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The Endless War: 15 Years and Counting in Afghanistan

To hear Sonali Kolhatkar, the founding director of the U.S.-based solidarity organization Afghan Women’s Mission, is much like being wakened from a nightmare, only to realize that there is much truth in the demons of the night.

Kolhatkar recently appeared on The Real News Network in the segment “Afghanistan War at 15th Year Without End in Sight,” (October 7, 2016). She recounts the human and monetary costs of the war and the conclusion that the war will be conducted as business as usual (my words) following the presidential inauguration in 2017. The latter is a premise that is impossible to deny.

About one third of Afghanistan is now in Taliban hands after a decade and a half of fighting. One of the so-called hallmarks of the Bush-Cheney administration—the improvement of the lives of women in Afghanistan—remains a pipe dream, with only an infinitesimally small number of women in Afghanistan, who have money, who are able to achieve their educational or job goals, and these goals are only achievable in Kabul.

More than $850 billion has been spent by the U.S. in Afghanistan, and of that sum, $110 billion has gone to reconstruction of that country, about as much as went toward the Marshal Plan’s rebuilding of Europe following World War II. Over 91,000 Afghans have died as a result of war, with about 2,300 American dead. Honor killings against women go on. An Afghan warlord, Goberdine Gulbuddin a.k.a. “The butcher of Kabul,” who has fought on nearly every side of the war since the Soviet invasion of the 1980s, has been given amnesty and is able to live without fear despite a curriculum vitae of endless mayhem.

First the U.S. fights the Taliban and then it negotiates with them.  It is an endless cycle of violence. The European Union has committed $3.7 billion to the war for the next four years while pledging to send tens of thousands of Afghan refugees back to this war-torn nation in clear violation of the right to seek sanctuary from the ravages of war. The right to sanctuary for refugees is codified in various international treaties.

Republicans and Democrats don’t differ on the war in Afghanistan after 15 years. In 2008, Barack Obama called Afghanistan “The right battlefield,” in an attempt to contrast it with another failed state, Iraq, which he must have believed at the time was the wrong battlefield.  As of June 2016, 8,400 U.S. troops remain in Afghanistan despite Obama’s commitment to end the war by 2016. The war has almost universal bipartisan support in Congress. Never will the concept of blowback enter into the “debate” about war and the absence of peace. It’s as if ISIS and the Taliban and al- Qaeda sprang from nowhere. It’s as if the West had no designs for fossil fuels in the Middle East for a century. Fossil fuels coupled with global power politics created the perfect storm of endless violence. It is the state of the permanent war economy.

Barack Obama, who was seen in somewhat positive eyes by the peace movement in the U.S. during his first campaign for the presidency, got a Monopoly “get out of jail free card” on Afghanistan and was able to wage warfare there for his entire presidency. The prospects for that policy to continue are a sure bet with a weak antiwar movement and the horror of September 11, 2001 an ever-present reality in the U.S. Even revelations of Saudi government involvement in the actions of terrorists leading up to September 11, 2001, does not seems to lessen the resolve to continue fighting an endless war.

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Howard Lisnoff is a freelance writer. He is the author of Against the Wall: Memoir of a Vietnam-Era War Resister (2017).

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