Revolution #147, November 16, 2008

From A World to Win News Service

Afghanistan seven years after the invasion

Part I: The state of the occupation

November 3, 2008. A World to Win News Service. This is the first of a three-part series on the occasion of the third anniversary of the U.S.-led invasion of Afghanistan. A second article, taken from Sholeh Jawid, the organ of the Communist (Maoist) Party of Afghanistan, will examine the situation of the Taleban and other Islamic fundamentalists. A third will examine the U.S.’s strategic alternatives and perspectives. These articles will not run consecutively.

Within two months after they invaded Afghanistan, the U.S.-led coalition forces ousted the Taleban from power and declared victory. But the war wasn’t over. In fact, now even American military authorities admit that the war’s end is receding further and further from sight.

After seven years of occupation, the military and political situation in Afghanistan has become critical. The occupiers are making every effort to ease the situation and reverse the tide that has been running against them. Their methods include building up their troop strength, obliging their occupation partners to join the fighting in the war zones, and murdering civilians (including many children) in aerial attacks on an unprecedented scale. On the other side, the Taleban and other fundamentalists are taking advantage of the chaos and misery created by the occupiers and the puppet regime. They are advancing their war and imposing their medieval theocratic dictates over more of the country and its people, although they do not have stable areas of political power.

What the invasion brought Afghanistan

This war launched with the pretexts of a “war on terror” and “freeing the people of Afghanistan” was in fact a war of aggression aimed at serving the interests of the U.S. and the other imperialists, regional interests given greater importance by their global context. But the achievement of the war’s aims has run up against obstacles arising from its unjust and reactionary nature. This is something that the arrogant imperialists could not and did not want to foresee. All the various imperialist countries, whether ruled by open right-wing regimes or social democratic governments, obeyed only one logic: the interests of monopoly capital and imperialist power relations. They took advantage of 9/11 and the anti-woman brutality of the Taleban regime to legitimize their invasion of Afghanistan. They never doubted that victory would come quickly and easily.

However, “Operation Enduring Freedom,” as the invasion was labeled, brought the people of Afghanistan no freedom at all. Instead, the result has been all kinds of misery imposed on the people in various forms by both the occupiers and the fundamentalists. In addition to frequent bombardments of villages in the contested areas of the south and east, the invaders carry out torture at Bagram (the former Soviet base near Kabul now run by the U.S.) and other military facilities. They harass the people and worse on the streets and in their homes. Instead of the promised economic reconstruction, the country’s economy has become dependent on the drug trade. Some 40 percent of the people suffer absolute poverty, and 20 million—more than 70 percent of the population—live under the poverty line. The invaders have entrusted the government and parliament to the most corrupt and brutal criminals, reactionaries whom the people have known and hated for the last 30 years.

Further, the occupation of Afghanistan has drawn Pakistan deeply into this war, risking a wider and more complex conflict that could pull in other countries in the region, such as Iran and even conceivably India.

The state of the occupation

When the occupation of Afghanistan started many people were astonished by the military superiority of the imperialists and in particular the U.S. imperialists, especially by the video game-like clips of their high-tech military apparatus played over and over again on global TV screens. Yet today the military situation for the occupation has deteriorated so much that now high-ranking Western government and military officials are using terms like “stalemate” to describe conditions in some parts of the country. A recent, still secret Washington intelligence report calls the overall situation a “downward spiral”. (International Herald Tribune, October 15, 2008) We no longer hear claims that the U.S. is winning the war. All authoritative sources agree that the occupation faces, at best, many more years of fighting.

Even if we compare the present military situation with that of 18 months ago, when occupation officials were still optimistic about victory, we can see that the war has become much more intense. Causalities have risen on both sides. The war has spread to new regions, and areas the occupiers formerly considered under control are now considered dangerous—some of the northern part of the country and even the capital. Maybe the occupiers’ only military achievement in the last two years has been the killing of a number of important Taleban commanders. However, the lasting impact of those killings is debatable.

The changes in the situation have given rise to contradictions among the imperialists and between the occupiers and the puppet regime. These conflicts are not such that they can split or seriously weaken the imperialist coalition at present, but they have hurt morale. The tone has become sharper. Several governments are no longer enthusiastic about sending troops to Afghanistan. Furthermore, they are blaming the U.S. for this deteriorating state of affairs, due, they say, to strategic errors and a heavy-handed approach.

A NATO meeting held in Bucharest last April included an expanded conference on the military situation in Afghanistan attended by heads of state and government. At this summit the U.S., UK, Netherlands and Canada vigorously demanded that Germany, France and Italy send more troops to Afghanistan and lift the restrictions now keeping their forces already stationed there out of combat. The Bucharest summit and the period prior to it revealed significant disagreements among the occupiers. Despite resistance from some countries, those attending agreed to send more soldiers. But the summit was unable to settle the differences. Despite a fake show of unity at the end, it brought to the surface the fragility of the unity between them, reflecting political disagreements and contradictory interests.

Occupation troop levels

At present 40 countries have troops in Afghanistan. Until recently 26 of these contingents were under NATO command in the framework of the so-called International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) and the rest under U.S.-led coalition forces.

At the beginning of the occupation ISAF had 5,000 troops mainly concentrated in Kabul, and the number of “international coalition” troops went up to 20,000 before dropping down to 15,000 when NATO assumed command of ISAF and began taking part in the war zones. Thus the occupation troops numbered about 20,000 in total.

In the years since then, with the intensification of the war, the presence of foreign forces in Afghanistan has increased. There are now about 60,000 troops under NATO command. The total number of American soldiers in Afghanistan at present is said to be about 36,000.

These troop numbers only refer to those assigned to combat roles. The Provincial Reconstruction Teams (PRT) and armed private security company employees should also be counted as part of the occupation forces.

“Despite the word ‘reconstruction’ in their name, these PRT teams working throughout the country are military, not civilian. Each is led by a particular NATO country. Although their members do not wear uniforms, they are all soldiers. They are accompanied by uniformed soldiers to protect their security. Economic, social and cultural programs are only one aspect of their multiple tasks. They also take part in what’s called military reconstruction, organizing the police forces and training recruits. In fact, they control the provincial security commands. They also intervene in all administration affairs, appointing and dismissing foreign experts in government offices in the provinces. These teams have the real administration and security of the provinces under their control and can even appoint or dismiss provincial governors.” (From Sholeh Jawid, no. 18, organ of the Communist [Maoist] Party of Afghanistan.)

Thousands of private security company employees have been sent along with the occupation forces. Although they come and go, their number is estimated to be about 5,000 at any given time. These groups are usually tasked with patrolling the main roads, escorting logistic caravans, and protecting governmental locations and leading officials. Most of the higher-ranking employees of these private armies are ex-U.S. armed forces officers, but they also employ non-American foreign personnel. They have also been trying recruiting some Afghanis, especially from among criminal jihadi groups.

Thus the total number of occupation forces is now approximately 71,000—about three and a half times more than at the start. Following the Bucharest summit, U.S. President George W. Bush approved the deployment of 8,000 more troops in early 2009. Gordon Brown, the UK Prime Minister, indicated that alliance members would allocate at least 18 new advanced helicopters to Afghan operations. France announced it would dispatch 700 soldiers to the war zones in eastern Afghanistan, bringing the total number of French troops to about 3,000. Canada announced it would keep its 2,500-strong contingent in the country. Their troops are stationed in contested Kandahar province, a Taleban stronghold. Earlier Canada had warned that they would withdraw their contingent if other countries didn’t send more help. Under pressure from NATO, the German government pledged 1,000 more soldiers, and the Bundestag (parliament) approved it in October. This means that Germany will eventually have 4,500 troops in the country, the third-largest contingent after the United States and Britain. Finally, General David McKiernan, the commander of American and NATO forces in Afghanistan, recently said that he needs as many as 15,000 more combat and support troops, in addition to the 8,000 troops the U.S. already has scheduled to be sent early next year.

Military command changes

Another significant change since the beginning of the occupation is the increased role for NATO in commanding occupation forces. This happened several years ago, at a time when the U.S. was preoccupied with the war in Iraq. As the situation in Afghanistan grew more intense, the U.S. tried to bring in more European forces and soldiers under NATO command from other parts of the world (such as Turkey). Now leadership of NATO and American forces has been combined in one man, the U.S. General McKiernan. This move to re-establish full American control of all occupation troops in Afghanistan and at the same time unify them under a single command reflects the widely-shared belief in Washington that the war is going badly, and that it must be shifted more to the centre of the U.S.’s strategic concerns, in terms of troop levels and especially command, which involves political as well as military components. David Petraeus, the general credited with the U.S.’s recent successes in splitting and at least temporarily neutralizing some of the forces fighting the occupiers in Iraq, has been put in charge of the whole region. He is expected to pay close attention to strategic issues in Afghanistan.

No peace in sight

Multiplying their troop strength did not help the imperialists stabilize their occupation. Instead, it resulted in an escalation of the war on both sides, as the following quotes show.

For the first time, in May 2008, the number of coalition soldiers killed in Afghanistan was more than those killed in Iraq. “Pentagon officials said that in May, 16 coalition troops were killed in Iraq, 14 of them American, and that 18 coalition troops were killed in Afghanistan, 13 of them American.” (New York Times, June 14, 2008)

“Overall, McKiernan offered a sober view of Afghanistan, saying the violence is more intense than he had anticipated, particularly in the east and south. The U.S. military death toll has risen to more than 130 this year, exceeding the 117 killed last year and reaching a new annual high since the war began in 2001.”(Washington Post, October 2, 2008)

Yet there is no prospect that the imperialists will abandon their war in Afghanistan. The troop escalation, command changes and other moves are an indication of even more involvement and determination on the part of all the major powers. Within the U.S., from start to finish in the presidential campaign, all the major candidates argued for stepped-up war there.

One contradiction the imperialists face is this: on the one they are not willing to end the occupation, and on the other, the Afghan people’s hatred for that occupation is the main source of strength for the fundamentalists fighting it. Right now there is much discussion within imperialist circles about how to deal with this and make a breakthrough, not only in reversing the unfavorable tide of war but eventually in achieving their political goals. It is an indication of the seriousness of their intentions to persist that while they recognize the risk of extending the war more widely in the region, they are not letting even that danger stop them.

Consequently, once again Afghanistan is at the centre of discussions and differences among the imperialists. Even the future of the puppet regime and in particular Karzai himself is under serious consideration. There is no doubt that the imperialists are striving to come up with a “more realistic” strategy. And it’s obvious their “more realistic” strategy is not going to mean getting their hands off Afghanistan. What seems “more realistic” to them is either to hugely increase the number of their forces in Afghanistan, or to try to cut a deal with the Taleban in some way and draw them into the puppet regime, or a combination of both.

This would not solve the problem, although it could achieve some temporary results. The basic contradiction—imperialist intervention and domination—would remain unresolved and continue to assert itself, as has been the case in Afghanistan for the last 30 years.

A World to Win News Service is put out by A World to Win magazine (, a political and theoretical review inspired by the formation of the Revolutionary Internationalist Movement, the embryonic center of the world’s Marxist-Leninist-Maoist parties and organizations.

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