SocialismToday           Socialist Party magazine

Socialism Today 116 - March 2008

NATO splits in Afghanistan

THE US-led military alliance, NATO, is "in disarray", with its future "so much on the line". Those recent comments – by Paddy Ashdown, who was supposed to become the United Nation’s ‘super-envoy’ in Afghanistan, and of US undersecretary of state, Nicholas Burns, respectively – underline the complete fiasco of western imperialism in Afghanistan.

More than six years after military victory was declared, the civilian alienation from the western-backed regime and the Taliban military attacks against the western troops are threatening the entire operation. Inter-imperialist tensions are high, with European allies ignoring US requests for more troops and more military offensives.

In Afghanistan, NATO launched its first ever ground war, invoking its Article 5 (‘collective defence’) for the first time since its foundation in 1949. Since 2003, NATO has been in charge of the multi-national forces (ISAF) from 26 countries and the number of troops has quadrupled to today’s 43,000 under the command of US general, Dan McNeill. Separately, the US has 12,000 troops in Operation Enduring Freedom, aimed at fighting important terrorist targets.

Increased military intervention, however, has solved nothing. Last year, 6,200 people died in fighting, an increase of 50% compared to 2006. There were 150 suicide attacks and, early this year, even the five-star Kabul Serena Hotel was attacked, with seven people killed. Taliban checkpoints are everywhere in the south and east, and they control the main road from Kabul to Kandahar. Senlis, a think tank, says the Taliban has a firm presence in 54% of the country.

After six years of de facto US rule, two million children are not getting any education in Afghanistan, a country of 30 million people where 75% are illiterate. Access to water and electricity is limited, the small degree of investment is dwindling, and rich people are leaving or considering leaving the country. At least one notorious, former US-backed governor has become a ‘businessman’ in Dubai, with the money gleaned from corruption affairs.

Other present or former allies of the US and its Afghan president, Hamid Karzai, a former employee of the US oil company, Unocal, are involved in drug production and trafficking. Last year, it was estimated that poppy cultivation produced 8,200 metric tons of opium, a record level and over 90% of global production.

In an attempt to centralise power in Afghanistan around a ‘strongman’, former British and UN politician, Paddy Ashdown, was proposed as the UN’s super-envoy to the country. But Karzai, fearful of being completely sidestepped, turned this down. Ashdown then gave his view of the situation to the Financial Times: "With fighting entering its seventh year, no agreed international strategy, public support on both sides of the Atlantic crumbling, NATO in disarray and widening insecurity in Afghanistan, defeat is now a real possibility".

The White House, fearing such a defeat, can only see a military way out. Undersecretary of state, Nicholas Burns, told a conference in London: "The problem for NATO in Afghanistan is that we lack a sufficient number of troops on the ground, we lack equipment – especially helicopters – and that’s hurting military efforts to defeat the enemy".

Representatives of the US government, secretary of state Condoleezza Rice and defence secretary Robert Gates, have increasingly stated that the mission in Afghanistan is "not peace-keeping", but a war against extremists. Gates said some of the European troops act as a "peace corps", and are not "prepared to fight and die".

Leading NATO governments in Europe, such as France and Italy, ignored a letter sent by Gates requesting 7,500 more troops and more equipment, plus no restrictions on military fighting. The only offer forthcoming was for an additional 200 German troops in northern Afghanistan. France and Germany are both against sending troops to the south, especially Helmand province, where most of the fighting is taking place.

Britain, the second-largest force after the US, has around 7,800 troops in Helmand. Eighty-eight British soldiers have been killed. Talk of sending an extra 600 paratroopers followed recent visits by prime minister, Gordon Brown, and foreign secretary, David Miliband.

After 9/11, the war on Afghanistan had universal support among governments and high support in opinion polls globally. Now that catastrophe is more than six years in the past, increasing anti-war opinion restrains governments in countries like Italy and Germany. Although the Netherlands and Canada agreed to send more soldiers to the south, they too are meeting growing domestic protest. Canada has lost 78 soldiers in Afghanistan, and the government is threatening to withdraw its 2,500 troops if other states do not send more to support it in Kandahar – 52% of Canadians want the troops brought home. In Britain, only 23% say they believe the troops are helping the situation, and the British intelligence organisation, MI6, has even conducted negotiations with the Taliban.

A split in NATO is a fact, on similar lines to when the Iraq war was launched. European governments have their own imperialist interests and are not prepared to just obey US unilateralism. The International Crisis Group, a capitalist think-tank, wrote in its February report on Afghanistan: "Growing tensions over burden-sharing risk undermining the very foundations of multilateralism, including NATO’s future", adding that "the international community is increasingly fragmented".

The Bush administration’s response to the allies’ hesitation was to send another 3,200 marines to Afghanistan. Rice and others also warn of further terrorist attacks in Europe and of the consequences of an ‘extremist’ victory in Afghanistan or Iraq. In other words, she is blaming the outcome of the USA’s wars on those opposing sending even more troops.

There is no military solution in Afghanistan, which will be clear this spring when new Taliban offensives are most likely. To send more troops or move troops to the south will only increase the scale of the war. The hopeless military situation is also shown by the failure of US-led Pakistani forces to defeat the Taliban on the Afghan/Pakistan border.

After the Taliban was defeated in 2001, Bush and others spoke about a ‘Marshall plan’ to rebuild the country. But the priority of the US was to build an Afghan army and police force. The western powers kept control over military and financial resources, in alliance with corrupt warlords.

The attitude of people in Afghanistan towards the US-led troops was summarised by a member of the Afghan elite, Ali A Jalali, who served as interior minister from 2003-05, and is now based in the US: "They didn’t come there to rebuild or help the country. They came to Afghanistan only in order to punish and destroy the terrorist’s network…"

Afghanistan, as much as Iraq, is in the forefront of an anti-war movement that is growing again. Alongside growing economic crisis, this will increase the tension between imperialist powers. The US needs its allies, but only to boss them around in the manner of the hyper-power. The contradictions and tensions will surface again at the next NATO summit in Bucharest in April.

The Committee for a Workers’ International opposed the Afghan war from the beginning. The USA and western imperialism conduct war for their own profits and power, not on behalf of workers and poor. Workers’ and anti-war organisations globally must oppose new troop deployments and demand that those in Afghanistan are withdrawn. The war-ravaged people of Afghanistan need the support and cooperation of a force not motivated by profit, an international socialist workers’ movement.

Per-Åke Westerlund

Rättvisepartiet Socialisterna (CWI Sweden)


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