December 2 – The quiet before dawn in Jalalabad, Afghanistan was broken by the thunder of bombs and gunfire as a group of Afghan militants attacked the joint US-Afghan air base in the city. The attack was the latest in a series of offensives by the Taliban and other forces this year which have targeted some of the most heavily armed fortresses of the US/NATO forces and the Afghan government. This year alone, there have been assaults on the Afghan Defence Ministry in Kabul and on several major US bases, including an attack on Camp Bastion in Helmand province which killed a Marine colonel and destroyed six US fighter jets – the largest loss of US combat aircraft since the Vietnam war. Although in this latest ambush the attackers did not succeed in entering the base, it was a reminder of the strength of the Taliban and other Afghan rebel forces, and that, despite claims to the contrary, the US and their NATO allies are not winning the war there.
A Social Catastrophe
Since October 7, 2001, the US and NATO have waged war on Afghanistan. It has of course, been called a war against the Taliban, a war against terrorism, and a war to bring freedom and democracy to the Afghan people. Rather than a better country, though, Afghans are today more than ever living in a homeland plagued by social degeneration.
The plight of Afghanistan's internally displaced people – refugees in their own country – highlights the social catastrophe which Afghans face. Many refugees dread the freezing temperatures of the coming winter, when many people, most of them children and elders, will die of hunger and exposure. French aid agency Solidarités International estimates that 100 children died in the refugee camps around Kabul alone last winter.
Rather than creating homes and a better life for those in need, the occupation of Afghanistan has forced many out of their homes and into refugee camps. Many of those in the camps were pushed out of their homes in the fighting between the Taliban and foreign forces. Others have been forced to abandon their homes in search of work or pushed off their land by Afghanistan's powerful warlords.
On the other hand, education is one of the so-called success stories of foreign troops in Afghanistan. Indeed, it is an important goal in a country where the male literacy rate is 43% and woman’s literacy is just 13% (UNESCO). USAID claims that they have “built or refurbished” 680 schools in Afghanistan and trained more than 53,000 teachers; however, Afghan accounts reveal that many of these schools provide little actual education. Radio Free Afghanistan, a division of Radio Free Europe, reports that they have received complaints from students and parents across the country that they are learning nothing in schools. Despite attending a refugee camp school in Kabul for years, 15-year-old Sheila has yet to learn how to write her own name. “I am supposed to study the Koran, Dari, mathematics, Pashto, the English language – altogether I am enrolled in eleven subjects,” she said in an interview with RFE. “But there are no lessons at my school because the teachers come for just a few minutes. Then they leave. So we sit there doing nothing.”
The Afghan government also funds teacher-training seminars in provincial areas. But some who have attended those seminars say precious money is being wasted. One middle-school science teacher in Konduz Province, who did not want to be named, tells RFE/RL that an Afghan-funded seminar now under way in Konduz began this month with much fanfare but deteriorated into a useless exercise when it was time to focus on training teachers. "There are no instructors there to train teachers. There are no books or teaching materials or laboratory equipment that is so important for teaching science -- like microscopes," the teacher says. "I assume that a lot of money was spent on this seminar. But there is nothing here. This will not bring good results." Yunis, the father of two boys who attend an Afghan public school in the northeastern province of Takhar, has a similar story. "My complaint is about the entire education system in Afghanistan -- the teachers, the administrators, and the government. We send our sons to school but they aren't learning anything in first or second grade, or even by the 12th grade," he says. "Even students in the 12th grade are unable to write their names. The Education Ministry is paying the teachers a salary but the children are learning nothing." (Source of this paragraph: rawa.org)
A Security Catastrophe
As well, the general lack of security in the country has forced many schools to close or prevented students, especially girls, from attending. And for many destitute Afghan families, their survival comes before the children attending school. Often, even children as young as five must work to feed their families. Without resolving these most basic human rights issues, education for Afghans will not be possible.
Of course, one could argue that change in Afghanistan will take time, and that the corruption and lack of security in the country must be addressed for improvements to be made. This is true; however, the idea that foreign troops will solve any of these problems is a bald-faced lie.
Fighting between NATO troops and the Taliban has created widespread instability. In many areas, warlords with powerful allies in the Afghan government have been armed and given authority to rule as they see fit, designated as the Afghan Local Police. Corruption in the Afghan government, heavily supported by the US and NATO, is legendary as well. All of these factors hinder rather than support the delivery of aid to the country and the improvement of Afghan lives.
While the US and NATO can cite billions of dollars in aid handed to Afghanistan over the last decade, the reality is that these efforts are a tiny drop in the bucket of overall military spending. They are designed more to provide PR for a war which is increasingly unpopular both within Afghanistan and the US -and here in Canada- than to actually help Afghans. For example, the budget for USAID in Afghanistan for 2011 was $2.05 billion, with just $300 million spent on health and education (and none on refugee assistance). Six hundred and seventy-eight million dollars was spent on roads and power, amenities which are of as much importance to US forces as to Afghans. With the US war effort alone costing $10.5 billion per month according to 2012 budget figures, the entire USAID Afghanistan budget for a year is equivalent to what the US military spends in less than a week in the country.
A Moral Catastrophe
There are hundreds, if not thousands of ways to describe the lack of moral integrity demonstrated by foreign forces in Afghanistan, from their very presence in the country, to the humiliating and murderous “night raids” on Afghan villages, to the bombings of weddings and other celebrations. In the past two years, however, we have seen some of the most heinous and inhuman acts committed by US forces against Afghan people. In July 2011, US soldiers were videotaped urinating on the bodies of Taliban militants. Then in March, the horrifying news came of Sergeant Robert Bales attacking and murdering in cold blood 17 Afghan civilians, mostly women and children.
Disturbingly but perhaps not surprisingly, an Afghan parliamentary investigative team found that Sergeant Bales was not the only soldier involved in the atrocity. After speaking to survivors of the attack and reviewing evidence, the commission concluded that Bales did not act alone. Afghan children who were witnesses to the massacre stated that between 15 and 20 soldiers were involved.
Then just a week ago came a report from the Afghanistan Information Network that US forces had raped several women during a night raid on a village in the Chahar Bolak district of Balkh province. Locals who reported the crimes did not want to disclose the name of the village, as they said they had been threatened with retribution if they reported the incident.
While horrific acts like these have surfaced more frequently on the nightly news, the vast majority of incidents like these likely go unreported for fear of retribution. Particularly in cases of rape, it is likely that many Afghan women would not come forward, since they could be punished or jailed for adultery.
The Pentagon tries to dismiss these crimes as the work of a few “bad apples”, but the reality is that rape, slaughter and other acts of violence are institutionalized within US and other foreign military in Afghanistan. Just like night raids on villages, they are used as weapons to instil fear and compliance in the civilian population.
A Military Catastrophe
After more than a decade of war and the loss of tens of thousands of lives, both of Afghan civilians and foreign forces, there is little that US and NATO forces can claim to have achieved – even by their own benchmarks. As noted previously, the task of helping Afghans create a better country has been a disaster. Only the wealthy elite in Afghanistan have truly benefited from the occupation. Women's rights, a long-stated goal of foreign forces, have deteriorated as living conditions have deteriorated – and they are constantly violated by the US' own soldiers. We have seen that there is a complete lack of will to truly improve the lives of Afghans.
However, even in areas which are of strategic military importance to the US and NATO, their project has failed abysmally. The US, along with other NATO allies have been striving to build an Afghan National Police force and the Afghan National Army with the goal of handing over much of the military responsibility in the country to an obedient and well-trained ally. However, the project is not only failing, it is backfiring. Despite the high unemployment rates in the country, the Afghan National Army has to replace a third of its force every year, according to the New York Times. Desertion, defection and low re-enlistment rates are major causes.
The problems don't end with enlistment, however. Members of the Army and police are killed at an alarming rate – more than 300 a month, according to the Afghan Defence Ministry. As well, many recruits have been turning their guns on foreign forces. This year alone, more than 60 US and NATO troops have been killed in attacks by member of the Afghan Army or National Police.
Catastrophic Negotiations with the Taliban
For the last decade, we have heard a constant stream of news decrying the Taliban as the enemies of America, the West and the Afghan people. Yet today the US is officially engaged in peace talks with the Taliban. As the New York Times put it in an October 4 article, “American military commanders long ago concluded that the Afghan war could only end in a negotiated settlement with the Taliban, not a military victory.”
After so many years of decrying the Taliban's human rights abuses, the US administration is now willing to allow the Taliban control of some areas of the country as well as a role in the Afghan government – so long as they agree to play by the US' terms.
Occupation Phase II: US “Troop Withdrawal”
After more than a decade of war, US and NATO troops are finally supposed to withdraw in 2014 – at least that is what the US government is calling the planned removal of tens of thousands of troops from the country. However, in reality, several thousand US Army troops will remain in the country, along with around 100,000 private “defence contractors” - companies like Xe (formerly Blackwater) that do the work of US Army forces with almost zero accountability. Estimates at the numbers of Army troops needed to remain range from 10,000 to 30,000, with the higher number being favoured by some long-time Afghanistan policy advisers.
The US, Canada and NATO, are facing a quagmire in Afghanistan. There are increasing demands for a total troop withdrawal from within the United States, Afghanistan and from people internationally. At the same time, they have been unable to defeat the Taliban. Yet if they withdraw all troops and let Afghans determine their own future, there is every possibility that Afghanistan will not become the country that the US and NATO want: an ally and a puppet which can provide a base for US and NATO interests in the Middle East, South and Central Asia.
The US, Canada, and NATO have decided instead to try to pull the wool over the eyes of both Afghans and their own citizens by staging a “troop withdrawal” while in fact maintaining a strong military presence in the country. The continued deployment of foreign troops to Afghanistan is not being decided by whether the presence of those troops has benefited Afghans; it is decided by whether the presence of those troops has benefited the US and NATO's immediate and strategic interests in the whole region.
Afghans Say: Occupiers Out Now!
On November 26, hundreds of students at Jalalabad University protested the death sentence handed to an Afghan soldier, Abdul Saboor, who killed 5 French soldiers during a joint operation in Kapisa province in January. The Guardian writes, “The Americans and British are killing a lot of Afghan civilians and none of them are going to be hanged. So if an Afghan kills, why should he be executed, this is the biggest question for us," said Mirwais Ghayour, a 30-year-old engineering student who helped organize the protest. But their anger was directed at Kabul as well as foreign forces; they burned a US flag and shouted "down with the government", and Ghayour warned there would be a "serious reaction" if the execution went ahead."
This protest against foreign troops and their Afghan puppet government was one of many thousands that have occurred at Jalalabad University and across Afghanistan over the last twelve years. It is a reminder that it is not only the Taliban who are fighting against foreign troops in Afghanistan, but the whole population of this occupied country. Uncertain as they may be about the country's future, Afghans all across the country are sure of one thing: foreign troops are not improving their homeland.
The problems of Afghanistan cannot be solved overnight. It is a society suffering from poverty and divisions created by decades of incessant war. The country may indeed be confronted with many difficult challenges and descend into different chaos as it is right now if foreign troops leave. However, amid the challenges, Afghans would also have the opportunity to build a country truly of their own, not one that serves foreign masters. The last decade has proved above all that peace, prosperity and a way forward for Afghans will not be brought by foreign troops, war and occupation. It's long overdue to leave Afghanistan to the Afghan people. US, UK, Canada and NATO out of Afghanistan now!
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