Afghanistan’s Killing Fields

Two landmarks in Afghanistan last week — British troop deaths surpassed 100, and monthly official coalition deaths now outnumber official coalition deaths in Iraq. Pentagon officials said that in May, 16 coalition troops were killed in Iraq, 14 of them American, while 18 coalition troops were killed in Afghanistan, 13 of them American.

Two more events made the news last week, noteworthy only in their predictability. Afghan President Hamid Karzai attended a donors conference in Paris, where he sought $50 billion. The US and friends offered $17 billion, though more than half of the pledge total came from a previous US commitment of $10.2 billion, i.e., Karzai’s net is $6.8 billion, which given past practice, he shouldn’t hold his breath waiting for. US First Lady Laura Bush showed slides from her trip to Kabul to visit Karzai and support Afghan women. Leaders echoed her call “to stand by Afghanistan.” Sarkozy, as usual, confused everyone by saying, “We cannot give in to torturers.” Laura announced that Washington will spend $80 million to support the American University in Kabul and the National Literacy Centre, to capture the hearts and minds of the people.

A note of realism was heard when officials complained that Karzai seemed to be unable to crack down on corruption and drug trafficking, even in Kabul, where he is virtually imprisoned in his heavily barricaded presidential palace. Karzai assured them that his government would take strides to root out corruption. Perhaps he could start by replacing his brother Wali Karzai, the president of Kandahar’s provincial council, who along with Hamid is widely believed to be involved in the very drug trafficking he so passionately denounced to his donors. Afghan officials recreated an air of surrealism by complaining that donors have been too skittish about letting Afghanistan take control of its own destiny and controlling how the money is spent. Yes, give tens of billions to corrupt cronies of Karzai. That would be sure to turn things around.

The other meeting, even more tedious and fruitless, lacking Laura’s slides, was a two-day session of NATO defense ministers following a now-familiar script in the debate over Afghanistan: US Defense Secretary Robert Gates unsuccessfully harangued unwilling allies to pledge more troops for the slaughter. Britain volunteered 230, with Des Browne, the British defense secretary, hailing the Afghan campaign as “the noble cause of the 21st century”.

The big complaint these days is the dastardly Pakistanis, providing “safe haven” for the even more dastardly Taliban. The answer from NATO came this week with a deadly air strike on a Pakistani Frontier Corps border checkpoint, which, according to Pakistani Prime Minister Syed Yousuf Raza Gilani, killed 11 Pakistani soldiers — Pakistan Muslim League MP Amir Muqam said as many as 70. This act of “self defence” is yet another in NATO’s long history of “friendly fire” deaths, surely the oxymoron of all times. NATO forces have launched several air strikes inside Pakistan over the past year but this is the first time it has killed Pakistani soldiers. Without so much as batting an eye, Admiral Michael Mullen, chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff, proceeded to demand of the helpless Pakistani government not only the expulsion of all Al-Qaeda but also an immediate halt to the flow of insurgents across the border. Lapdog Karzai even threatened to send Afghan troops in: “They come and kill Afghanis and coalition troops; it precisely gives us the right to do the same.”

But I’ve left out the really spectacular news, the attack by Taliban militants on the main prison in southern Afghanistan late Friday, exploding a car bomb at the main gate in a multi-pronged assault that freed over 1000 prisoners, including 400 suspected Taliban. The complex attack included a car bomb, suicide bombers who entered the prison, and rockets fired from outside it. “All the prisoners escaped.
There is no one left,” said Kandahar President Wali Karzai. Many of the prisoners were on a hunger strike only a few weeks ago during which 47 stitched their mouths shut. Some had been held without trial for more than two years and others were given lengthy prison sentences after short trials. The Taliban went on to liberate 18 nearby villages in an area that Canadian troops supposedly hold and plan to showcase with development aid over the next four years. Good luck, Canucks.

This blow to the occupation can only be compared to the Vietcong’s Tet offensive against the US occupation of South Vietnam in 1968. When will the occupation wake up and realize these brave and fearless men are dying defending their homeland? “I ask the Canadian people to ask their government to stop their destructive and inhumane mission and withdraw your troops. Our war will continue as long as your occupation forces are in our land,” Taleban spokesman Yousuf Ahmadi appealed.

Perhaps the freed jail space in Kandahar will obviate the need for a $60 million upgrade of the jail at the infamous Bagram base, dubbed Afghanistan’s very own Guantanamo. “There will be a great deal of improvement in the quality of life,” US Army spokeswoman Lieutenant Colonel Rumi Nielson-Green said. “There will be a lot more floor space and much more room for communal activities, which is part of their culture.” Plans for the new prison apparently came as a complete surprise to Afghan officials in the Afghan Ministry of Justice.

In the current jail, two detainees were killed after being repeatedly struck by their American guards. There have been numerous allegations of abuse at the facility, with prisoners claiming to have been sexually humiliated, beaten, stripped naked and thrown down stairs during their interrogations. Nielson-Green, however, denies that detainees at Bagram have been ill-treated. I shudder to think what Nielson-Green considers to be “ill treatment.”

Until September 2004, Bagram served largely as a way station for prisoners on the way to the real Guantanamo. US officials deny allegations that children as young as nine have been imprisoned at the facility. Speaking of sexual abuse, Canadian troops have recently been under fire for their “don’t look, don’t tell” policy with regards widespread sexual abuse of civilians by Afghan government troops the Canadians are training.

But enough of this. The pre- and post-9/11 smoke and mirrors about Afghanistan are finally dispersing and shattering. NATO is in Afghanistan, as US President George Bush said in Bucharest in April, as “an expeditionary alliance that is sending its forces across the world to help secure a future of freedom and peace for millions.” In other words to invade countries the US disapproves of and murder anyone who resists. A total withdrawal of foreign troops from Afghanistan, a negotiated settlement between Afghan forces, and massive reparations by NATO countries is what the world must urgently demand.

Putting the blame on Pakistan is the same story we hear about Iran in Iraq and heard during the US war against Vietnam, when Nixon began bombing Cambodia. It did not help the US defeat the Vietnamese but did result in the Khmer Rouge taking over Cambodia. Only by killing virtually the entire population will the US plan for Afghanistan succeed. Is this the objective?

Eric Walberg is a journalist who worked in Uzbekistan and is now writing for Al-Ahram Weekly in Cairo. He is the author of From Postmodernism to Postsecularism and Postmodern Imperialism. His most recent book is Islamic Resistance to Imperialism. Read other articles by Eric, or visit Eric's website.

6 comments on this article so far ...

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  1. bozhidar balkas said on June 18th, 2008 at 9:55am #

    NATO/US behaves like a husband who beats his wife; then wants to win her heart and mind by taking her to a movie and for burgers.
    beats her up again and takes her to even a better place to eat. he wins her over once again. he makes ‘appropriate’ promises, as well.
    (oh, what wd priests/politicos do if they were not allowed to make promises? probably die!)
    husband beats her once more because she was once again at fault as usual.
    the husband repents and takes her to even plusher diner.
    so it goes.
    the beaten wife has two choices : run away or cry uncle; iraq, afghanistan, and palestine have only one choice: cry uncle.

  2. hp said on June 18th, 2008 at 12:45pm #

    Every once in a while, the ole cast iron skillet upside the head trick gets results.

  3. sk said on June 18th, 2008 at 1:19pm #

    There are more modern alternatives to cast iron skillets, as shown by this brave young woman.

  4. bozhidar balkas said on June 18th, 2008 at 1:40pm #

    yes, that was dumb of me to give the wife jusy ywo choices

  5. bozhidar balkas said on June 18th, 2008 at 1:46pm #

    two choices not jusy twy choices. \or i could have said several juicy choices: castration, a huge/mean friend, arsenic, a taliban, etc.
    sheshe. that’s chinese for danke schoen.

  6. denk said on June 19th, 2008 at 9:38am #

    the link for this znet article is kaput ,
    all archived znet articles are inaccessible now.

    Nov 11 1999

    Wars No More

    By Blase Bonpane

    Just as a battered spouse who enables her partner to continue his abusive ways, so we, the people of Americas continue to enable the United States to be an incurable serial killer. The victims of the holocaust of the Third Reich have rightfully taken the position, “Never Again”. Why cannot we, restrain the hand of our bloodthirsty and fascistic foreign policy?

    Little is said after each holocaust perpetrated by the United States. Oh, yes, Vietnam was a tragic mistake, our government killed three million people, mostly civilians. And El Salvador, yes, that was a tragic mistake, the United States was in command and control of the Salvadoran Military and its adjunct death squads. Our government denied its role in every atrocity from raped and killed religious women to massacres of entire villages. Exposes of our direct role in such massacres filter out to the established press some twenty years later (El Mozote) and many respond with, “My, my, isn’t it awful?”

    And the Iran/Contra Scandal was a tragic mistake, sometimes called a “caper”. This caper of hiring any unemployed rapists and murders as mercenaries (President Reagan thought they were our Founding Fathers) took 40,000 Nicaraguan lives. A slap on the wrist to a few obedient functionaries and it was all over. A tragic mistake.

    Can’t you just hear the abusive spouse saying that every one of his beatings was a tragic mistake on his part. Can’t you just hear the enabling wife say she is sure he will never do that again? We, the enablers, continued to tolerate the serial killing. In Guatemala it began in 1954 and continued well into the 1990’s. Our Embassy knew about all the torture, all the summary execution, all the ethnic cleansing. Some 200,000 people were eliminated in Guatemala as part of our on-going global holocaust. And suddenly, on a recent visit, our President decides to apologize to Guatemala. This certainly was a unique act for a U.S. President. In the spirit of Manifest Destiny, apologies are few or never.

    Honduras, of course, was the base for so many of our aggressive acts into the rest of Central America. The Central Americans called Honduras, The Aircraft Carrier because it was a permanent base for tens of thousands of U.S. troops ready for action in all directions. Our officials were completely aware of the murderous Battalions of Hondurans troops including the so-called “Cobras” or special forces. Our government not only knew about these atrocities but eagerly paid the bill with money that should have gone for educational and medical needs in the United States.

    The Social Security Trust Fund was dumped into the U.S. treasury as if it were part of the general fund from U.S. tax payers. It is not. Social Security is a bank account into which our citizens pay and from which they expect a return. This co-mingling of funds simply gives our citizens the impression that military spending is a smaller portion of the actual budget. When Social Security is maintained as a separate fund, as it should be, citizens can see the actual military budget representing about half of the budget of the United States.

    William Blum’s book, “Killing Hope”, documents an endless series of pre-meditated violent acts by our country designed to stop creativity or autonomy by other countries. Need we mention our role in the overthrow of the government of Chile in 1973? The military figure who lead that crime, Augosto Pinochet Ugarte was considered our friend. The fact that he was a genuine and bona fide Nazi was not considered to be a problem by Henry Kissinger.

    And such was our friendship, perhaps it should be called fiendship with a litany of tyrants, one worse that the next; Somoza, Papa Doc, Baby Doc, Stroessner, Videla, Banzer, Trujillo, and it continues with our love for the terrorist state developed by Fujimori in Peru. But vital national interests are involved here. And what might those be? Corporate profits, multiple military bases, repayment of debts incurred by the wealthy and repaid on the backs of the poor of Peru.

    Perhaps we forgot to mention the Christmas attack on Panama in 1989. The barrios of San Miguelito and El Chorillo were leveled in an attempt to kidnap Manuel Noriega. Hundreds of Panamanians were killed so we could capture their leader, who had been previously paid as a CIA asset but who now refused to cooperate in the overthrow of the Nicaraguan government. This must have also been a tragic mistake and surely our government would never do anything like this again. Remember all of the attacks mentioned here are actions of the strong against the weak. There is no question of a fair fight, whatever that might be. 250 million enablers are lulled into thinking that the serial killing might now stop. The mass media which is the loudspeaker for corporate capital creates a shabby rationale for why these massacres were…necessary. Remember Grenada? The slogan of that stupid attack was, “We got their just in time!” Isn’t that impressive? Sounds like a John Wayne Western. Grenada has a smaller population than Santa Monica, California. But some Cubans were working on their airport. And the abuser was at it again.

    And that brings up the Cuban reality. Nine presidents have done their best to choke, kill, demonize attack and discredit Cuba Apparently they don’t want it known that Cuba has guaranteed health care for all and we don’t. They have rewarded people arriving from Cuba with instant legality while they have slammed Haitian refugees into Federal lock-ups.

    Why do we put up with the abuse of our brothers and sisters all over the world? Why do we allow our intelligence to be insulted on a daily basis by a corporate censored media? I suppose it is because this is our Daddy, this is our Fatherland. But mature offspring must not tolerate Daddy’s abuse. It is time for us to confront the abuser. The nation is in the final stage of its psychotic militarism. A CIA without any credibility is pointing in all directions saying to nations large and small, “You might have a nuclear bomb!” Billions go into programs to catch the bombs from other nations in mid-air. Terrorist bombs, however, would most likely delivered by truck. And after searching for enemies throughout the world and behaving as a serial killer, should we be surprised by such attacks?

    We have been attacking a burned out ash called Iraq for some nine years. This is the country we supported in one of the most serious conflicts of the 20th Century, the Iran/Iraq War. We have recently destroyed Serbia under the banner of Humanitarian Bombing. Even the liberals were enablers.

    We need to completely change our way of thinking. The children can help us, especially the children of Colombia. It was a privilege to meet these Nobel Prize Nominees. They spearheaded a Children’s Vote for Peace in Colombia. 2.7 million Colombians between the ages of 7 and 18 turned out to affirm the Children’s Mandate for Peace and Rights. This magnificent vote took place in October of 1997. It was a cooperative effort between UNICEF, a host of civic and religious non-governmental organizations and most importantly, the children of Colombia. When both the rebels and military agreed to honor the safety of the children, the national referendum became a reality. The children were nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize in 1998 but they did not win. The children have continued their campaign of “constructors of peace” by directing their attention to street violence, gang wars and creating youth, parent and police dialogues. CNN has produced a documentary film about the Colombian Children, “Soldiers of Peace”. The premiere showing was in Culver City, California as part of A Season for Non-Violence, Peace Jam in Los Angeles. The documentary will air internationally this Fall.

    Flying in the face of the hopes and desires of the Colombians are various spokespeople for the military/industrial/prison and gun complex in the United States. Here are words of General Charles Wilhlem to the U.S. Congress:

    I’m convinced that the Government must strengthen its negotiating position, and I believe that increased leverage at the negotiating table can only be gained on Colombia’s battlefields.

    It is truly disgusting for a foreign militarist to propose a ground war in a nation where both adults and children are begging for peaceful negotiations.

    While in Colombia I found the United Nations ready and willing to act as mediator in such negotiations. Our country used the philosophy of General Wilhelm in Central America and hundreds of thousands of innocent civilians were massacred. It was only the United nations that successfully moderated peace talks in Nicaragua, El Salvador and Guatemala. We simply cannot continue to function intelligently outside of history.

    Generals take note, at the beginning of the 20th century 15% of the casualties of war were civilians. At the end of the twentieth century 90% of the casualties of war are civilians. It would be good for General Wilhelm to know that battlefields went out with the Civil War. The twentieth century has been a century of holocausts.

    Now is the time to urge President Clinton and President Pastrana to invite the United Nations to serve as mediator for peace in that tortured nation.