Operation Enduring Failure

Belfast Daily Telegraph columnist Eamonn McCann draws up a balance sheet of the West's war in Afghanistan--and finds nothing for the plus side.

Afghan civilian casualties have risen dramatically in recent yearsAfghan civilian casualties have risen dramatically in recent years

SO WHO are you going to believe, then: the svelte dude at the White House podium or the grimy character preaching from a hut in the Hindu Kush? Barack Obama or Zabihullah Mujahid?

On October 7, Obama declared that "our citizens are safer and our nation is more secure" as a result of 10 years of the Afghan war, which his administration was now "responsibly ending...from a position of strength."

In a message delivered to Reuters the same day, Mujahid took a different view: "Even with scarce weapons and equipment, [we have] forced the occupiers, who intended to stay forever, to rethink their position. If we hold tightly on to the rope of Allah, our enemy will be forced to leave our country completely."

"Rope of Allah" falls strangely on the ears. A problem in translation, perhaps. But no problem deciding which of the two leaders offered the more accurate assessment.

Nor is there any reason to believe that the streets of Western cities are now safer. The July 7 bombing in London was perpetrated in 2005--four years after the invasion of Afghanistan. One of the bombers, Shehaz Tanweer, left a "suicide video" explicitly citing the presence of British troops in Afghanistan as justification for the massacre he was about to inflict.

None of the 19 September 11 hijackers had come from Afghanistan. All but one were Saudis. Obama has just concluded the biggest arms deal in history with the Saudi dictatorship.

The man whom NATO governments have pinned their hopes on, Hamid Karzai, was described in diplomatic cables released by WikiLeaks as "paranoid," "weak" and with "an inability to grasp the most rudimentary principles of state-building." His government, holed up in a palace in Kabul, is rated the fourth-most corrupt in the world.

In the latest polls, 60 percent of the British people are against the war, 31 percent are in favor, 9 percent don't know. A total of 73 percent of Americans tell pollsters that they want the troops withdrawn, as soon as possible.

There is no democratic mandate for the war and no reason for hope that it will attain its objectives, whatever those are these days.

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THE LIBERATION of women once ranked high on the list of war aims. But there wasn't a word about that, much less a reckoning of progress on the issue, in Obama's address. Nor, naturally, a cheep from Bush's chief satrap in the drive to war, Tony Blair.

The latest indication of the position of women can be found in the Karzai administration's decision to bring domestic violence centers, of which there are only 14 in the country, under government control, with a new rule banning women suspected of "moral crimes" from admission. The moral crimes mentioned include running away from a husband.

Malalai Joya, an Afghan writer who served as a member of parliament from the first election in 2003 until 2006, when she was thrown out for persistence in raising the plight of women, agrees that a minority of better-off women in Kabul has better conditions.

But for the vast majority, little has changed: "The U.S. replaced the barbaric Taliban with the brutal Northern Alliance...The situation for women is as catastrophic as it was before. In most provinces, women's lives are hell. Forced marriages, child brides and domestic violence are very common. Self-immolation is at a peak."

Joya describes the stated commitment to women's rights at the time of the invasion as: "All lies...Dust in the eyes of the world."

None of the liberationists at the Labour Party's annual conference at the end of September thought this worth a syllable of platform time.

The United Nations, in the name of which the war is being waged, estimates that 1,462 civilians perished in the conflict in the first six months of this year; many murdered by the Taliban and its tribal allies, many others by the U.S. and its tribal allies and by drones operated from the safety of an Air Force base in Nevada. This represents a 15 percent increase on the first six months of last year.

Fatal British casualties have reached 342. Their average age has been 22. Twenty-eight were teenagers.

After 10 years of war, neither the U.S. nor British government has been able to point to a single significant achievement. George Bush gave the Afghan war the codename Operation Enduring Freedom. Today, it's Operation Enduring Failure.

Time to bring the troops home.

First published in the Belfast Telegraph.