The longer the U.S. and NATO stay in Afghanistan, the more the place is looking like Vietnam:
*Body counts. Remember when the U.S. used to claim things like “250 Vietcong” killed during a firefight, most of whom turned out to be civilians? On April 27 the U.S said “more than 130 Taliban” were killed after Special Forces called in air strikes during a two-day battle in western Afghanistan. Except local residents said there were no Taliban in the village and that the dead included many women and children. With U.S. and NATO forces relying more and more on air power, large numbers of civilian casualties are inevitable.
*Drugs. With the help of the CIA, the U.S.-supported regime in South Vietnam and Laos shipped opium from Laos to Thailand, making the Vietnam War ground zero in the heroin epidemic that gripped Europe and the U.S in the late ’60s and early ’70s. For details see “The Politics of Heroin in Southeast Asia,” and Frontline’s “Guns, Drugs and the CIA.” Well, 2006 was a banner year for opium production in Afghanistan and, according to an investigation by the Financial Times, Afghan government claims that it had eradicated 21,000 hectares of poppies in Kandahar and Helmand provinces “bore little resemblance to reality.” Afghanistan produces 92 percent of the world’s opium.
*Meaningless battles. Remember the “critical” battles at Khe Sanh and “Hamburger Hill,” where hundreds of Americans and thousands of Vietnamese died? Six weeks after the battles ended, the Vietnamese reclaimed them, and the “critical” clashes disappeared into esoteric military history. The U.S. has been battling to pacify the Tora Bora region of Eastern Afghanistan, the supposed hiding place of Osama bin Ladin. The Russians tried to tame Tora Bora as well, and recently Gen. Victor Yermakov (Ret.), who commanded the Soviet’s 40th Army, commented that he “was very impressed by the Americans. Gaining control of Tora Bora is a great accomplishment. I should know. I did it three times. Unfortunately, the second I turned my back on the place, I needed to conquer it again. It is the same now. It will never change.”
The rising toll of civilian deaths and the friction created by the on-going occupation led the upper house of the Afghan parliament to demand that the government open ceasefire talks with the Taliban. According to the Independent, the Karazi government has already reached an informal agreement with the insurgent leader and former U.S. ally, Gulbuddin Hikmatayar, that has kept Kabul free from suicide bombers for the past several months.
Meanwhile, a number of NATO members are having second thoughts about the Afghan adventure. A recent Der Spiegel poll indicates that 57 percent of Germans want to withdraw from Afghanistan.
Opposition is also on the rise in Canada, where the Conservative government recently beat back a resolution to withdraw troops by 150-134. Canada has suffered more than 50 deaths in Afghanistan-a larger percentage than any other NATO country-and polls indicate increasing unrest among voters.
Most of the Canadians have been killed by roadside bombs. “It costs a couple of hundred dollars for a bomb,” says Sunil Ram, a professor at the American Military University in West Virginia, “but they can knock out a $3 million or $4 million vehicle, and kill troops that cost millions of dollars to train.”
Which brings to mind a line about Afghanistan from Kipling’s “Arithmetic of the Frontier”:
A scrimmage in a border station-
A canter down some dark defile-
Two thousand pounds of education
Drops to a ten-rupee jezail*–
(*A cheap rifle)
It’s time to leave.
CONN HALLINAN is an analyst for Foreign Policy in Focus, a winner of a Project Censored Award, and did his PhD dissertation on the history of insurrectionary organizations in Ireland.