Heart of Darkness

News from Afghanistan makes no sense. On the one hand there are up-beat stories like the recent Canadian Operation Rolling Thunder in Pashmul, Kandahar. “I started the operation on a hospital operating table and I’m ending it with everybody coming back safely. I couldn’t be happier,” beamed Major Grubb, leading the 2nd Battalion of the bizarrely named Princess Patricia’s Light Infantry Company.

The few locals still living in Pashmul, the scene of this “liberation” campaign by the kuffar Canadians, either fled by foot or cowered in their dugouts before the fighting started. Most are poor farmers. Scores of locals, the “enemy”, were killed by the brave Canucks, who, just to clinch their “success”, called on US military air support to drop several bombs, including Hellfire missiles. Several dozen “enemy” were destroyed. Only one Afghan government soldier was hurt when he accidentally shot himself in the foot. No Canadians were even injured. Major Grubb acknowledged the operation isn’t a “permanent result” because the Taliban seem to have an unlimited supply of fighters willing to battle for Pashmul.

Western readers have become numbed into accepting the code words “enemy” and “insurgents”, ignoring the underlying fact that the Taliban are still the legitimate government, that these so-called insurgents are in fact widely seen as freedom fighters battling the non-Muslim foreign occupiers — the real “enemy” — who invaded the country illegally and have killed hundreds of thousands of resistance fighters and innocent civilians illegally. Rather than “killed”, the word “murdered” might be more appropriate. For locals, the dead are “martyred”, as in Iraq and Palestine.

In a recent report which notably reflects the implicit horror of what the occupiers are doing, the Globe and Mail’s Doug Saunders describes a scene in Naray, on the northeast border with Pakistan, where 200 trigger-happy US Army soldiers huddle in tents, sheltering themselves from regular rocket attacks. He was greeted by a certain Lieutenant-Colonel Christopher Kolenda, a clean-cut, steel-eyed officer in the 173rd Airborne, who introduced him to one of the key battlefield tactics of the new American military — the two-hour PowerPoint presentation. “The heart of the matter here, as we see it, is a socio-economic dislocation,” Kolenda told him, before quoting from Sir George Scott Robertson’s 1900 manual Kaffirs of the Hindu Kush and explaining in detail the anthropology and tribal politics of this region, including some new research he had commissioned from American Human Terrain Specialists.

“There’s been an atomization of society here — the elders lost control over their people, and a new elite of fighters came in to fill the vacuum, so what we need to do out here is to re-empower the traditional leadership structures. As you approach the possibility of self-sufficient development, then you reach what I’ll call the developmental asymptote, which is the point we’re striving to reach.” Hardly the sort of talk he had expected from an infantry brigade known for its ruthlessness. Here at the headwaters of the river, he felt he had encountered some “latter-day Colonel Kurtzes, losing themselves in Cartesian twists of logic amid all the mud and dust.”

This, apparently, is the Petraeus Doctrine, a new version of the infamous “strategic hamlets” strategy of Vietnam days, with officers taking totalitarian command of the society, in hopes of replacing the Taliban with a made-in-America secular, consumer culture. A zealous US officer in Naray effused, “Our goal is to rebuild the government and society from the ground up in our model,” using the Commander’s Emergency Response Program, funding so-called society-rebuilding programs — similar to what the dozens of Western aid organizations might do if they dared venture forth from Kabul.

“We do not believe in counterinsurgency,” a senior French commander, clearly recalling Vietnam and Algeria, told Saunders. “If you find yourself needing to use counterinsurgency, it means the entire population has become the subject of your war, and you either will have to stay there forever or you have lost.” The Americans, unfortunately, have yet to learn this lesson. “We’re trying to raise the opportunity cost of picking up a weapon or growing poppy,” says Alison Blosser, a Pashto-speaking State Department official. And they are willing to wait things out, according to one official, an obvious acolyte of presidential hopeful Senator John McCain: “We’re still in Germany and Japan 60 years after that war ended. That’s how long it can take. I fully expect to have grandchildren who will be fighting out here.”

Despite the insistence by the occupiers that they can outlast the resistance, there is a constant string of reports indicating the Taliban are continuing to increase their strength, taking control of the regional centre Ghaszani in central Afghanistan last week, though reports were quick to add that occupation forces rushed in to retake the village. There have been reports of Taliban fighters moving into several other rural districts north and east of Kabul. The Taliban is seen by many in the districts surrounding the capital as a credible alternative to the weak US-backed government.

Kabul itself is the constant scene of bombings. Sunday, a remote-controlled bomb blew up a mini-bus shuttling National Army personnel to the Ministry of Defense, killing a woman and wounding five others, including three army personnel. Three days earlier a suicide bomber targeted a convoy of international soldiers in eastern Kabul, killing three civilians.

Violence has increased around Afghanistan during the last two years, even as more international troops have poured into the country. More than 1,500 people have died in insurgency-related violence this year. Analysts estimate that this has been the bloodiest spring since the start of the insurgency and that the increasing instability is fuelling the call to deploy more troops to the region. Ninety-seven British soldiers have died in Afghanistan since 2001, most in the past two years. At current rates, the 100 mark will be passed in the coming month.

NATO officials claim that the surge in violence is related in part to the recent peace deals between the Pakistani government and the rebels in that country, which, it is argued, allow for a haven for Taliban fighters who cross the border to launch attacks in Afghanistan. The US response to this American theory has been — yes — to start bombing Pakistan.

Any talk of “society building” must be put in the context of the situation in Helmand province, where, of the 224 schools opened in 2001-02, only 60 are now active. Teachers should get $60 per month, but are rarely paid at all. On the other hand, the province is now the world’s biggest producer of opium, and the authorities cannot successfully eradicate it or find a substitute crop. And once the harvest is in, or if fields of poppies are destroyed by the occupiers, destitute farmers flock to the Taliban’s ranks.

The insurgency is spread not by fear alone: a weak central government and the country’s declining socioeconomic situation point to the Taliban as the only feasible force to control the situation. “The population of Afghanistan is becoming disillusioned with the government,” says Halim Kousary, of the Centre for Conflict and Peace Studies in Kabul. “People in the north believe there hasn’t been enough reconstruction.”

US Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral Michael Mullen told Congress last week the US will respond by increasing troop strength. Yes, that will be sure to improve the situation: kill even more Afghan patriots, inciting their relatives to seek revenge, and drop some more bombs, terrifying and killing civilians for good measure.

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.

8 comments on this article so far ...

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  1. sk said on June 4th, 2008 at 11:13am #

    “Human Terrain Specialists?” Weren’t these known as Anthropologists in another century? Claude Levi-Strauss had this to say about the “purity of knowledge” of scholarship so assiduously garnered by Anthropology wonks:

    It is the outcome of a historical process which has made the larger part of mankind subservient to the other. During this process millions of innocent human beings have had their resources plundered and their institutions and beliefs destroyed, whilst they themselves were ruthlessly killed, thrown into bondage, and contaminated by diseases they were unable to resist. Anthropology is daughter to this era of violence.

  2. Arch Stanton said on June 4th, 2008 at 11:38am #

    “Well, you see Willard… In this war, things get confused
    out there, power, ideals, the old morality, and practical
    military necessity. Out there with these natives it must be
    a temptation to be god. Because there’s a conflict in
    every human heart between the rational and the irrational,
    between good and evil. The good does not always triumph.
    Sometimes the dark side overcomes what Lincoln called
    the better angels of our nature. Every man has got a
    breaking point. You and I have. Walter Kurtz has reached his.
    And very obviously, he has gone insane.”

    “Yes sir, very much so sir. Obviously insane.”

  3. hp said on June 4th, 2008 at 12:21pm #

    May as well try and bribe them with canned SPAM.

  4. sk said on June 4th, 2008 at 12:41pm #

    Speaking of topsy turvy morality, who would have thought we’d be seeing a picture of German soldiers driving around Central Asia with a human skull strapped as a bonnet mascot on their Geländewagen?

  5. bozhidar balkas said on June 4th, 2008 at 1:59pm #

    to me, it is not surprising that canada is involved in yet another aggression/occupation/warfare by using mercenary soldiers.
    we have no moral nor legal right to be in afghanistan.
    canada, in view of its nuclear umbrella, geographic position, wealth and as a member of nato is one of the most secure lands.
    yet it is one of the most bellicose lands on earth.
    but like US , canada too is governned by plutocrats. and like US plutocrats so our own want more real estate.
    our media is also owned by the ruling class. thus we hear little of what goes on in afghanistan or we get ‘explanations’ from the army. thank u

  6. Ekosmo said on June 5th, 2008 at 2:39pm #

    God-damn… and I mean GOD-Damn that Arch Stanton…!

    For some time now I bin lining up that ‘Apol Now’ Corman-Willard sequence for summin else I had in mind… and just now I’ve bin utterly gazumped…

    Arch Stanton

    “is out there… operating without any decent restraint, totally beyond the pale of any acceptable human conduct, and he’s still in the blogosphere writing MY posts…!

    Your mission DV, is to terminate Stanton’s account…

    TERMINATE with extreme prejudice…”!

    [This post will self-destruct in 5 seconds….]

  7. Michael Pugliese said on June 6th, 2008 at 6:03pm #

    Your cover is blown, Walberg/Simon Jones.
    Counterpunch and DV publishes Holocaust Denier

    Lovely. The loon can be found at the webpgs. of the Adelaide
    Institute, a leading far Right Holocaust Denialist org. in Australia,
    Under a pseudonym, (see the Glavin piece just above)
    http://www.jewishtribalreview.org/jones.htm . Jewish Tribal review is
    quite a cesspool. Hmm, who would have thought The Protocols of the
    Learned Elders of Zion was, according to this Walberg/Jones>…The
    bile aside, it is in fact a series of 24 mostly articulate,
    well-argued lectures outlining a plan for world capitalist domination,
    with sharp political and social analysis, lots of Machiavelli and a
    Marxian sophistication in its understanding of capitalism and
    historical processes.
    http://www.rense.com/general43/triump.htm , “Triumph Of The Will:
    Jewish Cultural Hegemony, ” gee-whiz, according to him (citing that
    kook Israel Shamir, who some anti-Zionists on the Left, like Jeffrey
    Blankfort, despite tons of debunking from Palestinians on the Left
    like Ali Abunimah http://www.nigelparry.com/issues/shamir/ still
    associate with) the invention of photography coincides w/the rise of
    the J-O-O-O-S to world hegemonic status.

  8. hp said on June 7th, 2008 at 11:54am #

    Look who else’s cover is “blown.”