More than a decade and a half has passed since the first US bombs began to rain down on Afghanistan, adding their scars to the lush green valleys and soaring mountain peaks already marred by decades of war.
The US-NATO coalition charged into Afghanistan with promises of liberation and a better life for the Afghan people. This would of course be brought about by the defeat of the Taliban, those terrible rulers who allegedly harboured those responsible for the September 11, 2001 attacks on the World Trade Center.
Like all those would-be conquerors and ‘liberators’ who came before them, however, US and NATO forces found themselves caught in the Afghan trap which is known as ‘the graveyard of empires’. To take control of Afghanistan should have been child’s play for the great might of the United States Army and their allies. The country had no real military to speak of, or even a complex government structure to dismantle. Yet sixteen years later, US-NATO forces have not achieved ‘victory’ in Afghanistan. Various commentators and analysts speculate about the nature of the US-NATO failure in Afghanistan: perhaps there were not enough troops? Was the corruption too rampant, or Afghan society too tribal? Opinions abound, but most miss the mark: Afghans do not want foreign occupiers on their land, or those who would attempt to ‘liberate’ them at gunpoint. Resistance to foreign occupation is in the very bones of the Afghan people, and there can be no victory over a people who will fight until their last breath against foreign invaders.
The US and NATO will never destroy the Afghan resistance. However, they can – and have – destroyed millions of Afghan lives. At least tens of thousands of Afghans have lost their lives in the war. In fact, the number of victims is more likely in the hundreds of thousands, but accurate records have never been kept. These victims leave behind children that will grow up without a mother or father, parents who will never again hear the sweet laughter of their child, brothers and sisters with whom they will never again play.
US air strikes increased by 40% in 2016, the fifteenth year of war. The first half of 2016 saw the highest civilian casualty rate since record-keeping began in 2009, according to UN data. At least 1,601 civilians were killed. Nearly all the deaths – 1,509 of them – were children.
Today, 623,000 Afghans are internally displaced, forced to abandon their homes due to lack of security or ability to find work to feed their families. The United Nations predicts this number will increase by 450,000 in 2017. In addition, the UN expects nearly a million refugees who have been living in Pakistan to be forced to return to Afghanistan later this year. This would leave nearly 10% of the Afghan population without homes.
“The constant stream of displaced families means that a state of continual emergency has become the norm in Afghanistan,” said Danielle Moylan, spokeswoman for the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. Each year, dozens Afghans – mainly children and the elderly – die of exposure in refugee camps during the bitterly cold Afghan winter, adding to the death toll of this brutal war.
Health care in Afghanistan also remains in crisis, with hospitals chronically understaffed and underfunded. A 2014 report by Medcins Sans Frontieres found that one in five Afghans had a close friend or relative who had died within the previous year due to lack of access to medical care.
Women’s health care remains particularly poor, with the maternal mortality rate still one of the highest in the world. The crisis in women’s health is greatly exacerbated by war: many women are forced to starve or go into prostitution to feed their children if their husbands die. Others become opium addicts or attempt suicide in an attempt to escape their desperate conditions. The number of women addicts as well as the number of women who attempt suicide has been rising year over year.
The Afghan education system – which the US government hailed as one of its great ‘successes’ – has been exposed by numerous reports to be a sham. “The few schools that did get up and running were dangerous, ramshackle buildings with fewer students—especially fewer girls—than official records attest,” Bonnie Kristian wrote for Foreign Policy magazine in September 2016. Sixteen years after the US-NATO invasion, ninety percent of women and sixty-three percent of men in Afghanistan’s rural areas still cannot read or write, according to UNESCO.
The facts which point to the utter failure of the US and NATO to bring any sort improvement in human or democratic rights to the country goes on: 81% of Afghans do not have job security, according to government statistics. Unemployment is on the rise; corruption is rampant and fuelled by the US, according to the US’ own Office of the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction.
Even a military victory over the Taliban has failed. The Taliban today control about 40% of Afghanistan, and much of the remainder of the country is in the hands of either local warlords or more dangerous terrorist groups such as ISIS. The country is more of a ‘haven for terrorism’ today than ever.
By every measure of US-NATO ‘goals’ in Afghanistan, this war has been a failure. However, we should not expect a voluntary departure of foreign forces from Afghanistan. While their ‘nation-building’ project may not have established a successful government or a better life for Afghans, it has provided the US government with the ability to maintain a permanent military presence in the country, which will advance their strategic and economic goals in the region. If there is to be an end to this long war, it will be because we the people in the US, Canada and around the world fight for it.
Around the world, the sleeping giant of poor and working people demanding justice has begun to rise. We have many battles to fight, but surely one of those battles must be for the liberation of Afghanistan from foreign occupation. For sixteen long years, the Afghan people have been fighting the very same governments which have been cutting away at our rights and freedoms in our own countries. We owe the Afghan people our active support and struggle against this brutal and unjust war.
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