Hunkering Down in Afghanistan

Afghanistan was supposed to be the “good war”; a “just response” to the attacks of September 11. It was supposed to bring Bin Laden to justice “dead or alive” and quash terrorism wherever it originated. 95 per cent of the American people supported the invasion of Afghanistan. Now less than half think the U.S. will prevail. The war was promoted as a way to replace a repressive fundamentalist regime with a democratic government based on western values. The Bush administration promised to rebuild war-torn Afghanistan, transform its feudal system into a free market economy, and liberate its women from the oppression of Islamic extremism.

It was all hogwash. None of the promises have been kept and none of the goals have been achieved. Besides, war isn’t an instrument for positive social change; it’s about killing people and blowing up things. Dolling-up military aggression as “preemption” can work for a while, but eventually the truth comes out. Democracy and modernity don’t come from the barrel of a gun.

Far from being the “good war”, Afghanistan has turned out to be a brutal war of revenge. Three decades of fighting has left the country in ruins and the violence is only getting worse. As victory becomes more elusive, the US has stepped up its bombing campaign making 2008 the most deadly year on record. Civilian casualties have skyrocketed and millions of Afghans have become refugees. At the same time, the Taliban have regrouped and taken over strategically vital areas in the south disrupting US supply lines from Pakistan. Khost has fallen into the hands of the Afghan resistance just as it did before the Soviet Army was defeated in the 1980s. The Taliban are moving inexorably towards Kabul and a battle for the capital now seems unavoidable.

For the second month in a row, the number of foreign troops killed in Afghanistan has exceeded Iraq. The fighting has intensified while security has steadily deteriorated. The Taliban’s numbers are growing, but the total allied commitment is still under 60,000 troops for a country of 32 million. This makes it impossible to capture and hold territory. The military is limited to “hit and run” operations. The ground belongs to the Taliban.

Michael Scheuer, former CIA chief of the Bin Laden Issue Station, made this statement at a recent conference at the Middle East Institute in Washington, DC: “Afghanistan is lost for the United States and its allies. To use Kipling’s term, ‘We are watching NATO bleed to death on the Afghan plains.’ But what are we going to do. There are 20 million Pashtuns; are we going to invade? We don’t have enough troops to even form a constabulary that would control the country. The disaster occurred at the beginning. The fools that run our country thought that a few hundreds CIA officers and a few hundred special forces officers could take a country the size of Texas and hold it, were quite literally fools. And now we are paying the price.”

Scheuer added, “We are closer to defeat in Afghanistan than Iraq at the moment.”

Scheuer’s pessimism is widely shared among military and political elites. The situation on the ground is hopeless; there is no light in the tunnel. Author Anatol Lieven put it like this in an article in the Financial Times, “The Dream of Afghan Democracy is Dead”: “The first step in rethinking Afghan strategy is to think seriously about the lessons of a recent opinion survey of ordinary Taliban fighters commissioned by the Toronto Globe and Mail. Two results are striking: the widespread lack of any strong expression of allegiance to Mullah Omar and the Taliban leadership; and the reasons given by most for joining the Taliban — namely, the presence of western troops in Afghanistan. The deaths of relatives or neighbors at the hands of those forces was also stated by many as a motive. This raises the question of whether Afghanistan is not becoming a sort of surreal hunting estate, in which the US and Nato breed the very “terrorists” they then track down. ”

Lieven is right. The occupation and the careless killing of civilians has only strengthened the Taliban and swollen their ranks. The US has lost the struggle for hearts and minds and they don’t have the troops to establish security. The mission has failed; the Afghan people have grown tired of foreign occupation and support on the homefront is rapidly eroding. The US is just digging a deeper hole by staying.

By every objective standard, conditions are worse now than they were before the invasion in 2001. The economy is in shambles, unemployment is soaring, reconstruction is minimal, security is non-existent and malnutrition is at levels that rival sub-Saharan Africa. Afghanistan not safer, more prosperous, or freer. The vast majority of Afghans are still living in grinding poverty exacerbated by the constant threat of violence. The Karzai government has no popular mandate nor any power beyond the capital. The regime is a sham maintained by a small army of foreign mercenaries and a collaborative media which promotes it as a sign of budding democracy. But there is no democracy or sovereignty. Afghanistan is occupied by foreign troops. Occupation and sovereignty are mutually exclusive.

According to The Senlis Council’s report, “Stumbling into Chaos: Afghanistan on the brink”: “The security situation in Afghanistan has reached crisis proportions. The Taliban’s ability to establish a presence throughout the country is now proven beyond doubt; 54 per cent of Afghanistan’s landmass hosts a permanent Taliban presence, primarily in southern Afghanistan.

The Taliban are the de facto governing authority in significant portions of territory in the south and east, and are starting to control parts of the local economy and key infrastructure such as roads and energy supply. The insurgency also exercises a significant amount of psychological control, gaining more and more political legitimacy in the minds of the Afghan people who have a long history of shifting alliances and regime change.”

Journalist Eric Walberg further clarifies the role played by the Taliban in his article “The Princess and the Taliban”: “Western readers have become numbed into accepting the code words ‘enemy’ and ‘insurgents’, ignoring the underlying fact that the Taliban are still the legitimate government, that these so-called insurgents are in fact widely seen as freedom fighters battling the non-Muslim foreign occupiers — the real ‘enemy’ — who invaded the country illegally and have killed hundreds of thousands of resistance fighters and innocent civilians illegally. Rather than ‘killed’, the word ‘murdered’ might be more appropriate. For locals, the dead are ‘martyred’, as in Iraq and Palestine….. The country’s declining socioeconomic situation point to the Taliban as the only feasible force to control the situation.”

It is not even clear that women are better off now than they were under Taliban rule. According to Afghan Parliament member, Malalai Joya: “Every month dozens of women commit self-immolation to end their desolation….The American war on terror is a mockery and so is the US support of the present government in Afghanistan which is dominated by Northern Alliance terrorists….Far more civilians have been killed by the US military in Afghanistan than were killed in the US in the tragedy of September 11. More Afghan civilians have been killed by the US than were ever killed by the Taliban…..The US should withdrawal as soon as possible. We need liberation not occupation.” (“The War on Terror is a Mockery”, Elsa Rassbach, Z Magazine Nov 2007)

The Taliban had effectively eradicated poppy cultivation before the invasion in 2001. Now, after six years of war, the opium trade is back with a vengeance and Afghanistan accounts for 93% of world’s heroin production. 2007 was a particularly good year yielding 20% more opium than a year before. Heroin is now Afghanistan’s number one export; the nation has become a US narco-colony.

Bush could care less about drug trafficking. What matters to him is stabilizing Afghanistan so that the myriad US bases that are built along pipeline corridors can provide a safe channel for oil and natural gas heading to markets in the Far East. That’s what really counts. The administration has staked America’s future on a risky strategy to establish a foothold in Central Asia to control the flow of energy from the Caspian to China and India.

But US policymakers are no longer confident of victory in Afghanistan. In fact, according to a Pentagon report: “Taliban militants have regrouped after their initial fall from power and ‘coalesced into a resilient insurgency.’ The report paints a grim picture of the conflict, concluding that Afghanistan’s security conditions have deteriorated sharply while the fledgling national government in Kabul remains incapable of extending its reach throughout the country or taking effective counternarcotics measures.”

The situation is dire and it’s forcing Bush to decide whether to shift more troops from Iraq or face growing resistance in Afghanistan. Meanwhile the violence is spreading and combat deaths are on the rise. Pentagon chieftains now believe they can only defeat the Taliban by striking at bases in Pakistan, a reckless plan that could inflame passions in Pakistan and trigger a regional conflict. Gradually, the US is being lured into a bigger quagmire.


Presidential candidate Barak Obama, “The Peace Candidate”, supports a stronger commitment to the war in Afghanistan and has proposed “sending at least two additional combat brigades — or 7,000 to 10,000 troops — to Afghanistan, while deploying more Special Operations forces to the Afghan-Pakistan border. He has also proposed increasing non-military aid to Afghanistan by at least $1 billion per year.” (Wall Street Journal) Obama, backed by Brzezinski and other Clinton foreign policy advisers, has focussed his attention on the “war on terror”, that dismal public relations coup which conceals America’s desire to become a major player in the Great Game, the battle for supremacy on the Asian continent. Obama appears to be even more eager to repeat history than his opponent, John McCain.

In November, voters will be asked to pick one of the two pro-war candidates. McCain has made his position clear; his focus is on Iraq. Now it is up to Obama to point out why it’s more acceptable to kill a man who is fighting for his country in Afghanistan than it is in Iraq. If he can’t answer that question, then he deserves to lose.

MIKE WHITNEY lives in Washington state. He can be reached at:







MIKE WHITNEY lives in Washington state. He is a contributor to Hopeless: Barack Obama and the Politics of Illusion (AK Press). Hopeless is also available in a Kindle edition. He can be reached at