Staying in Afghanistan

Reports that the US is determined to maintain a presence in Afghanistan will surprise no one except 99% of foreign policy analysts.  Responding to the announcement that the US is in negotiations to maintain a presence until 2024, Mahdi Hassan, senior editor at the New Statesman, writes “the US-led invasions and occupations of both countries have been a dismal failure” because “the presence of western troops in Muslim lands has provoked more terrorism than it has prevented.”

Regardless, Obama escalated the conflict on coming to office.  Citing research that outlines the primary goal of suicide terrorism is to end foreign military occupations, Hassan asks, “Why does an intelligent politician such as Barack Obama have such difficulty understanding this?”

The Afghan and Iraq invasions were launched on the expectation they would increase the terrorist threat to domestic populations, as they duly did.   It is a remarkable example of extreme naivety or intellectual subservience that claims the US is concerned with reducing terror not be met with widespread ridicule.

As Julien Mercille, a lecturer at University College Dublin, points out in the journal Critical Asian Studies, the War on Drugs is equally vacuous.

The claim to be concerned with reducing the level of drug production is undermined, he writes, by “the Taliban’s relatively small role in drug trafficking; U.S./NATO support for proxy forces involved in the drug trade; the focus on poppy cultivation over drug money; the chemical precursor trade; money laundering; Western support for tobacco and alcohol industries; and the emphasis on overseas operations and enforcement and neglect of drug treatment and prevention.”

In Afghanistan, the War on Drugs serves as “a rhetorical device used by the U.S. to facilitate overseas military intervention and the fight against insurgents opposed to U.S. policies in Afghanistan.”

In Colombia, a victim of both the Wars on Drugs and Terror, whilst US support has failed in its publicly stated goal of eradicating drug production it has “succeeded in modernizing the Colombian Armed Forces.” Furthermore, “by targeting FARC areas almost exclusively” it has “helped paramilitaries vertically integrate their criminal enterprise and turn it into a political instrument,” writes scholar Forrest Hylton.

This should lead to some caution before we can claim the War on Drugs has “failed.”

Slightly more honestly than Hassan, the editor of the Financial Times acknowledged that the aim of the war in Afghanistan is “to establish a client state with a semblance of democracy in a hostile region with no tradition of strong independent institutions or basic human rights.”

In order to achieve this goal, the militarisation of the state is crucial.  Afghanistan is set to receive $2.7 billion dollars worth of military equipment over the course of this year.  The Washington Post reports, “the U.S.-led coalition will deliver 22,000 vehicles, including 514 new four-wheeled “mobile strike force” armored vehicles yet to be used in Afghanistan, 44 airplanes and helicopters, 40,000 weapons, and tens of thousands of radios and other pieces of communications gear.”

An adviser to Karzai was quoted as saying “in the next eight months, we are getting more equipment than we’ve gotten in the last eight years….and this time it’s not all discarded equipment, it’s brand new.”

This delivery is the culmination of the what has been termed the “Golden Decade” for defence companies. The Associated Press reports, “Since the Sept. 11 attacks, the annual defense budget has more than doubled to $700 billion and annual defense industry profits have nearly quadrupled, approaching $25 billion last year.”

As an ancillary benefit, the ongoing construction of US-run prisons in the country will mean detainees can be held long into the future, possibly allowing for the eventual closure of Guantanamo as inmates are moved to less conspicuous sites in Central Asia.

The decision to maintain military bases and troops on the ground may have ended any prospect for peace and negotiations, but it will allow a US presence in one of the worlds most geo-strategically important regions and help to keep Iran and China in check; the latter being bent on “foreign military adventurism” according to a 2001 Pentagon report.

For Afghans the situation is increasingly desperate.

The first half of this year was the deadliest period for civilians since the war began.  The UNHCR noted in its Global Trends 2010 report that “three out of ten refugees in the world were from Afghanistan, with 96 per cent of them located in Pakistan and the Islamic Republic of Iran.” If Iraq is included, almost half of the world’s refugees are natives of US war zones.

Due to funding shortfalls, the World Food Programme recently announced they would be cutting programmes in nearly half of Afghanistan’s provinces.  Refugees International reports that 250,000 people have been displaced in the last 2 years, with 70% of those driven to the cities living in “unplanned areas or in illegal settlements.”   In Kabul “80 percent of the population live in unplanned settlements where poor sanitation and lack of access to safe drinking water are common.”

Last year, one analyst exemplified the approach of commentary in general:

I used to assume the Americans did certain things in Afghanistan (support corrupt governors, ally themselves with abusive commanders), because they didn’t know any better. If they only had the proper information, I thought, they would change such malign behaviour. The revelations in WikiLeaks indicate that they often have such information or at least serious allegations and indications, but then, apparently, carry on as normal.

The inability to abandon commonly held pieties prevents discussion of the logical next step. Meanwhile, the US is cementing its client in Central Asia and securing a permanent presence in the region, a “victory” built on the corpses of Afghan civilians.

Ross Eventon is a writer and researcher based in Bogota, Colombia. He was previously the Samuel Rubin Young Fellow at the Transnational Institute in Amsterdam where he focused on Afghanistan. Read other articles by Ross.