In early September, the Pentagon closed its investigation into allegations that U.S. bombs killed 92 Afghan civilians, including as many as 60 children, as they slept peacefully in the village of Nawabad on the night of August 21st.
Despite protests from the UN, human rights organizations and the villagers themselves, Pentagon officials insisted for weeks that only seven civilians had been killed, along with 35 Taliban fighters, during a legitimate military operation aimed at capturing Taliban commander Mullah Sadiq. Indeed, they claimed that the attack, which included bombardment with a C130 Specter gunship, was a necessary response to heavy fire emanating from a meeting of Taliban leaders in the village.
In its defense, the Pentagon cited evidence from an embedded Fox News correspondent who had substantiated its claims. Unfortunately, that correspondent turned out to be Veteran Marine Corps Lieutenant Oliver North, who has been known to bend the truth in the past. North’s military career was cut short after his role was revealed in the Iran-contra scandal in the 1980s. At the time, North admitted to having illegally channeled guns to Iran while funneling the profits to the CIA-backed contra mercenary force fighting to overthrow Nicaragua’s democratically elected Sandinista government–and then lying to congress about it. In recent years, North has nevertheless cultivated a lucrative broadcasting career at Fox.
Although North assured Fox viewers, “Coalition forces…have not been able to find any evidence that non-combatants were killed in this engagement,” video footage taken on the scene by a local doctor showed scores of dead bodies and destroyed homes, documenting a civilian death toll at Nawabad that is the largest since the U.S. began bombing Afghanistan nearly seven years ago. Thus, the U.S. military was forced to reopen its own investigation on September 8th, only days after it had exonerated itself. A red-faced official told reporters that “emerging evidence” had convinced the Pentagon to investigate the matter further.
On that same day, Human Rights Watch issued a report that U.S. and NATO forces dropped 362 tons of bombs over Afghanistan during the first seven months of this year; bombings during June and July alone equaled the total during all of 2006. The rising civilian death toll in Afghanistan rattled even the normally placid New York Times, which argued, “America is fast losing the battle for hearts and minds, and unless the Pentagon comes up with a better strategy, the United States and its allies may well lose the war.”
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As news of the Nawabad massacre unfolded, another atrocity was also gaining media attention, further exposing the gangster state installed and maintained by U.S. forces to run Afghanistan since 2001. President Hamid Karzai, the U.S.’ hand picked puppet, reportedly pardoned two men convicted of brutally raping a woman in the northern province of Samangan in September 2005.
At the time, Mawlawi Islam, the commander of a local militia, was running for a seat in Afghanistan’s first parliamentary elections. “The commander and three of his fighters came and took my wife out of our home and took her to their house about 200 meters away and, in front of these witnesses, raped her,” the woman’s husband told the Independent. The couple has a doctor’s report that the rapists cut her private parts with a bayonet during the rape, and then forced her to stagger home without clothes from the waist down.
Mawlawi won a seat in parliament in September 2005, as the U.S. media celebrated the elections as proof that democracy was flourishing in Afghanistan thanks to U.S. occupation. But Mawlawi was assassinated, mafia-style in January of this year. His past had caught up with him. Mawlawi had first fought as a mujahedeen commander in the 1980s but switched sides to become a Taliban governor in the 1990s. He switched sides yet again when the U.S. invaded Afghanistan in 2001 and re-joined the former mujahedeen, which had morphed into the “Northern Alliance”–the group of warlords installed by the U.S. to run Afghanistan as a collection of private gangster fiefdoms.
Karzai issued a press statement expressing his “deep regret” in response to Mawlawi’s death in January. Bypassing the rape charge, he expressed nothing but praise: “Mawlawi Islam Muhammadi was a prominent Jihadi figure who has made great sacrifices during the years of Jihad against the Soviet invasion.” Mawlawi’s three subordinates were finally convicted for the rape this year, and one died in prison. But although they were sentenced to 11 years, Karzai reportedly issued a pardon for the other two in May, claiming the men “had been forced to confess their crimes.”
The drug-running warlords who have controlled Afghanistan with the U.S.’ blessing since 2001 have no interest in either democracy or women’s rights. Indeed, it is not uncommon for poor poppy farmers who cannot repay loans to local warlords to offer up their daughters for marriage instead. Gang rapes and violence against women are on the rise, according to human rights organizations. As a member of parliament, Mir Ahmad Joyenda, told the Independent, “The commanders, the war criminals, still have armed groups. They’re in the government. Karzai, the Americans, the British sit down with them. They have impunity. They’ve become very courageous and can do whatever crimes they like.” In this situation, Afghan warlords again produce 90 percent of the world’s opium, without legal repercussion.
Women’s prisons, in contrast, are teeming once again. As Sonali Kolhatkar, the author of Bleeding Afghanistan: Washington, Warlords, and the Propaganda of Silence, argued on Democracy Now! “Women are being imprisoned in greater numbers than ever before, for the crime of escaping from home or having, quote-unquote, ‘sexual relations’–‘illegal sexual relations.’ Most of these women are simply victims of rape.”
Despite the appalling conditions that seven years of U.S. occupation have produced for ordinary Afghans, the two U.S. ruling parties came together in August to plan the escalation of that sordid war with the goal of adding 10,000 more U.S. troops in the coming year. Barack Obama chided his Republican rival during his acceptance speech at the Democratic Party convention on August 28, using a page from Bush’s playbook: “John McCain likes to say that he’ll follow bin Laden to the Gates of Hell–but he won’t even go to the cave where he lives.”
Obama did not utter a word of criticism about rising civilian casualties, rampant corruption, the flourishing drug trade or women’s oppression in U.S. occupied Afghanistan during that historic speech. On the contrary, he continued, “I will end this war in Iraq responsibly, and finish the fight against al Qaeda and the Taliban in Afghanistan.” Ending the war in Iraq “responsibly” will allow a long-term U.S. military presence there–and the redeployment of 10,000 U.S. troops to Afghanistan to “finish” the job started by George W. Bush.
In one fell swoop, the candidate who slogan is “change” laid out a strategy bearing striking similarity to that of the neocons who invaded Afghanistan in 2001. This hawkish turn was not a surprise. Obama first expressed his willingness to bomb Iran and Pakistan in 2004, when he told the Chicago Tribune, “surgical missile strikes” on Iran may become necessary. “On the other hand,” he continued, “having a radical Muslim theocracy in possession of nuclear weapons is worse.” Obama went on to argue that military strikes on Pakistan should not be ruled out if “violent Islamic extremists” were to “take over.”
Obama represents the dissenting ruling class view since 2003, which regarded the Iraq war as a “distraction” from the real war the U.S should pursue. That war has little to do with al-Qaeda, but much more to do with Afghanistan’s strategic location in Central Asia, and its borders with Iran, Pakistan, Russia and China. The Russia-Georgia conflict this summer surely reminded U.S. rulers that they cannot afford to ignore their long-standing aim to establish U.S. military bases in this key region, a goal which long pre-dated 9-11. As the BBC News reported on Sept. 18, 2001, “Niaz Naik, a former Pakistani Foreign Secretary, was told by senior American officials in mid-July that military action against Afghanistan would go ahead by mid-October.”
The antiwar movement in the U.S. can no longer afford to ignore the war in Afghanistan without fading into irrelevance. The original aims of the war on terror have been resuscitated, and as Obama has repeatedly emphasized in recent months, its “central front” is shifting back to Afghanistan. The Afghan people have endured seven long years of misery thanks to U.S. occupation, and it is high time to take a principled stand against U.S. imperial aims in Central Asia. The war on Afghanistan is no more justified than the war on Iraq.
SHARON SMITH is the author of Women and Socialism and Subterranean Fire: a History of Working-Class Radicalism in the United States. She can be reached at: email@example.com