People’s Voice, Vancouver Bureau
For years, Canadians have been told that “the Taliban are on the back foot” and that victory is near in Afghanistan. Most of us never believed it. Opinion surveys have consistently shown that the majority of Canadians want our troops brought home from this unwinnable war.
The latest news from Kabul confirms that the US-led occupation forces have utterly lost the battle for popular support. Contingents of NATO troops are being pulled out ahead of schedule, with the notable exception of Canada.
The spark for this development was lit when U.S. troops on clean-up duty tossed Korans into a burning pit at Bagram Air Base. Afghan workers rescued some singed pages, and before long, massive protests and riots shook the country. A swift round of apologies and promises by U.S. officials has done nothing to change the mood of an increasingly resentful Afghan public.
A decade after taking on the “colonial burden”, the U.S. and its allies are paying the political price for an endless string of abuses, torture and killings committed in the name of “freedom”. Before long, the remaining occupation troops may be inside their giant fortified bases, chowing down on expensive western-style fast food. As in Iraq, they may be replaced by western “civilians”, but the signs of imperialist retreat are everywhere.
About 300 U.S. and other NATO advisors were withdrawn from Afghan ministries around Kabul in late February, as fears mounted for their safety. At the same time, the German military decided to speed up plans to abandon a 50-soldier outpost in the north of the country.
The French are also eager to get out since four of their troops were killed (and 16 wounded) by an Afghan army soldier, just weeks after three others were shot by another Afghan in uniform. Both the French and the Germans have also withdrawn civilian advisors from Afghan government institutions.
As Tom Engelhardt and Nick Turse wrote in the Tom Dispatch blog on Feb. 28, “Eleven years in, if your forces are still burning Korans in a deeply religious Muslim country, it’s way too late and you should go.” Instead, General John R. Allen, the war commander in Afghanistan, has directed that all U.S. military personnel undergo ten days of sensitivity training in the proper handling of religious materials.
Sensitivity, as Engelhardt and Turse point out, has not been an American strong suit. They point to revelations about the 12-soldier “kill team” that murdered Afghan civilians “for sport,” and then posed for photos with the corpses. Four U.S. Marines videotaped themselves urinating on the bodies of dead Afghans. A U.S. sniper unit proudly sported a Nazi SS banner in another incident, and a U.S. combat outpost was named “Aryan.” British soldiers were filmed abusing children. Eight shepherd boys, aged six to 18, were recently slaughtered in a NATO air strike in Kapisa Province in northern Afghanistan. Afghans have endured years of night raids by special operations forces that break into their homes, violating cultural boundaries and often killing civilians.
These actions have been protested by President Hamid Karzai, who has little power over his own country. And now, more than 30 protesters have been killed in demonstrations against the burning of the Korans.
The New York Times now reports that Afghanistan is “a religious country fed up with foreigners”. Laura King of the Los Angeles Times writes about the “visceral distaste for Western behaviour and values” among significant numbers of Afghans.
Engelhardt and Turse provide details of the blowback against the NATO forces. In a heavily guarded room of the Afghan Interior Ministry in Kabul, the bodies of a U.S. lieutenant colonel and major were recently found, each executed with a shot in the back of the head while at work.
Two other U.S. troops died outside a small American base in Nangarhar Province in the midst of a demonstration in which two protestors were also killed. An Afghan soldier gunned the Americans down and then escaped into the crowd.
In fact, Afghans in police and army uniforms have repeatedly attacked their “allies”. At least 36 U.S. and NATO troops have been killed this way in the past year, far beyond the level of “isolated incidents.” This includes the April 2011 case in which an Afghan air force colonel murdered nine U.S. trainers in a heavily guarded area of Kabul International Airport. His funeral was attended by 1,500 mourners.
The time for “apologies” by the U.S. occupation forces has long passed. Many Afghans are demanding local trials and the death penalty for the Koran burners.
Engelhardt and Turse conclude, “despite its massive firepower and staggering base structure in Afghanistan, actual power is visibly slipping away from the United States. American officials are already talking about not panicking (which indicates that panic is indeed in the air). And in an election year, with the Obama administration’s options desperately limited and what goals it had fast disappearing, it can only brace itself and hope to limp through until November 2012.
“The end game in Afghanistan has, it seems, come into view, and after all these fruitless, bloody years, it couldn’t be sadder. Saddest of all, so much of the blood spilled has been for purposes, if they ever made any sense, that have long since disappeared into the fog of history.”
For Canadians, this terrible tragedy includes 158 deaths among our own troops. When Afghanistan inevitably bids goodbye to NATO, our politicians will be asked: what was it all for? And there is no good answer.
*note: the above article is from the March 16-31, 2012, issue of People’s Voice, Canada’s leading communist newspaper. Articles can be reprinted free if the source is credited. Subscription rates in Canada: $30/year, or $15 low income rate; for U.S. readers – $45 US per year; other overseas readers – $45 US or $50 CDN per year. Send to People’s Voice, c/o PV Business Manager, 706 Clark Drive, Vancouver, BC, V5L 3J1.