Harsh Season of Unjust War

Revolutionary Worker #1126, November 11, 2001, posted at

"The war is not going well. The Taliban have not yielded ground. Not a single important Taliban leader has been killed, or captured or has defected. On the contrary. The Taliban have captured and executed our great Pashtun hope, Abdul Haq. The Joint Chiefs express surprise at the tenacity of the enemy."

Columnist Charles Krauthammer,
Washington Post, October 30

The warmakers find it hard to believe. They've spent hundreds of billions of dollars to make a military that can threaten anyone in the world--and yet they have simply not had their way in the bare mountain valleys of one of the poorest regions of the world.

In Pentagon briefings, the U.S. high command reports on its brutal deeds. They document how many thousands of bombs and missiles they have pounded into Afghanistan--with charts, maps and videos. They describe their "high level of success" in destroying airfields, bridges, military equipment, mountain supply bunkers and frontline positions of the fundamentalist Taliban.

But victory is not measured in the numbers of explosions. It has become obvious to the world that the superpower's new war is not going well for them.

The U.S. had hoped for a quick, one-sided victory--battering and bullying Afghanistan from the air until someone gave in to their demands. For weeks, U.S. generals have bragged about "running out of targets," "eviscerating" their opponents and "destroying their command-and-control capabilities."

But, after a month of this, the fundamentalist Taliban has not been defeated and has not turned over the al Qaida organization. Despite the assassination attempts by bomber and commando units, there is no evidence that any of the Taliban or al Qaida leadership have been killed. In the battles for Mazar-i-Sharif and the Bagram airbase north of Kabul, the Taliban soldiers and the reactionary fundamentalist forces of the so-called "Arab foreign legion" have held their ground for now.

The first publicized U.S. commando raid near Kandahar is now openly discussed as a fiasco--where the Pentagon dropped its armed men into the middle of nowhere and then pulled them out again.

The Guardian (Oct. 29) reported that there are signs of U.S. soldiers seeking to keep out of the war zone. Retired Colonel David H. Hackworth (known as "America's most decorated soldier") is quoted: "A large number of them have been submitting release from active duty requests, feigning that they're conscientious objectors, which is exactly what we went through in Vietnam."

At the same time, the U.S. has failed to cultivate political forces on the ground capable of creating any credible Afghani puppet government. The attempts to create a "Southern Alliance" among the Pashtun ethnicity have failed miserably so far. U.S. attempts to promote the exiled former king as a unifying figure have further discredited him. Sarwar, one of the southern Pashtun feudal leaders, said, "If he is coming with the help of foreign countries, he loses his independent position." The U.S. has sent troops in as liaison with the Northern Alliance--one of the only armed forces fighting the Taliban--but this cooperation has spread fear and outrage in southern Afghanistan where Pashtun people remember the rapes and murders carried out by the Alliance in the mid 1990s.

Meanwhile, U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell and Pakistani military dictator General Pervez Musharraf offered to share power in a future Afghanistan with so-called "moderate Taliban" leaders who came over to their side. But so far this ploy has gone nowhere. The Taliban foreign minister Wakil Ahmed Mutawakel (who was Powell's prime candidate for "moderate") held a press conference in Kandahar to announce: "There is no split in the Taliban. This is the claim of our opponents." Within days, U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Armitage and Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Trubnikov issued a joint statement: "The sides agree that the Taliban as a movement should have no place in future bodies of state power in that country." This statement still leaves room for individuals or sections of the Taliban in the future government.

Meanwhile, Abdul Haq, a U.S. agent left over from the 1980s Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, was captured by the Taliban and hung on October 26. This was a huge embarrassment and setback for U.S. covert operations. Haq was on a CIA mission to convince feudal Pashtun forces in southern Afghanistan to align with the U.S. invaders. Haq was reportedly betrayed by pro-Taliban forces high within the Pakistani secret service.

And, as we go to press, the U.S. and their Pakistani allies are still trying to hammer out another corrupt and brutal semi-feudal power structure to inflict on the people of Afghanistan.

Finally, on the world stage, the U.S. imperialists have clearly been losing the battle for public opinion. After seeing the images of villages and neighborhoods destroyed by U.S. attack, millions of people are asking what justice or logic there could be in killing people in Afghanistan in reply to the bombing of people in New York City.

Almost every account confirms that the masses of people in the Muslim world are angrily opposed to the U.S. war. Governments allied with the U.S. have been shaken.

In the last week of October, Egypt's President Hosni Mubarak suddenly replaced his military chief Lt. Gen. Magdi Hatata. A month before he had replaced a number of other military commanders and a leading intelligence officer.

Fearing a coup from within his own military, General Pervez Musharraf removed several top generals and the head of Pakistan's ISI intelligence service. Pakistan has seen massive anti-U.S. demonstrations, including an attempt to break into an airbase used by U.S. forces. U.S. helicopters have reported being fired upon by Pakistani military units within Pakistan. Thousands of Pakistani people have formed caravans and headed west to volunteer to fight the U.S. in the Afghan mountains.

The British Guardian (Oct. 31) reported that polls in many European countries had shifted from an initial support for U.S. actions to mounting opposition.

In Britain, support for the war had dropped 12 percent in two weeks. The Guardian reported that in Turkey up to 70 percent of the population oppose the Turkish government's plan to send troops to Afghanistan. In Greece, over 30 percent believed that the attacks of September 11 were "retribution for a superpower's misguided policies over decades." In Italy, the bombing is unpopular and one recent antiwar demonstration drew more than 200,000 people. In Romania, these polls showed 54 percent opposing the bombing. In Germany, 54 percent of people reportedly support a bombing halt, while 60 percent opposed German military participation in the ground war.

Many governments that once promised to support the U.S. war on Afghanistan have stepped back--and major political forces, even within the governments of close U.S. allies like Kuwait and Britain, have increasingly called for a bombing halt.

U.S. ruling class forces complain that Russian "support" for the U.S. war in Afghanistan takes the form of a list of demands. Zbigniew Brzezinski, President Carter's National Security Adviser, wrote, "A meeting in Moscow last Thursday of the Russian foreign policy elite produced a long list of the concessions Putin should exact from Bush at their forthcoming summit, with one prominent participant confidently declaring that 'America is ready to pay a serious price to secure support,' presumably on such issues as NATO expansion, missile defenses, loan forgiveness, the war in Chechnya and so forth." Brzezinski noted that the Russian president has recently urged the German ruling class to "join Russia in creating a European global power that would stand apart from America." Given that the Soviet army was defeated and seriously weakened during its 1980s attempt to take over Afghanistan, it is natural to speculate why the Russian ruling class seems so eager to have the Pentagon get its soldiers onto the ground there.

On all the major fronts of this war--the military, the political and the stage of world public opinion--the U.S. attack on Afghanistan has been doing badly. For weeks, there had been intense debate within the U.S. ruling class and military establishment over who the U.S. would attack after they "mopped up" Afghanistan. Now, suddenly, they are facing the fact that the winter is closing in on Central Asia without any signs that the Afghan war might end.

The response of the U.S. imperialists has been cold and ruthless--they plan to escalate the killing in Afghanistan and are demanding that everyone in the world--including their allies and the people in the U.S.--prepare to support them if this proves to be a long and bloody war.

Carpet Bombing and Ground War

"Shed a tear, and then get on with the business of killing our enemies as quickly as we can, and as ruthlessly as we must. We cannot fight this war from the air alone. We cannot fight it without casualties. And we cannot fight it without risking unintended damage to humanitarian and political interests....We cannot allow the Taliban safe refuge among the civilian population. We must destroy them, wherever they hide. That will surely increase the terrible danger facing noncombatants, a regrettable but necessary fact of war."

Senator John McCain,
Wall Street Journal, Oct. 26

"The Pentagon carpet-bombed Taliban positions north of Kabul yesterday amid reports of a substantial and imminent U.S. military build-up in central Asia aimed at turning the tide in the Afghan war."

The Guardian, Britain, Nov. 1

There has been a marked shift in the tactics and language of the U.S. war. Their constant talk of "precision bombing" has now given way to an air campaign of "carpet bombing"--the concentrated dumping of unguided "dumb" bombs from high-flying B-52 airplanes. The U.S. has turned its bombers on the trenches and villages north of Kabul, where the Taliban and the Northern Alliance have stalemated each other for years.

This "carpet bombing" (made infamous during the war in Vietnam) includes large-scale use of cluster bombs that shatter on impact into thousands of needlelike fragments, shredding people for hundreds of yards in all directions. Rear Admiral John Stufflebeem, deputy director of operations of the U.S. Defense Department's Joint Staff said, "That is part of our campaign, it is part of our capability. We do use it, we have used it and will use it when we need to."

The U.S. government now says they will not halt bombing in November--to coincide with the Muslim holy month of Ramadan--but will continue the air attacks indefinitely.

In a press conference to discuss these new carpet bomb attacks, the U.S. Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld acknowledged that the unexploded cluster bomb packages are the same yellow color as the food packages which the U.S. has dropped over the northern mountain ranges.

The director of a de-mining project, Fazal Karim Fazal says: "Our teams have found samples of the booby traps dropped by U.S. planes in Herat and Jalalabad. The U.S. forces must halt this practice and should respect all the international conventions in this respect." The booby traps explode when people pick them up, and are particularly dangerous for children.

At the same time, Senator John McCain led a chorus within the ruling class demanding intensified war, including preparations for a land invasion. McCain participated as a bomber pilot in attacks on the Vietnamese cities of Hanoi and Haiphong during the Vietnam war. Within days of his criticism of the conduct of the Afghan war, the Pentagon announced that it had forces on the ground and that it was planning to triple the size of those forces. And, there were leaks to the media that the Pentagon already has drawn up plans for "a large-scale ground invasion of Afghanistan from the north" (The Guardian, Nov. 1), which the British and U.S. high command were discussing for the coming spring.

In Washington, the leading Democrat, Senator Tom Daschle, continued the policy of war-time ruling class unity by expressing his openness for any coming land war. He said: "There may be a need for additional efforts on the ground and if that's necessary I'm sure the president will brief Congress on the importance of doing it."

Shattered Lives on the Ground

"Around midnight the bombing started. It lasted for two hours and then the next night it began again and lasted all night and the rest of the following day. When it started everyone just fled their homes and ran in every direction. We didn't know where to go. I brought my family here for safety, and now there are 19 dead, including my wife, my two children, my brother, sister, sister-in-law, nieces, nephews, my uncle. As we buried the dead, the planes came again. What am I supposed to do now?"

Mehmood, a 36-year-old refugee
who had sought shelter in Chokar Karaiz

"Many bodies were blown apart and all we could do was collect their limbs and put them together in the same grave. I brought some of the remains here in a tractor. I'm not aware of our crime and why we were bombed."

Mungal, 65 years old, in a freshly
dug cemetery containing his family

"We pulled the baby out, the others were buried in the rubble. Children were decapitated. There were bodies with no legs. We could do nothing, we just fled."

A survivor describing the
October 22 attack on Chokar Karaiz

"If there were military targets in the area, we'd like to know what they were."

Sidney Jones,
Human Rights Watch Director for Asia

The village of Chokar Karaiz, 60 miles north of Kandahar, no longer exists. Every home was blasted to rubble. Bombs ripped open long cracks in the ground itself. Splintered stumps mark where mulberry trees once stood. Burned wrecks of cars and the bodies of dead sheep are scattered here and there, surrounded by huge chunks of shrapnel bearing markings in English: "Guided Bomb" and "For use with MK82." Everything, even scattered cooking pots, is riddled with bullet holes from the relentless machine gun fire.

As many as 90 people died here. The 20 survivors told of waves of bombers that pulverized everything in sight. Then, the next day, even as the villagers were digging graves, U.S. AC-130 gunships arrived and flew in wide circles sending uninterrupted cannon and machine gun fire into what was left of the village.

Foreign reporters have been to Chokar Karaiz to see destruction first hand and interview those left alive. No one knows why the village had been targeted. A small caravan of cars recently pulled into town filled with residents of Kandahar. They returned here, to their home village, hoping to escape the bombing of the city. They had built a tent encampment outside the village. Some survivors speculated that, to the U.S. Air Force, the arrival of this caravan, seen from the air, was reason enough to kill everyone.

With each day, the casualties of the air war mount. Film and eyewitness reports have documented what U.S. attacks have done on the ground. Hundreds of civilians were reportedly killed in Northern Alliance-held villages, near Kabul, including the town of Ghanikhel. A truck packed with refugees was destroyed near Chunai. U.S. bombs destroyed the UN de-mining office in Kabul. The Red Cross warehouses were hit more than once, destroying food and medicine.

Refugee camps are overflowing, and people there often lack the most basic necessities of water, food, shelter and medicine. UN High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) spokesman Yusuf Hassan said on Oct. 31 that up to 130,000 Afghan refugees had fled into Pakistan since the war started. Iran has been a destination of refugees heading west.

Seven U.S. air raids have reportedly damaged Afghanistan's largest dam and power station at Kajaki in the southern province of Helmand. The dam contains almost 3 billion cubic meters of water, and irrigates the land of 75,000 families with 50,000 cattle in an extremely dry region. The bombing has destroyed the electrical generation that serves the city of Kandahar. The dam itself has reportedly been weakened but not yet breached. However, people in the area face the danger of sudden massive flooding and the destruction of their water source. There are reportedly no military installations in the area.

And there is no justice to be found in this war.

This article is posted in English and Spanish on Revolutionary Worker Online
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