Obama, Rudd must end the Afghan war

Issue 

The November 7 Sydney Morning Herald reported that an advisor to US president-elect Barack Obama, Jeffrey Bader, had stated that the "first priority" of the Obama administration would be to seek a greater contribution from Australia to "winning the war in Afghanistan".

The request for more troops, on top of the more than 1000 that the government of PM Kevin Rudd keeps in Afghanistan as part of the US/NATO occupation, suggests that the Obama presidency is not about to lead an abrupt about-turn on US foreign policy away from the disastrous militarism of his predecessor.

While the meltdown of the US economy fuelled support for Obama's slogan of change, the initial impetus for his successful election campaign was precisely a rejection of President George Bush's pro-war policies.

While the post-9/11 "war on terror" was justified by the Bush administration as "combatting terrorism", its real agenda was US domination — the projection of US power globally, and in particular over the oil-and-gas rich areas of the Middle East and Central Asia.

However, as the Bush era closes, the failure of this drive leaves the US more isolated and with less influence than at any time since the end of the Cold War.

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As if to underscore the need for genuine change, while US voters went to the polls on November 4, a US air-strike on a wedding party in the village of Wech Bagtu in Shah Wali Kot district, Kandahar province, killed 40 civilians, including 23 children.

Then on November 6, another US air-strike in Badghis province killed 30 civilians.

So frequent have such air-strikes against civilians become that Afghan President Hamid Karzai, despite being installed and maintained in power by the US-led occupation, felt compelled to raise the matter when congratulating Obama on his election victory.

On November 13, 20 civilians were killed in a suicide bombing
that also killed a US soldier. At the same time, two British Royal Marines were killed in a separate attack.

While the death toll of occupation soldiers in Afghanistan — currently stands at just over 1000 — is only a quarter of that in Iraq, since May the number of occupation-force casualties in Afghanistan has exceeded Iraq.

The death toll of Afghan civilians has never been counted, but is probably greater than the 1 million civilian deaths in Iraq as a consequence of the war estimated by British medical journal The Lancet in October 2006, particularly if war-related hunger and epidemics are taken into account.

Unfortunately, part of Obama's re-assessment is based on the false premise that while the invasion and occupation of Iraq was a mistake, that of Afghanistan was a legitimate blow against terrorism — bringing democracy and development.

This has never been true.

The nature of the West's commitment to "democracy" in Afghanistan has been apparent since the late 1970s, when the CIA began arming disparate warlords and religious fundamentalist groups to undermine the left-wing government of the People's Democratic Party of Afghanistan (PDPA) and draw the neighbouring Soviet Union into an unwinnable war.

In the process, the Western powers helped create Afghanistan's booming heroin industry and the international Islamist terrorist network that became known as al-Qaeda.

Despite its many flaws, the PDPA regime increased access to education and healthcare, and improved gender equality and development — outperforming any other Afghan regime before or since.

The PDPA fell in 1992. In 1996, with the quiet approval of the West, Pakistani military intelligence helped the Taliban to power.

Meanwhile al-Qaeda, slighted by the West making clear that they were no longer needed in the post-Cold War "New World Order", began a series of attacks on their former sponsor, culminating in the 2001 attacks on the Pentagon and World Trade Centre.

For the US government, 9/11 provided a justification for a war-drive that formed part of an imperial strategy to control the world's oil and gas resources.

Both Iraq and Afghanistan have proven that invading a country is easier than imposing permanent control.

Obama's "reassessment", is in fact based on a recognition by the US ruling elite that their imperial plans in Central Asia and the Middle East have failed.

The current regime in Afghanistan is a jigsaw puzzle of competing mafias and armed groups, both foreign and local.

At the top end of the scale, almost all of the US$15 billion post-2001 non-military aid to Afghanistan has either gone on inflated contracts to favoured corporations from the donor countries or straight into the pockets of the leading warlords.

This pattern continues down to the local level where militias extort "taxes" from peasants and even beggars. So predatory is the extortion of peasants taking produce to market that opium has become the only viable crop.

Afghanistan leads the world in maternal deaths in childbirth, infant mortality and heroin production. More than half the population live on less than the $2-a-day poverty line and famine threatens to overtake Western air-strikes as the leading cause of death this northern winter.

In this context many Afghans are reluctantly supporting the previously hated Taliban.

All this was acknowledged in an article in the October 20 Independent by British Conservative MP David Davis. Unfortunately Davis concludes that the solution is more occupation troops — an assessment shared by Obama, who is proposing to redeploy troops to Afghanistan from Iraq.

Obama has not learnt the lessons of the Vietnam War. By 1968, it was apparent to US policy makers that their occupation of Vietnam had failed.

However, the search for an exit strategy involving "peace with honour" meant that the war continued for seven years with deaths of millions of Vietnamese and thousands of US soldiers — before the occupiers' final humiliating departure from the roof of the US embassy in Saigon.

Obama has approved of spreading the war into Pakistan. This is already happening under the Bush administration, with almost daily attacks by unpiloted Predator drones into Pakistan's Federally Administered Tribal areas, killing countless civilians.

More than 200,000 Pakistanis have been displaced by the conflict. The Pakistani military and political establishment, which has close ties to both the US and the Taliban, has lost what little legitimacy it previously had among the people.

Extending that war into Laos and Cambodia did not help save the US occupation of Vietnam, it merely brought death to millions in both countries.

While some opponents of the war in Iraq have maintained that a troop withdrawal from Afghanistan would strengthen the warlords and terrorists, Malalai Joya, one of the few genuine democrats in the Afghan parliament (who is currently living in hiding) believes the opposite is the case.

"People here believe that the warlords are cushioned by the US troops. If the USA leaves, the warlords will lose power because they have no base among our people.

"The people of Afghanistan will deal with these warlords once US troops leave Afghanistan", she said.

Like Iraq, this is a war that cannot be won. Many more lives will be sacrificed in a doomed attempt to impose imperial occupation.

In the interests of humanity, what is arguably Bush's most devastating legacy to the world — the foreign occupations and wars in Iraq and Afghanistan — must be ended.

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