by Katrina Plotz, Anti-War Committee member
Read the article at twincities.indymedia.org
Barack Obama benefitted from widespread anti-war sentiment when he won the 2008 presidential election. Yet, he launched an escalation of the war in Afghanistan soon after taking office. In February 2009, Obama ordered an additional 17,000 combat troops to Afghanistan, more than doubling the size of the U.S. occupation. That deployment raised the level of U.S. troops in Afghanistan to 55,000. This Tuesday, December 2, Obama is expected to announce plans to send 34,000 additional troops to Afghanistan. Ironically, this announcement will come less than 2 months after Obama was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.
Read on for more about the likely impact of the troop surge, the history of U.S. intervention in Afghanistan, and the current reality in a nation referred to as “the place where empires go to die.”
Who are the “extremists?”
In his Cairo “address to the Muslim world,” Obama referred to the occupation of Iraq as a “war of choice, unlike the war in Afghanistan.” He wants to convince Americans that while Iraq may have been the wrong war, Afghanistan is the right one and is necessary to defeat “violent extremists.” But who are they? The U.S. media tend to broadly refer to Afghan insurgents as the Taliban. But according to Adnand Gopal, Afghanistan correspondent for the Christian Science Monitor, there are at least 3-4 groups fighting the U.S. occupation with varied goals in mind. Some envision global struggle. Others focus their fight within the borders of Afghanistan. Ironically, multiple groups who are now fighting Americans in Afghanistan were once trained and armed by the United States.
History of U.S. intervention
The U.S. government has a long history of intervention in Afghanistan that contributed to the rise of the same “Islamic fundamentalism” it now considers an enemy. In 1978, the People’s Democratic Party of Afghanistan (PDPA) came to power. The PDPA believed in land reform that favored peasants and trade unionists, an expansion of education and social services, equality for women, and the separation of church and state. Such policies enraged wealthy landlords and religious fundamentalists who began organizing resistance to the government’s policies, in the name of defending Islam. They became known as the Mujahideen.
Amidst an internal power struggle within the PDPA, Soviet troops entered the country to prevent the new government from collapsing. Fearing the spread of Soviet influence, the U.S. immediately offered support to the Mujahideen. With the help of U.S. funding and weapons, and direct training from the CIA, the Mujahideen were eventually victorious. When they took over, women’s rights were denied and other freedoms repressed.
When the U.S. attacked Afghanistan in the fall of 2001, the image of American liberators freeing Afghan women from the clutches Taliban fit right in with “War on Terror” rhetoric. In fact, Afghan citizens lost many rights much earlier under the like-minded Mujahideen, who the U.S. had a direct role in bringing to power.
U.S. occupation fuels the current insurgency
After the September 11th attacks, the U.S. military swiftly defeated the Taliban who controlled the government of Afghanistan in 2001. Untold numbers of civilians were killed in the process. Today, U.S.-backed President Hamid Karzai’s government is notoriously corrupt and only controls about 10% of the land in Afghanistan. Once scattered and depleted, the Taliban is back and is benefiting from increasing support among the Afghan population. After years of broken promises from the U.S. occupation and the Afghan government, the Taliban re-emerged on a platform of law and order, security, and a promise to fight foreign invaders. Overall insurgent attacks on foreign troops increased 59% in the first 5 months of 2009, compared with attacks on coalition forces during the same period in 2008. Though linguistically and ethnically diverse, the Afghan people have a shared history of resistance to foreign intervention. And while political opinions may differ sharply, nearly all Afghans can be united in outrage at violations of their sovereignty and civilian casualties at the hands of U.S. soldiers.
Increase in civilian deaths, refugees, violations of international law
Just like in Iraq, the supposed goal of the troop surge is to increase “security.” But as the number of American troops in Afghanistan increases, more civilians die. In April, 2009 the United Nations reported that civilian casualties in Afghanistan jumped by 40% last year as violence soared to its worst levels since 2001. The UN also said that U.S. troops were responsible for at least 60% of the 2,100 civilian deaths that were reported. A recent example took place on May 3, 2009 when U.S. air strikes killed 140 civilians in western Afghanistan. It was the single deadliest attack on civilians by U.S. troops since the invasion began in 2001. Accurate numbers of civilian deaths are difficult to calculate because so many deaths go unreported.
Besides the increase in civilian deaths, the latest escalation of the war is forcing people from their homes with their basic needs unmet. Over a year ago, the Red Cross warned of a growing humanitarian crisis fueled by an unknown number of people displaced from their homes. Aid officials say they have less access to Afghan’s internal refugees today than at any time in nearly three decades. The Red Cross says the U.S. and NATO’s emphasis on military action has overshadowed major humanitarian needs.
In early September of this year, the aid agency Swedish Committee for Afghanistan reported that U.S. soldiers raided one of their hospitals, broke down doors, and tied up visitors and hospital staff while frantically searching for wounded Taliban fighters. Dr. Anders Fange called the incident a “clear violation of globally recognized humanitarian principles about the sanctity of health facilities and staff in areas of conflict.” Independent journalist Dahr Jamail called it “another sign that when a desperate conventional military is losing a guerilla war, they tend to throw international law out the window.” Even more so when the entire occupation itself is a violation of international law. Marjorie Cohn, president of the National Lawyers Guild is very clear about the overall illegality of the invasion and ongoing occupation of Afghanistan.
“The UN Charter is a treaty ratified by the United States and thus part of U.S. law. Under the charter, a country can use armed force against another country only in self-defense or when the Security Council approves. Neither of those conditions was met before the United States invaded Afghanistan. The Taliban did not attack us on 9/11. Nineteen men – 15 from Saudi Arabia – did, and there was no imminent threat that Afghanistan would attack the U.S. The council did not authorize the United States or any other country to use military force against Afghanistan. The US war in Afghanistan is illegal.”
More U.S. troops are dying
This spring, U.S. commanders warned that troop deaths would likely increase during the summer and they did. August 2009 saw a record number of U.S. troops killed in Afghanistan with 51. Al Jazeera reported that as of September 25, 371 foreign troops had been killed in Afghanistan so far in 2009, compared to 294 killed in all of 2008. October then became the deadliest month of the 8-year-old war for U.S. troops when 55 Americans were killed. Obama’s plan to send 34,000 more troops into Afghanistan will likely result in even higher monthly death tolls for U.S. forces.
Majority oppose the war in Afghanistan
In August, a Washington Post reported that 53% of Americans polled said the war in Afghanistan was “not worth fighting.” Only 24% favored an increase of U.S. troops, while 46% favored a troop decrease. Organizers hope this anti-war sentiment will spark large turnouts at this week’s anti-war actions. They hope Americans realize that the U.S. occupations of Afghanistan and Iraq have nothing to do with security or human rights. A statement from the Iraq Peace Action Coalition asserts that “the war has always been about U.S. control of the emerging markets in Asia and the Middle East, especially oil and gas resources.” At an October 17th anti-war demonstration, activists with Direct Action to Stop War and Occupation urged people to raise the level of resistance to U.S. wars. “We must demonstrate that we will not remain obedient and law-abiding while our country commits endless war crimes for the profit of the few,” they said.