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Five years after "liberation"
U.S. escalates the violence in Afghanistan

July 14, 2006 | Page 6

NICOLE COLSON reports on the escalating bloodshed in Afghanistan nearly five years after the U.S. invasion.

IN LATE May, George W. Bush lectured an eager audience of graduating cadets at the U.S. military academy at West Point on the U.S. success in freeing the people of Afghanistan and Iraq.

"Coalition forces drove the Taliban from power, liberated Afghanistan and brought freedom to 25 million people," Bush told the crowd. "In Afghanistan, the terror camps have been shut down, women are working, boys and girls are going to school, and Afghans have chosen a president and a new parliament in free elections," he added.

"Difficult challenges remain in both Afghanistan and Iraq, but America is safer, and the world is more secure, because these two countries are now democracies--and they are allies in the cause of freedom and peace."

For ordinary Afghans, however, this rosy picture bears little resemblance to the grim reality they face day in and day out.

Nearly five years after the Bush administration declared Afghanistan "liberated" from the former Taliban government, U.S.-led coalition forces today are engaged in some of their heaviest fighting yet, as the Taliban re-emerges, particularly in the southern part of the country.

In the latest report from the nearly daily gun battles to appear as Socialist Worker went to press, U.S. officials claimed their forces killed 40 suspected Taliban milita members during a July 10 raid near Tarin Kot, the capital of the Uruzgan province. Days before, the U.S. said 19 suspected "insurgents" were killed by coalition forces in Kandahar. Since mid-May, the U.S. claims that coalition forces have killed more than 700 "rebels."

Despite the deployment of thousands of U.S. and NATO forces, approximately 1,700 Afghans died in conflict-related violence in 2005 alone. Ninety-one U.S. troops died in combat or as a result of accidents in 2005--more than double the number for 2004.

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THROUGHOUT MUCH of Afghanistan, the Taliban is on the rise, carrying out suicide and roadside bombings and attacks on security forces, especially in the country's eastern and southern provinces. Suicide bombings in Kandahar in recent weeks targeted both coalition troops and the governor of the province.

In many areas, letters threatening anyone who collaborates with the U.S. or the government of U.S.-backed Afghan president Hamid Karzai, regularly appear at night, pasted to the walls of mosques and government buildings. Since May, at least two medical clinics have been shut down and 11 schools burned to the ground around Kandahar as part of the Taliban's campaign.

Last month, eight people were killed when the Taliban blew up a busload of Afghan laborers heading to a U.S. military base near Kandahar for work. It was the first large-scale attack on civilians working with coalition forces since the U.S. declared victory in Afghanistan in 2001.

A recent statement by Karzai's government blamed the violence on a "variety of groups, including those linked to international terrorist networks, fighters recruited from outside of Afghanistan and the opium industry."

While an increased harvest of opium poppies--expected to be the largest on record this year--has helped fuel insurgents by providing funds for more weapons, for ordinary farmers, the opium trade is often a last resort from desperate poverty.

In the capital city of Kabul, unemployment is estimated at between 50 to 70 percent--and it hovers at 30 percent across the country. At least 6.5 million people of the country's estimated 26 million people are dependent on food aid, and Afghanistan continues to have one of the lowest life expectancies in the world at just 44.5 years.

Just 25 percent of the population has access to safe drinking water and adequate sanitation. There is just one doctor per 6,000 people, and one nurse per 2,500 people. Some 600 children under the age of 5 die every day--mainly from preventable diseases--and 50 women die each day from complications during pregnancy.

In the capital city of Kabul--where giant shopping malls and mansions have sprung up to cater to newly wealthy government officials--an estimated 500,000 people are homeless or living in makeshift accommodation.

For many desperate Afghans, the opium trade offers the only hope of survival in the face of high unemployment, little aid and widespread government corruption. As the Washington Post reported from Uruzgan province in January, "When the United States sent tons of wheat seed here this winter to be given to farmers as an alternative to growing poppies, local officials sold the seeds and pocketed the money."

The Karzai government--propped up from the beginning by the U.S.--is seen as increasingly unstable and impotent outside of the capital city of Kabul.

In part, that's because Karzai put many of the worst warlords and human rights abusers in positions of power in the name of "national reconciliation." In June, 13 provincial police posts were filled by men who all had links to illegal militias and human rights abuses.

Jamil Jumbish, Kabul's previous police chief, for example, "has been implicated in murder, torture, intimidation, bribery and interfering with investigations into misconduct by officers directly under his control," reported Human Rights Watch. Although Jumbish was denied the post permanently, Britian's Guardian reported last month that the new Kabul police chief, Amanullah Guzar, has been linked "to extortion, land grabbing and the kidnapping of three UN workers in late 2004."

In December, Human Rights Watch reported that many of the legislators elected in last September's elections--including up to 60 percent of deputies in the lower house--are directly or indirectly connected to current and past human rights abuses.

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THOSE WHO support the continued U.S. occupation of Afghanistan claim that coalition troops are necessary to prevent even worse human rights abuses from occurring.

But the presence of thousands of U.S. and NATO troops are daily reminders for the Afghan people that their needs come second to the goals of U.S. imperialism.

Anger erupted in late May, after a U.S. military convoy crashed into civilian cars and pedestrians, sparking an anti-U.S. and anti-Karzai riot that grew to include thousands in Kabul. Elsewhere, as even the U.S. military magazine Stars and Stripes admitted last year, "the recent surge in [insurgent] fighting could be attributed more to American aggressiveness than anything al-Qaeda is doing."

Today, U.S. troops are conducting operations where their presence has been minimal or nonexistent, in an effort to provoke attacks and thereby catch "terrorists" in the act. "I think we're initiating the overwhelming majority of the actions," said Brigadier Gen. James Champion. The attackers "would not be firing the first shots if we weren't in the area," he said.

A report last year by the Kabul-based Afghanistan Justice Project cited "grave abuses" by U.S. troops, "many of them of the same sort used by their counterparts in the communist, mujahadeen and Taliban regimes that preceded them." These include "crude and brutal" methods of torture that have sometimes led to death; the use of secret detention facilities to carry out torture; and unacknowledged detentions that are tantamount to "disappearances."

As the report concludes, "U.S. forces have jeopardized prospects for establishing stable and accountable institutions in Afghanistan, have undermined the security of the Afghan people...and have reinforced a pattern of impunity that undermines the legitimacy of the political process."

Meanwhile, even a cursory glance at the statistics shows that Bush administration promises to not abandon the people of Afghanistan were hollow. From 2002 to 2005, the U.S. spent about $1.3 billion on Afghan reconstruction--around $300 million a year, a tiny sum by any measure.

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