ALP defence minister Joel Fitzgibbon has used his first visit to the US to call for an escalation of the war in Afghanistan.
Addressing the Brookings Institute think tank in Washington on July 14 he called for "a sort of surge", while claiming "I think we can win the war in Afghanistan".
Fitzgibbon's speech dovetails with an emerging consensus between US presidential candidates Barack Obama and John McCain, who have both been calling for a troop surge in Afghanistan and adopting an increasingly bellicose attitude towards Pakistan — ironically the main US ally in the region.
The call comes despite the fact that the July 13 Sydney Sun-Herald reported that a confidential report (by international security consultants) and secret polling have revealed that foreign troops are failing to win the support of the local population and face "worsening security".
This is not hard to understand, given that the frequency of massacres of civilians by the 60,000-strong US-led force that has been occupying Afghanistan since 2001 has reached such an extent that even the US-installed puppet government has complained. According to a July 7 AFP article, Afghan officials claimed that 40 civilians had been killed in the previous three days.
While Fitzgibbon used his speech to suggest that some NATO countries were not making a sufficient contribution to the occupation, he ruled out an increase in the Australian contingent — which numbers just over 1000 — citing Australia's interests in its immediate neighbourhood. As with Iraq, Australian policy has been to have a commitment to the US-led military coalition large enough to show political solidarity for the war, but small enough to minimise Australian casualties.
However, the Australian contingent in Afghanistan has always been predominantly front-line troops, while the majority of Australian soldiers in Iraq have been in secondary and logistical roles. The 550 Australian front-line troops in Iraq were withdrawn in June in line with ALP election commitments.
The July 7 death of SAS trooper Sean McCarthy brings to six the number of Australian combat fatalities in Afghanistan since the October 2001 invasion. Furthermore, two of these have occurred in the past to two-and-a-half months. This reflects an increasing rate of casualties among the US-led forces in Afghanistan as a whole: with a sixth of all coalition casualties occurring in the past six months.
For US politicians, the answer is to send more troops. On July 15, Obama and McCain became involved in a bidding war over whose troop surge would be bigger: McCain responding to Obama's promise to increase the number of US troops by 10,000 by pledging an increase of 15,000.
The current over-commitment of US forces in its various imperial wars means that these troops would have to come from Iraq. Both candidates have explained their proposed surge in terms of their differing positions on Iraq.
Throughout his election campaign Obama has argued that the Iraq war was a diversion from the real "war on terror" in Afghanistan, while McCain is now arguing that the "success" of the war in Iraq makes a redeployment of troops possible.
In reality, the growing number of occupation-force casualties reflects the growing opposition among Afghans fuelled by deteriorating living conditions and rising civilian casualties. The recent attention from Western politicians has brought more media focus on the war in Afghanistan, allowing a small glimpse at the horrific civilian death toll.
For example, on July 4, Reuters reported that 22 people were killed that day by a US airstrike on two civilian vehicles in Nuristan province. The July 11 Times reported that the charity International Medical Corps claimed three of its medical workers were among the victims.
On July 6, another US airstrike wiped out a wedding party in Nangarhar province. The BBC reported 52 deaths, including the bride.
In both cases, the US initially insisted that the incidents were targeted strikes against military targets, only to have this claim contradicted by investigations by the US-installed Afghan government. The provincial governor of Nuristan described the July 4 attack as a deliberate act of cruelty, and was sacked by Afghan President Hamid Karzai for doing so.
However, the escalating civilian casualties have meant that even Karzai has urged the US-led forces to "take more care". According to the BBC's Alastair Leithead, the first journalist to reach the site of the July 6 Nangarhar attack, there was no evidence of any resistance activity in the vicinity.
According to the Pajhwok Afghan News service, local police reported a further 30 civilians killed by NATO forces in Nuristan on July 13. According to ABC radio on July 18, local tribal elders reported that a large number of civilians had been killed by occupation forces over the previous 24 hours in Herat province.
In both cases, the occupiers again denied that there were civilian casualties.
These horrific reports are just the tip of the iceberg. Not only is the number of civilians killed by occupying forces not recorded, but it comes against the background of entrenched poverty, underdevelopment and endemic violence against women and children. Western mythology about bringing democracy and development notwithstanding, since 1978 the US has spent countless billions of dollars on direct and indirect military intervention in Afghanistan but virtually nothing on development aid.
Between 1978 and 1991, as part of a proxy war against the Soviet Union — who were allied to the leftist Afghan government that took power in 1978 and were militarily involved in Afghanistan between 1979 and 1989 — the US created and armed the tribal warlord militias, religious terrorists and drug gangs that have since dominated the country.
While the ultra-violent and misogynist Taliban regime that ruled Afganistan before the 2001 US-led invasion has been used to justify the occupation, the US allies in Afghanistan are identical in ideology and practice.
In addition to the human rights abuses carried out by these local oppressors, Afghans, including children, are also being tortured in US-run prisons that exist in most US miltary bases. The most notorious of these at the Bagram Air Base.
Afghanistan leads the world in rates of infant mortality, violence against women and sexual abuse of children. Life expectancy is 44 years.
Since 2001, US development aid to Afghanistan has averaged US$57 per Afghan per annum — a large proportion of which ends up supporting foreign NGO bureaucrats whose conspicuous consumption is another source of Afghans' resentment. What development aid has reached the Afghan population is largely confined to the capital Kabul, and even here 95% of residents are still without electricity.