Afghanistan: not a just war

May 16, 2009

A week after the Rudd government announced Australian troops would join the US and NATO-led troop surge in Afghanistan, a May 4 US air strike on two villages in the country's south-west killed up to 150 civilians, including many women and children.

It appears that the US army used white phosphorous in its attack.

This attack on civilians follows a grotesque pattern. Human Rights Watch estimated that US-NATO air strikes killed at least 1633 civilians in 2007. Occupation forces killed a further 828 civilians last year.

Recently reports came to light of a defence department cover-up of the murder and maiming of Afghan civilians in Oruzgan province in July 2006 by Australian special forces troops. A man was left dead, a woman blinded, and a girl needed her leg amputated — as well as other children being injured — after Australian special forces soldiers opened fire on their car.

This, and many other horrific stories, confirms that Afghanistan is not a "good", or "just", war.

An extra 450 Australian soldiers are being sent, supposedly, to "oversee" national elections in August. They have been described as "non-combat" forces.

But this is spin by a government that knows this is a very unpopular war.

More than two thirds of Australians do not want more troops sent. PM Kevin Rudd admitted as much when announcing the extra deployment: it was temporary, he stressed. He also knows that as the toll of dead Australian soldiers rises — it is now 10 — the anti-war mood could easily sharpen.

The Rudd government's commitment to "Operation Enduring Freedom" represents a seamless continuation of the war policies of the former Howard Coalition government. It underscores that the Australia-US war alliance remains as strong as ever. The budget's 3% funding boost for defence, including an extra $1.4 billion for the war on Afghanistan, is further testament to this.

The political rationale for sending more troops is to fight "terrorism" and help bring about "democracy". Yet, the US-NATO occupation forces are out of control, and some former NATO chiefs admit the war is "unwinnable".

The argument that "our troops" are helping stop a Taliban takeover is far from reality. Many Afghans believe the puppet Hamid Karzai government — whose term expired this month — is just as bad as, or worse, than the hated Taliban.

As the numbers of civilian causalities are growing, it is not surprising that ordinary Afghans are increasingly against the occupation.

The Revolutionary Association of the Women of Afghanistan is demanding all foreign troops leave. "There should be no expectation of either the US or any other country to present us with democracy, peace and prosperity", RAWA said last October. "Our freedom is only achievable at the hands of our people."

We have to respect that view — not only because the Afghan people have endured decades of foreign occupation and interventions — but also because we cannot accept the neo-colonial rationale of Western governments who deem they have a right to impose "democracy" from the outside. Iraq is a reminder that this cannot be done.

Meanwhile, spare a thought for the parents of the children allegedly killed by Australian soldiers in two incidents this year, both of which are now the subjects of a defence department investigation.

Or consider the families of the seven men killed in two "operational incidents" involving Australian soldiers in April. The May 16 Sydney Morning Herald said the defence department had sent an investigation team to Afghanistan to conduct an inquiry.

Giving political cover to an unjust and unwinnable war with no end in sight is not what the majority of Australians want.

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