US Sinks Deeper into the Afghanistan Minefield

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By GERRY FOLEY

Despite the collapse of the Taliban and the shattering of the al-Qaida in Afghanistan, Washington’s “antiterror forces” have been continuing to bomb the ruined country ruthlessly in the name of exterminating the remnants of their enemies.

Every few days for weeks now, there have been new reports of dozens, or even over a hundred, villagers being killed by giant bombs and missiles hurled from great distances.

The U.S. authorities have routinely denied that innocent civilians are being killed in significant numbers. But they have been caught again and again in lies by European reporters and humanitarian agency workers. A report from a Guardian correspondent in the Jan. 7 issue of the London daily is a recent example:

“The attack on Qalaye Niazi was as sudden and devastating as the Pentagon intended. American special forces on the ground confirmed the target and three bombers, a B-52 and two B-1Bs, did the rest, zapping Taliban and al-Qaida leaders in their sleep as well as an ammunition dump.

“The war on terrorism came no cleaner and Commander Matthew Klee, a spokesman at the U.S. central command in Tampa, Florida, had reassuring news: ‘Follow-on reporting indicates that there was no collateral damage.'”

The Guardian correspondent, however, graphically contrasted the truth with the propaganda pablum put out by the U.S. military: “Some of the things his follow-on reporters missed: bloodied children’s shoes and skirts, bloodied school books, the scalp of a woman with braided grey hair, butter toffees in red wrappers, wedding decorations.

“The charred meat sticking to rubble in black lumps could have been Osama bin Laden’s henchmen, but survivors said it was the remains of farmers, their wives and children, and wedding guests. … They said more than 100 civilians died at this village in eastern Afghanistan.” The local hospital confirmed 107 deaths. The villagers said the population of the hamlet was swollen by a wedding party.

Independent estimates of Afghan civilian deaths from the U.S. bombing already exceed the number of those killed in the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks in New York and Washington. This can only confirm the reaction of the people in the street in Muslim countries to the U.S. “war on terror,” that is, that American rulers thought that the lives of their own citizens were more precious than those of the poor people of the underdeveloped world. That response was one of the main impulses that turned the “Muslim street” against the U.S. shortly after the onset of the “war against terror.”

Now the U.S. long-distance slaughter is even less defensible because the “dangerous terrorists” it claimed to be fighting are no longer anything but desperate stragglers fleeing for their lives. They clearly do not have the strength or support to mount any challenge to the U.S. or its clients.

Now the greatest problem for the United States is to stabilize the protectorate it is imposing on Afghanistan, and it would seem indiscriminate slaughter of poor Afghans will hardly win much support for the U.S. and its local allies.

In fact, the new Afghan government established under the shadow of U.S. military and financial power is obviously embarrassed by the continuing bombing. On Dec. 28, an official in the defense department of the new interim Afghan regime, Mohammed Habeel, demanded that the U.S. stop its bombing, only to be rebuked shortly after by a higher-up, who said that the Afghan government had no right to tell the U.S. military what to do.

In this way, the bombing has not only discredited the United States but the interim Afghan regime itself, which has been at pains to claim that it is not going to be a stooge of the United States. The new Afghan government can hardly pretend to have any independence, let alone dignity, if it cannot even protest against the indiscriminate slaughter of its citizens by an imperialist power.

Moreover, besides being exposed as ruthless and hypocritical, Washington risks being drawn into local Afghan conflicts. One of the explanations offered locally for the Qalaye Niazi bombing was that U.S. aircraft was sicked on the village by a local warlord, Pasha Khan Zadran. Some local people thought that he did it to show that he could summon the U.S. sky killers to punish any Afghans who defied him.

Zadran is also accused of being responsible for a U.S. strike Dec. 20 on a caravan of tribal leaders who were on their way to the investiture of the new government in Kabul. Sixty-five people died in a line of shattered trucks and jeeps.

U.S. officials claimed that they hit a column of al-Qaida and Taliban diehards but local people refuted the U.S. account. And it is hardly likely that the ragged remnants of the Taliban and their allies would travel the roads of Afghanistan in large, tight columns, vulnerable to attack from the air. If is true that Zadran called for the U.S. strike on the column of tribal chiefs headed for Kabul, it is astonishing that the U.S. officials did not question his information.

During the battle of Mazar-i-Sharif, there were also reports of one Northern Alliance commander calling U.S. air strikes against the forces of a rival.

The United States is now entering in greater and greater force on ground that is more heavily mined politically than it is with land mines. The anti-Taliban forces now in power may be beholden to the U.S. for their position, and they may be without principles (many of them certainly are) but they have conflicting local interests as well as other international patrons with interests differing from those of the United States.

One such patron is Iran, which has especially close ties with the Hazaras, who make up about 15 percent of the Afghan population. The Iranian government is clearly unhappy about the U.S. presence in Afghanistan, even though it gave tacit support to the Western campaign against the Taliban and al-Qaida.

Also, there is considerable potential support in Pakistan for any opposition to the U.S. in Afghanistan. Some Pakistani newspaper polls indicate that 43 percent of the Pakistani population still sympathizes with the Taliban, despite the latter’s ignominious collapse. That is the index of the hatred that exists of U.S. imperialism and its local allies. The ability of the Pakistani military ruler, General Musharraf, to hold Pakistan in line behind U.S. policy in the long run is far from certain.

Sharpening conflicts between India and Pakistan, which recently escalated to the brink of a major war, have already highlighted the precariousness of the U.S. alliances in the region.

The U.S. imperialist gorillas seem to think that they can dominate the politics of the region simply by demonstrating their military and financial power. From that standpoint, obviously, they are not going to be all that careful about who they hit. Thus, even a wedding party of poor villagers blown to pieces by multimillion-dollar bombs is an example of Washington’s power, if not of its sense, and still less of its concern for people.

The Times of India has reported that U.S. negotiators are using the example of the deadliness of U.S. aircraft and missiles in Afghanistan as an argument to persuade new members of NATO in Eastern Europe to buy American military equipment. They certainly proved their deadliness on Qalaye Niazi.

The limitations of the system the United States defends is illustrated by the fact that the rain of death it loosed on Afghanistan was incomparably greater than what the country produced. By some accounts, Afghanistan has been hit by bombs every day of the war that cost more than its total annual budget.

It is far easier for the imperialist powers to destroy a country than it is for them to foster the kind of economic development that can bring political stability. Even one of the most fortunate of the undeveloped countries, Argentina, has now been plunged into economic ruin and social explosion.

The imperialists maintain their domination by terror and manipulation. But in so doing they create more and more resentments and explosive contradictions.

The situation in Afghanistan and Pakistan is one of the outstanding examples. Here they have created a vast mine field, which they are very far from having cleared and into which they seem to be wandering more and more deeply.

Socialist Action News

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