Afghanistan: NATO forces bogged down in conflict

Why is the Taliban resurgent?

Fierce fighting is going on between Taliban fighters and NATO forces in the Panjwai area, near Kandahar city, in southern Afghanistan. NATO forces started the offensive on Saturday 30 September, using warplanes and helicopter gunships. So far, 300 suspected Taliban fighters and 24 NATO soldiers have been killed in this battle. Fourteen British soldiers were killed when a Royal Air force Nimrod MR2 spy plane was reportedly hit by a stinger missile fired by Taliban fighters.

The Panjwai area is considered to be a stronghold of Taliban fighters in Kandahar province. This area has seen heavy fighting before, and several thousand people fled the region, earlier this year, to avoid being caught in the crossfire. The present offensive is the biggest since the British-led NATO troops replaced US troops, on 31 July, this year.

More than 1,500 people and 156 NATO soldiers have been killed in the last 6 months, alone. The violence has spread across Afghanistan, but the provinces in south and east are at the epicentre of armed clashes.

NATO military officials and the Western media portrayed this violence as a "Taliban insurgency", which is partially true but there are many other groups involved. While the scale of the insurgency has significantly increased in the last few months, it would be wrong to describe it as solely the responsibility of the Taliban. There are several small youth groups involved in the fighting, motivated by the struggle against US occupation in Iraq. These groups have no links with the Taliban and reactionary Islam.

Rather, these groups see themselves as conducting a liberation struggle against the occupation forces and are made up of Pashtun [one of the main national groupings in Afghanistan] nationalist groups who want to liberate Afghanistan from foreign occupation. The Western media does not differentiate between these groups and the Taliban. Instead it gives the impression that everyone fighting foreign occupation is a Taliban and, thus,is a legitimate target for the NATO forces.

Articles in the Western press give the impression that Afghanistan is falling to the Taliban and there is a rapid spread of the jihad against the West. Part of the intention of this is to bolster the campaign to devote more and more resources for NATO’s offensive in Afghanistan. The latest report of a British think-tank, and an article in Newsweek magazine, gave that impression.

Is the Taliban a real threat?

While there is an increase in activity by Taliban forces, the danger of ’Talibanisation’ is exaggerated by the media and Western ’experts’.

At the moment, there are a few thousand Taliban fighters in Afghanistan. They are not a unified force, as many think. They do not fight under one command.

In Kandahar province (the birth place of Mullah Omar, the Taliban chief, and the current Afghan President, Hamid Karzai) there are many Taliban groups who work independently, under different commanders. Different groups operate in different provinces and they all are not linked with Mullah Omar.

However, the Taliban has some strength in Kandahar, Helmand and Oruzgan provinces, where they are better organised.

There is no doubt the Taliban pose a threat but they do not yet have the strength to occupy any province and hold onto power. They can continue a guerilla war and cause problems to NATO forces, but they can not continue this intense and high level of insurgency for long. This Taliban’s spring offensive will continue for the next few weeks. There will be a decrease in the attacks during the winter and Taliban fighters will disperse to the cities. During the winter, they will recruit new fighters and train them to start combat next spring and summer.

Taliban fighters changed their strategy, after seeing the limits of their military resources. They are not trying to capture small towns and villages to bring them under their control, but instead they are using destruction and violence to create a constant fear amongst the local population. They invade towns and villages and destroy schools, government buildings and police check posts and leave the area before NATO troops arrive. They also beat up men in these areas for not having beards or women not wearing veils.

They want to maintain the constant fear of their return to punish "bad Muslims". This strategy has had a certain success. As a result of threats from the Taliban, local people never give NATO forces information about the Taliban. Local people are caught between two rival forces, the Taliban, and other militant groups, on one hand, and NATO troops on the other hand. They both use violence, repression and military means to intimidate people into supporting them.

The Taliban appear strong because the power of the government is so weak.

Many warlords also support the Taliban to further weaken central government.

It is clear that the Taliban are not going to go away. They are like a persistent infection. The strategy of US-led coalition forces is providing the Taliban opportunities to gain support because of the big number of NATO-caused civilian casualties. As the death toll rises, Taliban support will continue to grow.

Anger and riots

The anger against US coalition forces and unemployment are major reasons for violence and protests in Afghanistan. Social frustration and anger at the arrogance of US and NATO troops significantly increased in the cities of Afghanistan, including the capital, Kabul. There are several demonstrations, each day, in different cities, against unemployment, power shortages and

other issues. The ’Human Rights Commission of Afghanistan’ described the situation in Kabul: "There is a large big number of youth in the capital and other cities, who are like a pile of gunpowder. They just need igniting and they can explode any minute. These youth have no trust in the Afghan government and they hate the US troops. Riots and demonstrations have become part of our daily lives. This anger is growing and near to exploding".

A few months ago, Kabul witnessed the worst riots since the fall of Taliban, in 2001, in which more than 20 people died. These riots erupted when a US military truck hit civilian vehicles, killing 5 people. An angry crowd at the scene started pelting stones at US soldiers. The soldiers opened fire and killed 4 people. Violent demonstrations erupted in the city and thousands took to the streets to protest against the killings. The whole Afghan capital chanting slogans like, "Death to America". The size of demonstrations shocked the US military and Afghan government.

Afghan journalist, Younas Hadi, commented: "We are living in a dangerous situation. There has been no significant change since the fall of Taliban, despite billions of dollars in aid. The arrogant and aggressive behaviour US forces display on the streets increases anger. It is like insult to injury."

The foreign occupation and the Taliban are no resolution to the deep social problems faced by the Afghan people, but are part of problem. There will be no stability, prosperity and peace under these reactionary forces. The Afghan working class and poor peasantry are victims of both Western imperialism and the Taliban. The defeat of reactionary forces is necessary to achieve peace, stability and prosperity. Afghan working people are the only force that can defeat reactionary forces. It is necessary to unite the protests on social and economic issues, together with a mass movement of the working class and poor peasantry, to drive out foreign occupation forces and fight for a socialist future.

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