The Afghan war — unjust and unwinnable

July 25, 2009

Afghan prisoners of war at the US military-run prison at Bagram, outside Kabul, have refused to wash or leave their cells in protest at their indefinite imprisonment since at least July 1, the Sydney Morning Herald said on July 17.

The protests inside "a jail that is even more closed to the public than the one at Guantanamo Bay" are also against the prisoners' gross mistreatment, including torture.

As well as housing prisoners of war, Bagram has been a destination for victims of "rendition" (illegal kidnapping and torture organised by the CIA).

The SMH said close to 40 prisoners were not Afghan citizens and many were not captured in Afghanistan. Those captured in Afghanistan are often kidnapped at random by warlords and sold to the US as supposed Taliban fighters.

Many prisoners at the infamous Guantanamo prison camp were originally held at Bagram. Former prisoners of both prisons, including Australian Mamdouh Habib, have said Bagram is worse.

US President Barack Obama, whose administration has increased US troops occupying Afghanistan and spread the war across the border into Pakistan, has pledged to close Guantanamo but keep Bagram open.

The SMH said "the Bagram prison population has ballooned. US officials are building a bigger jail there that will hold about 1000".

The plight of prisoners at Bagram sums up the US-led war in Afghanistan. It has raged for close to eight years and is being escalated. It is fundamentally unjust and ordinary people are its main victims.

Civilian suffering

A June 12 report at said the rate of civilian killings by occupation forces under Obama was 21% higher than under his predecessor George Bush. This is linked to Obama's troop number increase. US soldier numbers have increased by 50% to 55,000. A further 15,000 scheduled to be deployed by the end of the year.

Also, the number of US-employed mercenaries (euphemistically called "private security contractors") rose by 29% in the first quarter of 2009.

The occupation has been justified as being against the brutal Islamic fundamentalist Taliban forces. However, the US-installed government of President Hamid Karzai is made up similarly brutal warlords and fundamentalists. Violence, particularly against women, draconian Islamic law and corruption are more prevalent than ever.

The Karzai government has almost no authority, and what little it does have is limited to the capital, Kabul. Karzai cannot leave Kabul or even travel within Kabul without a large contingent of US bodyguards.

In the rest of the country, civil war reigns.

Famine and epidemics are widespread. Only 23% of the population have access to safe water and 12% to sanitation. Maternal mortality is the second highest in the world, one in four children die before their fifth birthday. Malnutrition results in 54% of children under five suffering stunted growth.

Opium production has increased by 4500% since 2001 and Afghanistan is estimated to supply more than 90% of the world's illicit opiates.


The occupying forces are seeking to legitimise the government by holding presidential elections in August. Under the circumstances of foreign occupation and a Taliban insurgency growing in strength, such elections are doomed to be farcical.
On July 25, the SMH said: "Afghanistan's first televised presidential debate struggled to ignite interest among voters in Kabul after the incumbent, Hamid Karzai, refused to take part and the program moderator refused to let Mr Karzai's rivals attack his record.

"Many diners in the restaurants of the capital paid only scant interest to the television screens on Thursday night during what should have been a historic discussion about the country's future."

It is unsurprising that increasing mainstream commentary on the Afghan war has centred on assessments that it is "unwinnable".

Hugh White, from the Australian National University's Lowy Institute, said the Australian government, which has around 1500 soldiers in Afghanistan, knew it was fighting a war that could not be won, a July 20 SMH article said.

White also said the government, which has tried to use the need to "fight terrorism" as justification for taking part in the Afghan occupation, knew the outcome of the Afghan war would make little difference to the question of global terrorism.

The war is unwinnable because it is unjust. A foreign occupation that installs a hated and brutal government, massacres civilians and mistreats prisoners who are denied all rights cannot enforce peace. Its very presence provokes violence.

On July 18, this unwinnable and unjust war claimed the life of Private Benjanim Ranaudo, the 11th Australian soldier killed in the conflict.

The following day, at a press conference staged around his weekly church attendance, Prime Minister Kevin Rudd used Ranaudo's death to reaffirm his government's commitment to the US-led occupation.

Rudd drew a spurious link with the July 17 terrorist bombing of the Marriott and Ritz-Carlton hotels in Jakarta. These bombings killed nine people, including three Australians.

Rudd said: "In the light of these terrible events in Afghanistan yesterday, it's important for us all to remember here in Australia that Afghanistan has been a training ground for terrorists worldwide, a training ground also for terrorists in South-East Asia, reminding us of the reasons that we are in the field of combat, and reaffirming our resolve to remain committed to that cause."

The July 22 SMH quoted the head of the Australian military, Air Chief Marshal Angus Houston, saying: "[The Taliban] not only trained the terrorists who were part of al-Qaeda, they also trained terrorists from around the world.

"I think the net effect of [withdrawal from Afghanistan] will be the terrorists … will conduct their training activities and will do their planning for terrorist attacks around the world."

Bizarrely, Houston warned: "If we were to all withdraw now we would leave the country in a situation where I think there would be a civil war."

This is a strange fear to raise in a country already being torn apart by a civil war fuelled by a foreign military occupation.

Houston said he believed that in a post-occupation conflict, "the Taliban would prevail". However, not only are the forces backed by the occupation not fundamentally different from the Taliban, the crimes of the occupation forces are resulting in the Taliban growing in strength.


Ominously, Houston described the occupation force as being only a third of the way into its mission. He also claimed anti-occupation forces were responsible for 80% of civilian casualties and dismissed Afghan anger over the killing of civilians by occupation forces as Taliban propaganda.

"The Taliban are also increasingly using allegations of civilian casualties to damage our reputation, reduce local support, weaken our resolve, tie up our resources and add to the complexity of the operational environment", he said.

The falsehoods in Rudd and Houston's statements are numerous. The terrorists responsible for the July 17 Jakarta bombings, like those who carried out the much deadlier 2002 bombings in Bali, were Indonesian.

The only thing connecting Indonesian Islamist groups to Afghanistan is a degree of ideological affinity based on Islamic fundamentalism. The Indonesian Islamists do not have much support, but what support they do have is fuelled by anger at Western aggression against Muslim countries, including Afghanistan.

The United Nations Assistance Mission to Afghanistan, itself part of the occupation apparatus, puts the figure of civilian casualties caused by occupation forces at more than 40%. The Revolutionary Association of Women in Afghanistan has released a study stating that the UNAMA figures account for only 70% of the civilians killed by occupation forces and its Afghan puppets.

Obama's surge has also included an increase in attacks on villages in north-west Pakistan carried out by unpiloted drones. The June 12 RAWA report estimated a 40% increase in Pakistani deaths from drone attacks under Obama.

Obama's troop surge has also created a surge in occupation force casualties. July 2009 had been the deadliest month for occupying troops since the war began, ABC radio's AM said on July 21.

A July 23 Reuters report said that since 2001, 1266 occupation soldiers have been killed, including 750 Americans, 188 Britons and 125 Canadians.

The occupation is not about liberation for Afghanistan's long-suffering people, but about strategic geopolitical interests. It is an attempt by US imperialism and its allies to secure another regime representing its interests in a resource-rich region.

To this end, an uncounted number of Afghan people have been, and continue to be, sacrificed, as are growing numbers of rank-and-file soldiers sent to do imperialism's dirty work.

The starting point to any solution to Afghanistan's problems must be an end to foreign occupation and reparations for the damage done.

You need Green Left, and we need you!

Green Left is funded by contributions from readers and supporters. Help us reach our funding target.

Make a One-off Donation or choose from one of our Monthly Donation options.

Become a supporter to get the digital edition for $5 per month or the print edition for $10 per month. One-time payment options are available.

You can also call 1800 634 206 to make a donation or to become a supporter. Thank you.