Socialist Worker

Afghanistan: a war that won't be won by Nato's occupation

by Simon Assaf
Issue No. 2107

According to recent pronouncements by British ministers, US officials and Nato generals, the war in Afghanistan is almost over. All that is required is one final surge of troops and the Taliban will surrender, they say.

They brush aside all the bad news about the rise in the number of casualties, roadside ambushes, suicide bombings and fighting spilling over into Pakistan. These, according to them, are all signs that the insurgency is 'failing'.

Yet all the indicators point in the opposite direction – towards that fact that it is the Nato-led occupation of the country that is in serious trouble.

Last year the Afghan resistance targeted Nato convoys with 1,469 roadside bombs, almost five times as many as in 2004.

They launched 8,950 attacks on troops, ten times higher than three years ago. And while there were three suicide attacks in 2004, last year this reached 130. The Afghan resistance now regularly fires rockets and mortars into US and Nato bases.

Meanwhile the United Nations (UN) has admitted that the resistance seized 40 convoys of food aid this year, while the US military regularly 'loses' arms shipments on their way to their headquarters at Bagram air base. In the latest incident three helicopter engines 'went missing' on route from a port in Pakistan.

According to Nato it would need over 400,000 troops to pacify Afghanistan in the 'long term'. This has sent George Bush and his defence secretary Robert Gates scuttling around Europe begging for more troops and equipment.

Gordon Brown promised Bush another 230 soldiers, Germany a further 1,000, while Italy, Poland and France pledged to strengthen their presence on the ground. Each announcement was matched by promises of victory.


Nato currently has 60,000 troops in the country. Even if you add in the conscript army of poorly paid Afghan soldiers, the alliance still has a shortfall of a quarter of a million soldiers.

Now more soldiers are dying in Afghanistan than in Iraq. Here in Britain, the images of flag-draped coffins being unloaded from transport planes is feeding a growing popular dissatisfaction with the war.

A recent poll found that 54 percent of the British people want the troops home from Afghanistan now. Only 34 percent think that British troops should battle on.

Meanwhile Britain's ministry of defence announced this week that 10,000 troops were not fit for frontline duty.

The problems of the occupation reaches into the heart of the puppet Afghan government. Two weeks ago the Afghan president Hamid Karzai narrowly escaped an assassination attempt as he reviewed his troops. It transpired that Afghan military commanders helped smuggle weapons for the attack.

Karzai's writ does not extend beyond the walls of his palace in the capital Kabul. Corruption has wrecked his government, while warlords control ministries as if they were personal fiefdoms.

The country he is supposed to rule now produces 95 percent of the world's heroin. And all these problems have led the occupation to sideline the man they once paraded as the country's saviour.


But the deeper Afghanistan sinks into crisis, the more shrill the statements become. One Nato general recently told German radio that the only way to pull out of the country is for Nato to send in more troops.

Then British foreign secretary David Miliband sunk to a new low when he declared that 'to defend Britain we have got to be in the toughest areas of the world like Afghanistan'.

The gung-ho messages of victory gloss over an important principle of guerilla war – never confront the enemy head on.

An example of this principle was revealed by the recent deployment of British paratroopers in the south of the country.

A journalist with Germany's Der Spiegel news magazine reported that when 500 British paratroopers marched into Hutal district the resistance fighters simply went to ground.

The soldiers marched around, peered at the desert and cursed the 'invisible enemy'. Meanwhile one in four of the soldiers contracted severe stomach problems from drinking polluted water.

Their only Afghan casualties were two young boys on a motorbike gunned down by accident.

Frustrated, the paratrooper's commander marched into nearby villages in an attempt to goad insurgents into a battle. But they did not appear.

The paratroopers declared victory instead and marched out. The Taliban then reappeared.

This pattern is repeating itself across the country. The Taliban recently launched a bold attack on Kandahar prison, freeing thousands of captives. They then took control of nearby villages.

Nato rushed in troops, bombed the area, counted the dead and declared victory. But there were no battles – the resistance simply melted away, taking the freed prisoners with them.

Kandahar was suppose to have been 'pacified' a year ago, and the villages were to be used as an example of progress in a 'hearts and minds' campaign by Canadian troops.

This war is now spilling over into Pakistan. In the latest incident Nato troops fired volleys of artillery shells over the border. Last week warplanes mistakenly bombed a Pakistani military outpost, killing 11 soldiers.

For Pakistanis, the Afghan war is quickly turning into the 'Pakistan war' in the same way that the US war in Vietnam became a US war in neighbouring Cambodia and Laos.

Those who will pay are the thousands of young soldiers sent to kill and die for Bush and Blair's lies – and the war's tens of thousands of Afghan and Pakistani victims.

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