for a further 5 years, no new studies were undertaken to get an up-to-date figure for the loss of Iraqi lives, most probably owing to intense US opposition.
As to the economic cost, at the start of the Iraqi war in 2003, former president George W Bush guessed that the wars would cost $50-$60 billion. Actually, however, a 2011 study by Brown University’s Watson Institute for International Studies estimated the cost of the wars to be $4.4 trillion, excluding medical costs for injured veterans or reconstruction aid to Afghanistan. And these wars have been conducted on tick, as is only too obvious from the spiralling US public debt which, from being $6.4 trillion in March 2003, had risen by 1 October 2012 to $16 trillion.
As for material damage to Iraq, a country which prior to the first Gulf War had a standard of living comparable to that of Spain, it has been all but destroyed, with its infrastructure, health and education system in tatters – thanks to Operation Iraqi Freedom.
‘Achievements’ of Operation Enduring Freedom
Confining ourselves to Afghanistan, here are the shameful achievements of Operation Enduring Freedom:
1. 3 million Afghans made refugees, accounting for a third of the global refugee populations;
2. Life expectancy reduced to a mere 48.1 years, the fifth lowest in the world; and Afghanistan is one of only five countries in which female life expectancy is below that of male life expectancy;
3. Infant mortality at 134 per 1,000 live births is the highest in the world, with maternal mortality rates being the second highest in the world;
4. 75% of the population is illiterate, with female illiteracy rates higher still;
5. As regards the status of women, a husband has the right to beat his wife with impunity. Under new legislation being promoted by the Karzai government, it will be illegal for a woman to go out without being accompanied by a male or to be in the same workplace as men, or for women to be shown on television in the same room as men – so much for women’s liberation under the benign heel of the occupation forces!
6. According to Bashir Sarwari, head of the mental heath department, half the Afghan population suffers from psychological problems wrought by the conditions of war to which the Afghans have been subjected by the freedom-loving imperialist powers and their armies of occupation;
7. Heroin production is double that of 2002;
8. GDP per capita is a miserable $528.
This then is the hideous reality consequent upon 11 years of imperialist war and occupation, undertaken in the name of democracy, human rights, status of women, peace, prosperity and the rule of law!
In an attempt to ensure its own domination, and safeguard the selfish interests of the robber barons of monopoly capitalism, imperialism has pressed into service the most venal and degenerate elements of Afghan society, who act as traitors to their motherland in return for being allowed to indulge in corruption and drug dealing on an industrial scale.
Since 2002, Afghanistan has been the recipient of $60bn in civilian aid. As was to be expected in a country rated as the world’s third most corrupt, these vast amounts, instead of being used to benefit the Afghan people, as the Karzai government had promised, have largely lined the pockets of highly-placed corrupt politicians, officials and warlords. According to the Deputy Governor of the Afghan Central Bank, up to $8bn a year is regularly smuggled out of the country. Zia Masood, former Vice President, not so long ago flew into Dubai with $52m. The present Afghan ambassador to Britain, Mohammed Daud Yaar, is accused of fraud by the US authorities. Not surprisingly, he secured his appointment through intense lobbying of the Afghan President.
In 2005, 9 tons of heroin were discovered in the office of a close ally of Karzai, Mohammed Akhunzada, who later entered the Afghan Senate. The following year (2006), heroin was found in the car of Haji Zahar Qadir, who at the time was being considered by Karzai to be the head of the border police. Presently he is one of the leading figures in the lower house of the Afghan parliament.
More than two-fifths of foreign aid, presumably for the benefit of the Afghan people, finds its way back to the western accounts of the scoundrels running Afghanistan on behalf of their imperialist masters. In July 2012, an international conference in Tokyo agreed to supply Afghanistan with $16bn of development aid over a 4-year period in an effort to achieve a semblance of stability and thus protect the interests of its imperialist occupiers. Doubtless most of this money, as in the past, will find its way into the pockets of a small coterie of corrupt stooges who carry out imperialism’s behests and befoul the Afghan body politic.
No wonder then that these stooges are totally isolated from the Afghan masses and spend their lives in splendid isolation, grabbing whatever they can while the occupation lasts.
Imperialism facing defeat
For all the massive deployment of troops, drone attacks, night raids, use of the utmost brute force and torture, resulting in the loss of tens of thousands of Afghan lives, imperialism is facing defeat in Afghanistan. It has been forced to accept that Afghan forces would take over lead responsibility for security from the middle of 2013, and that most of the imperialist soldiery would leave Afghanistan by the end of 2014. These decisions were made by the 28-member warmongering Neo-Nazi Nato alliance at its meeting in Chicago on the weekend of 19-20 May 2012. In their statement, the Nato leaders said that the decision to draw down forces was irreversible – thus signalling the beginning of the end of a very unpopular war.
As a matter of fact, Nato, realising the impossibility of winning this war, has for some time been adopting the strategy of training Afghan security forces with a view to transferring security and combat operations to the local forces trained and mentored by officers from the imperialist countries, that is, the strategy of using Afghans to fight against Afghans. Seeing through this strategy, the patriotic elements in the Afghan forces, closely coordinating in all probability with the resistance, have hit back with the tactic of what has come to be known as Green on Blue attacks, whereby Afghan soldiers, or members of the resistance wearing Afghan army or police uniforms, turn their guns on Nato soldiers. Such attacks have claimed the lives of 51 Nato troops in the first 10 months of 2012, bringing the death toll in such attacks to 109 since 2007.
Consequent upon an alarming increase in such attacks, and in response to “elevated threat levels”, Nato on 18 September 2012 announced that it would restrict partnership and mentoring with Afghan National Security Forces below battalion level – a move that undermines Nato’s ability and willingness to train Afghan forces in sufficient numbers to be able to take over responsibility for national security by the end of 2014. Not without reason did John Baron of the ruling Conservative Party observe that the change “threatens to blow a hole in our exit strategy, which is heavily reliant on these joint operations continuing”.
Already on 21 January the former French president, Nicolas Sarkozy, had threatened to withdraw French troops from Afghanistan and suspend military training and assistance for its security personnel after the killing of four French soldiers by an Afghan soldier the previous day. Another eight French soldiers were wounded in these shootings, which were part of a pattern of incidents in which members of the Afghan security forces have killed their supposed mentors and trainers from the imperialist countries.
Sarkozy’s successor, Hollande, has announced that all French troops will be withdrawn from Afghanistan by the end of 2012. Canada and the Netherlands have brought their troops home. New Zealand has decided to take the same path as France and South Korea, by deciding to withdraw its forces quicker than had earlier been planned.
The majority of the populations of the countries waging this war are opposed to it, in view of which, combined with the fierce resistance of the Afghan people, Nato’s plans to continue the occupation in some reduced form beyond 2014 may, indeed are likely to, end up in smoke.
Only solution – foreign troops must leave
Rory Steward, a Conservative member of the British parliament, a former military officer and one of the very thoughtful military analysts, made this penetrating observation on this score:
“But keeping foreign troops in Afghanistan beyond 2014 will not secure the country’s future either. Every year since 2004, generals and politicians have acknowledged a disastrous situation, produced a new strategy and demanded new resources. They have tried ‘ink-spots’ and ‘development zones’; counterinsurgency and nation-building; partnering and mentoring; military surges, civilian surges and reconciliation. Generals and ministers called 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010 and 2011 ‘decisive’ years in Afghanistan. None was. None will be” (‘It is time for the West to be honest about Afghanistan, Financial Times, 23 September 2012).
Mr Stewart says that in the absence of “victory”, three alternative strategies have been proposed: training the Afghan security forces; political settlement with the Taliban; and a regional solution. He rejects them all in the light of the experience of preceding years. “So,” he concludes, “there is no military solution, and no political solution either. Nor will there be before the troops leave”, adding that “what is certain is that foreigners haven’t, and now cqn’t [provide a solution]”.
It was never going to be the case that the very foreigners who created the problem in the first place by invading Afghanistan, toppling its government, and brutalising its population, could ever be part of the solution. Afghans do not like their country to be the victim of unprovoked foreign aggression. They do not like to be bullied in their own country by foreign soldiers. In this, they are no different from people elsewhere. In this context we cannot help quoting the following remarks of Rodric Braithwaite, a former Chairman of Britain’s Joint Intelligence Committee, written in the course of his review of Losing small wars, a book by Frank Ledwidge, a former military intelligence officer:
“And you do not need to be an anthropologist to understand that, like people anywhere, ordinary Afghans do not take kindly to foreign soldiers breaking into their homes at night, insulting their women, turning everything upside down and taking their men away to unknown destinations. When their families are killed by foreign bombs, they are not mollified by the argument that even more civilians are killed by the Taliban. Instead of being divided from the terrorists, they join them part-time. Soldiers may hand out sweets to village children and assure their parents that they come with the best intentions. But hearts and minds are not won.
“It is not only the British who have failed. The French failed for similar reasons in Algeria. So did the Americans in Vietnam…” (‘The failure of British leadership in Iraq and Afghanistan, Financial Times, 12 August 2011).
Being a former Chairman of the Joint Intelligence Committee, Mr Braithwaite cannot help characterising those belonging to the anti-imperialist resistance in Afghanistan, or anywhere else for that matter, as “terrorists”, nor can he help pinning on them the responsibility for a greater number of Afghan casualties than are caused by the occupying powers who, lacking any support among the Afghan people, can only continue the occupation through brutality, death and destruction – all of which is well documented. If we put aside these prejudices of his, Mr Braithwaite is right in maintaining that foreign soldiers, knowing what they do, are not best placed to win Afghan hearts and minds.
Be that as it may, as imperialism undertakes the task of withdrawing the bulk of its forces from Afghanistan, it is faced with yet another nightmarish problem, that is, the logistics of this withdrawal.
Spectre of Dr Brydon
Invading Afghanistan and toppling the Afghan regime was easy. The imperialist armed forces marched into the country with a swagger. Eleven years later, having suffered a most humiliating defeat, their attempt to extricate themselves from the disaster of their own making has all the ingredients of yet another disaster, and turning their exit into an ignominious rout.
In attempting to make an exit from Afghanistan, the Nato forces are haunted by the image of the exhausted Dr Brydon riding a half-dead pony into the garrison town of Jalalabad following Britain’s humiliating retreat from Kabul in 1842. His skull shattered, he was the lone member of the British army to have escaped death or capture. No foreign army has ever returned from Afghanistan without being fired on.
It will take a long time to bring back over a quarter of a million soldiers and private contractors presently occupying Afghanistan, as well as the massive amounts of military materiel brought by the invading banditry into Afghanistan. The scale of the task is self-evident from the following figures:
1. Number of troops to be brought back: US, 90,000; UK 9,500; others, 29,500 – a total of 129,000.
2. In addition there are 134,000 US logistics personnel who are enlisted as members of the US army.
3. As regards equipment, there are 70,000 trucks, mostly armoured, to be repatriated. Of these, 49,000 belong to the US army, 3,500 to the British, and 17,500 to other members of this criminal fraternity.
4. On top of these vehicles there is other equipment packed in 120,000 containers, 100,000 of which belong to the US, 11,500 to Britain and 8,500 to others.
The value of all US merchandise of death is conservatively estimated at $49bn, and the cost of resetting this equipment for future use is estimated at $15bn.
Then there is the daily transit fee of $1m demanded by Pakistan, as well as the annual $500m US funding for transit countries of central Asia.
The value of the UK’s equipment is of the order of £4-6bn. The cost of transporting 11,500 20ft containers to the UK is estimated at £48m, if transported by sea/ground, £96m if transported through of combination of ground, air and rail, or £144m by air.
As to the route for the exit, a glance at the map shows that there is no easy way out. The most accessible, quickest and cheapest is the port of Karachi to the south. However, the roads to reach it are made precarious by the intensity of the resistance and the troubled relations between Islamabad and Washington. The alternative – the northern distribution network through central Asia – too is problematic: it goes through steep avalanche-prone passes, traverses bad roads and treacherous railway lines, presenting an easy target for attacks by forces ready to pilfer from passing convoys. A 5,000km trek through central Asia out to sea via Russia and the Baltic, or across the Caspian region towards the Mediterranean, does not make for a smooth ride.
The potential cost in lives will be huge if things go wrong in the process of withdrawal – either because of attacks by the resistance or of the harsh terrain. In the words of Carola Hoyes, from whose article ‘Bringing it all back home’ (Financial Times, 17 May 2012), the figures in this section have been taken:
“Troops may no longer be riding home on ponies, but Nato faces many of the same hazards as Brydon and previous generations of invaders”.
The spectre of Dr Brydon is haunting Nato as it contemplates the logistics of withdrawal of most of its forces from Afghanistan.
Plans to continue in occupation
Beaten though they are, the imperialists are not proposing completely to leave Afghanistan any time soon. The US has concluded the Enduring Strategic Partnership (ESP) agreement with the Afghan government. Signed by US president Barack Obama and his Afghan counterpart, Hamid Karzai, in May 2012, the ESP will allow the US to continue stationing on Afghan soil 20,0000 of its troops, including special forces, until 2024. Under ESP, US armed forces will control air power, in addition to directing the Afghan national security forces through trainers and advisors; and Afghanistan will received $4bn a year in military assistance. All of this is designed to ensure the long-term US occupation of the country.
Britain, too, will keep 200 special forces personnel, along with 90 officers, to service an elite training academy for Afghan officers.
The US is busy building an intelligence centre for drone warfare, a special operations facility at Kandahar airfield, as well as carrying out a vast extension of the airbase at Bagram and a logistics hub at Camp Marmal on the Uzbekistan/Tajistan border.
Man proposes, God disposes
This, then, is US imperialism’s long-term plan and its attempt to snatch victory out of the jaws of a humiliating defeat. But, as the old saying goes, Man proposes, God disposes. Standing in the way of the implementation of this plan are:
1. First and foremost, the continued Afghan resistance to the occupation in any form. If the massive imperialist forces ,with all the firepower and the latest killing machines at their disposal, could not overwhelm the Afghan resistance, it is hardly to be expected that a force of 20,000 will somehow be able to achieve it.
2. Second, there are disagreements within the US military on the correct strategy, and disputes in Washington, both within the political establishment as well as between the political and military elites – not to speak of the rising opposition of the American people to this dirty war.
3. Third, this plan is based on the unrealistic assumption that the Karzai government and its security forces will be able to take over from the occupation regime and the occupation forces. The corrupt Karzai government is a creation and a puppet of the occupying powers and, as such, enjoys no legitimacy among the masses. As to the Afghan security forces, they are incompetent and unable to operate on their own – a third of their members routinely desert shortly after joining, while a significant minority harbour sympathy for the resistance, a sympathy which provides the only possible explanation for the phenomenon of Green on Blue attacks, which have driven an armed truck through Nato’s strategy of stabilising the occupation by reliance on the Afghan National Army and police.
4. Fourth, for Nato’s strategy to succeed, it must secure the full cooperation of the Pakistani government and, more crucially, it must secure the full cooperation of the Pakistani army establishment. It is most unlikely that Pakistani cooperation will be forthcoming. Even if, and it is a big if, the Pakistani civilian and military elite were desirous of such cooperation, the Pakistani masses will oppose it most fiercely, harbouring as they do passionate anti-American sentiments. The killing of Osama Bin Laden on Pakistani territory by American special forces, who reached their target in violation of Pakistani sovereignty, without as much as informing in advance, let alone securing the consent of, the Pakistani authorities, has compromised the latter and incensed the broad masses of the Pakistani people.
5. Adding further fuel to an already-raging inferno are the continuing American drone attacks within Pakistan. Since Obama’s accession to the US presidency, there have been in Pakistan over 300 drone attacks, which have claimed the lives of 3,341 innocent people, including 176 children. The most egregious of these attacks was the one which took place in November 2011, in which 24 Pakistani soldiers were slaughtered while asleep. A 2010 UN report observed that “the US’s ill-defined licence to kill threatens the rules to the right to life and prevention of extra-judicial killings”. Christof Heyns, UN special rapporteur on extra-judicial killings, while describing drone strikes as war crimes, has remarked pointedly that “some states want to invent laws to justify new practices”.
Even ignoring other Pakistani interests in Afghanistan, in the light of American conduct it is tantamount to believing in miracles to entertain hopes of Pakistani cooperation in the continued US occupation of Afghanistan.
Although in the end US plans are bound to fail, the war in Afghanistan is set to continue, as is the resistance of the Afghan people to the continued occupation of their country. The solidarity movement in the imperialist countries, while taking satisfaction from the defeat suffered thus far by imperialism, and the victories scored by the Afghan national resistance, must not rest complacently. It must intensify its efforts and mobilise the masses of the working class against the continued war against, and occupation of, Afghanistan. It must inculcate in the masses the spirit of non-cooperation in every form and it must proclaim loud and clear the slogan:
Victory to the Resistance!