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Afghanistan? a changing situation


31 July 2006 A World to Win News Service. The deteriorating situation in Afghanistan is not what the imperialists had planned for. ?We need to realise that we could actually fail here,? warned Lieutenant-General David Richards, British commander of the Nato-led peacekeeping force.? (Sunday Times, 9 July)

This is especially striking because until recently Afghanistan was presented as a successful occupation where the US-led forces had been able to win over the people ? as a counterexample to the disaster of the Iraq occupation. Now there is a general consensus among Western political analysts that here, too, the US-run ?reconstruction? campaign has failed to win hearts and minds.

In retaliation for the increase in Taleban operations and its growing influence, the US-led coalition forces occupying Afghanistan have been continuously bombing the county?s southern provinces in recent months. These air raids and ground operations as well are killing many civilians.

The Taleban is an Islamic fundamentalist group that seized the power in Afghanistan in 1994 with the direct help of the US strategic ally Pakistan and financial support from reactionary Arab regimes in the Gulf. The US welcomed the Taleban?s rise to power. The period of its rule was marked by the application of strict Islamic law, extreme oppression of women and severe national oppression of the non-Pashtun peoples who make up around 60 percent of Afghanistan?s population. The US and its European allies put an end to the Taleban?s reign when they invaded Afghanistan in October 2001.

Daily life under the occupation: death

Since then fighting between the Taleban and the US and its allies has continued. But the main victims of the US-led war have been civilians. Coalition statements rarely report civilian deaths; they are either said to be Taleban or ignored altogether.

?Skirmishes between coalition and Taleban militants also raged throughout the southern Uruzgan province yesterday, with battlefield estimates indicating that 31 insurgents were killed in and around Chora district, said Lt Col Paul Fitzpatrick.? (Observer, 6 July) This report did not refer to any civilian casualties, but even the US-installed president Hamid Karzai felt compelled to order an enquiry. When on 25 July US officials stated that 600 Taleban had been killed over the two past months, they simply kept silent about the more than 1,500 civilian killed so far this year, mainly by US bombardment.

For example, Afghan member of Parliament Haji Abdul Khaliq Mujahid  recounted how ?US and Australian troops last week opened fire on his family as they travelled by car from Uruzgan to the main hospital in Kandahar for a medical check-up. His brother-in-law was killed and five others were injured, including his wife and two of his children.? (Euroasianet, 14 July)

To take another reported example, in a raid against a so-called Taleban ?hide-out?, coalition officials said they killed 30 ?extremists? 11 July. An injured woman, Didi Feroza, lying in a Kandahar hospital, described what really happened.

She  ?was awakened early Monday by a loud explosion and went to her roof to see at least two helicopter gunships flying over Tirin Kot and firing. ?I ran outside with my 6-year-old niece to get away and was hit by shrapnel,? Feroza told an Associated Press reporter. ?I turned around and saw my niece had been hit and she was dead.?

Another victim, Nida Mohammed, who accompanied a wounded relative to the Kandahar hospital, said those killed in the attack included two of his nephews, 8 and 10, and his 30-year-old brother-in-law. He said, ?I saw women, men and children killed and wounded. Ten to 12 homes were totally destroyed. It was a day from hell. We are innocent people who don?t help the Taleban, but they destroyed our homes.? According to the same report, ?U.S. military officials said they were not immediately aware of any civilian casualties.? (Associated Press, 11 July)

The main casualties in ?Operation Enduring Freedom?, ?Operation Mountain Thrust? and ?Operation Lion of the Mountain?, all launched by coalition forces to suppress the Taleban, have been ordinary poor people. The coalition forces claim they have full confidence in their intelligence when their planes take off on bombing runs. Yet when they kill and injure many villagers day after day, how can it be that they ?are not aware of any civilian casualties?? This is daily life for the people of Afghanistan who are supposed to have been freed by the coalition forces.

Nato?s takeover and changes in strategy

The recent US-led assault against the Sangin area in Helmand province west of Kandahar was the biggest operation the occupiers have undertaken since 2001. About 1,000 British troops took part, 300 in the operation and another 700 supplying combat forces. Around 600 Canadian ground troops sealed the southern approaches to the Sangin valley, while US troops blocked the northern end.  The coalition forces reported that they had killed 40 ?insurgents?.

The intensification of US raids and the increase in Taleban operations came as Nato  took over command of the coalition forces from the US in southern Afghanistan. Two years ago Nato took command of Isaf (International Security Assistance Force) mainly operating in Kabul. Now for the first time Nato?s mission includes areas that are Taleban strongholds, including six provinces that make up much of the south. The dramatic changes in the situation in Afghanistan right on the eve of this switchover 31 July took the imperialist powers by surprise.

In late June and July first US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and then US Secretary of Defence Donald Rumsfeld came to Afghanistan. Although they both made triumphalist statements, their surprise visits, separated by only a few weeks, were a sign that the occupation is not going well, as many Western commentators noted. This raised concern among the other Nato countries involved.

The British army barely had moved its forces into Helmand province in the country?s southwest when they lost six soldiers. A Canadian soldier was killed 9 July. Twenty coalition soldiers have been killed since the start of recent operations under US command involving 15,000 troops, mostly Afghan and also British Canadian and Dutch. This adds up to 65 dead since beginning of the year, the worst period for the coalition since the occupation began.

Nato is to increase its strength from 9,000 to 21,000 by November ? the highest level since the overthrow of the Taleban in 2001. Its troops are now moving south, beyond Kabul and the quiet north and west, while US forces, in a reduced number, run operations in the east, hunting Al-Qaeda and Taleban ?remnants?. Nato troops are to move eastward as well toward the end of the year.

This change in strategy came following the London conference held last March, when it was decided to create a single Nato command centre for the occupation forces, previously divided into US coalition troops under American command, who were actively seeking to fight the Taleban, and the ?international? forces of Isaf under Nato, whose job was to act as defensive ?peacekeepers? and prevent clashes between different landlords and government factions. It was also agreed that the US would reduce its troops strength. American soldiers would be replaced by increased numbers of Nato troops, supplied mainly by the UK, the Netherlands and Canada. Now all of these troops will aggressively seek to engage the armed opposition.

The UK is taking the lead in this. Since the London Conference, about 3,500 British soldiers have been dispatched to Helmand. The British government recently announced that by October it will send a further 900 troops along with six Apache helicopters to provide air cover, and six Chinooks and four Lynx helicopters for troops transport. The Canadian and Dutch forces are going to be deployed in neighbouring Kandahar and Uruzgan, two provinces that neither the coalition forces nor the government have been able to fully control.

Although the US has fewer troops in Afghanistan than previously, its contingent is still the largest component of the coalition forces. It also continues to launch attacks and air bombardments on villages, including the air and ground campaigns in these three provinces in the last few months.

The reduction in American troop strength is an indication of how well the war seemed to be going for the occupiers until recently. But it also came in response to changes on the international level.

First, it should be seen in the light of recently increasing cooperation between the American and European imperialists in some important parts of the world. Second, with the deteriorating situation in Iraq and growing tensions throughout the Middle East, the US hopes to concentrate more of its political and military attention there, while keeping Afghanistan under its control too. By involving more European forces in the fight with the armed oppositions in Afghanistan, US strategists have drawn them further into an international war under their leadership. The price the US has had to pay is allowing the European powers more influence in international matters. How much cooperation there will be, and whether it will consolidate or crumble, depends on how world contradictions develop in the near future.

Taleban advances

The Taleban have been able to extend their sphere of operations and activities and to recruit more than previously, especially but not only in the southern Pashtun provinces that have been their main bases of operation. 

They have also been fighting in a more aggressive fashion. Lutfullah Mashal, a former spokesman for the Afghan Interior Ministry, says Taleban fighters no longer rely solely on hit-and-run tactics by small groups of guerrillas. Instead, they have been concentrating into groups of more than 100 fighters to carry out frontal assaults on government security posts, Mashal says. ?They have never [concentrated their forces] like this before, and they were never been so effective in the past. The Taleban have never caused such high numbers of casualties to [Afghan] government forces before. Now, their attacks are more organized and they have started to fight using [more conventional methods] ? concentrating their forces together. And they have started creating battle lines.? (Euroasianet, 26 May)

Reports in the Pakistani press say that several southern provinces, including Uruzgan, Kandahar and Helmand, are slipping out of control as the Taleban mount offensives against coalition forces and the Afghan puppet troops under their command.

Another aspect of the Taleban military tactics is the increase of roadside explosions and suicide bombings similar to those used in Iraq. For example, in recent weeks the cities of Kabul, Herat, Kandahar, Farah, Mazar Sharif and many other places have witnessed bombings. In the beginning of July, Kabul was hit with five rush-hour explosions in two days. In a 22 July suicide explosion, five civilians were killed. These reactionary tactics are designed to kill masses indiscriminately. Their nature is comparable to the methods and tactics used by the occupiers. The main aim is not to fight the occupiers but to create anarchy, terror and insecurity for the people.

Using these as well as other methods of fighting, the Taleban have moved into the province of Logar, 25 miles from Kabul. A 26 July report indicates that they have also carried out operations in Farah, a far western province on the Iranian border noted for the lack of fighting so far. Taleban attacks have taken place near the country?s northern borders as well.

What are the reasons for this Taleban resurgence?

The Taleban were so hated by the people of Afghanistan that they barely survived the American invasion. Most of those who did either surrendered or escaped into the Pakistan. This hatred influenced how people saw the occupation at first. Further, many of the masses, especially in northern Afghanistan, who had been suffering for more than 30 years, were sick of uncertainty, homelessness and the rule of various warlords and local commanders. Those who had escaped to Pakistan, Iran and other countries were fed up with insolence, disrespect and chauvinism with which they were treated. When US invaded, ousted the Taleban and imposed a puppet regime, many people thought nothing could be worse than the Taleban. This hatred was one of the main reasons for the quick advance of the US and coalition troops during the invasion.

But the re-emergence of the Taleban shows how the people feel about Afghanistan under the occupation. As events over the last few months have shown, the discontent of the people with the puppet Karzai government and the US and European occupiers has taken a leap. This was most dramatically made clear in the violent protests that shook Kabul in late May. It is a strong sign that even people who might have supported the US invasion are disappointed and furious with the occupiers.

Only a few months ago, the imperialists celebrated the achievement of the targets set out by the December 2001 Bonn conference that planned the occupation and its aftermath, the creation of a puppet government, parliament and army and the development of a centralized state. According to the Bonn plan, there should no longer be any need for the occupation forces; the imperialists could rule indirectly. This turned out to be an illusion. Even decision taken at the London conference, to increase instead of decreasing the foreign military forces, turned out to be far too optimistic. ?Success? for the occupation, which once seemed to so close at hand, at least in official estimates, seems further away than ever.

The first precondition for a stable Afghanistan is that the occupiers leave the country and that all the imperialist powers and regional reactionary forces stop intervening in Afghanistan?s affairs. The imperialists, however, are seeking another solution, in line with their interests: to send in even more troops. That move is condemned to fail. This is not a shallow slogan, but a lesson repeated in the history of Afghanistan, not to mention other countries.