Afghanistan: More chaos and more troops

The last month in Afghanistan has seen the anti-occupation Islamist Taliban forces stage a jailbreak of 1200 of prisoners in Kandahar, threats by the US's puppet Afghan President Hamid Karzai to attack Pakistan (the major US ally in the region), the killing of 11 Pakistani soldiers in a border clash with occupation troops, pro-Taliban insurgents reach the Pakistani city of Peshawar and the highest number of casualties for both US and other occupation forces for any month since the October 2001 invasion.

On July 2, US President George Bush announced that US troop numbers in Afghanistan would be increased by the end of the year.

There are currently 32,000 US military personnel in Afghanistan, the main component of a 60,000-strong occupation force drawn from 40 countries (including 1080 Australian soldiers).

Despite repeated setbacks for the occupying forces, there is a growing orthodoxy amongst mainstream Western politicians and journalists that while the invasion and occupation of Iraq may have been a mistake, that of Afghanistan was necessary to combat international terrorism.

Broad support

While the war in Iraq alienated the US from most other Western imperialist powers (Britain and Australia being notable exceptions), that in Afghanistan has been waged by a genuinely broad imperialist coalition. Canada and Germany both opposed the invasion of Iraq but have made significant contributions to the US-led force in Afghanistan.

However, the spilling over of the war into Pakistan suggests that the operation has been less than successful in combating the spread of "terrorism". At the same time, the only remaining economic activity of any significance in Afghanistan is the expanding trade of drugs for arms.

While the Taliban had in the last years of its rule suppressed opiate production, since the 2001 invasion Afghanistan has become the source of 93% of the world's heroin. Ironically, the invasion and occupation of Afghanistan has also been touted as part of the West's "war on drugs".

The gains made by the Taliban partly reflect a growth in popular support. While, in 2001, after five years in power, the tyrannical and backwards-looking movement was widely despised, they have gained in popularity through resisting the occupation.

Western propaganda about spreading democracy notwithstanding, the US-led overthrow of the Taliban was accomplished by massive (and ongoing) aerial bombardment and the buying of warlord militias who share the Taliban's psychotic interpretation of Islamic sharia law and exceed the Taliban's corruption.

The US-led coalition's aerial bombardment has been the greatest cause of Afghan civilian casualties. While it has never been counted, the civilian death toll since the 2001 invasion is widely believed to number millions. Furthermore, US counterinsurgency doctrine has involved the mass arrest of fighting-age men and the indefinite detention of many who have had no involvement with the insurgency.

According to the June 14 New York Times, of the 1200 prisoners who escaped in the June 13 Kandahar jailbreak, only 350-400 were actual Taliban.

Brutal repression

Of the remainder, those who are technically convicted criminals are in fact as arbitrarily detained as those caught up in counter-insurgency sweeps. In a country where those in power routinely commit murder, rape and robbery with total impunity, a June 25 news release by the Revolutionary Association of Women of Afghanistan reported on the conviction of a man for stealing a sack of flour.

"The judicial bodies of Afghanistan only have the power to put the weak on trial", the RAWA statement said.

The June 16 Toronto Star reported that Canadian soldiers had complained to army chaplains that their superiors had ordered them to ignore the rape of civilians by Afghan pro-occupation forces. Some Canadian soldiers had developed post-traumatic stress disorder after witnessing children being raped by their Afghan allies, as did "a British soldier who said he watched a young boy being raped by an Afghan soldier while his senior officer concluded a meeting nearby with Afghan army officers".

While billions of dollars have been spent as "development aid", the BBC Persian service reported on June 24 that villagers in Bamiyan province complained that they were economically worse off than before the invasion. Most of the development aid has simply gone to purchase the allegiance of the warlords and drug barons who comprise the pro-occupation government and army.

It has also been used to provide the occupation's infrastructure. On June 27, the Afghan news service Quqnoos.com reported that 1500 families had been displaced by US forces cutting off water supplies to their farms, to enable the expansion of Bagram airbase.

The base expansion includes building a 40-acre prison complex to replace the current detention facility, which is where many of the abuses (and legal justifications) that gained notoriety at Abu Ghraib in Iraq and Guantanamo Bay were pioneered.

The Taliban regime's hostility to education — particularly female education — featured prominently in the propaganda that justified the 2001 invasion. However, while legal barriers have been formally removed, this is often ignored by the warlords who comprise the local authorities. Moreover, very few resources have been allocated with a shortage of buildings and teachers, 80% of whom have themselves not completed high school and, earning only $50 a month, need second jobs to survive.

The US-led military adventure in Afghanistan is about expanding influence over the oil-rich and strategically important regions of the Middle East and Central Asia, not promoting democracy and development, nor combatting terrorism and drug trafficking. However, the Kandahar jailbreak and mounting casualties indicate that this is not going entirely as the West intended.

Pakistan

Nothing illustrates this more than the threats and recriminations between Washington's Afghan puppet, Karzai, and its major regional ally, Pakistan.

While Karzai's threats to attack Pakistan cannot have caused too much anxiety to that country's military, given that he cannot even venture into his own capital without US military protection, his threats reflect increasing US displeasure at Pakistan's inability to prevent attacks on occupation forces in Afghanistan emanating from its border areas — the North-West Frontier Province, the Federally Administered Tribal Areas and parts of Baluchistan.

However, these areas have become increasingly militarised havens for local and foreign Islamist terrorists since the late 1970s when they operated as the base for a proxy war against the left-wing Afghan government that took power in 1978 and the Soviet troops who invaded to support this government in September 1979.

The Taliban, the pro-occupation warlords and Osama bin Laden's terrorist network all originated in this US-instigated proxy war. Islamist terrorists based in the border region have increasingly been responsible for violent attacks in Pakistan, including the assassination, last December, of prime ministerial candidate Benazir Bhutto. Sections of the Pakistani military and intelligence apparatus have close ties to various Islamist groups on the frontier and use them as proxies against domestic and regional opponents.

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