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U.S. fuels violence and chaos in Afghanistan
Unraveling of the other occupation

March 9, 2007 | Pages 8 and 9

WHILE THE unraveling of the U.S. occupation of Iraq continues to make daily headlines, the other U.S. occupation--in Afghanistan--has been largely ignored.

But a series of high-profile bombings and reported military "mistakes" in late February and early March--along with warnings of an impending spring offensive by the Taliban--highlighted the growing crisis of this second front in the U.S. "war on terror." NICOLE COLSON reports on the latest developments.

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"WE ARE making progress in Afghanistan, there is no doubt about that," declared Canadian Air Force Gen. Ray Henault, NATO's senior military officer in Afghanistan.

Henault sounded certain in early March as he assured reporters that NATO and U.S. troops are on the road to victory. But his optimism rang hollow in the face of one after another deadly incidents in Afghanistan in late February and early March--which forced the "other" U.S. occupation back into the headlines and proved that the U.S. and NATO definition of "progress" means more misery for ordinary Afghans.

As Socialist Worker went to press, it was announced that U.S. forces had killed as many as nine civilians in an air strike in Kapisa province in northern Afghanistan. According to reports, after two Afghan militants attacked a U.S. base, the U.S. dropped two 2,000-pound bombs in retaliation.

What else to read

Tariq Ali's analysis "The Khyber Impasse: The Case for Withdrawal from Afghanistan" appeared on the CounterPunch Web site.

The recent Center for Strategic and International Studies report "Breaking Point: Measuring Progress in Afghanistan" can be read online.

Bleeding Afghanistan: Washington, Warlords and the Propaganda of Silence, the recent book by Sonali Kolhatkar and James Ingalls, provides insight into the history of U.S. imperial meddling in Afghanistan and the crimes of the U.S.-led occupation.

 

But the bombs hit a group of civilian homes instead of "insurgents"--and killed four generations of a single family inside one, including five adults and four children between the ages of 6 months and 5 years.

That air strike came one day after U.S. Marines were accused of opening fire indiscriminately on civilians after a U.S. convoy was attacked on one of the country's busiest highways in Nangarhar province, near the border with Pakistan.

According to witnesses, when the convoy was hit by a suicide bomber and gunfire, Marines began shooting randomly at pedestrians and cars over a six-mile stretch down the highway. As many as 16 civilians were killed and 24 wounded.

Lt. Col. David Accetta, a coalition spokesman, said the attack demonstrated the militants' "blatant disregard for human life" by attacking Marines in a populated area. But according to witnesses, it was the U.S. convoy that showed a "blatant disregard for human life"--with U.S. troops seeming to go out of their way to attack even cars that had pulled over to the side of the road to allow the U.S. vehicles to pass.

"One American was in the first vehicle, shouting to stop on the side of the road, and we stopped," said Ahmed Najib, who took a bullet in his right shoulder. "The first vehicle did not fire on us, but the second opened fire on our car."

Tur Gul, who was standing on the roadside by a gas station, was shot twice in his right hand. "They were firing everywhere, and they even opened fire on 14 to 15 vehicles passing on the highway," he said. "They opened fire on everybody, the ones inside the vehicles and the ones on foot."

In response to the U.S. killings, hundreds of Afghans blocked the road, throwing rocks at police and shouting "Death to America." To add insult to injury, reporters who arrived on the scene said Marines confiscated their film and physically threatened them.

Photographer Rahmat Gul was taking photos of a four-wheel-drive vehicle with four bodies that had been shot to death inside when an American soldier took his camera and deleted the pictures.

Later, after receiving permission from another soldier to film, "the same soldier who took my camera came again and deleted my photos," Gul said. "The soldier was very angry...I told him, 'They gave us permission,' but he didn't listen." Instead, the American soldier, speaking through a translator, warned Gul that he didn't want to see any AP photos published anywhere, and reportedly raised his fist as though he was going to hit Gul.

Taqiullah Taqi, a reporter for Afghanistan's largest television station, said, "According to the translator, they said, 'Delete them, or we will delete you.'"

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"TIMES HAVE changed," Bush said last month. "Our work is bringing freedom." But freedom remains a scarce commodity in U.S.-occupied Afghanistan.

U.S. claims of a quick victory over the Taliban were proven wrong almost as soon as the war officially "ended" in 2001. The Taliban not only survived its downfall in 2001, but has gained a measure of popular support as the best-organized force resisting the occupation.

Now, violence in Afghanistan--fueled by the U.S. and NATO occupation--has grown much worse. 2006 was the deadliest year for coalition forces since the war began, with 191 dead--but it is Afghan civilians who bear the overwhelming brunt of the violence.

In late February, for example, a suicide bomber apparently belonging to the Taliban attacked the gates of the U.S. Air Force base in Bagram while Vice President Dick Cheney was on a visit to the base. "I heard a loud boom," Cheney later told reporters, relating how he was whisked away to a bomb shelter.

U.S. military officials at the base repeatedly asserted that the bomber never posed any threat to Cheney, but they all but ignored the fact that at least 20 Afghan civilians--including a 12-year-old boy--were killed, and many more injured.

According to "Breaking Point: Measuring Progress in Afghanistan" a report released in late February by a military think-tank, the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), and based on comprehensive surveys compiled by the U.S. Agency for International Development, nearly every aspect of life for ordinary Afghans--from security to the economy--is worse today.

"A renewed conflict against a resurgent Taliban and other anti-government elements; a crisis of government legitimacy within a culture of corruption and impunity; and a failure to meet people's expectations of development, income-generation, and better lives in general all point to a breaking point," concludes the report.

In the case of security, the report found that the situation for ordinary civilians has worsened since 2005--in significant part because of the U.S. and NATO military presence.

"The ordinary Afghan has been caught between the abusive elements of the government--mainly the police and local commanders--and the Taliban, with both sides threatening their safety and affecting their ability to go about their daily lives," the report states.

"IEDs, roadside bombs, crime and bribery, and international military operations against the insurgency have limited free movement. Most Afghans worry about traveling on the newly built ring road, as well as on secondary highways and in urban centers for fear of being caught in the wrong place at the wrong time. Air strikes and military operations are causing higher rates of civilian casualties, and fueling resentment of the international presence and the central government."

Meanwhile, the central government--filled with U.S.-backed warlords with a long history of human rights abuses--is widely seen as corrupt and inefficient.

There has been no improvement in services such as electricity in the past year, with the capital city of Kabul receiving on average just two hours of electricity per day, and 90 percent of the country remaining entirely without electricity.

Although the CSIS report claims some advancement for women's rights under the occupation in major cities, women largely are forced to remain in burqas and, according to a recent report from the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, in several provinces, women have been forced to quit work and young girls forced to quit school because of an increase in death threats from the Taliban and other insurgents.

As veteran antiwar activist and author Tariq Ali recently commented, "Few tears were shed in Afghanistan and elsewhere when the Taliban fell, but the hopes aroused by Western demagogy did not last too long. It soon became clear that the new transplanted elite would cream off a bulk of the foreign aid and create its own criminal networks of graft and patronage. The people suffered."

With the country's infrastructure in ruins following decades of civil war and then the U.S. war of 2001, massive numbers of ordinary Afghans remain mired in desperate poverty--with hundreds freezing to death in the winter months, and many forced to turn to opium and heroin production to make a living. The UN estimates that heroin production now accounts for as much as one-half of the country's gross domestic product.

Even Bush was forced to acknowledge the violence in Afghanistan last month. Rather than ending the occupation that has fueled the violence, however, Bush has instead sent an additional 3,200 U.S. troops to Afghanistan as part of his "surge" plan--bringing the number of U.S. troops in Afghanistan to approximately 27,000, in addition to approximately 20,000 NATO troops.

But even with additional troops, U.S. and NATO forces are stretched to the brink in Afghanistan, and many U.S. soldiers--some on their third or fourth tours of duty--believe their mission is impossible.

On assignment with the Army's 10th Mountain Division in Afghanistan's Kunar and Nuristan provinces, Salon's Matthew Cole reported in late February that soldiers told him they were totally unprepared.

"Leadership doesn't care about us," said one officer, who requested that his name be withheld. "We've gone on mission after mission after mission where we've gone black [run out] on food and water. They tell us, 'Pack light, your mission will only be four days tops.' But then we end up stuck on a mountaintop for two weeks. We didn't have anything, not even tents. If you can't get us off a mountain, don't put us on there."

With an increasing number of Afghans wanting the U.S. and NATO out, and U.S. troops already stretched to the breaking point, there is little evidence that continuing the occupation will bring anything but more violence and bloodshed.

As Tariq Ali commented, "There is no way NATO can win this war now. Sending more troops will lead to more deaths...The lesson here, as in Iraq, is a basic one. It is much better for regime change to come from below, even if this means a long wait as in South Africa, Indonesia or Chile. Occupations disrupt the possibilities of organic change and create a much bigger mess than existed before. Afghanistan is but one example."

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