By GERRY FOLEY
As the U.S. consolidates its control of Afghanistan, the military forces it has installed there are displaying ruthless acts of violence that clearly go beyond military objectives. These excesses seem almost indiscriminate. But, of course, if the object is to terrorize, there is little reason to be careful. The more indiscriminate the terror is, the more intimidating it is.
The latest example is the Jan. 28 slaughter of al-Qaida prisoners holed up in the Kandahar hospital. U.S. special forces and Afghan auxiliaries systematically exterminated six wounded men who had vowed to die rather than accept captivity at the hands of the Americans.
They were certainly desperate men. One had already blown himself up when his attempt at escape failed and he found himself surrounded. But they were hermetically sealed off in their hospital ward.
There was no need to kill them, unless the U.S. commanders feared that they were winning the sympathy of the local people. There had been a small demonstration of support for them, and U.S. officers claimed that some of the hospital staff had been giving them food and water. It would not be surprising if some of the staff, whose occupation is to alleviate suffering, had not wanted to watch them die of hunger and thirst.
So, the U.S. officials obviously decided to make examples of these men, and they will hardly be the last. The U.S. rulers want lots of examples.
On Jan. 24 , U.S. military spokesmen announced that American special forces had killed 15 Taliban in a fire fight in the town of Hazar Kadam. In the Jan. 27 New York Times, correspondent Craig Smith reported that the local people protested that those killed had nothing to do with the Taliban but were supporters of the U.S.-sponsored interim government. Some eyewitness accounts indicated, moreover, that some of those killed had been executed.
Smith reported that the local people attributed the U.S. military’s error to misinformation from an Afghan faction with its own agenda. But there have been many such reports since the United States decided to intervene actively in the Afghan civil war. Some of them go back to the siege of Mazar-i-Sharif, which fell to U.S. allies on Nov. 9.
Surely, by now the U.S. commanders would be careful about such information, if they cared. But apparently the U.S. military has chosen to shoot first and ask questions later. Corpses, regardless of whom they belong to, show the deadliness of the U.S. armed machine-and this is precisely what the U.S. military brass wishes.
A similar occurrence was reported in the last issue of Socialist Action. The U.S. bombed the village of Qila-e-Niazi and blew away more than a hundred people attending a wedding party after reports said the Taliban had left an arms cache in the locality.
How many died from U.S. bombing?
During its bombing campaign against Afghanistan, U.S. planes dropped great quantities of cluster bombs, which are mainly dangerous to civilians. The land remains scattered with unexploded bomblets, which resemble toys or humanitarian food packages, and every week they reportedly kill dozens of unwary children.
An independent academic, Marc Herold, a professor of economics at the University of New Hampshire, has calculated civilian deaths from the U.S. war in Afghanistan at over 4000. The Feb. 4 issue of The Nation reported his findings and commented on them, concluding: “It could be argued that as part of the rebuilding effort, the families of Afghan victims should receive special assistance, much as have the victims of Sept. 11. At the very least, we need to know how many such victims there are.”
Compensation of innocent victims might in fact alleviate a bit the perception of the Middle Eastern peoples that the United States thinks that the lives of its citizens are worth a lot more than theirs.
However, the American rulers and the press they control have shown very little interest in the innocent victims of the U.S. war in Afghanistan. That would be too revealing of the real war the U.S. has been waging, which is a war to intimidate the populations of the countries it dominates and a war to whip up bloody minded chauvinism among the American people itself.
The U.S. rulers and their defenders can, of course, argue that given the scope of the attack on Afghanistan the civilian casualties have been relatively few. Relatively, in the sense that the U.S. and its allies have built up the capacity to inflict real holocausts, as they began to show in Vietnam and Cambodia.
But ruthlessness and cruelty on a “relatively” small scale can be the preparation for systematic mass murder and destruction if the indignation of world public opinion and the humanitarian feelings of the American people are not aroused before the stakes for the Western powers rise decisively. And these stakes can be magnified very greatly and very quickly in the Middle East and the other areas that the U.S. rulers have targeted for their “war on terror.”
Bush denounces Iran
The U.S. involvement in the northern tier of the Middle East is already beginning to challenge more formidable forces than bin Laden and the Taliban. In his State of the Union address last month, Bush chose to denounce Iran as an enemy in his war on terror, although the complicity of Iran was decisive in the U.S. campaign against the Taliban and al-Qaida. In recent weeks the U.S. big press has been reporting that the American rulers are worried about growing Iranian influence in western Afghanistan.
In fact, all of northern and much of central Afghanistan is part of the historic Iranian cultural sphere and has always had close ties with Iran. It seems that it is the United States that is trying to change the relationships, more than Iran. In the Jan. 25 issue of the Tehran daily Entekhab, for example, Harim Haj Nooroozi wrote that the U.S. had stalled the rebuilding of a bridge north of Kabul to cut off the traditional trading routes with Iran.
The daily Jumhouri Eslami, the organ of the conservative faction of the ruling clergy in Iran, which also takes a more anti-imperialist line, has been carrying on a constant campaign on the theme that the United States is using the pretext of terrorism to establish military bases in the region that threaten Iran.
But even the liberal clergy, whom the U.S. government is counting on to lead a reconciliation with the United States, reacted violently to Bush’s declaration of political war on the Iranian regime. The liberal president, Mohammad Khatami, said: “Bush spoke arrogantly, humiliatingly, aggressively, and in an interfering way-and worse than anything, it is an insult to the Iranian nation.”
It seems clear that a confrontation with Iran is building up. And Iran is a major country with considerable influence in the region. It may be that Washington thinks that the clericalist regime has become so decayed that now is the time to push for the liquidation of the anti-imperialist heritage of the 1979 Iranian revolution.
However, despite obviously growing dissatisfaction with the neomedievalist ideology of the regime and its intrusive religious police among important sectors of the population, the 1979 revolution was a vast and deep upheaval and its effects cannot be wiped out so easily. If Washington steps up its pressure on Iran, it risks setting in motion forces that have great explosive potential.
Tensions high in Pakistan
At the same time, the U.S. alliance with the Pakistani dictatorship of General Pervez Musharraf is still a very hot potato for Washington. Islamism has been a basic pillar of the regime. It received major governmental support, but the institutions fed from the state trough also became a collecting pool for the growing frustrations of the impoverished masses.
Newspaper polls in Pakistan indicate that almost half of the population still sympathizes with the Taliban. And Islamist terrorist groups dedicated to fighting India in Kashmir have mass support.
Despite Masharraf’s attempts to put a lid on the Islamists and to defuse the confrontation with India, tensions between India and Pakistan remain high as border skirmishing continues. The threat of war has not been eliminated.
And the Indian big press and politicians continue to criticize the U.S. for winking at the continuing ties of the Pakistani military with anti-Indian Islamist terrorists in order to maintain its alliance with Musharraf. The United States has to try to juggle its alliance with the Pakistani dictatorship on the one hand with its alliance with India on the other.
Moreover, the U.S. war in Afghanistan crystallized an intense hatred of U.S. imperialism in the Middle East. In the Jan. 29 London Guardian, for example, a Saudi dissident cited a Saudi intelligence poll in October that showed that 95 percent of educated Saudis between the ages of 25 and 41 sympathized with bin Laden. The intensity of these feelings may have receded a bit since the defeat of al-Qaida and the Taliban, but there is little reason to think that they have dissipated.
In these conditions, it seems likely that the U.S. military intervention in the Middle East is going to lead to much larger conflicts with the peoples of the region and even to military confrontations of a scope not before seen. The displays of brutality by the U.S. military point to escalation.