From A World to Win News Service:

Afghanistan: 13 years of occupation and no end in sight

December 22, 2014 | Revolution Newspaper |


15 December 2014. A World to Win News Service. U.S. President Barack Obama once promised that he would end his country’s combat role in Afghanistan at the end of December. Then he took it back.

Speaking at the White House last May, he said that while he would keep about 10,000 troops in Afghanistan through 2015, they would just be “advisers” and “will no longer patrol Afghan cities or towns, mountains or valleys. That is a task for the Afghan people”.

But in November, he signed an authorization for American troops to continue combat missions—now to once again include night raids, a form of terrorism against the civilian population that the U.S. had been forced to suspend—and also for U.S. jets, bombers and drones to continue killing Afghans, again a form of military aggression that has repeatedly meant wiping out wedding parties and other civilian gatherings. Several other Nato countries, including Turkey, have announced that they will actually send new troops to Afghanistan.

After thirteen years of U.S. and Nato occupation, there is no end in sight.

This is taking place in a context in which the U.S. and UK are also sending fresh troops to another country whose occupation they had supposedly abandoned, Iraq. The way Obama changed the role of his troops in Afghanistan from “advisers” to combat troops at the mere wave of a presidential piece of paper should not only help unmask this phony distinction but also help clarify Obama’s intentions, which are to pursue the interests of empire by whatever means necessary. If the U.S. can’t get local reactionary armies to serve its interests, American troops have to be sent.

Many people fooled themselves into thinking that Obama intended to end the U.S. war in Afghanistan, and were surprised by this apparent turnaround. But the change was not one of principle, only of assessment: until recently the “residual” American forces he had always said he would leave there were expected to be able to keep the Taliban from winning outright victory and perhaps force them to accept some sort of power-sharing arrangement that would also be acceptable to the U.S.

While we don’t know all the factors in the U.S.’s policy shift, it could be seen coming. On 6 December, during the U.S. Secretary of Defense’s trip to Afghanistan, it was revealed that a decision had been made to increase the number of American troops there in 2015 by a thousand more than previously planned, to a total of 10,800 troops. Nato countries announced that they would have 4,000 troops in Afghanistan in 2015, another thousand more than previously announced. Obviously the current promises that there will only be two more years of occupation (until 12 January 2017, a week before Obama is scheduled to leave office) have to be seen in light of his previous indications that he would end it now.

Some commentators are attributing the shift to the new Afghan president Ashraf Ghani Ahmadzai, who has called for “restarting a warm relations” with the U.S. and made a request for the continuation of U.S. and Nato combat missions in Afghanistan. After a contentious presidential election that finally was resolved by a compromise, Ghani signed a so-called “Long-term security agreement” with the U.S. and several of its allies, and this was ratified by the Afghan parliament. Although previous president Hamid Karzai—literally chosen and put in office by Nato as the Afghan face of the invasion—had refused to sign this agreement, not many people believed he was seriously resisting. Given that he was in the final months of his presidency, he was attempting to buy some popularity and legitimatize the office of the presidency. But he—and the U.S.—knew the agreement would finally be signed by his successor.

Some people have been trying to attribute the Obama administration’s shift to pressure by military officials against the White House. According to the New York Times (21 November), the armed forces won the argument, and, officials put it, “The military pretty much got what it wanted”. But there has been no public opposition to the decision from either the Democratic or Republican Party. The U.S. Senate has just approved funding for the continued occupation with no dissent. It is one of the issues on which the U.S. ruling class seems to have reached a consensus, at least for now.

In fact, the U.S. ruling class is grappling with contradictory factors. There are real limits to the resources that can be assigned to their occupation in Afghanistan. It has gone very badly for them both when Obama “surged” the number of troops and now that their number has decreased. At the same time, the U.S. is still far from achieving even its modified objectives of keeping some sort of control over the country. In some respects, the “surge” made their situation worse, “a total failure” as some of their ex-generals put it.

One of the same factors that limits their ability to maintain surge-level forces in Afghanistan—their recognition of the need to send more troops to Iraq in the wake of the collapse of the Iraqi army in the face of the Daesh [ISIS] offensive last June—also bodes ill for U.S. imperialist prospects in Afghanistan. In both countries the army that the U.S. trained to serve its interests and the religiously-based, U.S.-dependent (and consequently hated and corrupt) political system it installed are tottering. No amount of further “training” by U.S. “advisers” can solve this problem, and shifting occupation forces from one theatre of war to the other has not solved it either. This dilemma has found expression in the contention within the U.S. ruling class, and because the problem has not been resolved, there may be more contention at the top in the U.S. about how to pursue its interests in this situation.

The U.S.-led occupation of Afghanistan and Iraq, and the U.S.-led war whose centre has shifted from Afghanistan to Iraq, then back to Afghanistan, then to Libya and then Syria, and now again in Iraq and continuing in Afghanistan, has been the most important factor in fuelling the rise of the reactionary Islamic fundamentalist challenge to what Obama’s predecessor’s advisers called “a new world order”. It has been mainly the U.S. and its “war on terrorism” that has strengthened the Islamist forces and is bringing them more together.

The U.S. and its allies are trying to pretend that they are de-escalating the war in Afghanistan because they are winning there. This is far from the truth, either in Afghanistan or throughout the region. What they want is the ability and flexibility to shift more easily from one war theatre to another and resolve the challenge by force of arms. When Obama said in his speech in May, that “Americans have learned that it’s harder to end wars than it is to begin them”, he was implicitly saying that neither he nor any other representative of the U.S. ruling class intends to end these wars unless and until they win something of what they want and need. This is not a choice but a necessity for the imperialists to ensure their global interests. Otherwise, why don’t they just end their invasions and occupations? Lately they haven’t even pretended to have that in mind. Instead, sometimes they seem to be preparing public opinion in the U.S. for what the previous U.S. administration called “endless war”.

What have the U.S. and its allies brought to the people of Afghanistan after 13 years of war? Nothing but brutal occupation with its night raids, street searches, bombardments and insults to national and personal dignity, poverty and a collapsed, drug-based economy, and the oppression of women that is actually a common point uniting the pro and anti-U.S. warlords. Nothing but a U.S.-compliant, religious fundamentalist and utterly corrupt regime in Kabul and the revival of the once somewhat discredited Taliban disputing the Kabul regime to impose their own reactionary rule. More occupation can only make things worse for the people, and that’s why it should be opposed.


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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