Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Afghanistan: Ten Years of Tragedy and Misguided Policy

By Ramzy Baroud
Foreign Policy Journal
October 13, 2011

On July 1, 2002, US planes bombed an Afghan wedding in the small village of Deh Rawud. Located to the north of Kandahar, the village seemed fortified by the region’s many mountains. For a few hours, its people thought they were safe from a war they had never invited. They celebrated, and as customs go, fired intermittently into the air.

The joyous occasion however, turned into an orgy of blood that will define the collective memory of Deh Rawud for generations.

It was reported that the US air force used a B-52 bomber and an AC-130 helicopter gunship in a battle against imagined terrorists. According to Afghan authorities, 40 people were killed and 100 wounded (The Guardian, July 2, 2002). Expectedly, the US military refused to apologize.

The bombing of Deh Rawud was a microcosm of the war and equally lethal occupation that followed. While al-Qaeda was not an imagined enemy, the invasion and destruction of Afghanistan was a morally repugnant and self-contradictory response to terrorism.

The war remains repulsive ten years after the US began attacking the poorest country on earth. This latest crime against humanity in Afghanistan is a continuation of a trend that has spanned decades. Unfortunate Afghanistan was designated a pawn in a Great Game between powerful contenders vying for strategic control and easy access to natural resources. Throughout history, Afghanistan has been brutalized simply because of its geographical location.

The people of Afghanistan should not expect an apology for the war either. “The United States invaded Afghanistan to crush an al-Qaeda base of operations whose leader, Osama bin Laden, oversaw the 9/11 terrorist attacks — and to make sure Afghanistan would not be a haven for Muslim terrorists to plot against the West,” wrote Carmen Gentile and Jim Michaels in USA Today, October 6. Such justification has permeated mainstream media like a mantra.

Malalai Joya, a former Afghan MP and human rights activist, dared to challenge this dubious rationale. In a video message recorded on the tenth anniversary of the war and occupation of Afghanistan, she said:

“Ten years ago the U.S. and NATO invaded my country under the fake banners of women’s rights, human rights, and democracy. But after a decade, Afghanistan still remains the most uncivil, most corrupt, and most war-torn country in the world. The consequences of the so-called war on terror has only been more bloodshed, crimes, barbarism, human rights and women’s rights violations, which has doubled the miseries and sorrows of our people” (Monthly Review, October 7).

Army commanders and neoconservative think-tanks are frantically trying to find reasons for celebration. Neither has been able to accept moral responsibility for the crimes committed in Afghanistan under their command.

Marine Gen. John Allen, for example, still sees “real gains, particularly in the south,” as a result of counterinsurgency efforts which he supposedly mastered in Iraq. “Insurgencies are effective when they have access to the population,” he said. “When they are excluded from the population, then insurgencies have a very hard time.”

A strange assessment, considering the fact that the Taliban are not alien bodies from outer space, and worse, seem to still be effectively controlling the country. When the Paris-based research group, the International Council on Security and Development claimed that Taliban controlled 72 percent of Afghanistan, NATO commanders dismissed the allegation as simply untrue (Bloomberg, December 8, 2008).

“The Taliban are now dictating terms in Afghanistan, both politically and militarily,” said Paul Burton, ICOS Director of Policy. “There is a real danger the Taliban will simply overrun Afghanistan.”

Concurrently, there are those who argue that this was in the past, and since then President Obama (in 2009) approved a surge of more than 30,000 troops with the very aim of pushing the Taliban back. Such a move would allow state-building efforts to commence, thus preparing Afghanistan for the withdrawal of foreign troops in December 2014.

Such claims are backed by the latest Department of Defense biannual report to Congress on Afghanistan. The surge has produced “tangible security progress”, claimed the report, and the “coalition’s efforts have wrested major safe havens from the insurgents’ control, disrupted their leadership networks and removed many of the weapons caches and tactical supplies they left behind at the end of the previous fighting season.”

But reality on the ground tells a different story. The Taliban is in control of the vast majority of the country’s provinces (according to Al Jazeera, October 7). Their near-complete control of the east and south, and constant encroachment elsewhere are only cemented by the regular news of their highly coordinated targeting of Afghanistan officials and foreign forces, even in the heart of Kabul. The Taliban’s behavior hardly suggests that it’s a militant movement on the retreat, but rather a shadow government in waiting. In fact, ‘shadow governors’ is the term being used to refer to Taliban officials administering much of the country.

“Recent events strongly suggest that the US and its NATO allies are losing the war in Afghanistan to the Taliban: top collaborator officials are knocked off at the drop of a Taliban turban,” wrote US professor James Petras. (Global Research, October 11).

As for the claim that Afghanis are better off as a result of the US military invasion, the numbers tell a different story. Sadly, few kept count of Afghani causalities in the first five years of the war. According to modest UN estimates, “11,221 civilians have been killed since 2006, 1,462 of them in the first six months of this year” (LA Times, October 7).

Three photographs were published by the German news organization, Der Spiegel last March. They were of US soldiers (known as the Kill Team) posing with mutilated Afghani civilians from Kandahar last year. They were horrifying to say the least, and scarcely have the impression of any kind of ‘tangible progress’.

“It was during Obama’s administration that civilian death tolls increased by 24%,” said Malalai Joya. “And the result of the surge of troops of Obama’s administration is more massacres, more crimes, violence, destruction, pain, and tragedy.”

And yet, there is no apology. It is almost as though the sons and daughters of Afghanistan are mere numbers, dispensable and extraneous.

Ten years after the war on Afghanistan, we stand in solidarity with the war’s victims; with Malalia Joya and her ever-proud people.

Ramzy Baroud is an internationally-syndicated columnist and the editor of His latest book is "My Father Was a Freedom Fighter: Gaza's Untold Story" (Pluto Press, London), now available on Read more articles by Ramzy Baroud.