The number of Afghans civilians killed or wounded in 2015 passed 11,000, making 2015 the deadliest year since the US/NATO occupation of the country began in 2001. Tragically, one in four of those killed or wounded was a child. Despite ongoing promises by US President Barack Obama and other NATO leaders of increasing security in the country, the number of civilian casualties rises year after year. Afghanistan also has one of the world’s highest refugee populations, with 2.6 million Afghans – 10% of the country’s population – forced to flee their homes.
The US alone has spent over $65 billion on supporting the Afghan National Security Forces, according to the office of the Special Inspector General for Afghan Reconstruction (SIGAR). Despite this hefty investment, however, the security situation has greatly deteriorated since 2001. After the overthrow of the Taliban government, the US and NATO promised to usher in a new era of democracy, peace, and security. At first, many Afghans and those watching from abroad were hopeful that Afghanistan would indeed be facing a brighter future. However, it soon became obvious that the US/NATO occupation of the country would bring nothing but more hardship to Afghan people.
Difficult as life was under the Taliban, the country remained at least relatively stable. Today, the US/NATO backed Afghan government holds little real power outside of Kabul. Much of the country is controlled by warlords, drug traffickers, the Taliban, or even ISIS. Afghan civilians are caught both in the literal and political crossfire between these groups and US or Afghan government forces.
While from the comfort of our homes we read news about the battle of the ‘good’ Afghan government and US forces versus the ‘bad’ insurgent and Islamist groups in the country, reality on the ground is a different story. Those at the highest levels of the Afghan government maintain ties to some of the most brutal and vicious warlords in the country. Both Afghan and US forces have been involved in well-known incidents of torture, murder, and disappearances. Afghans often face torture or threats against their lives or their families from both sides for co-operating with – or even just tolerating - the other. Afghans went from contending with a repressive government to contending with a complex web of deadly forces between which they must tread carefully.
The Rise of Daesh in Afghanistan
Amidst the chaos and instability which has taken hold of Afghanistan since 2001, a new, deadly force has come to rise in Afghanistan: Daesh, also known as ISIS. Condemned even by the Taliban for their brutality, they have taken hold of certain districts in both Kunar and Nangahar provinces. Western media has for the most part downplayed the role of Daesh in Afghanistan, but a Frontline report by Afghan journalist Najibullah Quraishi revealed the totality of control they have in some districts – collecting taxes, providing security, and running local schools.
Some analysts have dismissed the idea of Daesh gaining any kind of real foothold in Afghanistan, where resistance to the foreign occupation is based more on a desire for national independence and self-determination than on a desire to establish an Islamic state. However, the handsome salaries which the well-funded Daesh pays to its fighters may convince many to join them in a country where employment of any kind is hard to find.
Failure to Provide Basic Human Security
Over the past decade and a half of war, foreign forces have utterly failed to provide or protect basic human security in Afghanistan. Although what exactly defines ‘human security’ is a subject of debate, in general it is an acknowledgement that any nation – and indeed, the world – cannot be secure when people are living in poverty or lack basic education, health, and human rights. The Human Security Report Project explains that “at a minimum, human security means freedom from violence and from the fear of violence”.
Today, Afghans live daily with the fear of violence. A recent poll by the Asia Foundation found that 67% of Afghans “always, often, or sometimes fear for their safety”. In addition, the lives of many Afghans are threatened daily by poverty and the lack of basic necessities of life. Seventy three percent of the country lives without access to improved drinking water sources, and 95% lack access to basic sanitation facilities (HydrateLife, 2012). These two factors alone mean that many die from easily preventable illnesses. More than half the population lives in poverty, according to the World Food Program. As a result, many families do not have adequate shelter or enough food to eat. Tens of thousands of children are forced into often-backbreaking work at a young age in order to support their families – especially when older male relatives have been killed or injured in conflict. Many will never get a chance at an education which could improve their lives. Widespread poverty has also fueled the rise of the drug trade, and with it, further insecurity.
This is the tragic story of Afghanistan – but it was not the inevitable one. The bleak situation facing Afghans today has not always existed, but is the result of more than three decades of war in the country. In fact, if the US and NATO truly wanted to establish peace, security, and democracy in the country they could have gone about it in a much more humane and even less costly way: by increasing human security. This would mean sending aid rather than bombs, building schools rather than military bases, and in general helping Afghans to rebuild their country in a way which truly served Afghan interests. While the US may claim to be building schools, hospitals, and infrastructure, many of these projects are inadequate, unfinished, or rife with corruption, as we have reported in previous issues of Fire This Time.
Why Aren't Foreign Forces Improving Security?
The importance of eradicating poverty and providing jobs and education in combating crime, protecting the security of a country, and even preventing terrorism has been widely acknowledged. Why, then, have the US and their NATO allies sunk hundreds of billions of dollars into the war in Afghanistan – a war which has not only cost tens of thousands of lives, but has opened the country up to even more deadly terrorist organizations such as Daesh?
This is not a matter of a blunder or mistake on the part of the US and NATO. Perhaps, like many foreign militaries before them, they did underestimate the power of the Afghan people to resist foreign intervention. However, the real problem is that peace and security is not the endgame of the US in Afghanistan. It is not for the sake of the Afghan people that this war has become the longest in US history. The real purpose of the US in Afghanistan is to maintain a long-term presence - essentially using the country as a giant military base. Continued instability can be used to justify wasting billions more dollars - and thousands more lives.
For thousands of years, Afghans have been victims of their country’s important geographical location. Known as the 'rooftop of the world', Afghanistan is positioned perfectly between Europe, the Middle East and Asia. This has made the country into an important trade and military outpost. The crisis of the global capitalist economy today has created an ever more heated battle between the old power of the US and their allies and rising powers such as China and Russia. The US sees Afghanistan as a critical base of operations for expanding their influence and control throughout the region.
The US has built a large embassy in Afghanistan, as well as several large military bases. They have invested in roads and other critical infrastructure around these bases. They have supported a government of known warlords who will do their bidding. They have not invested in real security or basic necessities for Afghans because a healthy, educated population of Afghans is not what the US wants. Afghans have a long and proud history of resisting foreign intervention. With access to basic necessities and education, Afghans could indeed build a secure and peaceful country - but it would be unlikely to be a country which would allow the US unfettered access and control over it. One of the greatest blows for US imperialism would be for Afghanistan to become an secure and prosperous country with an independent foreign policy - much like their neighbour, Iran, which has become relatively an example of what an independent developing country can achieve for its people.
The Real Solution: Foreign Troops Out Now!
The US and NATO have proven beyond a shadow of doubt that they have no interest in building a more secure, stable, or prosperous Afghanistan. The only solution to the security crisis in Afghanistan is for foreign forces which are supporting some of the most brutal and antidemocratic elements in the country to leave immediately. The way forward for Afghans will certainly not be an easy one - but at the very least they will not be battling warlords and drug lords supported by one of the wealthiest countries in the world, as well as ongoing bombings and nighttime raids on their homes by foreign forces.
Instead, of course, US President Barack Obama has once again extended the US mission in Afghanistan, rather than pulling troops out of the country by the end of his presidency as promised. This will not bring security to Afghanistan, but result instead in more senseless and tragic deaths, and further tear the country apart.
If we want to see peace in Afghanistan, we must echo the Afghan people in their demands for independence and an immediate end to the US/NATO occupation of their homeland.
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