Britain’s role in the Afghan war is in crisis. Commanders are planning to pull troops out of Sangin in Helmand province.
Sangin has seen some of the heaviest loss of life for British soldiers. The politicians and generals are calling it “reconfiguration”, but handing over to the US troops is a recognition of defeat.
At the start of this week 314 British soldiers had died in the war – one third of them in Sangin.
There are currently 9,500 British troops in Afghanistan, with numbers expecting to top 10,000 by the end of the year.
The final stage of Barack Obama’s surge will bring US troops numbers in the area to 30,000.
Yet none of this firepower is providing a solution and the war is bloody chaos – with ordinary Afghans suffering most. More Afghan civilians died last year than any other, and just last week new US commander General David Petraeus had to apologise for the deaths of five Afghan soldiers who were killed in a “friendly fire” incident by their allies in the US forces.
Over 1,000 US troops have died and billions of pounds have been spent on waging what has become the longest war in US history.
The US says it wants to hand over to the Afghan army as soon as the Taliban have been cleared from areas. They call it the “Afghanisation” of the war and plan to build up the Afghan army to over a quarter of a million troops.
But last month Time magazine reported, “Nine out of ten Afghan enlisted recruits can’t read a rifle instruction manual or drive a car… Commanders routinely steal their enlisted men’s salaries.
“Soldiers sell off their own American-supplied boots, blankets and guns at the bazaar – sometimes to the Taliban… Recruits tend to go Awol after their first leave, while one-quarter of those who stay in service are blitzed on hashish or heroin according to an internal survey carried out by the Afghan National Army.”
This is not because of the nature of Afghan people – this is because of the fracturing of people’s lives and livelihoods.
The Afghan army costs $6 billion a year – the Kabul’s government’s annual earnings in tax revenues are only $1 billion.
Any standing army will always be massively subsidised by the US. The prospect of using the Afghan people as a tool of defending the US is both a sham, and a cruel misuse of Afghanistan’s resources.
There is a deep crisis within the ruling classes in the US and Britain about what do about the war. In Britain, defence secretary Liam Fox said, “any attempt to describe this as a retreat is, in my view, quite contemptible.” But he cannot avoid the truth that the Sangin pullout comes after a string of other hammer blows against the occupation.
Obama’s sacking of General Stanley McChrystal was a sign of deep divisions about the war following the failure to defeat the Taliban.
Surge after surge has failed, and the Taliban have reclaimed Marja just weeks after 15,000 Nato and Afghan forces poured in. After the Marja battle a survey of Afghan opinion showed that 61 percent felt more negative about Nato forces as a result.
The planned Kandahar offensive has been postponed until the autumn at least.
Afghans know that the occupation is not there to protect or serve them. Instead it is seen as propping up President Hamid Karzai’s unpopular government, which is steeped in corruption.
Karzai has openly flaunted the fact that he is willing to negotiate with the Taliban. The New York Times recently reported that Karzai said he had “lost faith in the Americans and Nato to prevail in Afghanistan.”
The US would like a more credible partner, but there is no one to replace Karzai.
The imperialist interests of the US are at stake. Obama’s method is to compel other states to cooperate in pursuing these interests. “The burdens of a new century cannot fall on American shoulders alone,” he said. But the US cuts an ever more lonely figure in Afghanistan.
The first thing Obama did was order a surge of 30,000 troops into the country. Any talk of multilateralism was silenced.
Anti-war sentiment among the populations of the occupying nations is having an impact. In Britain, which has the second largest force in Afghanistan after the US, 72 percent of the population believes the war is unwinnable.
The war can still get even bloodier. Under pressure after the deaths of so many Afghan civilians at the hands of Nato troops McChrystal had been forced to introduce a new policy called “courageous restraint”.
The desperation to win could mean that Petraeus drops even this pretence to protect ordinary Afghans.
Last week Obama named Marine Corps General James Mattis to replace General Petraeus as chief of US Central Command. This gives Mattis overall command of US forces in Afghanistan and Iraq and across the Middle East.
Mattis, also known as “Chaos”, “Warrior Monk” and “Mad Dog Mattis,” has a long record of leading murderous combat operations in US wars of aggression in the Middle East and Central Asia. In April 2004 he led the first US assault on the Iraqi city of Fallujah and helped plan the siege that destroyed the city.
In February 2005, at a public forum in San Diego, Mattis said that “it’s a hell of a lot of fun to shoot” Afghans. He added, “Actually, it’s a lot of fun to fight. You know, it’s a hell of a hoot. It’s fun to shoot some people.”
Mattis received an official rebuke for his comments – but now he’s in charge of the slaughter.
As the fighting becomes more desperate and more reckless, countless more Afghans will die. The forces are destroying any infrastructure that exists and making life ever more uncertain.
There is only way to end the slaughter – pull all the Nato troops out.
Judith Orr is a national officer of the Stop the War Coalition. She writes in a personal capacity