COUNTERPUNCH– There are now at present some 68,000 U.S. troops and 42,000 allied forces occupying Afghanistan, in league with the Northern Alliance warlords and the corrupt and feeble Karzai regime in Kabul. President Obama clearly wishes to increase the figure and will announce before an audience of West Point cadets Tuesday that he will add over 30,000 more while pushing the Europeans to add 10,000. This will bring the total number of occupation forces to around the level of the Soviet deployment at its peak in the 1980s.
The Soviets were trying to protect the secular government in Afghanistan and to discourage Islamic fundamentalism, a potential threat to the neighboring Soviet Central Asian republics such as Uzbekistan. What is Obama trying to do?
Because make no mistake about it, this is Barack Obama’s war now. With this announcement he will have personally increased the force in Afghanistan by over 50,000 troops in response to appeals from his generals.
Obama’s mantra about the conflict in Afghanistan is that it is a “war of necessity.” But this is really just a version of the neocon “War on Terror” trope, which is to say that it implies that it is the natural, reasonable retaliatory response to the 9-11 attacks. (They started it, after all, so we have to take the war to them.)
But neocon strategy has always required the simplistic conflation of disparate phenomena, and the exploitation of public ignorance and fear, in the execution of policy. Who are they, after all? The invasion of Iraq required the Big Lie that Saddam Hussein had something to do with 9-11. The earlier invasion of Afghanistan required the clever sleight-of-hand by which the mainly Saudi Arab but international al-Qaeda was equated with the purely Afghan Taliban. “We don’t distinguish between terrorists and the governments that support them,” Bush declared.
This was almost a boast that the U.S. would be boldly ignorant as a matter of public policy, and a warning to the empirical rationalists of the world that the White House was in the grip of truly simplistic minds and would indeed shamelessly exploit popular Islamophobia as they pleased even as they made elaborate public gestures in support of religious tolerance. (The calculated message was: Be scared, world, because we’ve got cowboys in power, and hell, we can get kinda crazy when we’re pissed!)
The fact is, there was and is a difference between al-Qaeda, an international jihadist organization that wants to reestablish a global Caliphate and confront the U.S., and the Taliban, which wanted to stabilize Afghanistan under a harsh interpretation of the Sharia but maintain a working relationship with the U.S. And now, eight years after being toppled, the Taliban are back with a vengeance, demonstrating that they have a real social base. Moreover a Pakistani Taliban has emerged across the border as a direct consequence of the U.S. invasion.
Any number of intelligence reports have pointed out the obvious: more troops just breed more “insurgency.”
Obama’s national security advisor, Gen. James Jones, has stated clearly, “The Al Qaeda presence [in Afghanistan] is very diminished. The maximum estimate is less than 100 operating in the country, no bases, no ability to launch attacks on either us or our allies.” If there had been a “necessity” to destroy al-Qaeda in Afghanistan that matter has been taken care of. What does Obama think necessary to achieve now?
I imagine he will argue that the Taliban must not be allowed to return to power. But doesn’t that mean implicitly acknowledging that they have genuine roots in Afghan, particularly Pashtun society? The best military estimates put the number of Taliban militants at no more than 25,000, with fully-armed fighters around 3,000. There are about 100,000 soldiers in the Afghan National Army (ANA) in addition to all the foreign occupying troops. ANA forces are often described as of “poor quality,” meaning they are illiterate, and mainly attracted by the money. But the Talibs are also generally illiterate and many of them fight largely for the pay as well. Why is it whole provinces like Nuristan have come under Taliban control despite all the counterinsurgency manpower?
Why in attempting to “secure” Helmand province in an anti-Taliban offensive over the summer did the U.S. forces discover that their ANA allies included almost no Pashtuns but were disproportionately Tajiks? Why were U.S. forces unable to dislodge the Taliban from Marjeh, a city of about 50,000 people and hub of the opium trade?
The problem isn’t too few forces. Were that the case the increasing number of forces over the last several years would have produced a better, not worse, security situation. The problem is the premise that imperialists can re-colonize a country under the pretense of counter-terrorism, counter-insurgency or liberation in the face of mass resistance.
Continue reading about Obama’s War.
Gary Leupp is Professor of History at Tufts University, and Adjunct Professor of Religion. He is the author of Servants, Shophands and Laborers in in the Cities of Tokugawa Japan; Male Colors: The Construction of Homosexuality in Tokugawa Japan; and Interracial Intimacy in Japan: Western Men and Japanese Women, 1543-1900. He is also a contributor to CounterPunch’s merciless chronicle of the wars on Iraq, Afghanistan and Yugoslavia, Imperial Crusades. He can be reached at: [email protected]
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