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War without end in Afghanistan

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Issue 2569
Displaced by war, Amir Jan with his children by their tent in Samar Khel
Displaced by war, Amir Jan with his children by their tent in Samar Khel (Pic: Bilal Sarwary/IRIN)

Days after Donald Trump announced a “new strategy” for the US’s seemingly endless war in Afghanistan last week, military commanders claimed the first soldiers had already arrived.

It’s the US’s latest failure to move on from a war that’s lasted almost sixteen years and killed more than 100,000 Afghan people.

And Trump’s speech suggests the US is about to inflict even more death and violence in Afghanistan.

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Thousands of extra soldiers will pile on top of the 12,000 US troops already in Afghanistan.

Trump said that, unlike the last president Barak Obama, he wouldn’t set any timetables or dates to leave.

No matter how deadly or disastrous the war is, the US is determined to cling on and force its control over Afghanistan.

The US invaded Afghanistan in 2001 after terror attacks on the World Trade Centre in New York.

George W Bush, then US president, said Afghanistan’s Talban government was sheltering Al Qaeda, the group behind the attacks.


But the invasion was part of a much bigger plan to assert US dominance. Within weeks of the terror attack Bush was already preparing for the 2003 invasion of Iraq.

The US painted its invasion of Afghanistan as a good war bringing freedom, women’s liberation and prosperity.

Yet 16 years later, life for ordinary Afghans is actually getting worse.

And the Taliban themselves, supposedly defeated in 2001, are gaining ground—a direct result of the brutality of the occupation (see below).

Meanwhile the US’s other disastrous war—the 2003 invasion of Iraq—weakened it badly.

Obama increased the number of US soldiers in Afghanistan to 100,000 in 2009, hoping to crush the Taliban.But by 2011, with the Taliban undefeated, the US began its retreat.

Obama hoped to gradually reduce the number of US soldiers still in Afghanistan, leaving the Afghan army to bear the brunt of the fighting. Even that failed. Just last year Obama slowed down the pace of the US’s withdrawal in the face of the Taliban’s growing strength.

A complete victory for the Taliban would mean the rulers of the US lose their grip on a part of the world where they need to shore up their influence.

Afghanistan sits in between two of the US’s biggest rivals—China, which is challenging the US’s dominance in Asia, and Iran which is becoming more influential in the Middle East.

But even worse for them, defeat would prove to its rivals that the global superpower can be beaten.

Atrocities of occupation

The US faced less resistance in Afghanistan when it invaded in 2001 than it does now.

But the war destroyed Afghanistan’s society and infrastructure.

And the war against the Taliban in Afghanistan’s rural areas—which involved bombing and raiding villages—pushed many Afghans to take up arms against the occupation.

Hatred of the occupation was so high that attacks on US forces by Afghan soldiers and police became a real problem for them.

They were supposedly the US army’s allies in the fight against the Taliban and other militas.

US forces burned copies of the Quran and other religious texts in an incinerator on a US airbase.

Protests and riots against the occupation spread across Afghanistan in response.

US forces killed at least 20 protesters.

In 2012 up to 20 US soldiers murdered sixteen Afghan villagers in the middle of the night.

And in 2015 the US knowingly bombed a hospital run by charity Doctors Without Borders, killing ten patients and 12 staff.

Britain is a US accomplice

Britain is under pressure from the US to also send more troops back to Afghanistan.

Trump called on the Nato military alliance, which includes Britain, “to support our new strategy, with additional troop and funding increases”.

At its peak there were nearly 10,000 British soldiers in Afghanistan in 2009. There are now about 500.

Britain also operated a secret prison at its base Camp Bastion, where it held up to 90 Afghans indefinitely and without charge.

Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn has rightly spoken out against returning to war.

But there are some in the Labour Party who could disagree. Britain joined the invasion under Tony Blair—and many of his followers are still Labour MPs.

66 Labour MPs voted for Britain to start bombing Syria in 2015. And 102 Labour MPs refused to support Labour’s motion condemning Western ally Saudi Arabia for bombing in Yemen last year.

Elite addicted to opium trade

The ruling elite left in charge by the US profits from industrial-scale opium production.

Some 8,000 hectares of Afghan land were used to cultivate opium in 2001. That figure is now 201,000 and production is going up.

The opium is for export, but plenty of it has found its way onto Afghanistan’s streets. In 2010 the United Nations (UN) estimated that a possible 1 million people were addicted to opium.

War is creating more refugees

The war in Afghanistan is still producing hundreds of thousands of refugees.

The UN counted some 650,000 Afghans who became refugees in 2016. And it says 10 percent of those who attempted to cross the Mediterranean last year came from Afghanistan.

Millions need aid to survive

Some 5.3 million children were in need of humanitarian aid between January and June this year.

The total figure for the population is 9.3 million.

And nearly 500,000 children were suffering from malnutrition.

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