The Spark

“The emancipation of the working class will only be achieved by the working class itself.” — Karl Marx

Afghanistan:
The other war

Dec 15, 2003

In early December, U.S. military spokesmen admitted that U.S. forces in Afghanistan had killed 15 Afghan children in two separate attacks within less than a week. Three adults were also killed. The military spokesmen said that these deaths were tragic accidents.

Accidents? In both attacks, U.S. warplanes bombed and rocket attacked villages. In one attack, an A-10 warplane launched 25 to 30 rockets against a home. In the other, U.S. planes bombed what it called "a compound" in the middle of a village.

These atrocities were the early results of what U.S. military officials describe as their biggest offensive in Afghanistan in two years. In "Operation Avalanche," they say that over 2000 U.S. troops are fanning out over the east, southeast and south of the country in search of "terrorists."

All reports indicate that the war in Afghanistan, which the U.S. declared a "victory" two years ago, has continued unabated. In fact, the old forces made up of warlords and religious fundamentalists have reconstituted and reinforced themselves.

The Taliban, which the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan had expelled from power, has been reorganizing and gathering strength in their old home base in the south of the country, and over the border in neighboring Pakistan. They have openly set up formal structures, almost like a rival government. They now are said to have a military council made up of all their old minsters, governors and commanders. Their "supreme commander," Mullah Omar, is said to have created a media commission led by his former spokesman, Tayab Agha, as well as the ex-ministers for information, education and the former director of the official Taliban radio network. They also have their own daily newspaper, Pasoon ("Uprising"), and in the town of Quetta just over the border in Pakistan, they have a weekly 40-page magazine printed in color called Azam ("Vow"). And there are reports that they have re-established contacts and ties with the old tribal leaders in Afghanistan, often convincing these tribal leaders with bribes and gifts. One person told a reporter from the French journal, Le Monde, "I personally know two men who have come away with new 4X4 sports utility vehicles after they agreed not to oppose the Taliban."

At the same time, the warlord Gulbuddin Hekmatyar says that he has declared a holy war against the U.S. and is said to have reassembled many of the old mujahadin commanders from the wars of the 1980s and 1990s, in alliances that often cut across some of the ethnic and tribal divisions of Pashtuns, Tajiks, etcs. This is significant, given who Hekmatyr is. In the mid-1990s, he had been the prime minister in the government formed by the mujahadin. Then, when the U.S. drove the Taliban out of power in 2002, the U.S. put out feelers to Hekmatyr to be a part of the new regime that the U.S. set up in Kabul.

So, big parts of the country remain outside of U.S. control and the control of its puppet government led by Hamid Karzai. Karzai's government remains in control of the capital, Kabul, with the support of 5,700 non-U.S. NATO troops, while about 10,000 U.S. troops are concentrated in a few bases just outside the capital, conducting periodic raid.

But little else in the country has changed. Certainly, there has been none, absolutely none, of the rebuilding and reconstruction that the U.S. promised for the infrastructure and economy that has been devastated by over 20 years of invasions, wars and civil wars. To keep order over most of the country, the U.S. and NATO troops have left the country under the control of the very same warlords and religious fundamentalists, some of whom have allied themselves with the U.S. and NATO, others of whom have opposed them – that is, when they were not also fighting amongst themselves.

Obviously, for the U.S. and NATO, Afghanistan – unlike Iraq – is not of key importance. It is somewhat isolated. It does not have much oil. Conditions remain extremely backward, rent by feudal divisions. Rather than expend more forces to try to gain control over the rest of the country, the U.S. tries to contain it in an equilibrium of violence, playing off warlords against each other, gambling that none of the warlords or the Taliban will ever be big enough to effectively oppose the U.S. To remind all these forces of U.S. power, the U.S. conducts raids and offensives, not just aimed at the rival warlords, but against the population, to keep the population terrorized, living in fear so that they continue to accept the most awful and unspeakable conditions. The main problem for the U.S., and especially for the Bush administration, is to make the war there disappear – at least off the front pages of American newspapers.

But, Afghanistan, like more and more of the most impoverished parts of this world dominated by imperialism, is descending into further chaos and war. Its people are paying a deadly price.