The Fifth Afghan War

Washington’s war in Afghanistan is going badly, and the Taliban, or, rather, the insurgents who are Taliban leftovers and all the new insurgents who have now been labeled as Taliban, have increased their attacks on US troops and everyone they suspect of supporting the US occupation.

This is a little surprising, in a way, because you might think there would be a bit of lingering gratitude to George Bush on the part of the Taliban. Certainly, he paid a lot of money to the vicious warlords in northern Afghanistan to crush them in 2001. But just before he did that he paid the Taliban a lot of money, too.

In May 2001 the Bush administration gave the Taliban government of Afghanistan the sum of 43 million dollars. Small change, of course, to a government that considers that amount to be a reasonable annual take for the CEO of any Bush-supporting company, but it is a tidy bit of cash to a bunch of religious fanatics whose idea of adding to world culture was destroying ancient and awe-inspiring rock statues.

Two of the enormous artifacts the Taliban reduced to rubble were over 1500 years old, and they blithely blew them up in March 2001. And in May they were given 43 million green ones by Washington. In effect the Bush administration said ‘Well done, Taliban : you are being told by most of the world, and even by fellow Muslims, that your destruction of history is despicable, but never mind, you bunch of demented zealots, here’s some US pocket fluff to help you buy some more dynamite’.

And it is astounding that at the time of Bush’s charitable handout it was known by Washington (see the 9/11 Commission Report) that al Qaeda’s leaders, the people who had already given the world the suicide bombing of the USS Cole in Aden harbor and many other maniacal but well-planned atrocities that had killed scores of Americans, were being given sanctuary by the brutal, ignorant and barely-literate Taliban.

This instance of Bush’s bizarre generosity to the Taliban has been sucked into the black hole of non-memory because everyone except Robert Scheer of the LA Times just put it out of their minds. But it is a fact — stand by for a not very funny laugh — that the 43 million dollars were handed over because Washington considered the Taliban to be successful in reducing drug production.

Before the Taliban took over in Afghanistan in the mid-90s the place was chaotic, with dozens of armed groups fighting each other, and there was a thriving drug industry. Feudal chieftains all over the country were making millions of dollars by having their tribal adherents grow poppy and then having the opium processed and refined and then smuggled as heroin through Pakistan, Iran and the Central Asian states to the West.

During the Taliban’s loony administration, Afghanistan produced almost no drugs because the religious beards hold that heroin is non-Islamic. So they put the fear of God into the warlords, who promptly stopped their peasants growing poppy. (The warlords are Muslims too, of course, but the profit motive takes precedence over religious conviction. Just like in Wall Street and Texas.) But now that the US military, and what is intriguingly called the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF), are supposedly in control of Afghanistan the amount of heroin produced in that unhappy, violent and shambolic country amounts to over 80 per cent of the world’s total. And not one single US or ISAF soldier is tasked to try to stop the growth of poppy, processing of opium, or export of heroin.

The US State Department has got the message from the Pentagon and the White House about drugs in Afghanistan, just as it has been ordered to disguise other US policy disasters round the world. Many of its formerly excellent and informative ‘Country Reports’ have been sanitized to the point of being misleading garbage. I’m sorry for the authors, because I know they are capable of producing honest assessments.

Here is how the Rice State Department describes the global drug catastrophe in Afghanistan:

“Opium has become a source of cash for many Afghans, especially following the breakdown in central authority after the Soviet withdrawal, and opium-derived revenues probably constituted a major source of income for the two main factions during the civil war in the 1990s. Opium is easy to cultivate and transport and offers a quick source of income for impoverished Afghans. Afghanistan was the world’s largest producer of raw opium in 2004. Much of Afghanistan’s opium production is refined into heroin and is either consumed by a growing regional addict population or exported, primarily to Western Europe.”

This is banal nonsense from a Department headed by its most incompetent Secretary in living memory. According to this dishonest account, nothing happened about drug production between the time the Taliban took over and their extinction in 2001-2002. That period has been airbrushed from Bush Washington history.

But according to official US figures that cannot be concealed, the area under poppy cultivation went from 150,000 acres in 2003 to 510,000 acres in 2004. The UN, the hate-object of the Cheney-Bush administration, reports that “opium poppies are now grown in all 34 Afghan provinces, up from 18 provinces in 1999 and just eight provinces in 1994.” [Afghanistan created two new provinces in 2004.] In other words, since the US invasion of the country its most lucrative illegal industry has expanded more than any other economic activity.

Well done, Bushco.

And it isn’t only in the expanding field (if you’ll excuse the word) of poppy cultivation that the US occupation of Afghanistan is proving a disaster. Do you remember all the crap about bringing democracy to Afghanistan? Here’s what Bush said in January last year : “The men and women of Afghanistan are building a nation that is free and proud and fighting terror — and America is honored to be their friend . . . we will finish the historic work of democracy in Afghanistan . . .”

OK : Here’s what the friend of America did for democracy on October 24:

“Kabul, Afghanistan (AP) – A women’s magazine [male] editor has been sentenced to two years in jail after being convicted of blasphemy for publishing anti-Islamic articles, including one challenging a belief that Muslims who convert to other religions should be stoned to death, a judge said Sunday . . . other [of his] articles deemed blasphemous criticized the practice of punishing adultery with 100 lashes and argued that men and women should be considered by Islamic law to be equals . . . Under a revised March 2004 media law signed by [President] Karzai, content deemed insulting to Islam is banned.”

This is the ‘democracy’ that American soldiers are dying for in Afghanistan. The Afghan editor argued that men and women should be considered equal in law, so of course he’s been clapped in the slammer for two years. This is the system of government and justice that Ridiculous Rice supported during her half-day visit to Kabul on October 12 (the very day the editor was on trial, just a block away from the perimeter of the fortress in which she so briefly stayed) when she announced that “Afghanistan is now inspiring the world with its march toward democracy.”

Equally fatuously, Rice said in another interview on the same day that “I would hope that men would welcome women as equal partners in the development of the new Afghanistan.” (Rice spent a lot of time during her few hours in Kabul being interviewed, but saw nothing of the country or of the people, apart from media stooges. It was too dangerous for her to remain overnight.)

“Equal partners”?

The laws of Afghanistan are based on Islamic jurisprudence, which states explicitly that the testimony of women is worth less than that of men. What does Rice have to say to that? (If she even knows about it, of course. It seems she ignores uncomfortable facts, because Article 3 of the Afghan Constitution states “no law can be contrary to the beliefs and provisions of the sacred religion of Islam.”)

Freedom of women is not incompatible with Islam, as properly practiced. But it is incompatible in Afghanistan. And in Saudi Arabia and all the Gulf States with which Bush has such a cozy relationship.

Does nobody see how absurd this Bush and Rice idea of Afghan (or Saudi) ‘democracy’ is? Of course the answer is : Yes ; Lots of people do – but they are the wrong people. Obviously they are not the political hacks who write speeches for Bush and Rice and the rest of the silly parrots. The people who know about foreign culture and religion are the professionals of the State Department whose advice is contemptuously ignored and who now stay very quiet indeed, praying (like the rest of us), for restoration of sanity to direction of US foreign policy. Meanwhile the situation in Afghanistan goes from terrible to verging on the catastrophic.

This decline has been assisted by the US occupation force which last week distinguished itself by burning two bodies of men who attacked some of them and then having Sergeant Jim Baker, “a member of a psychological operations unit”, bellowing on his loudspeaker to Afghan villagers “Attention Taliban, you cowardly dogs. You allowed your fighters to be laid down facing west and burnt. You are too scared to retrieve their bodies. This just proves you are the lady boys we always believed you to be.” This was all recorded by an Australian television team. It can’t be denied.

The cultural implications of the insults by the idiot Baker would take too much space to describe. Suffice to say that they have set back US efforts in Afghanistan by about a century. What that fool and his masters fail to understand is that America’s questioning of Afghan courage or masculinity will be spread round the country by word of mouth in a time frame that would make a western ad agency pale with envy. And the effect of such aspersions being cast will be (and I have no doubt has been) to make all Afghan males incandescent with fury about being defamed in such a fashion.

Then the media hacks chimed in. Time Magazine said the bodies were burned because they would stink, and that burning was reasonable because it was carried out to ensure that US soldiers wouldn’t suffer from the smell of decomposing flesh. This was the official US Army story. Apparently the liars were not aware of the Australian television team’s report of the cretin Baker saying ‘Bring them On’.

Have you ever experienced the smell of a burned human body? The frying fat effect is really quite loathsome. The heated body pops out little jets of boiling fat, especially through frontal stomach bullet holes, which then catch fire. The head sometimes explodes. The smell is indescribable and is quite as bad as that of a normally decomposing body, and the corpse is much more difficult to get rid of once it is reduced to a blackened monstrosity.

The bodies could have been put in body bags and lifted out by the next resupply helicopter.

It was an outright lie for the army to claim that the bodies had to be burned to stop them stinking. They were burned in order to defile them.

Time Magazine was the publication that had another Afghan Lie on its cover. It swallowed the US Army’s dishonorable fabrication of the circumstances in which the gallant Pat Tillman was killed. (Pat’s mom sent me some photographs of him, and every time I look at them I think of the waste of a great man. Then I think about the contemptible freaks, including at least one general, who told lie after lie to her and to the world to disguise combat incompetence and bungling and who scorned the military code of honor in a manner that should scandalize every person in uniform.)

The repellent crime of burning bodies only adds to the list of evils committed in Afghanistan by the invaders. From the slaughter of wedding parties by indiscriminate bombing, to the torture and murder of absolutely innocent prisoners, and the killing of four Afghan policemen by US troops “by mistake” on October 18 there has been little but disaster. (You didn’t see anything in the US media about the police being killed. Of course not. But Reuters reported it, noting that it was the second such incident in a week.)

The result of all these atrocities has been strengthening of resistance to US forces and growing hatred of America.

Make no mistake, Afghans are a hard and cruel people. They live by their own code, which is difficult for foreigners to understand. But they are a proud people and they hate ANY occupiers of their country, no matter whom. And when occupying forces torture, kill and burn their fellow Afghans, even if these are not of the same tribe or ethnicity, this creates hatred for the foreigner that will last for ever.

Bush is stuck with another war he can’t win. He is trying to get the Europeans to take over from US troops, but with the exception of Toady Blair, who is sending a few thousand British troops to be shot at, the Europeans are having none of it. The British were defeated three times in Afghanistan : in 1838-1842, 1878-1880 and 1919 ; referred to as the First, Second and Third Afghan Wars. Then the Russians were forced out of their occupation in the 1980s. The Fifth Afghan War will be another horrible legacy of Bush to his country.

BRIAN CLOUGHLEY writes on military and political affairs. He can be reached through his website




Brian Cloughley writes about foreign policy and military affairs. He lives in Voutenay sur Cure, France.