Afghanistan: US spy chief admits war going badly


While the Western corporate media was swooning over the tour of army duty in war-torn Afghanistan by Prince Harry, the third in line to the British crown, scant coverage was given to US national intelligence director Vice-Admiral Mike McConnell's admission that the situation facing the US and its NATO allies in Afghanistan is "deteriorating", despite a doubling of their occupation forces since 2004.

There are currently 28,000 US troops in Afghanistan, with another 3200 due to arrive later this month. More than half of the US troops in Afghanistan — 15,000 — operate under the command of the US-led NATO military alliance. There are also 28,000 non-US troops operating as part of the 43,000 NATO commanded International Security Assistance Force. The largest non-US ISAF contingent — 7700 troops — is from Britain, while 970 Australian troops constitute the largest non-NATO contingent.

'Classic insurgency'

Testifying before the US Senate armed services committee on February 27, Connell said that after six years of US and allied military support and billions of dollars in foreign aid, the US-installed government of Afghan President Hamid Karzai — derided by critics as being little more than "the mayor of Kabul" — controls only 30% of the country.

McConnell said 60% of the country was controlled by local warlords, while the Taliban anti-occupation guerrilla fighters controlled 10-11%, mainly in the south. "Taliban forces have expanded their operations into previously peaceful areas of the west and around Kabul", he added.

McConnell's assessment directly contradicted congressional testimony given by US war secretary Robert Gates on February 6 in which he stated: "The Taliban no longer occupy any territory in Afghanistan." It also contradicts US President George Bush's February 8 claim that the Taliban "are on the run".

However, McConnell's assessment was consistent with remarks made by Admiral Michael Mullen, the head of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff, to the armed service committee on February 1 and repeated in a written statement on February 6, in which he declared that the US and its allies faced a "classic growing insurgency" in Afghanistan.

McConnell's assessment also echoed those made in recent studies by private think tanks, including one headed by retired US Marine Corps General James Jones, the top NATO commander until mid-2006, which bluntly stated that "NATO is not winning in Afghanistan".

The Taliban, an Afghan Islamist movement originally set up by the Pakistani military in 1994-95 with Washington's blessing, took control of most of Afghanistan in 1996. The Taliban was driven from power, and from most of the country, in late 2001 when — as the Washington Post's Bob Woodward detailed in his 2002 book Bush at War — the CIA and US Special Forces distributed US$70 million in bribes to buy the support of local warlords who had previously backed the Taliban regime.

Based on interviews with senior US officials, Woodward reported that at a meeting of the White House National Secretary Council the day after al-Qaeda's September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, then-war secretary Donald Rumsfeld and Vice-President Dick Cheney pushed for an invasion of Iraq as the principal target of their long-planned "war on terrorism".

However, then-secretary of state Colin Powell and the top military officers convinced President George Bush that the first target had to be Afghanistan, rather than Iraq, because "the American people were focused on al Qaeda" and that "it would be far easier initially to rally the world behind the specific target of al Qaeda".

In Bush at War, Woodward quoted Bush as saying: "I believe Iraq was involved [in 9/11], but I'm not going to strike now. I don't have the evidence at this point." For the Bush administration, the invasion of Afghanistan was little more than a propaganda entre to the "main game" — the conquest of oil-rich Iraq.

Between 2002 and 2004, the annual death toll resulting from attacks by small numbers of Afghan guerrilla fighters linked to the Taliban was around 50 US soldiers and less than 10 other allied occupation troops.

But in 2006, the number and scale of guerrilla attacks sharply escalated, resulting in a doubling of US and allied forces' casualties. Last year was the deadliest yet for the occupation forces, with 117 US and 115 allied foreign troops being killed.

The number of Afghans killed in war-related violence since the US-led occupation began is unknown, as neither the occupation forces nor the puppet regime of President Hamid Karzai's government have compiled records.

Taliban resurgence

The key to the Taliban's growing success, according to McConnell, "is the opportunity for safe haven in Pakistan", which since 1999 has been ruled by a US-allied military regime headed by General Pervez Musharraf. While this is certainly a factor, it ignores growing support by Afghan peasants for the Taliban fighters.

The US military's own Stars & Stripes newspaper reported on October 3 that it had been told by US Army Colonel Jonathan Ives, commander of Task Force Cincinnatus, which is responsible for US operations in northeast Afghanistan, that the Taliban had a "strong recruiting base".

Ives added: "The Taliban at this time has an established rapport with the community and sometimes they are seen as being the right answer, or a secure answer, over the unrest that may exist between the criminal elements and/or the power struggles that exist" between local warlords.

A study issued in March 2007 by the Brussels-based Senlis Council international policy think tank reported that an opinion survey it had conducted had found support for the Taliban had skyrocketed in the rural areas of southern Afghanistan over the previous 18 months.

Of the 17,000 Afghan villagers surveyed, 27% openly declared support for the Taliban, up from 2% in a similar poll taken in December 2005. Fifty-two per cent of those surveyed said that the foreign troops should leave the country.

In a report issued last November, the Senlis Council attributed the resurgence in support for the Taliban to the widespread perception that the Karzai government "is a puppet regime with foreign countries in control of all Afghan ministries and decision-making".

The report also argued that the "pursuit of ill-advised counter-narcotics policies by the international community has also severely undermined the legitimacy of the Afghan government. In the absence of immediate alternative livelihoods and access to resources necessary to phase out illegal poppy cultivation, forceful poppy crop eradication has fuelled widespread public frustration towards the Afghan government and international forces.

"Crucially, the unsystematic and often corrupt manner in which forced eradication is implemented has fuelled support for the Taliban as the latter offers swift protection to farming communities."

Associated Press reported on February 14, 2001, that UN drug control officers had found that the Taliban regime had nearly wiped out opium production in Afghanistan. "We are not just guessing. We have seen the proof in the fields", Bernard Frahi, regional director for the UN program in Afghanistan and Pakistan, told AP.

Since the US-instigated overthrow of the Taliban regime, Afghanistan — one of poorest countries in the world — has re-emerged as the world's main producer of opium, the key ingredient in heroin. The UN estimates that Afghanistan now accounts for 93% of the global market in illegal opiates. The total area used for illicit opium cultivation increased by 59% in 2006 and by a further 17% last year, according to a UN report released on March 5.


The November 24 London Times reported that, "Governmental corruption in Afghanistan has become endemic and bribes to secure police and administrative positions along provincial drug routes is an established procedure ...

"The international community has played its own part in contributing to the crisis. One analyst in Kabul said: 'It's not Afghan culture. It's a culture of impunity. We created it. We came in in 2001 with cases of cash and made certain people untouchables.'

"The dozens of drug-funded villas — 'narcotechture' in expat parlance — that have sprung up around foreign embassies in Kabul's Sherpur district are a testament to the untouchable status of former warlords ...

"Corruption among police and local authorities is worst in southern Afghanistan, where drug profits are highest. Despite his repeated public denials, President Karzai's half-brother Wali, head of Kandahar's provincial council, continues to be accused by senior government sources, as well as foreign analysts and officials, as having a key role in orchestrating the movement of heroin from Kandahar eastward through Helmand [province] and out across the Iranian border."