Nearly fifteen years have passed since the US launched its deadly aerial assault on Afghanistan in October 2001. NATO troops arrived soon after, promising to help create a more democratic and peaceful Afghanistan, which would no longer be a 'safe haven for terrorists'.
Today, it seems as though the mainstream media has all but forgotten this war as eyes turn to the crises in Syria, Iraq, and beyond. The war in Afghanistan is far from over, however. In fact, 2015 was the deadliest year for Afghan civilians since the war began, with more than 11,000 men, women, and children killed.
13,200 NATO troops remain in the country under the banner of Operation Resolute Support. Officially, NATO has ended combat operations in the country and maintains a force only to “train, advise, and assist” Afghan forces. However, “training and advising” involves direct battlefield support of Afghan forces, and “assistance” often comes in the form of US/NATO airstrikes. Elite US special operations forces also carry out counter terrorism operations in the form of home raids, torture, interrogation and even murder (Matthieu Aikins, “The A-Team Killings”, Rolling Stone, November 2013). The 'new face' of the US and NATO in Afghanistan is little different than before.
On October 15, 2015, US President Barack Obama announced that the US mission in Afghanistan would not end in 2016, but would see around 5,500 troops stay in the country through 2017. This announcement came mere days after a US airstrike on a Medcins Sans Frontieres hospital in Kunduz, Afghanistan killed more than 30 innocent people.
This war has indeed brought change to Afghanistan, but none for the better – at least for the majority of Afghans. Foreign corporations and wealthy local elite have profited from the expansion of resource extraction and the hospitality industry which serves the constant stream of foreigners through Kabul. Warlords too have profited from the exponential expansion of the drug trade which began after 2001. Most Afghans, though, have seen little if any change for the better and much change for the worse. Three quarters of the county still lacks access to clean drinking water; 90% lack adequate sanitation facilities (World Health Organization). More than half of the country's children experience stunted growth due to malnutrition, according to UN data. Health care remains tragically inadequate, with MSF reporting in 2014 that one in eight Afghans were unable to reach a hospital for urgent care due to the ongoing fighting. Today, the security situation in the country is worsening rapidly. This not only puts Afghans directly at risk, but prevents the sick and injured from accessing care, children from attending school, and adults from securing employment. In short, the US/NATO occupation has torn the country to pieces.
Negotiating with the Taliban and Playing Not to Lose
Life certainly wasn't easy for Afghans living under Taliban rule prior to 2001. The country was poor, education was scarce, and basic human and women's rights were essentially non-existent. Little has fundamentally changed today, however. The US may have built some schools, but they are staggeringly understaffed and under-equipped, and students often cannot attend because of the ongoing fighting. There may be women in the Afghan Parliament, but there are also increasing numbers of women whose lives are so desperate they resort to suicide to escape their situation.
The US and NATO have failed to improving the living conditions of Afghans; they also have failed to stop terrorism. The Taliban have been rapidly gaining ground in Afghanistan, now controlling significant areas of the country. As well, Daesh (Islamic State) fighters have gained control in some areas, with the Pentagon estimating that there are about 1000-3000 Daesh militants in Afghanistan.
The US is no longer trying to defeat the Taliban in Afghanistan – they are desperately trying to negotiate with them. The Quadrilateral Coordination Group – composed of representatives from the US, China, Afghanistan, and Pakistan – met in Islamabad, Pakistan in January. Reopening talks with the Taliban was a key point on the agenda. Several US policy analysts are suggesting some sort of power-sharing agreement with the Taliban. Writing for Foreign Policy Magazine, Emile Simpson suggests that, “the West could see an endpoint in accepting a Taliban takeover of [some] areas, while helping to consolidate Kabul's position in the predominantly Tajik, Uzbek, and Hazara areas in the center, north, and west of the country where Afghan President Ashraf Ghani's government has more support.”
Two points are apparent from this. Firstly, the Taliban's human rights record was obviously never a fundamental concern for the US, since they are now eager to negotiate with them. If the real reason for this protracted war was to bring human rights to Afghans, the US would continue fighting the Taliban, not try to arrange a power-sharing agreement. Secondly, it is clear that the US does not see a possibility of final victory over the Taliban. Born from Afghanistan's long history of resistance to foreign domination, the Taliban have shown that they may be set back, but never defeated as long as there are Afghans willing to join them to fight against the foreign occupiers. Jeff Eggers, a senior policy analyst for Washington-based policy think tank Rand Corporation, wrote in an article for Politico that the US is “at best, playing not to lose” in Afghanistan.
Ruling Class Calls for Extension and Expansion of War
Fifteen years of war, billions of taxpayer dollars, and at least tens of thousands of lives lost have not brought the victory for the US and NATO in Afghanistan. However, they have no intention of putting an end to this catastrophe. Most important foreign policy analysis groups and journals – including the Rand Corporation, the Brookings Institution, and Foreign Policy Magazine, have called for a renewed war drive in Afghanistan, by expanding and extending the mission.
An opinion piece by Vanda Felbab-Brown, a senior fellow at Foreign Policy, states, “...strong ground forces cannot compensate for inadequate air support, modern intelligence capabilities, well-functioning logistics (to maintain vehicles and keep essential supplies available), and higher-order assistance for Afghanistan’s still-nascent security institutions. The United States must help fill these critical gaps while maintaining its promises to complete these critical, but unfinished, programs. The United States must also amend the very restrictive rules of engagement that currently limit air support capabilities, and restore intelligence assets that have been withdrawn.”
In other words, the US must expand its ability to carry out airstrikes (which have already killed thousands of Afghans), as well as further its support for the Afghan Army. Afghan forces will remain the cannon fodder, dying in the thousands as they fight the US war against the Taliban and other insurgent groups. In this way, they can continue the war without (they hope) too much outcry from the American public.
What is US/NATO Objective?
Given how costly and unpopular the longest war in American history has been, one might wonder why the US and their NATO allies do not just cut their losses and leave Afghanistan. However, the intention of the West in Afghanistan was never simply to win the war there. In fact, the US and NATO plan to maintain a long-term presence in the country. Speaking to the Washington Post, a senior Pentagon official explained: “What we've learned is that you can't really leave... the local forces need air support, intelligence and help with logistics. They are not going to be ready in three years or five years. You have to be there for a very long time.”
The US does not plan to leave Afghanistan any time soon. It is telling that President Obama's latest troop commitment comes with no set end date. They have also built several large bases and a large embassy in the country, indicating their intention to remain for a long period of time.
In truth, the war in Afghanistan never was about defeating the Taliban or al-Qaeda or establishing human rights in Afghanistan. The primary objective was, and continues to be, the establishment of a base of operations in an important strategic location. As the US and their allies face rising economic competition from growing powers such as China and Russia, they are moving to establish their dominance in many regions of the world in order to maintain control over important trade markets and resource-rich areas. Afghanistan provides the perfect base of operations for US interests in the Middle East and Central Asia.
Troops Out Now!
Make no mistake – although we see few reports of US or NATO soldiers dying in Afghanistan, the war there marches on. It is Afghans – soldiers and civilians alike – who are dying in the tens of thousands each year in this US/NATO war. Afghans are suffering and dying every day as a result of a war which has only engendered terrorism, violence and division and eroded basic human rights and living conditions. This war is not in the interests of Afghans, Americans, Canadians, or the overwhelming majority of people around the world. We must not forget about this ongoing tragedy in Afghanistan. We must demand that all foreign forces leave Afghanistan immediately and let the Afghan people determine the future of their own country.
US/NATO Out of Afghanistan Now!
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