America Leaves Afghanistan After Killing Over 100,000 People in Its “Good War”

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On February 29, the U.S. signed an agreement with Afghanistan’s Taliban—the enemy it had been fighting for nearly 19 years—pledging to withdraw all American military forces over the next 14 months.

This is a big deal. The Afghanistan war has been a horrendous imperialist crime and a big disaster and defeat for the U.S. After waging the longest war in American history, the rulers are withdrawing without having defeated their adversary or achieving their goals, and with very little in return from the Taliban except a promise not to allow Afghanistan to be used for attacks on the U.S. or its allies.

The impetus to negotiate this withdrawal is driven by how the section of the ruling class led by Trump and his secretary of state, Mike Pompeo, assess the challenges facing U.S. imperialism globally and how to respond. It is beyond the scope of this article to fully assess this complex situation, but it’s important to note that a U.S. withdrawal after nearly two decades of occupation on these terms, with the likely return of the Taliban to power could be very destabilizing—in Afghanistan and South Asia, with potentially long-term, global, and unpredictable repercussions. It’s also important to note that there are very sharp differences within the U.S. ruling class—including within the pro-Trump camp—about this deal. Some are calling it surrender on the Taliban’s terms and warning of dire consequences for the U.S., from outright civil war in Afghanistan to the possible rise of the Islamic State in the turmoil following a U.S. withdrawal. (See sidebar on the basics of the agreement.)

So it’s important to understand in an overall sense what’s happened, why it happened, and what lessons to draw from the war and its outcome.

October 7, 2001: America Launches Afghanistan War

On September 11, 2001, Osama bin Laden and Al Qaeda, a reactionary Islamic jihadist organization, orchestrated attacks on the World Trade Center in New York and the Pentagon, which killed some 3,000 people. At the time, bin Laden and Al Qaeda were based mainly in Afghanistan, which was then ruled by the extremely oppressive, Islamic fundamentalist Taliban. (See sidebar on the “Crimes of the Taliban.”)

Some four weeks later, the U.S. under George W. Bush began bombing Afghanistan. Then, together with its NATO allies, it invaded and occupied the country, quickly overthrowing the Taliban and destroying most Al Qaeda bases.

The U.S. called its war “Operation Enduring Freedom,” and claimed it was a “justified response” to 9/11 aimed at bringing those responsible to justice, defeating the Taliban, ending the scourge of “international terrorism,” and keeping America safe. Bush also claimed the U.S. was fighting for tolerance, freedom, women’s rights, and a “new democracy” in Afghanistan.

What the U.S. Inflicted on the Afghan People... 18 Plus Years of Brutality and Murder

Over the course of 18 years, three administrations have deployed nearly 800,000 troops to Afghanistan, and 50 NATO countries and their partners have sent tens of thousands more.

The violence unleashed by the U.S. has been staggering. Between 2004 and 2018, it dropped over 38,000 bombs on Afghanistan.1 As of March 2020, it had carried out over 12,000 drone strikes.2

U.S. forces and their Afghan clients terrorized people with dead-of-night house searches. They created a network of prison and detention centers where at least 15,000 Afghans have been detained on little or no evidence, brutally beaten, tortured, and sometimes killed. This week the International Criminal Court stated it had proof that U.S. forces had “committed acts of torture, cruel treatment, outrages upon personal dignity, rape, and sexual violence”—war crimes—in Afghanistan.3

By August 2016, some 111,000 people had been killed and over 116,000 injured in the war. And one study found that the “war on terror” had directly or indirectly led to around 220,000 deaths in Afghanistan by 2013. On top of this carnage, nearly five million Afghan people have been forced from their homes by the war.4

Meanwhile, 2,313 U.S. and 1,145 NATO and coalition troops have been killed and another 20,000 U.S. soldiers wounded.

The U.S. promised to improve life for the Afghan people, and it’s spent billions on various development projects. Yet its first move was to install a puppet government made up of warlords, ethnic power brokers, Islamic fundamentalists, and other pro-U.S. reactionaries. Under this cabal of reactionary thugs, corruption and brutality were the order of the day. The “democratic courts” the U.S. set up were so corrupt that many people preferred to take their grievances to the Taliban, who were seen as “brutal but fair.”

Today over half Afghanistan’s 35 million people remain impoverished, and nearly half are food insecure. Chronic malnutrition has stunted the growth of a mind-boggling 41 percent of Afghan children under five. Half the population lives on less than a dollar a day.5

Life was a nightmare for women under Taliban rule, and the U.S. promised to free Afghan women. Some reforms have been enacted, mainly in urban areas, but some two-thirds of Afghan girls still don’t attend school and 87 percent are illiterate. At least 70-80 percent are forced into marriage, many before the age of 16. Afghanistan has one of the highest maternal mortality rates in the world. Nearly 90 percent of Afghan women are victims of domestic abuse.6 Amnesty International calls it one of the worst places in the world to be a woman.

Now, after all these years, the U.S. is apparently leaving—having essentially been defeated by the Taliban—with nothing to show for all the promises they made, the more than $1 trillion they spent, and the violence and brutality they rained down on the people of Afghanistan.

Why Did All This Happen?

Why Did the U.S. Invade in the First Place?

The U.S. attacked and occupied Afghanistan, first, to send a message that the U.S. rulers, like global mafia godfathers, saw as essential for maintaining their world dominance: no one was going to get away with carrying out an attack like September 11 without an overwhelming, ruthless, and murderous response.

And overall, the U.S. rulers saw the Afghanistan war as the opening salvo of a protracted global “war on terror” to “drain the swamp” of those Islamic fundamentalist forces that oppose the U.S. and reshape the broader Middle East, seeking dominance of the region and parts of South Asia (see Bringing Forward Another Wayby Bob Avakian). The rulers envisioned taking control and imposing an imperialist model of development on key countries in the region and transforming some of the conditions that were fueling Islamic fundamentalism and jihadism. All this was viewed as a means of strengthening the U.S. imperialist grip on these key regions, to surround and undercut global rivals—Russia and China in particular—and lock in U.S. global dominance for decades to come.

(Obama was forced to scale back these grand ambitions, but he continued and escalated the war in Afghanistan in order to attempt to preserve U.S. global credibility, defeat the Taliban, and maintain U.S. imperialist dominance in the Middle East and Central Asia. For Obama’s role in this mass murder, see “Obama’s War Crimes in Afghanistan—A Simple and Quick Reminder,” revcom.us.)

The U.S as a Reactionary Occupying Force in Afghanistan

For all their violence, the U.S. and its allies were never able to defeat the Taliban or get control of Afghanistan. The Washington Post recently exposed that the U.S. had been systematically lying: painting a rosy picture of progress when its own study concluded “military commanders have been unable to deliver on their promises to prevail,” and after over 18 years the U.S.-backed government still only had “control or influence“ of at best about half the country.7

The U.S. and the forces they backed represented and enforced the shackles that exploited, suffocated, and held down the Afghan people: imperialist domination, enslaving patriarchy, and Dark Ages religious tradition and bigotry.8 No matter how much money the U.S. spent on this or that project, they all took place within this overall reactionary, oppressive framework.

The way the U.S. military fought reflected this. U.S. bombs, missiles and operations often claimed the lives of ordinary Afghans—in their homes, at family gatherings, in the course of their daily lives. One GI told military investigators, “we’re running over kids with our MRAPS [armored vehicles].” All this contributed to the war’s enormous toll on civilians—39,000 dead.9

Like pigs patrolling America’s ghettoes and barrios, the U.S. military was an occupation force that sees Afghan people as potential enemies, and racist contempt for them is widespread. One investigation found Special Forces operatives “hated” the Afghans they trained, saying they were “awful—the bottom of the barrel in the country that is already the bottom of the barrel.” Villagers were referred to as “‘speaking derka derka’—a racist term for “the language Muslims speak.” (As if all Muslims spoke the same language!)10

Instead of winning “hearts and minds,” America’s war (and other factors) fueled the resurgence of the Taliban and enabled it to mobilize a section of the Afghan people against the U.S. occupation and the regime it propped up. This is a textbook case of Bob Avakian’s analysis that

What we see in contention here with Jihad on the one hand and McWorld/McCrusade [increasingly globalized western imperialism] on the other hand, are historically outmoded strata among colonized and oppressed humanity up against historically outmoded ruling strata of the imperialist system. These two reactionary poles reinforce each other, even while opposing each other. If you side with either of these “outmodeds,” you end up strengthening both.11

BA also sums up:

[T]hese imperialists are good at invading countries and knocking over regimes, but then when they find themselves in the position of occupying the country and they have a population that gets aroused against them, it becomes a different dynamic, and it is not so easy for them. It is not so easy for them to maintain “order” and to impose the changes they want to impose in accordance with their interests. It is not so easy to impose this “from the top down”—which is the only way imperialist occupiers can impose changes.12

(See Bringing Forward Another Way by Bob Avakian for further analysis of the contradictions and difficulties faced by the U.S. imperialists in their global “war on terror” focused in Iraq and Afghanistan.)

What Does This Mean For Humanity?

First, the Afghanistan war shows that no matter how the U.S. rulers portray America’s motives in these wars as just and pure, these imperialists act out of their interests and necessity to enforce and maintain their worldwide empire of domination and exploitation.

Second, while the Taliban are a thoroughly reactionary force which has nothing to do with the struggle for emancipation, there is still something important for those fighting for genuine revolution and liberation to learn from the war in Afghanistan: that the imperialists are not all powerful and that an enemy which is inferior in firepower and other forms of strength can, in the right circumstances, defeat the most powerful army in the world.

 


1. “The U.S. Never Dropped As Many Bombs On Afghanistan As It Did In 2018,” Forbes, November 13, 2018.  [back]

2. Current Statistics “Drone Strikes in Afghanistan,” The Bureau of Investigative Journalism.  [back]

3. “Pentagon Seeks to Overhaul Prisons in Afghanistan,” New York Times, July 19, 2009. There have been widespread reports that U.S. forces tortured and abused hundreds of detainees at firebases or other installations, and that the CIA has operated secret detention centers holding “ghost prisoners” (detainees who are not given any legal rights or access to counsel and who are likely not reported or seen by the International Red Cross). “I.C.C. Allows Afghanistan War Crimes Inquiry to Proceed, Angering U.S.” New York Times, March 5, 2020.  [back]

4. “Human Cost of the Post-9/11 Wars: Lethality and the Need for Transparency,” Watson Institute for International Studies, Brown University, November 2018; Body Count: Casualty Figures after 10 Years of the “War on Terror”: Iraq Afghanistan Pakistan, International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War (IPPNW), Physicians for Social Responsibility, March 2015, p. 15. The U.S.-led war has had a devastating impact on neighboring Pakistan as well as the war in Afghanistan, U.S. drone strikes, and reactionary jihadism spread across the border (with Al Qaeda joining forces with Pakistani Islamists to wage war on the Pakistani state). Body Count estimates that the U.S. war caused some 80,000 Pakistani deaths between 2004-2013 alone.  [back]

5. “Country Profiles: Afghanistan” and “Multidimensional Poverty Index”, United Nations Human Development Report, 2018; “Afghanistan”, World Food Program; “Afghanistan's poverty rate rises as economy suffers,” Reuters, May 7, 2018.  [back]

6. “THE WORLD’S WORST PLACES TO BE A WOMAN,” Amnesty International, 2019.  [back]

7. “The Afghanistan Papers”: The Lies Exposed — and the Deeper Truths That Need to Come Out,” revcom.us, January 20, 2020.  [back]

8. Afghanistan is also divided between different nationalities and ethnic groups including Pashtuns, Tajiks, Uzbeks, and Hazaras.  [back]

9. “The Afghanistan Papers.”  [back]

10. “The Afghanistan Papers.”  [back]

11. Quote posted at “In the Middle East, and in the World, America: The #1 Terrorist—A special resource page on the Middle East,” revcom.us, October 28, 2019.  [back

12. Bob Avakian, “BRINGING FORWARD ANOTHER WAY,” revcom.us, March 18, 2007. See also, Bob Avakian, “Breaking Out of a Deadly Dynamic An Excerpt from: Unresolved Contradictions, Driving Forces for Revolution,” revcom.us, Nov, 2015.  [back]

13. “U.S. report denies 90 Afghan civilians were killed,” New York Times, September 2, 2008.  [back]

14. Bob Dreyfuss, “Mass-Casualty Attacks in the Afghan War,” The Nation, September 19, 2013; “Afghanistan: The MASSACRE and The LIES,” revcom.us, May 17, 2009.  [back]

15. “Massacre at Doctors Without Borders Hospital in Kunduz, Afghanistan-U.S. Bombs Send a Bloody Message to the World,” revcom.us, October 3, 2015.  [back]

From Why We Need An Actual Revolution And How We Can Really Make Revolution:
“Wars of Empire, Armies of Occupation & Crimes Against Humanity”

Watch the complete speech here.

The Basics of the U.S.-Taliban Agreement

Here are the basic elements to the agreement the U.S. signed with the Taliban that have so far been made public:

  1. The U.S. is pledging a total withdrawal of its 12,000-14,000 military personnel—the first group within 135 days, and then the remaining 8,600 within 14 months, provided the Taliban carries through with its end of the agreement.
  2. The U.S. also pledges to remove UN and U.S. sanctions against the Taliban and not to violate Afghanistan’s sovereignty with force or intervene in its domestic affairs.
  3. The Taliban is not to be involved in or allow any groups or forces to mount attacks on the U.S. or its allies from Afghanistan, be sheltered on Afghan soil, or transit through Afghanistan.
  4. The Taliban will begin negotiations with the U.S.-backed Afghan government (which is not party to this agreement and wasn’t even invited to be part of negotiating it) on Afghanistan’s political future in the near future—with the provision that the U.S. will work to secure the release of 5,000 Taliban prisoners in Afghanistan.
  5. The Taliban and the U.S. will work to reduce the level of violence.

The Taliban has not laid down its arms, renounced its vision of an Islamic state in Afghanistan, committed to accepting the legitimacy of the current Afghan government, or promised to uphold the basic rights of the Afghan people. Nor has it denounced Al Qaeda. And the agreement does not clearly and formally prevent the Taliban from again taking over much, if not all of Afghanistan at some point.

So all in all, this agreement is mainly on the Taliban’s terms and seems to indicate that the U.S. rulers are trying to cut their losses and withdraw. (On March 3, Trump spoke directly to the leader of the Taliban by phone, the first president to do so.)

However, the situation in Afghanistan remains volatile. This week there have been attacks, military clashes, and a U.S. airstrike, and U.S. Secretary of State Pompeo warned the Taliban and the Afghan government to reduce the violence. So exactly how, when, and perhaps if this agreement gets carried out remains unclear.

Sources: “A Secret Accord With the Taliban: When and How the U.S. Would Leave Afghanistan,” New York Times, March 8, 2020; “4 Takeaways From the U.S. Deal With the Taliban,” New York Times, March 1, 2020; “What does the Taliban-US agreement say?” Al Jazeera, February 29, 2020

Bringing Forward Another Way is an edited version of a talk by Bob Avakian, Chairman of the Revolutionary Communist Party, USA, to a group of Party supporters in the fall of 2006. This groundbreaking analysis, made during the George W. Bush years, continues to be very relevant, especially in the context of sharpening contradictions centered in the Middle East and aggressive U.S.-led moves against Iran.

The Horrific Crimes of the Taliban

The Taliban is a reactionary organization, representing the traditional ruling forces of Afghanistan and organized around the often violent enforcement of suffocating, draconian laws and social codes, especially targeting women, based on a fundamentalist interpretation of Islam. “Taliban” means “students,” and many of its founders were trained in fundamentalist schools—madrasas—supported by Saudi Arabia and Afghanistan’s neighbor Pakistan as part of the U.S. imperialist-led proxy war against Soviet occupation in Afghanistan during the 1980s.* The Taliban, which is based mainly among Afghanistan’s Pashtun people, became a powerful force in the 1990s and took over Afghanistan in 1996 after a bloody civil war, and it has had, and continues to have, support from Pakistan.

Under Taliban rule, women were forced to wear burkas, prevented from going to school after age eight, barred from most work, and couldn’t even go out of their homes without male supervision. Sexual apartheid was practiced throughout society, and women “guilty” of even minor infractions were subject to public floggings, even killed. The Taliban’s atrocities—like stonings of women in stadiums for “crimes” such as adultery—sickened people across the globe. The Taliban targeted people of other religions, even other branches of Islam, and also the country’s smaller non-Pashtun nationalities and non-believers, and bitterly suppressed the oppressed peoples of all nationalities and religions. During their rule they carried out gruesome massacres of their opponents in Mazar-i-Sharif (1998), Sar-i Pul (1999-2000), Rabatak (2000), and Yakaolang (2001).

The Taliban’s methods of waging war reflect its barbaric program. During this latest Afghan war, it has targeted, assassinated, massacred, and brutalized civilians, and carried out widespread rapes and other crimes against humanity. During its 2015 takeover of Kunduz, Amnesty International reported, “Mass murder, gang rapes and house-to-house searches by Taliban death squads are just some of the harrowing civilian testimonies.”

 


* After the Soviet Union invaded and occupied Afghanistan in 1979, the U.S. and its allies organized, trained, and funded reactionary Islamic fundamentalist mujahideen to wage war against it. Soviet socialism had been defeated in the 1950s, and the Soviet Union became capitalist and by the 1970-80s was an imperialist power contending with the U.S. for global dominance. The U.S. helped fuel the savage 1979-1988 war between the Soviet Union, then occupying the country, and U.S.-backed Islamic fundamentalists. This reactionary bloodbath killed between 800,000 and 1.5 million Afghans (along with 15,000 Soviet soldiers), forced five million Afghans from the country as refugees, and displaced another two million within Afghanistan. The reactionary jihadists and Islamic fundamentalists the U.S. armed, trained, and organized have continued to wreak havoc in Afghanistan—and across the region—in the decades since, some becoming the backbone of Al Qaeda and the Taliban. For more, see the revcom.us American Crime series “Case #24: U.S. Proxy War Against the Soviet Union in Afghanistan, 1979-1988.”  [back]

America’s Campaign of Death from the Sky in Afghanistan

Thousands of Afghan civilians have been killed by U.S. bombs and its 12,000-plus drone strikes, some which obliterated homes, wedding parties, and whole villages. Here are just a few—of many—examples:

  • Over 90 people were massacred in August 2008, including 60 children and 15 women in the village of Azizabad.13
  • Between 26 and 140 Afghan civilians, mainly women and children, “perished in the blink of an eye,” in the villages of Shiwan and Granai, in western Afghanistan when their homes were destroyed by U.S. bombs in May 2009.14
  • In October 2015, the U.S. destroyed a hospital run by Doctors Without Borders in Kunduz, Afghanistan, killing 19, and wounding dozens of patients and staff.15

 

 

 

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