Killing innocents in Afghanistan

July 15, 2008

YOU KNOW things must be going badly in Afghanistan if George W. Bush is forced to crawl out from under his rock and admit to reporters that "it's been a tough month" for the occupiers.

What sparked the president's brief sortie in front of the cameras was the news that, for the second month in a row, the total deaths of U.S. soldiers in Afghanistan is higher than those in Iraq.

While the rate of casualties for U.S. troops in Afghanistan has been higher than in Iraq for some time now, the surpassing of the absolute number is due to the influx of U.S. and coalition forces that has been going on for some time now, having doubled the total number of occupiers in the country in the last two years.

Bush justified this escalation by arguing that "it has also been a tough month for the Taliban." Such platitudes simply don't gel with the facts on the ground. According to a report by the Senlis Council, a Brussels-based foreign policy think tank, the Taliban control 54 percent of the country.

The insurgency is also getting more confident. In April, an assassination attempt on the U.S.-backed Afghan President Hamid Karzai demonstrated that the Taliban can mount attacks on heavily protected targets well outside of the areas they control. Last month, an attack on an Afghan prison which freed over 1,000 prisoners showed the Taliban fighters' ability to launch highly coordinated operations against military targets.

The people who have had it the "toughest," however, were notably absent from Bush's remarks (and presumably from his mind): Afghan civilians. Since the occupation began in October 2001, the living conditions of ordinary Afghans have marched unceasingly downwards. Currently, the average Afghan family is spending 75 percent of its income on food. In 2005, one out of five children under five in the country died. In 2006, one out of four died.

The people of Afghanistan have also had to endure a brutally escalating U.S. air war. The Center for Strategic and International Studies has tracked the escalation of the American bombing campaign from 86 "major munition" strikes in 2004 to 2,926 in 2007. Partially as a result of this escalation, the UN reports that civilian deaths in Afghanistan are up 62 percent this year.

Abdul Ghafar, who lost 20 members of his family to a NATO air strike in 2006, attempted to claim some compensation from the Aghan government: "This was my uncle's family. Eleven children, six women, and three innocent men were killed. He lost everyone but one small girl...We got nothing."

As for women's rights, trumpeted in the lead up to the war as the occupiers' most holy cause, the situation remains grim. As Ann Jones, author of Kabul in Winter: Life Without Peace in Afghanistan, put it last year, "The 'liberation' of Afghan women is mostly theoretical."

Since deposing the Taliban in 2001, the United States and its NATO allies installed a government led by Karzai and backed by the warlords of the Northern Alliance--the same warlords who enforced Taliban-level oppression against women in the areas they controlled. The expansion of warlord rule to more of the country has led to a major increase in women's suicide attempts, including an epidemic of self-immolation in the Western provinces.

The Revolutionary Association of Afghan Women (RAWA) has described the situation with chilling accuracy: "The true nature of the U.S. 'war on terror' drama has been exposed today and we witness that they are killing thousands of our innocent people under the name of 'fighting terrorists'...the U.S. government and its allies were just pursuing their strategic, economic and political gains in Afghanistan and pushing our people to increasing destitution and disasters."

Afghanistan's bloody chaos hasn't been without consequences for the occupiers, however. Aside from the casualties and increased monetary costs, the instability in Afghanistan has spilled over into Pakistan, forcing the U.S. to use ever greater force in the region in an attempt to maintain control.

The tremendous pressure the U.S. is putting on its puppets Karzai and Musharraf to maintain control in their respective countries has led to friction between the two, as each blames the other for the intractability of the Taliban insurgency. Like children squabbling over who broke a plate, they point the fingers at each other in hopes of avoiding the punishment. This dynamic reached the apogee of its absurdity last month, as Karzai threatened to invade Pakistan if necessary.

Throughout this, the lives of ordinary people in Central Asia are getting worse. The route by which this bloody descent can be halted is not more power to NATO, Karzai, or Musharraf. On the contrary, only the removal of the occupying forces can lay the groundwork for peace.
Paul Heideman, Madison, Wis.

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