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Proletarian issue 37 (August 2010)
Afghanistan: wheels coming off Nato’s war machine
Rising losses and the dawning realisation that they cannot possibly win the war are leading to increasing divisions amongst members of the imperialist governments and their army general staffs fighting in Afghanistan, as they try desperately to save face and figure out how to leave the country without looking like the losers they are.
Forgetting their own blood-soaked history and predatory wars, which have claimed the lives of scores of millions of people, imperialist spokespeople described the 11 September 2001 attacks on the centres of US economic and military power as “the worst terrorist attacks in history”. Using the events of ‘9/11’ as a pretext, US imperialism planned its ‘humane’, ‘democratic’ and ‘civilised’ assault on the Afghan people, allegedly to avenge those who died in the attacks, but actually as a part of a wider war for world domination.

Claiming to be a ‘victim of terrorism’, invoking the right of ‘legitimate self-defence’, and emphasising its self-declared fight against the scourge of ‘international terrorism’ on behalf of humanity at large, the US, with the full support and participation of British imperialism, unleashed on 7 October 2001 a brutal war of aggression against the Afghan people, cynically characterising it as ‘Operation Enduring Freedom’. Far from bringing freedom to the Afghan people, however, this was always a predatory war aimed at subjugating the Afghan people and establishing the unchallenged hegemony of US imperialism in the vast region stretching from the Middle East to central Asia.

Under the banner of Operation Enduring Freedom, the US initiated the Afghan people into the secrets of freedom and democracy by subjecting them, as is its wont, to terrible non-stop bombing, which killed hundreds of innocent Afghans by hitting such ‘military’ targets as hospitals, schools, mosques, ordinary villages, Red Cross warehouses, and a power station. In this ‘crusade of civilisation’ against ‘barbarism’ and ‘international terrorism’, refugee convoys were sprayed with 450kg cluster bombs – the resulting casualties being dismissed, with typical imperialist disregard for human life, as ‘collateral damage’.

The cold-blooded murder of 500 prisoners of war in Mazar-i-Sharif, as well as massacres committed in countless villages across Afghanistan, stand as an eloquent testimony to the brutality and barbarism of imperialism, but also to its cynical hypocrisy, for it commits these crimes against humanity in the name of humanitarianism and portrays them as the highest achievements of mankind.

Unwinnable war

Nine years later, the war carries on as it began, with atrocity upon atrocity, massacre upon massacre, terror upon terror, loosed by the predatory imperialist armies of occupation upon the Afghan people.

For all the damage and destruction wreaked upon Afghanistan; for all the deaths, torture and misery inflicted upon the Afghan people, the US-led imperialist forces, far from achieving the domination they seek, are losing big time, while the resistance of the brave Afghan people is scoring spectacular victories. The imperialist forces, which had hoped to win an easy victory against the Afghan people, now find themselves embroiled in an unwinnable war, from which they can extricate themselves only through a humiliating defeat and an ignominious exit from the country.

A few days after the start of the war, our comrades wrote: “Of course, everything may go horribly wrong with US imperialism’s plans and its wild ambitions may end up in smoke ... The lies of Blair and Bush, who today strut around as field marshals and five-star generals, could wash them up in an Afghan imbroglio of their own creation.” (‘Oppose this imperialist, predatory war!’, Lalkar, November 2001)

This is precisely what has come to pass. Increasingly, the political and ideological representatives of even the bourgeoisie are openly saying that the US-led forces are losing the war while the Afghan resistance is on course to win a historic victory.

Parallels with Britain’s First Afghan War

Writing in the New Statesman, William Dalrymple pointed out that “nearly ten years on from Nato’s invasion of Afghanistan, there are increasing signs that Britain’s fourth war in the country could end with as few political gains as the first three and, like them, terminate in an embarrassing withdrawal after a humiliating defeat”. (22 June 2010)

He went on to say that the resistance forces, “far from being swept away by General Stanley McChrystal’s surge, are instead regrouping, ready for the final act in the history of Hamid Karzai’s western-installed puppet government”, and that, having moved out of their sanctuary on the Afghanistan/Pakistan border, they have now advanced “to the very gates of Kabul and are surrounding the capital”.

According to Dalrymple, all journeys by foreigners out of the capital, are currently “confined largely to tanks, military convoys and helicopters”, with the resistance controlling 70 percent of the country, where they collect taxes, dispense justice and, in effect, run a parallel government.

What is more, the influence of the resistance is increasing with each passing month. According to a recent Pentagon report cited by Dalrymple, the Karzai government has control of no more than 29 out of 121 key strategic districts. It is nothing short of foolhardiness for any westerner to stroll around Kabul without armed guards, as the security situation has never been worse.

Drawing a parallel with Britain’s First Afghan War, “arguably the greatest military humiliation ever suffered by the West in the Middle East”, when an entire army of the then most powerful military nation in the world resoundingly was routed and destroyed by ill-equipped Afghan tribesmen, Mr Dalrymple believes that the current war is “following a trajectory that is beginning to feel unsettlingly familiar to students of the Great Game”. In 1839, the British East India Company’s army marched into Afghanistan relying on “sexed-up” intelligence about the non-existent Russian threat, “manipulated by a group of ambitious and ideologically driven hawks” to create the scare of a Russian invasion that never was.

Initially, the British army met with easy success: Kabul fell to the British as the previous regime’s army melted into the hills, and a compliant puppet, Shah Shuja, was installed as the new king. In the following few months, the British invaders enjoyed themselves, playing cricket, skating and staging “amateur theatricals as if on summer leave in Simla”.

But then the fight back began, putting paid to the initial intoxicating victory. Having started among the Pashtuns of Kandahar and Helmand provinces, the resistance gathered momentum as it moved northwards until it reached the gates of Kabul, thus rendering it impossible to maintain the British occupation. A popular insurrection against the British occupiers then broke out, with the most senior British envoys, Sir Alexander Burnes and Sir William MacNaghten, assassinated.

With this began the retreat of the British army, which soon turned into a full-scale rout. It was in the stampede that followed, on 6 January 1842, that 18,000 troops of the East India Company, and half as many Indian camp followers, were slaughtered by sharp-shooting Afghans lying in ambush amid the high mountain passes, leaving alive a single, solitary Englishman to tell the story of the last stand by 50 British soldiers at the village of Gandamak.

Something similar has happened in the last nine years in Afghanistan. The US-led forces conquered Afghanistan, overthrew its government and installed a puppet regime in Kabul, while the old regime and its supporters made for the hills. Since then, slowly but surely, the resistance has emerged, grown stronger, and is now threatening to overwhelm the imperialist armies of occupation and its creation – the puppet Karzai regime.

The Afghan resistance has flourished, and registered remarkable successes, during the last five years. During these years, despite the fact that the number of occupying soldiers has quadrupled, the resistance has responded by launching more and bigger assaults on the occupation forces.

In 2006, there were 20,000 US and 19,000 Nato troops occupying Afghanistan. By August 2009, the number of US troops had gone up to 50,000. After the latest surge sanctioned by President Obama, under whose watch the number of US troops in Afghanistan has nearly tripled, the US troop strength in the country has reached 98,000. Add to the US numbers the troops from other Nato countries and US satellite states, and the army of occupation stands at 160,000. Britain, with 9,500 troops, has the second largest contingent in Afghanistan.

In addition, the occupying powers have raised a local military force, the Afghan National Army (ANA), and police units to the tune of 125,000, it being planned to increase their number to 243,000 by October 2010. The problem, however, is that only 30 percent of the ANA and 12 percent of the police in the field are deemed effective. Most of them either do not turn up for battle or desert at the first whiff of gunpowder.

The Afghan war is costing the US taxpayer $6.3bn a month ($76bn a year). As for Britain, the Afghan operations in the 2009/10 financial year cost £4.2bn, more than twice as much as the UK spent in any year of the Iraq war.

According to the latest official figures, the cost to the British taxpayer of fighting wars in Afghanistan and Iraq since the events of 11 September 2001 has so far been in excess of £20bn. This is made up of £18bn for non-standard military operations, in addition to the usual defence expenditure, alongside hundreds of millions of pounds spent on ‘aid’ and on the provision of security for British officials. Since this £20bn does not cover basic troop salaries, nor the long-term care for the seriously injured, among other things, the final price tag is certain to be much higher.

Mounting casualties

Yet despite all this effort in troop numbers and expenditure, the imperialist armies and their stooges are unable to cope with the rising tide of the Afghan resistance. June 2010 has been the deadliest month to date for the occupiers, with 102 occupying troops killed – more than half of them American.

On 7-8 June, 12 soldiers, including five from the US, were killed – the deadliest 24-hour period of this year. By 28 June, 20 British soldiers and Royal Marines had been killed, including 11 in the 10-day period to 28 June, bringing the total of British soldiers killed in Afghanistan to 309. The first six months of this year alone have claimed the lives of 66 British soldiers, more than double the 32 killed in the same period last year.

The rise in foreign troop levels, and the resultant escalation of the war, has only served to strengthen resistance to the occupation. In the first six months of this year, the number of attacks by the resistance rose by 87 percent, leading to mounting casualties among the imperialist armies. In Kandahar, the next intended target of a massive attack by the US-led forces, the number of attacks by the resistance has risen sharply and claimed the lives of 64 civilian and Afghan security personnel during the month of June, as compared with 16 in January.

Over the last two years, the fatalities among the occupying forces have traversed a steep climb. The nine-year Afghan war, now declared the longest war in US history – longer than World War Two and longer than the part of the Vietnam war that the US will officially admit to – has claimed the lives of over 1,860 troops from the occupying countries, of which more than 1,140 have been American and 309 British.

The year 2009 alone accounted for 498 of these deaths. In the single month of July 2009, a record (at that time) 76 imperialist soldiers were killed in Afghanistan – more than in the entire year of 2002, 2003 or 2004, and roughly half of the level of the intervening years. October 2009 saw the deaths of 59 imperialist troops; the fourth consecutive month to have claimed the lives of more than 40 US soldiers. In one of the worst days for US casualties in Afghanistan, 11 US soldiers and three Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) officers died in two helicopter crashes on 26 October 2009, both consequent upon a fire-fight with the resistance, although the US military tried to portray them as accidental mid-air collisions.

Also on 26 October 2009, 160 people were killed in twin bombings of government buildings in Baghdad, with dire consequences for US plans to reduce US forces in Iraq from the existing 120,000 to 50,000 by August this year in order to shift some of them to Afghanistan. It was the second such bombing in two months.

And in the first six months of this year, approximately 315 soldiers from the occupying forces (nearly two-thirds of them American) have been killed. It is almost certain that this year will see the worst casualty levels yet for the predatory imperialist powers waging war against the Afghan people.

Attacks by the resistance

We may gauge the strength of the resistance from the following attacks launched by it against the occupation forces during the two months of May and June alone.

On 17 May there was a suicide attack on a US convoy in the Dar-ul Aman quarter of Kabul, which killed six US soldiers and 12 civilians. The following day, 18 May, in a daring five-hour grenade and machine-gun attack on the US military headquarters at Bagram air base, the resistance killed a US contractor and injured nine soldiers. The weekend of 22-23 May witnessed a series of rocket, mortar and ground attacks on Kandahar air base to coincide with the planned visit of the British ministerial delegation, forcing foreign secretary William Hague and defence secretary Liam Fox to alter their schedule. Since that attack, about a dozen officials of the puppet Afghan regime have been killed, including the deputy mayor of the city of Kandahar.

A particularly bad day for the occupation came on 7 June, when 10 occupation troops were killed. This was followed on 12 June by a daring resistance raid on Kandahar jail, in which a truck carrying two tonnes of explosives arrived at the prison, wrecking the gate and causing its front wall to collapse, while another bomb blew a hole in the rear. Meanwhile, 30 members of the resistance on motorcycles, armed with rifles and rocket propelled grenades (RPGs), attacked the prison, killing or burying under rubble all the guards.

The prison raid resulted in 1,150 prisoners, including 400 members of the resistance, escaping in minibuses waiting outside. Large numbers of those who escaped reached the Pakistani border town of Chaman within hours, while others returned to Helmand to resume the fight against Nato’s armies. According to informed sources, the escapees were warmly welcomed by the locals into their homes.

On Tuesday 22 June, a burst of gunfire and a failed bomb attack greeted Richard Holbrooke, the US envoy to Afghanistan and Pakistan, as his plane touched down in the Afghan town of Marjah, where he was due to review progress in a crucial phase of the war against the resistance.

Continuous shooting, evidently directed at Holbrooke’s helicopter, could be heard as he and the US ambassador to Afghanistan, Karl Eikenberry, arrived. The sound of gunfire lasted about 20 minutes and provided the background to a presentation by a state department official concerning US and British efforts to improve local government.

Mr Holbrooke and his companions left, just as they had arrived, to the sound of explosives. Just as they were being rushed to their helicopters in armoured vehicles, after a brief encounter with Afghan officials and elders, a loud explosion threw a plume of dust and debris into the air. The explosion appeared to have taken place in a bazaar just a few hundred metres from the district offices which had provided the venue for the meeting.

Earlier in June, British prime minister David Cameron was compelled to cancel a planned visit to British soldiers at a base elsewhere in Helmand province following the interception by the military of conversations suggesting that the resistance was intent on shooting down his helicopter.

Just as the attack on the Kandahar air base, so the presence of the resistance close to a meeting at which top US officials were present serves to emphasise the problems faced by the occupation in getting a grip on Marjah. A mere three months after being forced out by McChrystal’s forces, to the accompaniment of much gung-ho cheerleading in the imperialist media, particularly that of the US, the resistance has regained control of the area.

Marjah is seen as a touchstone for the success or failure of the US’s whole Counter-Insurgency (COIN) strategy, which is associated with the names of US generals Stanley McChrystal and David Petraeus. In the words of Holbrooke “There is no more important place in the world for American foreign policy and national security,” If that is so, with Marjah once more under the control of the resistance, American foreign policy and national security must be considered to be irrevocably doomed.

Hatred for the occupation

By mid-June 2010, exactly a year after he had arrived to take charge of the US and Nato forces in Afghanistan, and just a week before he was sacked, General McChrystal was, on the on hand, asserting that the Nato operation had become “much more effective” and had laid a foundation from which to move forward, while on the other hand being forced to admit that Marjah had become a “bleeding ulcer”.

At the same time, he announced the postponement of the offensive planned to secure and bring under Nato control the city of Kandahar, the centre of the resistance, and, with a population of 800,000, the second biggest city in Afghanistan. This postponement was merely an admission that the US counter-insurgency strategy has been an utter failure.

Marjah, which was supposed to reveal how COIN could win over the people and isolate and defeat the resistance, has demonstrated the utter hopelessness of the occupation regime. Under COIN, overwhelming use of force to free areas from the resistance was to go hand in hand with building civil administration and starting to deliver services such as health, education and electricity. “Government-in-a-box” would be swiftly unpacked in the town, delighting its inhabitants, according to McChrystal.

But, more than anything else, the Afghan people hate the occupation and are determined to fight to the death to free their country from the jackboots of the imperialist soldiery now rampaging across Afghanistan. The Afghan people are no more inclined to accept service provision from Anglo-American imperialism’s troops than would have been British people, had Britain been overrun by Nazi Germany, to receive such beneficence from jackbooted Nazis.

A 22-year-old American solider, Corporal Luis Lorenzo, surely got it right when, milling around a pair of armoured vehicles, he expressed his and his fellow marines’ frustration thus: “More than 75 percent of Marjah, they don’t want us here.” (Quoted in ‘Soldiers question the price of high-risk doctrine’ by Matthew Green, Financial Times, 24 June 2010)

William Dalrymple, in the article already cited, referred to a Jirga, an assembly of tribal chiefs, in Jalalabad that he attended. After the Jirga was over, Dalrymple chatted with one of the tribal elders, who related the following conversation between himself and an American army officer the previous month.

“Last month,” said the elder, “some American officers called us to a hotel in Jalalabad for a meeting. One of them asked me ‘Why do you hate us?’ I replied, ‘Because you blow down our doors, enter our houses, pull our women by the hair and kick our children. We cannot accept this. We will fight back, and we will break your teeth, and when your teeth are broken you will leave, just as the British left before you. It is just a matter of time.’”

On being asked by Dalrymple as to the response of the American officer, the elder had this to say: “He turned to his friend and said, ‘If the old men are like this, what will the younger ones be like?’ In truth, all Americans here know that their game is over. It is just their politicians who deny this.”

The above sentiments, expressed by just one tribal elder, are typical of the feelings of the overwhelming majority of the Afghan people. The US counter-insurgency strategy is blind to the feelings, aspirations and interests of the Afghan people. Precisely for that reason, it is doomed to failure.

McChrystal’s plan to separate ‘the people’ and the ‘insurgents’ defies logic and flies in the face of reality, for the people are the insurgents. The foot soldiers of the resistance, numbering several tens of thousands, are indistinguishable from the people, for they may just as readily work on their farms as hitch a gun to fight the occupation forces.

The resistance will never be beaten militarily, for its supply of new fighters is as inexhaustible as its will to fight is limitless. Meanwhile, the resources and the time frame at the disposal of Anglo-American imperialism are limited and their will to fight very weak, fighting as they are an unjust predatory war for spoliation, subjugation and domination.

At times, even McChrystal was obliged to acknowledge that “a foreign army cannot beat the resistance. That is the government’s job.” Here lies the rub! Since the Afghan government is a puppet administration set up by the occupying powers, with no social base among the Afghan people, the fight of the resistance is as much directed against these quislings as it is against their imperialist masters.

Failure causes deep divisions

As the occupation forces are hated by the Afghan people, all imperialist campaigns, beginning with Operation Enduring Freedom, through operations Mountain Thrust, Medusa and Mountain Fury, to Panther’s Claw and the attack on Marjah, have yielded nothing but failure, which, in turn, has caused frustration and division in the camp of imperialism and its puppets.

In the US, there are deep divisions within the Obama administration, between the civilian and military arms, between the Republicans and Democrats, as well as within each of these parties. Vice-president Joe Biden and his supporters want the US troops withdrawn in July 2011, the deadline set by president Obama in his ‘Speech to the Nation’ from West Point in December 2009. During this address, while acceding to the military’s request for an extra 30,000 troops for the Afghan war, Obama put a time limit on the expiry of which US forces were to start withdrawing. There are others, such as defence secretary Robert Gates, who don’t think much of Obama’s deadline.

Obama’s plan to withdraw sits uneasily with the US military’s counter-insurgency strategy, which demands a decade-long war, waged village by village and valley by valley, at the expense of hundreds of billions of dollars and countless US, Nato and Afghan casualties. It is more than likely that, instead of making preparations for withdrawal, the military will request a further surge of troops – a request that Obama may find difficult to resist in view of the strong support the military enjoys for its strategy;from Secretary Gates to an assortment of right-wingers on Capitol Hill, including the notorious trinity of John McCain, Lindsay Graham and Joe Lieberman, to the Washington Post, the Heritage Foundation and the former Secretary of State, Henry Kissinger.

Writing in the Washington Post of 24 June, Kissinger stated that “The central premise [of Obama’s strategy] is that, at some early point, the United States will be able to turn over security responsibilities to an Afghan government and national army whose writ is running across the entire country. This turnover is to begin next summer. Neither the premise nor the deadline is realistic ... Artificial deadlines should be abandoned.” (‘America needs an Afghan strategy, not an alibi’)

And the Washington Post itself in its editorial, the latest of a long-running series of post 9/11 hawkish leading articles, demanded that Obama should “clarify what his July 2011 deadline means. Is it the moment when ‘you are going to see a whole lot of people moving out’, as Vice President Biden has said, or ‘the point at which a process begins … at a rate to be determined by conditions at the time’, as General Petraeus testified? We hope that the appointment of General Petraeus means the president’s acceptance of the general’s standard.

Nothing highlights the divisions within the US administration and the US ruling class more than the sacking of General Stanley McChrystal following disdainful remarks by the general and his associates about the top echelons of the Obama administration in an interview with Rolling Stone magazine.

Joe Biden (referred to as Joe Bite Me), national security advisor General James Jones (dismissed as a clown), Richard Holbrooke, the US Special representative for Pakistan and Afghanistan (whose emails McChrystal claimed not to be bothered to open) and General Karl Eikenberry, US ambassador to Afghanistan (who was accused of covering his flank for the history books) were the chief targets of the McChrystal team’s venom. Even Obama was not spared, being described as timid and intimidated when meeting the top brass.

Clearly, sheer frustration at the failure of his counter-insurgency lay behind the reckless insults hurled by McChrystal and his team in the presence of a journalist. While COIN manuals emphasise the “unity of effort”, damning idiots in Washington is hardly the recommended door to success. The general’s departure will serve to sharpen the recognition in Washington, London, Berlin and Paris that Nato’s campaign is dangerously adrift, fuelling still further the debate over the viability of the monstrous project that the Afghan war has become.

It is not the dysfunctionality of Mr Obama’s ‘Af-Pak’ team which has caused setbacks in Afghanistan; rather, the setbacks in Afghanistan have refocused attention on this dysfunctionality. Indeed, it is not for his rudeness or insubordination, but for the failure of his strategy, that McChrystal was sacked.

What is more, the brouhaha surrounding the sacking of Mc Chrystal has awakened in both the major US parties, Democrats and Republicans, the sleeping giant of opposition to the war in Afghanistan. Masses of people in the US have no clear idea as to what the Afghan war is about, if for no other reason than that it is impossible for the political and military representatives of US imperialism to tell the truth about the real reasons for the war.

The nearest to the truth is the following observation, prompted by US failure, in the New York Times of 11 June made by Bob Herbert: “The US doesn’t win wars any more. We just funnel the stressed and underpaid troops in and out of the combat zones, while all the while showering taxpayer billions on the contractors and giant corporations that view the horrors of war as a heaven-sent bonanza.” (‘The courage to leave’)

This indeed is what the Afghan war, like any other imperialist war, is about: the underpaid working-class youth act as cannon fodder, the taxpayers foot the bill, and the robber barons of monopoly capital (multinational corporations, if you please) grow fat on war profits and laugh all the way to the bank.

Calling the scandal “a bitter blow” for the Obama administration, “whose Afghan strategy is called into question before it is fully into place and six vital months ahead of the review planned for December”, the Financial Times, one of the most authoritative organs of British finance capital, called upon Mr Obama to “assess a policy that is faltering, with rising casualties, slow progress on the ground, widening rifts with the political leadership in Kabul, defections among allies, and a sense that the wheels are coming off the whole project”. (‘Too loose a cannon’, leading article, 24 June 2010)

Petraeus takes over

On 23 June, the same day as Mr Obama sacked General McChrystal, he appointed General David Petraeus, head of the Central Command, to take charge in Afghanistan. Petraeus is the actual author of the strategy that McChrystal simply attempted to implement. Indeed, he wrote the book – the US Army/Marine Corps Counter-Insurgency Field Manual. Although he signed up to Mr Obama’s deadline of July 2011 troop withdrawal back in December 2009, he has since then expressed, albeit in veiled terms, grave doubts about that time frame.

In his recent testimony before the US Congress, although choosing his words carefully, Petraeus made it clear that he was not buying the notion of a July 2011 deadline, nor putting much store in the forthcoming review, intended by the Obama administration to be a make-or-break assessment of the progress (or lack of it) made by the Pentagon in the nine-year-long war. Of the forthcoming December review, Petraeus casually said that he “would not make too much of it”, and referring to the July 2011 deadline, he flouted Obama and Biden’s view by declaring that a deadline is a date “when a process begins [and] not the date when the US heads for the exits”.

The dispute concerning the meaning of the July 2011 deadline is, and will continue to be, at the core of the divisions within the Obama administration over Afghan policy. Last December, in his West Point speech, Obama took the easy, not to say cowardly, way out – pleasing his generals by announcing a surge of 30,000 troops, while appeasing his political base and minimising Democratic unease in Congress by setting the deadline for an exit and creating a trap for his generals. His message was: do the job, and be quick with it, or we are heading for the exit, irrespective of whether the job is finished or not.

This time round, there will be no easy options. Obama will need to come to grips with the deep divisions in his administration. In the words of Robert Dreyfuss: “Having ousted one rebellious general, the president now has little choice but to confront – or cave in to – the entire COIN cult, including its guru [Petraeus].” Should Mr Obama decide to take on the preachers of the COIN cult, “his key ally is bound to be those pesky facts on the ground”, says Mr Dreyfuss.

He goes on to add: “Afghanistan is the place where theories of warfare go to die, and if the COIN theory isn’t dead yet, it’s utterly failed so far to prove itself. The vaunted February offensive into the dusty hamlet of Marjah in Helmand province has unravelled. The offensive into Kandahar, the birthplace of the Taliban and a seething tangle of tribal and religious factions, once touted as the potential turning point of the entire war, has been postponed indefinitely. After nine years, the Pentagon has little to show for its efforts, except ever-rising casualties and money spent.” (Asia Times, 28 June 2010)

It is more likely that Obama will cave in to the military and the most reactionary elements on Capitol Hill. Whether Obama confronts, or caves in to, the military, one thing is certain, namely, Nato’s war against the Afghan people is doomed, with all the disastrous consequences for Anglo-American imperialism and Nato that such a humiliating defeat is bound to bring in its wake.

Such a defeat, while being a symbol of Afghan victory against imperialist predatory invaders, would serve to strengthen anti-imperialist resistance everywhere by demonstrating that the combined forces of the imperialist countries are not invincible, and that a people united in their resistance, even if poorly armed and technologically and economically weak, can defeat the mightiest imperialist coalition.

The divisions over the Iraq war run deep in the Republican Party too. Michael Steele, Chairman of the National Committee of the Republican Party was caught on a tape at a party event at the end of June saying that the Afghan war was “of Obama’s choosing”, even if it had been started by his Republican predecessor, George W Bush. He went on to say that if Mr Obama was “such a student of history” he should know “the one thing you don’t do is to engage in a land war in Afghanistan”.

Mr Steele’s remarks, accurate and full of common sense, caused an uproar, with senators from his own party deriding his observation that the Afghan war was unwinnable and calling for his resignation from the position of chairman of his party’s national committee. Not unexpectedly, John McCain, Arizona Republican, led the pack denouncing Steele.

Support for war vanishing

The support for the war in other countries participating in it is vanishing fast. In Britain, for instance, 72 percent of the population believe the war to be unwinnable. The Dutch troops are leaving this year and the Canadians and Poles are leaving in 2011 and 2012 respectively.

Even the British prime minister, David Cameron, declared at the recently held G8 Summit in Toronto that Britain was determined to withdraw before 2015, saying that British troops had been in Afghanistan for nine years and couldn’t stay there for another five years. He repeated this in the House of Commons on 28 June.

Who but Harriet Harman, the acting leader of the Labour party – that beloved of the Troto-revisionist fraternity – should attack Cameron for setting an artificial timetable for withdrawal? She asked Cameron: “Do you believe that what you said assists our troops in their task in Afghanistan? What effect does the defence secretary believe your comments will have on the morale of our troops fighting day-by-day on the ground in Afghanistan?”

To which Cameron replied: “Let me put it to you the other way round. It was a Labour government that took us into Helmand province in 2005; are you really saying that in 10 years’ time after that we should still be in Helmand?”

As troops from other countries leave and the war becomes, not merely in substance but also in appearance, a purely US enterprise, it will come to reflect another piece of Pentagon acronymitis. According to US military humour, ISAF (International Security Assistance Force) stands for “I saw America fight”, or “I suck at fighting”.

Excuses for war exposed

All the excuses for the war, all the layers of deception for this predatory, unjust and cruel barbarity, have been peeled away one by one. There is no longer the pretended concern for the Afghan people, for democracy, education and women’s rights. Naked self-interest of imperialism stands out as the sole raison d’être, to which, in their unguarded moments, even some of the most authoritative representatives of the powers waging war give open expression.

In his 21 May interview with The Times, Liam Fox, British defence secretary, with candour rare among imperialist politicians, said: “We are not in Afghanistan for the sake of the education policy in a broken 13th century country.” One cannot but have admiration for such an open expression of the selfish interests of imperialism and the utter contempt in which its representatives hold its victims.

Disgusting though such remarks are, they are extremely instructive in helping the working class and the oppressed peoples to understand the true nature of imperialism, instead of being duped by hypocritical nonsense about freedom, democracy and human rights.

Even the lying assertion of the British government that the troops are in Afghanistan to make British streets safe is fiercely contested. No less a person than Richard Barrett, a senior UN official, and a former head of counter-terrorism for the Secret Intelligence Service (MI6), recently dismissed as “complete rubbish” and “nonsense” the argument advanced by British ministers that the presence of 9,500 British troops is reducing the threat to the UK. On the contrary, he said, the presence of foreign soldiers only serves to inflame anti-western sentiment among British muslims.

“I’m quite sure if there were no foreign troops in Afghanistan there’d be less agitation in Leeds, or wherever, about Pakistanis extremely upset, or suspicious about what western intentions are in Afghanistan and Pakistan.” (‘Kandahar plan draws criticism’ by Serena Tarling and Matthew Green, Financial Times, 14 June 2010)

Mr Barrett also warned that Nato plans to change the course of the war in Afghanistan through a large-scale attack on Kandahar would end up driving more people into the arms of the resistance.

Still, a week later on 21 June, the day of the death of the 300th British soldier in Afghanistan, the sane pronouncements of Mr Barrett did not prevent David Cameron from repeating in the House of Commons the old lie that “we are paying a high price for keeping our country safe, for making our world a safer place”.

The continuing failure of the Nato forces to subdue the Afghan people has bred suspicion and quarrels at every level. No one trusts anyone else. There was bad blood between General McChrystal and Karl Eikenberry, and also between Holbrooke and both General Eikenberry and General McChrystal.

Pakistan, supposedly a lynchpin of the ‘war on terror’, continues to play a duplicitous role. While accepting huge amounts of US aid, allowing a free hand to US air force drones to attack, on Pakistani soil, elements considered to be hostile to the US, Pakistani intelligence is reliably reported to be funding, training and providing sanctuary to the Afghan Taliban.

Support for the Afghan Taliban is “official ISI policy”, said Harvard analyst Matt Waldman in a recent London School of Economics report, albeit condemned by a spokesman of the Pakistani military as “rubbish” and part of a malicious campaign against the country’s security and military agencies. By backing the Afghan Taliban, the ISI (Inter Services Intelligence) is attempting to undermine Indian influence in Afghanistan. Matt Waldman insists on the authenticity of his report, which he says he wrote after speaking to nine Taliban field commanders in Afghanistan earlier this year, and after getting corroboration from former Taliban ministers, a UN official and a western analyst.

At the very least, there are strong suspicions that the Pakistani military, over the nine years of the war, has slyly accepted nearly $14bn in US military aid, while at the same time continuing to funnel support to the Afghan resistance – a situation which has prompted the question in imperialist circles: if these are our friends, who are our enemies?

Problems with Karzai

In Afghanistan itself, divisions between the occupying powers and the puppet Karzai government, simmering under the surface for quite some time, have erupted into open skirmishing.

In April, Karzai accused his masters of trying to subvert Afghan elections through bribery and corruption so as to prevent the emergence of an effective Afghan government. He followed it up by appointing all five members of the Electoral Control Commission to oversee the parliamentary elections, planned for September. During his visit to Kandahar, he promised local leaders that the planned Nato assault on the city would not happen if they were against it. He then unilaterally staged a Jirga to hand out conditions for a peace deal with the resistance.

Back from his five-day visit to Washington, where he received red carpet treatment, Karzai sacked the two most highly regarded members of his government to the dismay of Washington. Amarullah Saleh, head of intelligence, and Hanif Atmar, head of the interior ministry, seen as Karzai’s least corrupt ministers, were crucial to US attempts to build up the Afghan army and police forces – the most important part of the counter-insurgency plan. Their dismissal sent a signal that Karzai was getting ready to strike a deal with Pakistan to bolster his position should the US stick to the Obama deadline of July 2011 for the withdrawal of US troops – both the dismissed men are Tajiks, and Saleh was a leading figure in the Nato-backed Northern Alliance that helped topple the Taliban in 2001.

A separate deal

The possibility of such a deal has been strengthened by reports that Pakistan’s army chief, General Ashfaq Kayani, and the head of Pakistan’s security agency, the ISI, Lieutenant General Shuja Pasha, were due in Kabul on Monday 28 June for their third meeting with Karzai in recent months. The ISI is reported to have offered to mediate between Karzai and Sirajuddin Haqqani, a Taliban commander. According to an al-Jazeera television report, denied vehemently by officials, Karzai and Haqqani held a meeting recently in the presence of Kayani and Pasha.

The US is seriously alarmed at these developments, for over the past two years the Haqqani group have masterminded major suicide assaults in Kabul and have been linked to an attack on a US base in Afghanistan last December that killed seven CIA operatives.

Alongside this, Karzai has been attempting to garner international support for his administration. He visited China and Iran in the spring, while Iranian President Ahmadinejad visited Kabul – also to the consternation of the US.

Nato will not prevail

It is into this snaky territory that General Petraeus has been parachuted to take command in a last-ditch effort to reverse Nato’s slide downhill.

Assuming command on Sunday 4 July, he warned of a critical moment. The task he faces is to prove that Obama’s decision to nearly triple US troop numbers can salvage the war despite rising resistance, mounting Nato casualties, disenchantment with the conflict among Nato allies, the failure of the counter-insurgency strategy in the crucial areas of Helmand and Kandahar, with the resultant divisions in the camp of imperialism, and the fast dwindling support for the war among the peoples of the imperialist countries.

He has but little time in which to produce results and demonstrate that the surge is making progress. In November, there will be mid-term elections in the US for the House of Representatives, one-third of the Senate and more than half of the US’s state governments. Then there is to be a Nato summit in Lisbon, where the question of the Afghan war will figure prominently, followed by the December review of the war by the Obama administration.

There is almost no chance that there will be a turn for the better in Nato’s fortunes. The resistance is far too robust for that to happen. Unless the Obama administration simply throws in the towel and pulls out in July 2011, the US is in this war for a very long time. Indeed, the chances are that the US forces will be in Afghanistan until they are thoroughly beaten and thrown out of the country.

And beaten they shall be. Nobody, not even the US, believes that Nato can prevail. That is precisely why so many Nato countries are increasingly concluding that there will have to be a negotiated settlement to end the war.

Since the 60-nation conference in London on 28 January, Nato warmongers have been discussing conditions under which reconciliation talks with the resistance could take place – an idea which had the full backing of the then commander General McChrystal, and which was attractive to the governments of the occupying powers confronted with record casualties, rising costs and public fears of an unwinnable war.

It is a measure of the gravity of the situation in Afghanistan”, wrote the Financial Times of 25 January 2010, referring to McChrystal’s forced conversion to reconciliation with the resistance, “that a four-star general who led a clandestine project to remove insurgent leaders in Iraq is now speaking so openly about talking to the Taliban”.

Even US Defence Secretary Robert Gates touched on the question of talks during his visit to Pakistan in January, saying that the Taliban was part of Afghanistan’s “political fabric”.

General Sir David Richards, the head of the British Army, said on Sunday 27 June that Nato should open talks with the Taliban “pretty soon” as part of a future exit strategy. Talking to the enemy in a conflict of this kind was inevitable, he said, while appearing to cast doubt on Nato’s ability to inflict “strategic defeat” on the resistance.

Speaking on Radio 4’s The World this Weekend, Richards said that the fighting has to continue “to make the Taliban feel they are being punished”, adding “whether we can turn that into some sense of strategic defeat I’m less certain”. The general claimed that he was merely expressing “a private view”. A Ministry of Defence source stated that although the government had not called for talks to begin quite as directly as Sir David did in expressing his “private view”, the general’s remarks were in line with ministerial thinking. “We can’t win a purely military victory in Afghanistan,” the MoD source declared.

Resistance winning

Meanwhile, adopting the classic tactics of guerrilla warfare, the elusive Afghan resistance, having learned to vanish at the approach of Nato troops and avoid the “decisive battle” that the latter crave, continues to deliver deadly blows on the occupation forces.

Most importantly, the resistance enjoys the support of the Afghan people. According to a recent survey of the Afghan people, 56 percent regard ISAF (International Security Assistance Force) and ANA (Afghan National Army) as the biggest threat to security, while 85 percent referred to the resistance forces as “our Afghan brothers”.

On being asked by a US army officer what he considered could be done to improve life in Afghanistan, a 17-year-old boy from the Zhari district retorted: “Whenever you guys get out of here things will be better.”

Nato forces are as good as defeated in Afghanistan. They can leave now or stay longer and get beaten in the end. Whenever they go, it will be a humiliating and devastating defeat for them and a spectacular victory, not only for the Afghan people but for the oppressed of the world.

The Afghan victory will be another blow struck in the cause of liberty, weakening imperialism, strengthening anti-imperialist national-liberation struggles everywhere, and helping also to strengthen the struggle of the working class in the imperialist countries for its own social emancipation. Precisely for these reasons, the Afghan resistance deserves the support of all progressive humanity.

> WikiLeaks and the Afghan war - August 2010

> Afghanistan. Operation Moshtarak - April 2010
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