U.S. War on Afghanistan:

Taking Injustice to the Ground

Revolutionary Worker #1124, October 28, 2001, posted at http://rwor.org

"Americans reasonably wonder 'How long will it last?' The answer is that many of these changes we have made are permanent, at least in the lifetime of most of us."

Vice President Dick Cheney, speaking at a dinner
at the Waldorf-Astoria in New York

In the first two weeks of the U.S. attack on Afghanistan, 2,000 bombs and missiles were dropped by the U.S. and Britain on one of the poorest countries on earth. Then on October 19, the U.S. command announced that they had started sending in ground troops. After intensely bombing in and around the southern city of Kandahar all day, U.S. helicopters dropped in up to 200 special operations troops of the U.S. Army Rangers just outside the city. According to refugees, they attacked near the Taliban barracks at Qila Jadeed.

Defense Department officials soon said that the main attack on Taliban army installations was a diversion covering a second unsuccessful raid. It was reportedly aimed at finding and assassinating Mullah Omar, the top Taliban leader.

As we go to press, little more is known about the fighting that night--except that there have been U.S. casualties. Taliban authorities announced that their forces shot down a U.S. helicopter--and the U.S. government acknowledged two casualties, while insisting the helicopter crash was accidental.

U.S. special forces have also been operating on the ground far in the north since at least October 12, in "a liaison mission" with the Northern Alliance forces fighting the Taliban outside the strategic town of Mazar-i-Sharif. In addition, the Iranian News Agency says that U.S. commando units have been reported in western Afghanistan, operating around the oasis city of Herat, in the desert, close to the Iranian border.

A senior U.S. military official speaking to CNN said that such U.S. ground actions and raids would increase in the coming days.

Death from Above

"This ship alone has dropped over 300,000 pounds of ordnance so far in the war in Afghanistan. That's an incredible amount."

Rear Admiral Tom Zelibor,
commander of the USS Carl Vinson, 10/17

"Look at all these poor people made homeless by these bombings. This is a terrible thing. What are your people doing?"

Pakistani border guard Aftab,
confronting western reporter

"First I heard the sound of an explosion which was quite far away so I went outside to tell my children to come into the house. But as I came outside, there was a second explosion and I don't know what happened. Everything went black like night and there were stones and dust everywhere."

Laila, whose 7-year-old daughter Khatira
received head wounds in this
bombing of Macroyan

The U.S. generals, politicians and the media love their air war. Press conferences are packed with stories about high-tech weapons and the destruction they cause.

The nightly news shows profile the Pentagon's new systems as heroes-of-the-day: In one news cycle the focus was on how "unmanned RQ-1 `Predator' spy drones were being equipped with Hellfire missiles," in the next news cycle the attention moved on to the "awesome fire power of AC-130 gunships." Killing from a distance--anonymous, invisible and methodical.

Military sources announced that the Pentagon had established "kill boxes" around major Afghan cities, including Kabul and Kandahar--these are zones where pilots are allowed to kill anything that moves without needing approval. They are similar to the notorious "free fire zones" the U.S. established in Vietnam. The publicly announced plans are to continue the intense air campaign until mid-November, when both winter storms and the Islamic holy month of Ramadan begin.

Meanwhile, the Pentagon has stopped denying that there are significant civilian casualties--because they can't any more. According to reports from Afghanistan, more than 500 civilians were killed in the first two weeks of U.S. and British bombing attacks. Reporters on the ground have filmed scene after scene of mud-brick villages and urban neighborhoods ripped open by massive bombs and missiles. Observers have documented how several communities in and around Kabul were bombed. There were reports of refugees dying as their vehicles were hit from the air.

Faced with this evidence, the Pentagon has switched tactics. They now admit civilian deaths, while claiming that estimates released by the Taliban are "ridiculous." And the Pentagon spokespeople insist that any civilian deaths caused by the U.S. are only accidental--"collateral damage"--and therefore acceptable.

For some days, Pentagon spokespeople denied that they had bombed a neighborhood a mile and a half from Kabul's airport. After film footage of this was shown all over the world, they had to acknowledge that a U.S. navy jet dropped a 2,000 pound JDAM "smart bomb" there. Their cold report said: "Preliminary indications are that the accident occurred from a targeting process error."

The arrival of low-flying gunships--circling over Afghan cities with almost continuous cannon and machine gun fire--has created a new wave of refugees fleeing the cities for the countryside and neighboring countries. UN observers at Pakistan's Chaman border crossing reported over 3,500 refugees passing through in just one day. Meanwhile, hospitals in Kabul have been unable to care for premature babies now that U.S. bombs have cut off the electricity to the incubators used to keep them alive.

The U.S. air war is severely disrupting the harvesting and distribution of food in this peasant country. The Pentagon admitted that on October 16 a U.S. Navy F/A-18 Hornet dropped 1,000-pound bombs on Red Cross warehouses in Kabul containing wheat, medicine and other supplies.

It is becoming clear that the disruption of food and the new dislocation of people will cause even more casualties than the bombing itself. Millions of Afghan people are suffering from hunger and malnutrition now, and their situation will become catastrophic as the war and the winter deepen.

"As many as 100,000 more children will die in Afghanistan this winter unless food reaches them in sufficient quantities in the next six weeks," said UNICEF spokesman Eric Laroche. On October 17, six international aid agencies urgently called on the U.S. to stop its bombing to allow food deliveries for the winter.

The U.S. warmakers quickly rejected these calls, saying the disruption of the food supply in Afghanistan was not their fault. The next day, the Pakistani daily The News wrote that U.S. Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld's "contemptuous dismissal of the issue is neither sensible nor civilised. It may assuage domestic U.S. opinion for a while but would do greater harm by cementing the perception that innocent Afghan blood counts for less than its American counterpart."

Deepening Dilemma and Ground Combat

"The children of Kabul risk their lives in the streets shooting at U.S. bombers with toy pistols and clapping at anti-aircraft fire. Two Afghan aid workers who returned from the capital earlier this week gave the clearest picture so far of civilian casualties, military damage and the state of morale there. They described yesterday how the U.S. had missed most of its military targets in Kabul, hitting only 'junk' and shattered hulks of aircraft the Taliban had not bothered to remove.... Taliban morale remained high, they said, largely because their troops had suffered few military casualties in the capital and because American military might had proved less impressive than they had feared."

The British Times, October 20

"After more than a month of intense international political pressure and 10 days of U.S. bombing, the Taliban leaders are neither splitting nor defecting in the numbers that the U.S. alliance hoped."

Ahmed Rashid, author of Taliban--Islam, Oil and
the New Great Game in Central Asia
, October 17

"They can blast away at Taliban targets for as long as they like. But ultimately they are going to have to engage on the ground."

General Mirza Aslam Beg, a former
Pakistan army chief-of-staff

"This is a coward's war you people are fighting. You tell your soldiers to come down on the ground to fight us and then they will see what a real war is."

Young Afghan refugee
confronting British journalist

The U.S. ruling class has hoped that by battering Afghanistan they could weaken the Taliban's armed forces, shatter the political unity of the Taliban itself and produce someone within Afghanistan willing to hand over Osama bin Laden and participate in a new pro-U.S. government.

The U.S. is sending in troops because bombs alone have not produced any of these imperialist goals. "The cruise missiles and bombers are not going to solve this problem," Secretary Rumsfeld has said. This escalation highlights a many-sided dilemma facing the U.S. warmakers.

The Taliban regime, based in Kabul and Kandahar, has not collapsed. President Bush has repeatedly called on them to submit to U.S. demands. And they have not. Pentagon generals have announced that the Taliban forces were "eviscerated" and crumbling--only to see the Taliban drive back the Northern Alliance from the strategic town of Mazar-i-Sharif, including with the use of Chechen, Pakistani and Arab fundamentalist troops.

Meanwhile, the U.S. has no armed forces on the ground it can use to capture key parts of Afghanistan--including the capital Kabul, the southern Taliban stronghold of Kandahar and several formerly Soviet airbases.

President Bush has now promised the Northern Alliance weapons, ammunition and food--and encouraged them to take the northern city of Mazar-i-Sharif. Once the major airbase outside Mazar-i-Sharif is in pro-U.S. hands, it will be possible for the U.S. to station jets and helicopters there--and provide quick tactical air cover to anyone fighting the Taliban.

But while this Iranian-backed Northern Alliance is the only major armed force now fighting the Taliban on the ground--the U.S. has publicly promised not to let them take the capital city of Kabul. The last time they did this, in the early '90s, they carried out vicious murders, rapes and systematic theft that were heavily aimed at the Pashtun people who form half of Afghanistan's population and the core of the Taliban support. Military victories by the Northern Alliance might rally broad sections of the population to the side of the Taliban--and would alienate Pakistan's military government, which is determined to control any future government of Afghanistan.

Meanwhile the U.S. has tried to create a puppet government--using the long-deposed Afghan king Zahir Shah as a figurehead, and building a feudal council of tribal chiefs to give it an appearance of Afghan authenticity. This is not going well. It is a slim gathering of weak, reactionary, pro-feudal political forces--who are widely discredited by offering to be tools in a U.S. takeover of their country. The 87-year-old Shah has so-far only issued one known public statement--saying he did not intend to move from his home in Rome back to Afghanistan. The Northern Alliance has officially joined the new arrangement--but no one believes this is more than a paper agreement.

After a meeting with Pakistan's military dictator Musharraf, U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell announced that so-called "moderate forces" within the Taliban would be welcomed in a future pro-U.S. Kabul government. What could be more openly imperialist than the warmakers of Washington, DC cruising around the world offering this-or-that reactionary power in a future Afghanistan?

And many people were asking what defined a "moderate" Taliban figure. The answer is that a "moderate" Taliban serves the U.S., and an "extremist" Taliban doesn't. The use of the Shah as a puppet and Powell's offer to the Taliban reveals (once again) that a future Afghanistan, forged through U.S. bombs, will leave all that is reactionary, feudal and oppressive within Afghan society in place--and that the only demand the U.S. makes on all these various anti-people forces is that they serve U.S. interests to dominate the region and its oil wealth.

Pakistan's press was filled with speculation that the Taliban commander, Maulvi Jalaluddin Haqqani, might negotiate a separate peace or that the Taliban foreign minister Wakil Ahmed Mutawakel might "defect." The Pakistani ruling class is so terrified that an ongoing war on neighboring Afghanistan might destabilize their government and country that any hint of a quick solution sends them into a frenzy. As we go to press, no Taliban forces have publicly stepped forward to accept this offer. It was, however, a public admission that the U.S. has no allies or supporters within Afghanistan that it can rely on to wage war, or form a new government.

The massive U.S. attack force that has now gathered around Afghanistan--complete with four naval armadas and about 40,000 troops--is structured for air war and commando raids, not for an armored land invasion like was launched during the Gulf War.

The latest U.S. commando raids are not yet intended to hold ground. They are being developed as an extension of the air war--to kill or kidnap Taliban and al-Qaida leaders and to identify ground targets for the ongoing bombing raids. The U.S. is hoping for a lucky shot--that they will succeed in shattering the Taliban's central leadership or find Osama bin Laden.

And the question remains: What will the U.S. do if this does not happen?

Some forces in the Pentagon are talking openly of moving on--to wage a new air war against more of the world's weakest and most impoverished countries. It has been announced that elaborate plans have been developed in the Pentagon for U.S. air campaigns against Somalia and Sudan--Muslim countries. Meanwhile, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld is talking about continuing ground operations in Afghanistan right through the winter.

News reports from the Turkish capital Ankara say that Turkish troops will be deployed in northern Afghanistan, to "lead" the Northern Alliance and an "international force" in a push to conquer Kabul. "Foreign special forces can play a specific role, but there is no substitute for infantry taking territory. Most of the men with guns on the ground will be Afghans," a British source said. The 1,000-man U.S. Mountain Division is already stationed just over the northern border.

The British and U.S. governments have floated plans to have the UN takeover the occupation of Kabul--setting up an "internationalized city," mainly using the troops of NATO's only Muslim country, Turkey.

After arriving in Shanghai for the Asia-Pacific Economic Co-operation forum, the U.S. Secretary of State, Colin Powell, said that the UN could establish an interim administration, as it had in East Timor, to help usher Afghanistan to political stability. The UN's special envoy to Afghanistan, Lakhdar Brahimi, immediately ruled out such a role. "I very firmly say that the United Nations is definitely not seeking anything of that sort. Again, I repeat, the UN is not seeking a transitional administration or peacekeeping, or anything like that."

The simple fact is that the air campaign has not crushed the Taliban, and the U.S. war machine is forced to engage Afghan forces on the ground. A bitter winter is approaching, the continuing war is deeply straining the power structures of Saudi Arabia and Pakistan--and the U.S. has no reliable armed forces in sight for carrying out the occupation of Afghanistan's major cities.

The oppressive fundamentalist Taliban is widely hated by many forces within Afghanistan. However, few support a takeover by imperialist invaders, their hired Turkish footsoldiers, the waffling Pakistani military, and the U.S.'s new allies in the hated Northern Alliance.

The Afghan people remember well how a previous superpower, the Soviet Union, was bloodied, humiliated and driven out attempting to occupy Afghanistan in the 1980s. And any imperialist planning to invade Afghanistan nervously remembers the warning written in the late 1800s by the colonialist British poet Rudyard Kipling:

"When you're wounded and left on Afghanistan's plains,
And the women come out to cut up what remains,
Jest roll to your rifle and blow out your brains
An' go to your Gawd like a soldier."

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