Afghanistan: British combat troops pull out

A legacy of death and destruction

British combat troops were finally pulled out of Camp Bastion on 27 October, 13 years after the start of the US-led disastrous invasion and occupation of Afghanistan.

The October 2001 invasion took place weeks after the attacks on the Twin Towers and Pentagon. The subsequent US-led assault on Afghanistan was justified on the pretext of destroying al-Qa’ida’s support base, despite the fact that most of the 9/11 attackers came from Saudi Arabia, a close US ally.

The CWI opposed the invasion and warned it would bring massive loss of life and devastation to Afghanistan and would spawn more terrorism, including in the west. This was borne out by events.

From 2001 to 2013 the invasion and occupation cost between 18-20,000 civilian Afghan lives. Over 400 British soldiers were killed. Combat trauma amongst 150,000 British personnel who served in Afghanistan saw more commit suicide than die on the battle field in 2012. Since 2001, active al-Qa’ida type groups have spread from Central Asia to Pakistan, the Middle East and parts of Africa.

Despite the main parties support for the war and overwhelmingly pro-war media coverage, a poll in Britain taken in October found 68% think the war was "not worthwhile" and 42% felt Britain was "less safe" as a result.

While £19 billion was wasted on the Afghan war, the Con-Dem government carried out massive austerity cuts at home. And despite the US pouring in $104 billion over the last decade with promises of aid and development, Afghanistan remains one of the poorest countries in the world, ranked 172nd out of 187 countries according to the UN. Half of the country’s children are acutely malnourished.

The few faltering steps towards improving women’s rights, including schooling for females, are under attack and being rolled back. In 2011, development agencies declared Afghanistan the most dangerous country in the world for women.

The only real ’success’ story is the opium poppy crop, which last year reached a record high, worth $3 billion!

Imperialist aims

The truth is that the lives of Afghans and soldiers are just so much ’collateral damage’ to the western powers. The main motivations behind imperialism’s bloody actions in Afghanistan were securing a military foothold and influence in the strategic and energy-rich region.

With overwhelming firepower, the US-led ’coalition’ quickly removed the reactionary Taliban regime in 2001 (whose origins were to be found in the west’s arming and financing of the mujahedeen fighters against Soviet Union occupation in the 1980s). But they failed to suppress general Afghan opposition to foreign occupation or the Taliban’s subsequent armed revolt. The Hamid Karzi regime – reviled by the majority of Afghans as corrupt, brutal and nothing more than a western puppet – was isolated in heavily militarised Kabul.

Realising that it was impossible to subdue the population and that Taliban armed attacks would only escalate as long as occupation continued, the western powers announced troop withdrawals and engineered new elections.

But the heavily rigged elections threatened a bloody conflict along ethnic lines after Ashraf Ghani Ahmadzi, a former World Bank economist, and Abdullah Abdullah, a former foreign minister in Karzai’s discredited regime, both claimed victory.

US Secretary of State John Kerry recently forced the two candidates to accept a ’national unity’ government or face the cutting off of aid.

Like British imperialism’s three previous wars in Afghanistan in the 19th and early 20th century, this latest war also ended in disaster and ignominy for the US and Britain, exposing the limits of their power. But the fighting is not over.

Helmand and Nimroz provinces, which British forces had special responsibility for, are amongst the most violent parts of the country, with over 200 Afghan soldiers and 500 policemen killed this year alone.

Kerry insisted President Ghani sign a pact to allow 12,000 Nato troops, including British ’special forces’, to stay in the country to train the Afghan army. We can expect that air strikes, drone attacks and special forces operations to ’defend’ the pro-western regime will continue.

The formal end of this catastrophic war underscores the fact that only the Afghan masses themselves, with the active solidarity of working people everywhere, can transform their appalling conditions and realise genuine peace, democracy and prosperity.

The formation of strong independent organisations, with pro-worker and poor polices, can contest corrupt warlords and the reactionary Taliban. They can also expel imperialism, creating a socialist society, as part of a socialist federation of the region.

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