The concerted might of the strongest and largest military force in the world, that of the US, is failing to defeat the disparate and crudely equipped Taliban militias in one of the poorest countries of the world.
This is despite the US leading a force of nearly 120,000 troops fighting an estimated 28,000 Taliban, and having spent a phenomenal £190 billion over the nine years of the war so far.
The US-led coalition forces have also failed to remove al Qaeda, despite the fact that al Qaeda was said by a US national security advisor to have only around 100 members operating in Afghanistan.
US president Obama reviewed US policy in Afghanistan last December and decided on a surge of 30,000 extra troops.
During 2010, Helmand and Kandahar provinces were to be ’pacified’, newly trained Afghan troops would take over, and US troops would start withdrawing next summer.
But since this plan was concocted, overall levels of violence have increased and the plan’s objectives are increasingly seen as impossible.
The disarray in US strategy was indicated by the recent sacking of the US military General in command in Afghanistan, Stanley McChrystal, for criticising Obama’s course of action.
Now the former US commander in Iraq, David Petraeus, has been given the poisoned chalice, yet he also has differences with Obama over the war strategy.
The Karzai-led Afghan government continues to be weak and corrupt, with its influence limited mainly to Kabul.
Far from bringing promised improvements to the lives of the Afghan people, the intervention of US imperialism has mainly brought violence and destruction, in a country that was once rich in culture and heritage.
Not only is the US-led coalition failing in Afghanistan, it has also been destabilising Pakistan, a country of 170 million people, having spread the conflict over the dividing border.
Aerial bombardment of the tribal areas in Pakistan has killed thousands of civilians, creating massive anger and desire for revenge in those areas and beyond.
Public exposure of the 75,000 leaked US military papers led to accusations that Pakistan is playing a ’double game’, even assisting the Taliban against Nato troops.
US personnel have accused the Pakistani Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) of sponsoring suicide attacks by Haqqani fighters on the Indian embassy in Kabul; and former ISI head, General Hamid Gul, is described in some of the leaked files as an active Taliban organiser.
British Tory prime minister David Cameron joined this chorus when he accused Pakistan of ’looking both ways’ during his recent visit to India, and US White House spokesman, Robert Gibbs, had already declared that the US "will not and cannot provide a blank cheque to Pakistan" if it fails to toe the US line (ie threatening to reduce the large sums of money given to Pakistan by the US).
In the 1980s, the American CIA and Pakistani ISI funded and trained Islamist guerrilla organisations to fight the Soviet Union in Afghanistan.
The Taliban were a product of this, and of Pakistani and Saudi funded Madrassas (religious schools).
But now that US imperialism is at war with the Taliban, the Pakistani military has moved, under US pressure, against Taliban safe havens in Pakistan.
However, a wing of the ISI, at least, is covertly maintaining links with the Taliban and certain other Afghan military networks and factions, supporting some groups when it suits them, while opposing others.
This is to aid the trade and investment interests of a layer of Pakistan’s military leaders and capitalists, and to preserve some influence for the time when the Nato troops largely withdraw from Afghanistan.
British journalist Patrick Cockburn recently described Pakistan’s military intelligence as having "a strong influence, but not quite full control, over the Taliban.
The Taliban safe havens in Pakistan are never quite safe and the Taliban say privately that while they can generally operate in Pakistan, they never know when they might be arrested".
Prestige and interests
Pressure from within the US population for the withdrawal of US troops from Afghanistan is increasing, but for the US ruling class and government it is proving impossible without harming their prestige and their interests in the region.
Afghanistan has long been a country of strategic geographical importance for the imperialist powers of the world, being in a location that links together different blocks of countries.
Also it is rich in natural resources, with recent reports reaffirming that it has abundant gas, oil, gold, copper, iron ore and other minerals.
However, unable to stem the recovery of the Taliban, talk of fighting ’until victory’ is no longer part of the vocabulary of Nato spokespeople; rather there has been furtive mention of ’talks’.
It has dawned on the coalition military leaders and governments that they will not be able to withdraw their troops and leave in place an Afghan army that can hold the Taliban in check.
The Taliban, until a movement of Afghan workers and peasants is built that can counter its forces, will most likely retain or regain control over many areas, and co-exist in a country divided into spheres of influence between the various tribal and ethnic warlords.
This in any case is the current reality. All the Taliban have to do is sit tight, continue resisting, and they will receive a continual stream of young people – many of whom have lost friends and relatives in the war – to renew their ranks.
When in power, the Taliban enforced a highly repressive, right-wing Islamist regime, that prevented women from working and being educated and that banned opposition parties and trade unions.
For Afghan workers and peasants, a choice between the reactionary Taliban, the other tribal and ethnic based warlords (who dominate the Afghan puppet government) or the US-led occupation, is a nightmare choice.
The foreign troops must be withdrawn immediately. But the competing Afghan political and military elites, backed by different foreign capitalists, will continue to cream off the wealth gained from exploitation of Afghanistan’s natural resources and will bring no improvements in living standards to the impoverished majority in the country.
For socialists therefore, calling for an immediate end to the war and occupation goes hand in hand with advocating the end of capitalism in Afghanistan and the wider region.
In particular, the Pakistani working class is numerous and potentially very strong. It will at some stage move to renovate and build its own organisations to be fit for challenging the existing regime in Pakistan.
The ruling class in India, which like that of Pakistan, wants to protect and extend its sphere of influence, must also be countered by a workers’ movement from below.
The building of a strong workers’ movement in any country of the region, armed with socialist ideas, under today’s conditions would quickly lead to similar movements in neighbouring countries.
In Afghanistan also, aided by solidarity from workers internationally, the only way to develop security and decent living standards of the majority of people, will be through the building of democratic mass-based organisations of working-class people and the poor.
Such a movement will need to include in its programme the aim of establishing a workers’ and peasants’ government that can take public ownership and control of the mineral, gas, agriculture and other industries, and democratically plan the economy along socialist lines.
Afghanistan: Troops out now!
THE LEAKING of 75,000 secret US military documents on the Afghanistan war ’endangers lives’, screamed the US Pentagon.
British foreign secretary William Hague complained that the leaked documents could "poison the atmosphere in Afghanistan".
This highly hypocritical talk has come from representatives of governments that have been inflicting carnage on Afghan towns and villages, using the latest high-tech deadly weaponry, without even bothering to count the civilian casualties – likely to number tens of thousands.
These governments have also been presiding over the deaths of US, British and other coalition troops every week.
Nearly 2,000 foreign troops have died in Afghanistan over the last nine years.
The leaked reports have made a huge impact, as they are sweeping in their scope and reflect the divisions and despair existing within the US state machine.
As the media pointed out, they contain nothing substantially surprising or new. They are ’low level’ intelligence reports rather than being policy documents from the top military officials, as the leaked Pentagon Papers were in 1971, and some of the content is unreliable.
But being able to read these reports in their uncensored state has shed more light on the horror of the war, particularly on the incidences of slaughter of Afghan children and adult civilians – much of which was kept secret.
This information was brought home forcefully as it came just shortly after news of the killing of over 50 civilians by a Nato rocket in Helmand on 23 July.
It is no surprise that these atrocities are driving more and more Afghan youth into fighting alongside the Taliban and are leading the occupying forces further into a quagmire.
Nearly twice as many UK troops have now died in Afghanistan as died in Iraq. At the present death rate, 2010 will be the worst year for coalition troop deaths in Afghanistan. The US plan of ousting the Taliban from areas it controls and handing these areas over to newly trained Afghan forces is not succeeding.
And ongoing terror is being inflicted on the populations of towns and villages in the process. Military operation after operation, with altered tactics each time, have only led further down the pathway of failure and bloodshed.
From increased air power, to more troops on the ground; from ’winning’ hearts and minds, to destroying them.
When the Taliban are cleared from one area, they can regroup elsewhere and later return, with many of their forces being drawn from the communities that the commanders of the occupying troops claim to be defending.
The British troops should be brought home immediately and all other foreign troops removed from Afghanistan too.
Then the Afghan people can begin to determine their own future. In particular, the task of building independent organisations of workers and the poor is urgent. Such bodies can act to stop future bloodshed and prepare the way for a socialist society with democratic rights and decent living standards for everyone.
– Build a mass movement in Britain to bring home the troops! Spend government money on jobs and public services not on war and weapons.
– Let the Afghan people decide their own future. For democratic rights in Afghanistan, and the building of independent organisations of workers and the poor.
– For a socialist world, free from terror, exploitation and war.