Afghanistan: The war must end, bring troops home


There is an increasing push for US president Barack Obama to send more soldiers to Afghanistan. The push comes from the top commander of US and NATO forces in Afghanistan, General Stanley McChrystal.

The push comes as eight years of misery inflicted on a war-weary people has caused increasing opposition to the occupation inside the US and other countries participating in the invasion — including Australia.

Despite growing popular opposition, with new polls showing a majority of US people no longer supporting the war, the September 20 New York Times said McChrystal was "expected to propose a range of options for additional troops beyond the 68,000 American forces already approved, from 10,000 to as many as 45,000".

However, faced with the fall in public support on top of a deteriorating military situation, the Obama administration appears to be struggling to decide what to do next.

Obama said it was premature to decide whether to send more US troops to Afghanistan. In a September 23 NYT article, US Secretary of State Hilary Clinton "expressed 'respect' for [McChrystal's] assessment, but added: 'There are other assessments from very expert military analysts who have worked in counter-insurgencies that are the exact opposite.'"

A problem for the Obama administration is that an August Washington Post-ABC news poll found only 24% of US people support sending more troops to Afghanistan, while a CNN poll said 58% of US people oppose the war.

Potentially compounding the problem of public support, August was officially the deadliest month for US troops, with 51 killed.

With the occupation forces struggling to hold the country, sections of the US establishment are now arguing for a political, rather than purely military, solution to the conflict.

A September 23 NYT article quoted Bruce O. Riedel, who led a strategy review of the US war Afghanistan and Pakistan, saying: "A counterinsurgency strategy can only work if you have a credible and legitimate Afghan partner. That's in doubt now.

"Part of the reason you are seeing a hesitancy to jump deeper into the pool is that they are looking to see if they can make lemonade out of the lemons we got from the Afghan election."

US Vice President Joseph Biden said, as well as a troop increase, there were other options on the table, including a "proposed scaling back [of] the overall American military presence ... American forces would concentrate on strikes against Qaeda cells, primarily in Pakistan, using special forces, Predator missile attacks and other surgical tactics."

However, Stephen Biddle, a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, told AFP on September 22 that for the occupation forces: "There are no good options, there are lots of downsides and shortcomings in any available choice."

All the rhetoric about winning "hearts and minds" in Afghanistan is meaningless while the occupation forces prop up a discredited government dominated by corrupt warlords, which implements misogynist policies no better than the Taliban government it replaced.

The attempt to legitimise the government with presidential elections has backfired, with the poll only serving to highlight how illegitimate the US-backed government of President Hamid Karzai is.

On September 16, Adnkrokos International said: "Election observers from the European Union believe up to 1.5 million votes — or one third of the total — cast in Afghanistan's recent elections could be fraudulent.

"The deputy head of the EU Election Observation Mission to Afghanistan, Dimitra Ioannou, said on Wednesday that 1.1 million votes in support of the incumbent Hamid Karzai were suspicious."

The EU's Chief Observer Philippe Morillon told the NYT: "Large-scale ballot stuffing has taken place at the polling station level and all those results were entered into the system, at the tally center in Kabul, and published as good results."

As it become increasingly clear the war is unwinnable, as well as increasingly unpopular, various governments participating in the occupation are looking to withdraw soldiers.

Canada plans to withdraw all its forces by 2011, the September 17 Washington Post said. Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi raised the possibility of Italian troops withdrawing after a bomb blast in Kabul killed six Italian soldiers.

The Australian government, however, remains steadfast in its commitment to the bloody conflict, in which 10 Australian soldiers have died, on top of countless thousands of Afghan civilians.

Prime Minister Kevin Rudd admitted in April: "I think this is going to become progressively an unpopular war. I accept that for the reality that it is." Nonetheless, he has committed Australian troops for the "long haul".

If the US increases its contingent of soldiers, there will be strong pressure for Australia to follow suit.

Obama was elected on hopes he would lead a break with the pro-war policies of the Bush administration. The US anti-war group United for Peace and Justice responded to Obama's policy of continuing and escalating the Afghan war: "President Barack Obama was elected on a platform of CHANGE and with hopes for diplomacy, not war!"

Nancy Lessin, founder of Military Families Speak Out, told the August 30 NYT that "there are some that feel betrayed" by Obama, but "we have to build a more powerful movement to change [Obama's] course".

Perry O'Brien, president of the New York chapter of Iraq Veterans against the War, told the NYT: "In the next year, it will more and more become Obama's war. He'll be held responsible for the bloodshed."

The US anti-war movement, which has been largely quiet since the election of Obama, is gearing up to organise new rounds of protests. Anti-war activists in Australia should look to take advantage of the growing exposure of the brutal nature of the Afghan war to renew our push for all Australian participation in, and support for, the occupation to end.