Afghan war expands despite opposition by U.S. majority

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by Gerry Foley

The Obama administration’s year-end review of the state of its war effort in Afghanistan, of course, endeavored to be positive, citing some progress. However, it had to be guarded, admitting that whatever gains have been made are “fragile” and “reversible.” Just how fragile has been indicated by a number of articles in major press organs and a UN report.

The New York Times pointed out Dec. 15: “The growing fragility of the north highlights the limitations of the American effort here, hampered by waning political support at home and a fixed number of troops. The Pentagon’s year-end review will emphasize hard-won progress in the south, the heartland of the insurgency, where the military has concentrated most troops. But those advances have come at the expense of security in the north and east, with some questioning the wisdom of the focus on the south and whether the coalition can control the entire country.”

The article described a situation of rampant gangsterism in the north by a tangle of armed groups supposedly allied with the Kabul government but not controlled by it. In this area, where the Pushtuns, the historic base of support of the Taliban, are in a minority, the dominant ethnic groups there have been hostile to the Taliban. But The Times article explained that the local populations are so tired of being plundered and intimidated by the various militias and warlords that they are beginning to see the Taliban as the lesser evil. Despite the brutality of the Taliban when they ruled Afghanistan, they gained a reputation at least for being honest and disciplined.

What the article in question did not consider, but what would be much more threatening for the U.S.-led war effort in the long run, are the indications that the resistance to the occupation is becoming more broadly nationalistic and less limited to Islamists or Taliban.

The webzine Salon reported Dec. 27: “The big takeaway from the Obama administration’s review of the Afghan war this month was that the strategy is working. But a new independent assessment suggests just the opposite: that, in fact, the situation is deteriorating.

“It comes in the form of United Nations security maps obtained and described by the Wall Street Journal. These maps are used by UN personnel to make decisions about where they can operate within the country—so presumably the UN takes their composition seriously. According to the Journal, this is the change that occurred between the March and October editions of the maps:

“In the October map, just as in March’s, nearly all of southern Afghanistan—the focus of the coalition’s military offensives—remained painted the red of ‘very high risk,’ with no noted improvements. At the same time, the green belt of ‘low risk’ districts in northern, central and western Afghanistan shriveled. … The U.N.’s October map upgraded to ‘high risk’ 16 previously more secure districts.”

Another contradictory report from an authoritative source was cited Dec. 24 by the webzine Alternet: “Ironically, while President Obama’s review was all about the positive, the latest National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) on Afghanistan was leaked just the day before. And boy, did they see things differently. The NIE is important—it reflects the consensus view of all 16 U.S. intelligence agencies—the CIA, the DIA, the NSA and all the rest. And what they said was profoundly different from the rosy-eyed assessment of the White House and the Pentagon.

“Officials briefed on the NIE said it acknowledged that large swaths of Afghanistan are still at risk of falling to the Taliban. And that there is no chance for anything resembling success in Afghanistan without the kind of massive shift in Pakistan that would eliminate the Afghan Taliban’s current access to safe havens across the border.

“And as of now, since the government in Pakistan we’re propping up with billions of dollars in military and economic aid has made quite clear that it—especially its powerful ISI intelligence agency—has no intention of ending support for the Afghan Taliban, the possibility of “success” seems to be just about zero.”

However, instead of retreating, it seems that the U.S. military is edging toward expanding the war into Pakistan. The New York Times reported Dec. 16: “The drone strikes in Pakistan have already risen significantly over the past year. The Central Intelligence Agency carried out roughly 53 Predator attacks in 2009, which was more than President George W. Bush authorized during his entire presidency. The figure has more than doubled this year, though presidential aides will not publicly discuss the program because it is technically secret.”

The same issue of The Times noted: “The Obama administration plans to further step up attacks on Al Qaeda and Taliban insurgents in the tribal areas of Pakistan, to address one of the fundamental weaknesses uncovered in its year-end review of its Afghanistan war strategy.”

This report drew immediate denials from U.S. authorities because their Pakistani allies have made it clear that they will not tolerate the open incursion of U.S. forces into any territory under their formal jurisdiction, even if they do not control it. The Pakistani regime’s determination was made clear when a U.S. helicopter fired on a Pakistani border post. Pakistan closed the access roads used by U.S. supply vehicles for a period, leaving the stranded convoys vulnerable to attack by jehadis in Pakistan.

Hatred of the U.S., fueled in particular by drone attacks that have killed many ordinary Pakistanis who happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time, has put wind in the sails of Islamists in the religiously based state long fostered by the U.S. The Islamists have just demonstrated their power by shutting the country down in a protest against the government’s indication that it might repeal the theocratic blasphemy law. Thus, the Pakistani neocolonial government has to tread a very fine line in its alliance with the U.S. But the U.S. keeps pushing—at the risk of toppling it.

Already, the civil war between the Pakistani government and the Taliban has led to massive internal displacement. In its Dec. 28 issue, The New York Times published a report on the Pakistani refugee camps from an expert on refugees, who noted: “I fear that, for those living in the region’s slum camps, things will never go back to what they were before. And it would not be the first time.

“When we walked away from Afghanistan after the fall of the Soviet Union, we left Pakistan to deal with the largest population of refugees in the world. Two decades later, these Afghan refugees and their Pakistani-born children are, despite recent repatriation schemes, largely still in Pakistan: permanent, destitute, and unwelcome, their urban camps indistinguishable from slums.

“And for those who need more than reasons of human tragedy: the Taliban was born out of Afghan refugee camps in Pakistan, and Pakistan’s displaced populations are already a source of flaring ethnic tensions there.”

Within Afghanistan itself, the direct human cost of the war is increasing. The Washington Post reported Dec. 23: “The number of civilians killed or wounded in the Afghan war increased by 20 percent during the first 10 months of this year, compared with the same period last year, according to a UN report issued this week.

“The quarterly report said the period between July and October saw a 66 percent spike in security incidents compared with the same time frame last year. Assassinations reached an all-time high in August, it said, with most attacks targeting civilians and Afghan police. Suicide attacks occurred an average of three times a week, most of them directed at NATO troops, police and Afghan government officials.”

The war is creating running sores in Afghan and Pakistani society that will not be soon healed. At the same time, it is a huge drain on the U.S. economy that threatens to grow and even become chronic. The Washington Post reported Dec. 20: A year ago, Michael E. O’Hanlon, a senior fellow and military expert at the Brookings Institution, predicted, ‘We are looking at two decades of supplying a few billion a year to Afghanistan. … It’s a reasonable guess that for 20 years, we essentially will have to fund half the Afghan budget.’”

The article continued: “Just last week, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers put out a ‘presolicitation notice’ for a contractor to build the eighth of nine planned increments for troop housing ‘to replace expeditionary housing facilities’ for 1,520 personnel. According to the notice, building the proposed facility could cost from $25 million to $100 million. The contract will not be awarded before March.

“What’s interesting is that the facility is expected to take a year to build, meaning it would not be completed before April 2012. That’s less than two years before the 2014 date when Afghans are expected to take over security, with the U.S. presence reduced to training units.

“But is that the real plan? Back in 2008, a supplemental funding bill for the Iraq and Afghanistan wars contained $62 million for an ammunition storage facility at Bagram, where 12 planned ‘igloos’ were to support Army and Air Force needs. In requesting that money from Congress, the Army wrote, ‘As a forward operating site, Bagram must be able to provide for a long-term, steady state presence which is able to surge to meet theater contingency requirements.’ A year earlier, Adm. William J. Fallon, then commander of U.S. Central Command, described Bagram to Congress as ‘the centerpiece for the CENTCOM Master Plan for future access to and operations in Central Asia.’”

So, are the U.S. authorities planning a permanent military involvement in “Central Asia?” That would be a major expansion in the U.S. military investment abroad, on top of the Middle East, with greater dangers, because it involves the risk at some point of confrontation with major powers, Russia and China.

Already, in its Dec. 29 issue, The Economist, one of the best informed press organs of the British bourgeoisie, asked if the U.S. expenditure in the Middle East was worth it for U.S. capitalism: “Yet even if America’s influence endures, is it worth the price? Few Americans realise that the Persian Gulf nowadays supplies barely 10% of America’s oil. Its value is far less than what the Pentagon spends on American fleets and bases in the region, even excluding the costs of war in Iraq and Afghanistan.”

What value, then, could the U.S. extract from “Central Asia”? There is much speculation about this, but fairly indefinite prospects for the foreseeable future. And this area is larger and more unstable than the Middle East, a veritable bottomless pit for U.S. expenditures.

Of course, what The Economist, representing a traditional bourgeoisie, did not consider is that American big business may no longer be interested in building up the U.S. economy but rather in drawing higher profits from cheap labor abroad and in parasitically draining the U.S. Treasury for gigantic projects connected to U.S. military expansion that are essentially waste. But the British should see the pattern, because it destroyed their dominant position in the world economy. It is the self-generated poison of imperialism.

Moreover, the Obama administration, despite the fact that it was boosted into office by a reaction against the imperialist running down of the U.S. economy, has shown that it cannot stand up to the big business powerhouses that support this development. Although 80 percent of voters who identify with the Democratic Party have been shown by a recent CNN/Research Corporation poll (see July 2 Huffington Post) to be against a continuation of the Afghan War, the president who supposedly represents them shows no sign of any determination to end the U.S. military occupation of Afghanistan or the plans for permanent military bases in “Central Asia.”

The CNN poll showed, in fact, that 63 percent of people in the United States are against continuing the war in Afghanistan, and even only 52 percent of those who identify with the reactionary Tea Party movement favor it.

So why is this overwhelming opinion of the American people having no effect on the government that claims to represent them? It can only be because the antiwar majority have not yet demonstrated that they really mean it by going into the streets in massive protests, in which they take direct responsibility for the fate of their country and stop relying on politicians paid and controlled by big business. Such actions would also be the first step in moving toward rebuilding an economy that can meet the needs of the American people, in particular the rising generations who face an ever-darkening economic future.

> This article was originally published in the January 2011 print edition of Socialist Action newspaper.

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