From A World to Win News Service

NATO Takes Command of Occupation Forces in Afghanistan

Revolutionary Worker #1214, October 5, 2003, posted at

September 1, 2003. A World to Win News Service . NATO has taken over command of the occupation troops in Kabul, Afghanistan. This is the first time that NATO troops have been sent to fight outside Europe and also the first time they have been given a counterinsurgency mission. That is an important change.

The U.S. has been the main occupying power in Afghanistan since it invaded in 2001. It seized overall authority in the country, with about 9,000 troops (along with about 3,000 British troops) operating in areas outside the capital. Kabul, however, has been occupied by a multinational unit called the ISAF (International Security Assistance Force). Until now, command of the ISAF has rotated among the participating countries, most recently Germany and the Netherlands jointly. Commanders left the country after a six-month tour of duty. Putting NATO in charge is supposed to provide continuity in military leadership and increase the troops' fighting effectiveness.

The move came in August, which saw the most widespread fighting since shortly after the invasion. Dozens of people were killed in clashes in the southern and eastern parts of the country. In the first part of the month, a U.S. base in southeastern Zormat was hit by rocket fire; elsewhere in the region an American soldier was killed. As August drew to a close, U.S. and local warlord troops were fighting some of the most intense battles in many months in southern Zorbal province and near Afghanistan's eastern border with Pakistan. Four U.S. soldiers were killed in gun battles against forces said to be Taliban allies.

Kabul has not seen the same kind of fighting recently. The U.S. strategy seems to be to keep the capital firmly occupied, because of its political importance, while relying on reactionary warlords to rule outside the capital. It hopes that mobile U.S.-led forces will be enough to prevent its enemies from regrouping in areas it cannot directly hold. However Kabul cannot be considered secure despite the U.S., UK and 5,000 ISAF troops there. There have been many attempted assassinations of top officials. Four German soldiers were killed in a bomb attack in June. A wall of armoured vehicles with machine guns and infantry surrounded the building during the ceremony when an officer in the German army handed over the ISAF flag to a German NATO commander (seconded by a Canadian).

The occupation soldiers consider all of Afghanistan's people potential enemies and treat them accordingly. In Kabul, U.S. troops killed three of their own puppet forces and severely wounded three more last May. The GIs opened fire on their barracks in what they later claimed was a mistake--they saw Afghans with guns and started shooting.

For the ordinary people, the situation is catastrophic. In Kabul, people are attacked by violent gangs, the government's thugs (police, etc.) and fundamentalist groups. In the other cities and the countryside, they are preyed upon, repressed and raped by the warlords' thugs. As international aid agencies described the situation in a letter to British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw, "the security situation in Afghanistan has shown a marked deterioration in recent months.... Growing criminality is further compounding the insecurity felt by the Afghanistani population; there are numerous examples of robberies, thefts and assaults even in (supposedly) one of the most secure regions, Herat."

Will the new NATO command structure have any more success in controlling Kabul than the NATO, British, Turkish, German and Dutch army officers before them? Having the same officers in charge indefinitely might have some effect. But occupation forces cannot bring stability to Afghanistan because the occupation itself is a source of instability. First, it generates hatred and resistance among the people. There is also the rule of the warlords, brought back into power by the U.S. to fight the Taliban. These local despots have been turned into "legitimate" governors appointed by the American puppet president Karzai, and backed by U.S. guns and international aid agency money. They are thoroughly hated by the people.

In the countryside, U.S. and UK troops are not just chasing what they call Taliban and al-Qaeda forces. They are bombing villages and harassing and killing peasants in areas where anti-U.S. sentiment is especially strong.

Some representatives of NATO countries have called for an expansion of the ISAF operations outside Kabul. But this view has been opposed by people close to the U.S., including some NATO officials and commanders. The U.S. has its hands full elsewhere, in Iraq. It cannot spare the troops needed to occupy Afghanistan completely, which some people estimate would take 10,000 soldiers or even more. But it does not want to let rival European powers take control of Afghanistan out of its hands. This is becoming a matter of struggle between the imperialist powers who want more influence in Afghanistan.

France, for instance, sent 300 troops and might be willing to send more. Canada has almost 2,000, the biggest contingent. Germany, with 1,500 troops, is keen to become more involved. Last week Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder announced a decision to deploy German troops to Kunduz in northern Afghanistan under NATO.

The situation in Afghanistan is different than Iraq in terms of the relationship between the imperialist powers. In Iraq, some European countries had political and commercial relations with Saddam Hussein's regime and they are not eager to help the U.S. swallow the whole of the country for itself. In Afghanistan, the situation is more up for grabs; central power is not consolidated and a number of countries have hopes of gaining political and military power through the warlords under their influence and their own troops. In both countries, the U.S. wants exclusive control or at least recognised hegemony, while the other powers are trying to grab as much as they can.

Some mouthpieces for European interests point to Kabul as a model for what they want to see in Iraq--a multinational intervention force run by NATO under UN auspices. Whether that's possible or not is one question. But the more basic point is this: none of these troops are being sent anywhere to keep the peace or protect people from reactionary feudal lords, anti-woman fundamentalists and so on. The imperialist powers want a piece of a geostrategically vital country and the oppression and exploitation of the people that goes with it. All of them, and not only the U.S., are going on the offensive against the peoples of the world.

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