argues that the antiwar movement needs to respond clearly to the growing focus of U.S. military might on Afghanistan.
ON ONE day in mid-August, Taliban forces in Afghanistan carried out their most serious attack in six years, mounting an all-night strike on a U.S. military base in the eastern province of Khost and a fierce assault on French forces east of the capital.
The Khost offensive targeted one of the largest foreign military bases in the country and was eventually repulsed, but the attack on French forces by 100 Taliban insurgents killed 10 French soldiers and wounded 21 more. Together, the attacks are the latest expression of the growing confidence and competence of the Taliban and the growing ferocity of the fighting in America’s “other war.”
Since the beginning of July, 70 coalition troops have been killed in Afghanistan, compared to just 31 U.S. troops killed in Iraq during the same period. Already this year, 192 NATO troops have been killed in Afghanistan, compared to 232 killed in all of last year, which itself was the deadliest for NATO troops since the war began in 2001.
At the same time, other developments in and around the region–the resignation of Pakistan’s ex-president Gen. Pervez Musharraf and the Russian thrashing of Georgia’s U.S.-backed military–have illustrated starkly that a new balance of power is taking shape, dealing a setback to U.S. ambitions.
This makes the stakes for the U.S. in Afghanistan higher than ever–and simultaneously places new demands on the U.S. antiwar movement.
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SINCE 2003, the antiwar movement has anchored itself in opposition to the U.S. war on Iraq, which was generally understood as a “war of choice” undertaken by the Bush administration. But the movement has been at best muted in its criticism–and at worst actually supportive–of the U.S. war on Afghanistan as a “legitimate” targeting of al-Qaeda’s Osama bin Laden following the September 11, 2001, attacks.
But in fact, the U.S. didn’t invade Afghanistan to “bring the perpetrators of 9/11 to justice” or to “liberate Afghan women from the Taliban.”
In truth, the U.S. had long sought an accommodation with the Taliban. As one U.S. diplomat put it in 1997, “The Taliban will probably develop like the Saudis. There will be Aramco [the oil consortium], pipelines, an emir, no parliament and lots of Sharia law. We can live with that.”
From the time that it took office, the Bush administration had been negotiating with the Taliban to enlist it as a regime friendly to U.S. interests and able to provide a bulwark against Russian and Chinese influence. At one point in negotiations, U.S. representatives tired of the slow pace and threatened Taliban officials, saying “either you accept our offer of a carpet of gold, or we bury you under a carpet of bombs,” according to a book by Jean-Charles Brisard and Guillaume Dasquie.
When the 9/11 attacks happened, it became the perfect rationale for imperial aggression that the U.S. had already contemplated.
The material and geopolitical interests that underpinned the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan are the subject of increasingly blunt discussions within the foreign policy establishment.
As Richard Holbrooke, U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations from 1999 to 2001, wrote in the most recent issue of Foreign Affairs:
As the war enters its eighth year, Americans should be told the truth: it will last a long time–longer than the United States’ longest war to date, the 14-year conflict (1961-75) in Vietnam. Success will require new policies with regard to four major problem areas: the tribal areas in Pakistan, the drug lords who dominate the Afghan system, the national police, and the incompetence and corruption of the Afghan government.
An August 21 New York Times editorial makes the case even more plainly:
More American ground troops will have to be sent to Afghanistan. The Pentagon’s over-reliance on air strikes– which have led to high levels of civilian casualties–has dangerously antagonized the Afghan population. This may require an accelerated timetable for shifting American forces from Iraq, where the security situation has grown somewhat less desperate.
NATO also needs to step up its military effort. With Russia threatening to redraw the post-Soviet map of Europe, this is not time for NATO to forfeit its military credibility by losing a war. Europe does not have a lot of available ground troops either. But it needs to send its best ones to Afghanistan and let them fight.
Afghanistan’s war is not a sideshow…Washington, NATO and the governments of Pakistan and Afghanistan must stop fighting it like a holding action and develop a strategy to win. Otherwise, we will all lose.
Presidential candidate Barack Obama is already promising to implement precisely this plan, calling himself a “strong supporter of the war in Afghanistan” and pledging to withdraw forces from Iraq in order to send at least two additional combat brigades to Afghanistan.