Sacrificed on the altar of imperialismIt is more dangerous, but at the end of the day ... the sure way to work against the enemy is to put people on the ground, General Tommy Franks, the commander of Washington's war in Afghanistan, told the March 5 Washington Post.
Franks was defending the US military offensive that has so far cost the lives of eight US soldiers, seven Afghan allies and hundreds of their al Qaeda and Taliban opponents.
As information about the bloody operation in the rugged mountains of eastern Afghanistan, which began on March 2, has filtered out, it has become glaringly apparent that Washington's main target was not a few hundred al Qaeda and Taliban hold-outs.
Washington's real target is the Vietnam syndrome. Its goal is political, not military: to win renewed public acceptance for the large-scale deployment of US ground soldiers in battle.
The Vietnam syndrome refers to the reluctance by the big majority of Americans to support military operations abroad if there is a risk of significant US casualties.
For more than 25 years, the Vietnam syndrome prevented Washington from deploying large numbers of ground troops in hot wars. The mightiest military power on Earth had to be content with arming and funding puppet regimes around the world, or launching short, sharp aerial bombardments in collaboration with proxy forces on the ground, like the Northern Alliance in Afghanistan, to win its fights against movements and regimes its dislikes.
The September 11 attacks and the subsequent US war on terrorism presented US ruling-class war-mongers with their greatest opportunity yet to cure the Vietnam syndrome. The debate within US ruling circles over when Iraq should become a target is fundamentally an argument about how far the Vietnam syndrome had been, or could be, undermined.
Military experts estimate that the US would need, at a minimum, a military force of 50,000 combat troops to invade and defeat Iraq's armed forces and overthrow Iraqi President Saddam Hussein. The now-dominant hawks in the US administration, who champion such a settling of unfinished business, also know that thousands of US soldiers will inevitably have to die to achieve it.
The US ruling class must prepare the American people to sacrifice their sons and daughters for US imperialism. This explains why, as the Afghan war seemed to be all but over, Washington departed from its usual reliance on air power and Afghan proxy fighters on the ground and deployed up to 1000 US and other Western ground troops (including Australian SAS soldiers), supported by 1500 Afghan militia, for a frontal assault on well-armed al Qaeda fighters entrenched in some of the most difficult terrain in Afghanistan.
The small, isolated al Qaeda force posed no real threat to US supremacy in Afghanistan let alone the US mainland as President George Bush has claimed.
The big capitalist US newspapers were not slow to recognise the true goal and importance of the battle for Shah-i-Kot valley. Thomas Ricks, writing in the March 5 Washington Post, observed that the US military seems bent on not only crushing a pocket of al Qaeda fighters but also on sending a broader message: that it is willing to put troops in harm's way as it prosecutes the war on terrorism.
An editorial in the same edition of the Washington Post warned that the US commanders and the American public cannot allow the casualties of recent days, or the prospect that more may come, to weaken their willingness to see the battle through. When American troops last suffered such heavy losses in the Mogadishu firefight depicted in the movie Black Hawk Down the reaction of a panicky Clinton administration was to yank US troops from Somalia. That event deeply impressed al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden, who hoped that by inflicting similar casualties in Afghanistan he could stop the war against his terrorism. He must be proven wrong.
Future history books will record that the young Americans and Afghans that died in Shah-i-Kot were deliberately and cynically sacrificed by the capitalist politicians and generals in Washington to enable US imperialism to seriously go to war across the planet.
From Green Left Weekly, March 13, 2002.
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