U.S. Occupation Faltering in Afghanistan
2009 started off poorly for U.S. and NATO forces occupying Afghanistan. Shortly after the U.S. military invaded and occupied Afghanistan in October 2001, Fight Back! reported, “No one wants their country occupied by foreign powers. So, the people of Afghanistan will mount a resistance. Its scope and power remain to be seen, but it will certainly be a factor.” (Afghanistan Occupied, New Targets Ahead, Winter 2002, Fight Back!)
It is now safe to say that the resistance to the occupation has become the decisive factor in the Afghanistan war. A powerful resistance movement, with broad support from the people of Afghanistan, controls 72% of Afghanistan and carries out heavy or substantial activity in 93% of the country (The Struggle for Kabul: The Taliban Advance, International Council on Security and Development, December 2008). U.S. and NATO troops no longer control events in the country. It is resistance forces that decide when, where and how to engage in combat with the occupier.
Supply route cut
At the end of December 2008, U.S. and Pakistani security forces mounted a major operation to secure the Khyber Pass, a critical transit point that runs between Afghanistan and Pakistan. The Khyber Pass is the source of 80% of supplies used by U.S. and NATO forces and the Afghan resistance has indicated that one of its strategic objectives is to cut off occupying forces from this supply route. Just days before the operation began, Afghan insurgents stormed a supply depot in Peshawar, Pakistan, where the transit route through the Kyber Pass begins. Without firing a single shot, they overpowered the security forces and destroyed around 300 cargo trucks, Humvees, and other military equipment destined for the occupier’s use.
Within days of the operation beginning, more than 70 people had been arrested by the Pakistani security forces, while two children and a woman were killed by an artillery shell launched by the Pakistani army. In addition, 45 homes were destroyed by Pakistani troops on “orders to dynamite or bulldoze homes belonging to men suspected of harboring or supporting Taliban militants or carrying out other illegal activities,” (Pakistan Briefly Reopens Key NATO Supply Route, New York Times, 1/03/08). Four weeks later, the security operation was still ongoing. On Jan. 18, the Pakistani army and “paramilitary troops, backed by artillery, tanks and helicopter gunships” were reported to have killed 60 fighters for the Taliban in Mohmand Agency, a department near the Khyber Pass (U.S. Secures New Supply Routes to Afghanistan, New York Times, 1/21/08). There was no report of casualties suffered by Pakistani or NATO forces.
On Jan. 19, General David Petraeus, now responsible for U.S. Central Command, announced that NATO had secured agreements with Russia and neighboring Central Asian countries to supply arms, fuel and supplies to occupying forces from the northern borders of Afghanistan – the southern and eastern provinces of the country now being completely under the control of guerrilla forces (U.S. to Be Allowed New Routes To Supply Troops in Afghanistan, Washington Post, 1/21/09).
Corruption in Puppet Government
The deteriorating state of security for the occupation forces is made much worse by high levels of corruption in the Afghan state. Dexter Filkins, a journalist for the New York Times, gave the following description of the current state of affairs:
“Kept afloat by billions of dollars in American and other foreign aid, the government of Afghanistan is shot through with corruption and graft. From the lowliest traffic policeman to the family of President Hamid Karzai himself, the state built on the ruins of the Taliban government seven years ago now often seems to exist for little more than the enrichment of those who run it.” (Bribes Corrode Afghans’ Trust in Government, New York Times, 1/01/08).
In the same article, Ashraf Ghani, the former finance minister of Afghanistan who quit in 2004 in protest of the rampant corruption, is quoted as saying, “This government has lost the capacity to govern because a shadow government has taken over. [...] The narco-mafia state is now completely consolidated.”
In fact, opium production is at an all-time high, more than triple what it was while the Taliban ruled Afghanistan. While it is commonly asserted that the opium trade is the main income for the insurgency, the above mentioned quotations from the former finance minister illustrate the reality of government involvement in, and massive profiteering from, opium production. As even President Hamid Karzai was forced to acknowledge in late 2008, “All the politicians in this country have acquired everything – money, lots of money. God knows, it is beyond the limit. The banks of the world are full of the money of our statesmen.” (Bribes Corrode Afghans’ Trust in Government, New York Times, 1/01/08).
The resistance to the occupation of Afghanistan is intensifying. 2008 was the deadliest year for U.S. and NATO forces, and it seems certain that 2009 will be even worse. 293 soldiers were killed in Afghanistan last year, among them 155 U.S. soldiers, which is an increase from 237 in 2007.
On Dec. 31, 2008, Taliban fighters attacked the office of Abdul Salam, a former resistance commander who defected to the side of the occupation and became a local political leader in the western town of Musa Qala. 32 Afghan police were killed in the attack, along with two Taliban fighters. One week later, on Jan. 9 and 10, five U.S. soldiers and several Afghan policemen were killed in a series of bombing attacks by Afghan insurgents. That same weekend, a huge cross-border raid took place, with hundreds of Afghan guerrilla fighters crossing over into Pakistan to attack a paramilitary base used for counter-insurgency warfare. It was reported that 40 guerrillas and six Pakistani soldiers were killed in the fighting (46 Die in Taliban Attack on Pakistani Troops, New York Times, 1/11/09).
On Jan. 15, General Fazel Ahmad Sayar was killed, along with twelve other military personnel when their helicopter crashed in the western province of Herat. The general was one of Afghanistan’s most senior military officials. The Taliban claim to have shot down the helicopter while the U.S.-backed government in Kabul says it crashed due to bad weather.
The next day, a series of attacks targeted U.S. forces across the country. In Kabul, a suicide bomber killed one American soldier and several civilians in a heavily guarded diplomatic zone of the capital. 26 others were wounded, including six U.S. service members. (Suicide Blast Kills 5 in Afghanistan, New York Times, 1/17/09). Another U.S. soldier died when insurgents shot down a helicopter in the northeast of the country. The Taliban also carried out another suicide bombing against a joint Afghan police and U.S. military convoy. The bombing injured several Afghan policeman and killed one Afghan policeman. Two days later, on Jan. 18, the Afghan resistance carried out three bombing attacks against police and military targets in the eastern town of Khost, near the border with Pakistan (Three Attacks Hit Eastern Afghan Town, New York Times, 1/19/09).
In light of the intensified levels of attacks against U.S. forces, Defense Secretary Robert Gates ordered Jan. 27 that the number of helicopters assigned to medical evacuation be increased by a factor of 25%.
All the above is but a small sample of what is taking place on a daily basis in occupied Afghanistan. It is clear that the U.S. occupation is faltering. As the New York Times reported on Jan. 21:
“The commanders here call the current situation ‘stalemate,’ meaning they can hold what they have but cannot do much else. Of the 20,000 British, American and other troops here, only roughly 300 – a group of British Royal Marines – can be moved around the region to strike the Taliban. All the other units must stay where they are, lest the area they hold slip from their grasp.” (Taliban Fill NATO’s Big Gaps in Afghan South, New York Times, 1/21/09).
To fight a guerrilla war successfully, the insurgents have to stay close to the people. There is no other way to overpower a militarily superior force. This is precisely what the Taliban and other Afghan resistance groups have succeeded in doing. Afghans who still have a favorable view of the occupying forces find it increasingly difficult to uphold the occupation, when every week brings news of more civilians massacred by U.S. and NATO forces. For example, on Jan. 25, several hundred Afghans protested in Laghman Province over the deaths of 16 civilians – among them two women and three children – at the hands of the U.S. military. The U.S.-backed president of Afghanistan, Hamid Karzai, denounced the nighttime raid and demanded that U.S. forces coordinate their activities with local Afghan security forces. Even the speaker of the Senate, Sebaghatullah Mojadeddi, was reported to have warned that “if more care was not taken, the nation could rise up against the foreign troop presence here..” (From Hospital, Afghans Rebut U.S. Account, New York Times, 1/25/09). Lutfullah Mashal, a U.S.-backed governor of the province where the massacre occurred, summed up the situation perfectly: “The people are angry with us. Unless the international community, and especially military forces, coordinate with us, we are not going to win this war, because to win the war is to win the hearts and minds of the people, and then you can beat the enemy.”
The fact is, no occupation can ever win over the ‘hearts and minds’ of an occupied people, and only those who dream of empire would think otherwise. Each massacre of Afghan civilians will provoke more Afghans to join the fight against the occupying forces, while the puppet government put in place to help pacify the population is crumbling under the astonishing levels of corruption and negligence.
The U.S. invaded and occupied Afghanistan for its natural resources and its strategic location. The U.S. army is not fighting a just cause, while the Afghan people are waging a heroic fight for independence and liberation. The U.S. likes to pretend that it is defending the Afghan people from the backwards Taliban. It is true that there are problems in Afghan society. But only the people of Afghanistan know how to solve them and move their society forward. The best solution is for the United States and NATO forces to leave Afghanistan to its people and to end the occupation now.