Stop the Afghan war — bring the troops home

March 21, 2009

On the March 16, an Australian soldier, Corporal Matthew Hopkins, died after a fierce battle with Afghan anti-occupation fighters in the Baluchi Valley.

The 21-year-old Hopkins, who has just become a father, was the ninth Australian soldier to die in Afghanistan since the US-led occupation began in 2001.

Three days later, 31-year-old Sergeant Brett Till was killed in Afghanistan while attempting to defuse a bomb, taking the toll to 10.

The same day as Hopkin's death, the Sydney Morning Herald reported that PM Kevin Rudd's government is likely to offer to increase the number of Australian troops participating in the US-led occupation of Afghanistan the near future. Australia currently has 1100 troops in Afghanistan.

According to a March 17 Associated Press report, Rudd responded to Hopkins' death by declaring that the "government remains committed to confronting the ongoing threat from international terrorism and bringing greater stability to Afghanistan".

Foreign minister Stephen Smith justified the Australian participation in the occupation, according to a March 18 Australian Associated Press article, by stating that, "The consequences of not making a contribution, the consequences of leaving, far outweigh the adverse consequences of staying".

In fact, the consequences of occupying troops remaining in will be more death of the soldiers sent to occupy — and most of all of the people of Afghanistan — the full death total of which no one has yet to counted.

On every level, the invasion and occupation of Afghanistan has been a catastrophe.

Justified by the brutality of the Taliban's extreme fundamentalist policies, the occupation has merely installed a separate set of fundamentalists, warlords and drug barons. Production of opium under the regime of US-backed President Hamid Karzai has sky-rocketed.

With the US-imposed regime exercising no authority outside Kabul, a March 7 New York Times' article reported that US President Barack Obama had admitted the US was losing the war. He raised the prospect of the US negotiating with so-called moderate elements of the Taliban as a way to end the conflict.

To most people, "moderate Taliban" would appear a contradiction in terms. However, in the language of US foreign policy makers, "moderate" simply means "amicable to US interests".

This war for imperial interests, aimed at installing a regime under the thumb of the West, began by overthrowing one set of brutal fundamentalists and replacing them with another. Having failed to defeat the first set of butchers, the occupiers seek a deal to allow them back in power.

This is the end to which so much suffering has been brought down on some of the most long-suffering people on Earth — suffering that is set to continue.

According to a February 9 report, an ABC News/BBC/ARD TV poll revealed the conditions facing the people of Afghanistan. The report stated: "Sixty-three percent of Afghans say they cannot afford to buy all or even 'some but not all' of the food they need, up 9 points from late 2007."

Meanwhile, "68 percent say they can't afford the fuel they need for cooking … 55 per cent of Afghanis have no electricity in their home".

As a result of the growth of the drug trade, with the International Narcotics Control Board reporting that 90% of illicit opium production occurs in Afghanistan, at least 1 million Afghans now addicted to heroin, according to a February 25 Socialist Worker article.

The devastation wrought on the lives of ordinary Afghans by the occupation has resulted in a sharp decline in support for the foreign troop presence. The ABC News/BBC//ARD TV found that, "The numbers who say the United States has performed well in Afghanistan has been more than halved, from 68 percent in 2005 to 32 percent now."

According to the poll, "the number of Afghans who say their country is headed in the right direction has dived from 77 percent in 2005 to 40 percent now … In 2005, moreover, 83 percent of Afghans expressed a favorable opinion of the United States … Today just 47 percent still hold that view."

This decline in support has also coincided with an increase in Afghan civilian casualties. In 2008, according to the United Nations, the number of civilians killed in Afghanistan rose by 39%.

While the Australian government talks about "confronting terrorism", a recent count undertaken by the Associated Press found that so far this year, foreign forces have been responsible for 100 civilian deaths, while those fighting the occupation who have been responsible for 60 civilian deaths.

More Afghans (36%) blame foreign forces for the violence that is occurring than those who blame the Taliban (27%).

A March 7 British Guardian article reported: "Counter-insurgency efforts are also shown as being at the mercy of local contacts peddling identical 'junk' tips around various intelligence officials, with the effectiveness of the intelligence effort being quantified by some senior officers solely in terms of the amount of 'tip money' disbursed to sources".

The article reported on a confidential report prepared by the RAND national defence research institute in November for the US Joint Forces Command, which found that according to operational commanders, "a month in which more Taliban are killed than in the previous month" was seen as progress.

"The report sources complain of commanders who have slipped into relying on 'the fallacy of body counts', discredited after the war in Vietnam as a measure of success", said the Guardian.

An anonymous source quoted in the report noted that a higher enemy body account "is actually more likely to reflect the fact that there are more enemy on the battlefield than there were before".

This strategy, combined with relying on tips on where to find Taliban fighters, provided by desperately poor people in return for money, significantly contributes to a high civilian casualty rate.

Australian soldiers have also been implicated in civilian massacres.

The father of a child killed by Australian soldiers told the March 8 SBS television program Dateline how one such example occurred: "I wish they'd had the decency to warn us before attacking, without finding out if there were women, children, and babies. It was night, everyone was asleep.

"They didn't care. They just burst in suddenly."

Five children were killed by machine gun fire and hand grenade attacks. The Australian Defence Force have launched an investigation into the deaths, but no charges have yet been laid.

While the armed resistance to the occupation is generally characterised by the media being made up exclusively of the Taliban, the reality is more complex.

An adviser to the US military, David Kilcullen, told Newsweek on March 9 that at the provincial and district levels, "90 per cent of the people we call Taliban are actually tribal fighters or Pashtun nationalists or people pursuing their own agendas. Less than 10 per cent are ideologically aligned."

Dangerously, the response by the US to its inability to win the Afghan war has been to expand it into neighbouring Pakistan, with much the same result for civilians in Pakistan's north-west region as in Afghanistan — more than 150 people were killed by US air strikes within Pakistan last year.

Disturbingly, according to the March 18 NYT, "Obama and his national security advisers are considering expanding the American covert war in Pakistan far beyond the unruly tribal areas to strike at a different center of Taliban power in Baluchistan".

This would amount to a significant escalation of the US war on Pakistan. The NYT noted: "The extensive missile strikes being carried out by Central Intelligence Agency-operated drones have until now been limited to the tribal areas, and have never been extended into Baluchistan".

However, "Fear remains within the American government that extending the raids would worsen tensions. Pakistan complains that the strikes violate its sovereignty."

An increase in the number of foreign troops in Afghanistan, and the increasing extension of the war into neighbouring countries, will not stop the ongoing slaughter and bring the peace the Afghani people desperately need.

To achieve this, a crucial starting point is an end the foreign occupation and the withdrawal of foreign troops — including Australian.

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