Masthead graphic based on a painting by Gudrun Thriemer.

Sunday, September 10, 2006

Afghanistan: Revenge is the goal, September 11, 2006.

This is the well-commemorated fifth anniversary of events that have come to be known simply as September the 11th. Violence in Afghanistan continues to escalate, and is said to be worse than at any time since US-led forces invaded the country in 2001.

Indeed, the mission is proving too much for NATO, which has had limited experience in ground combat.

The new head of Britain's army, General Sir Richard Dannatt, told the Guardian that his troops were barely coping with the mission.

"We are running hot, certainly running hot. Can we cope? I pause. I say 'Just'," he told the Guardian, adding that Britain was doing "more than its share of what is required in Afghanistan."

But the senior British military commander in Afghanistan described the situation as "close to anarchy" and said NATO forces were "running out of time" to salvage the situation.

Lord Tim Garden, defense analyst at Britain's Royal Institute of International Affairs and former assistant chief of defense staff, told Swiss-based ISN Security Watch "It has turned out to be a more challenging theater in the south than was expected....Presumably the intelligence wasn't very good." (ISN)

Lord Garden said Britain was unable to offer more troops than are currently deployed, and that NATO needed to reappraise both the scope and timescale of the mission.

A poll conducted by Opinion Research and CNN in early August asked 1047 American adults who was winning the war in Afghanistan. 58% of the respondents said neither side. 28% thought the United States was winning; 10% said the insurgents.

According the NYT, Afghanistan is now statistically as deadly as Iraq for American soldiers.

But the Canadian establishment projects a more optimistic picture. Front-running Liberal leadership candidate Michael Ignatieff told about 250 of his supporters last week

"When I voted for the extension of the mission, I said the mission had to maintain a balance among the security pillar, the reconstruction pillar and the humanitarian pillar." Ignatieff added that "provided it maintains that balance, it's a mission I can support. But I am going to hold Mr. Harper and the Conservative government to account to make sure this mission serves Canadian values and Canadian interests and genuinely helps the Afghan people."

Analysis by the Polaris Institute, an Ottawa based public policy think-tank, has shows a dramatic imbalance between military spending and humanitarian aid in Afghanistan — $4 billion to $100 million.

A new report from the Senlis Council finds a slightly smaller imbalance. Still military expenditure outpaces development and reconstruction spending by 900% - US$82.5 billion has been spent on military operations in Afghanistan since 2002 compared with just $7.3 billion on development. (Asia Times Sep 6)

Although he said he had to check the statistics, Ignatieff replied that "the numbers alone don't tell the whole story. You can't do any reconstruction when the Taliban is walking into villages and killing people at prayers, as The New York Times reported last week." (Star Sep 6)

Emmanuel Reinert, executive director of the Senlis Council agrees that
"You cannot make peace with the real command of the Taliban. We have to attack the root cause of the growing power of the Taliban, which is poverty [and] the counter-narcotics policy. We have to cut the Taliban from their base so that they will become what they were five years ago, a very small group of isolated terrorists. That's not the case anymore. Now they are a large part of the population because of the failure of the development policy."

Ignatieff said there are indices other than statistics.

"If we feel as Canadians we're losing the hearts and minds and affections and respect of the Afghans we're trying to help, that's another index.

"And I'm not saying we have."

But the Senlis Council report says clearly that the international community has lost the battle for the hearts and minds of the Afghan people.

Director Reinert points out that
"Five years after [911], Afghanistan is still one of the poorest countries in the world, and there is a hunger crisis in the fragile southern part of the country. Remarkably, this vital fact seems to have been overlooked in the funding and prioritization of the foreign policy, military, counter-narcotics and reconstruction plans."

....The [Senlis] report warns of difficult conditions in makeshift, unregistered refugee camps of starving children and [of] civilians displaced by narcotics- eradication and bombing campaigns.... Some are there because their homes have been destroyed by coalition forces' interventions in the "war on terror" and the current heightened counter-insurgency operations...The large numbers of civilian casualties and deaths have also fueled resentment and mistrust of the international military presence, the report says. There were 104 civilian casualties in Afghanistan in the month of July alone. (ATol)

"Emergency poverty relief must now be the top priority," said Reinert. "Only then can we talk of nation-building and reconstruction."

But hunger will not wait for security to be established. Hunger is leading to anger, the Senlis Council report says, adding that lack of funding from the international community means the Afghan government and the United Nations World Food Program are unable to address Afghanistan's hunger crisis. "Despite appeals for aid funds, the US-led international community has continued to direct the majority of aid funds towards military and security operations."

This weekend Afghan National Assembly member Malalai Joya told NDP delegates in Quebec City, that the replacement of the Taliban with the Northern Alliance merely put one set of "misogynist warlords" in place of another.

She went on to say that "Conditions of its women will never change positively as long as the warlords are not disarmed and both the pro-US and anti-US terrorists are removed from the political scene of Afghanistan."

"If (Canadians) want to prove themselves as real friends of the Afghan people, they must act independently," said Joya, who has escaped several assassination attempts since she was first elected in 2003. "They continued the policy of the US and our people don't agree with US policy, and this is why there is no positive result right now."

Goals of the mission in Afghanistan continue to be numerous and vague.

In parts of Africa, like Egypt, Djibouti, Eritrea, and Mali 90% of the girl children are subjected to some form of genital mutilation. In Ethiopia, more than 70 ethnic groups practice FGM, including Christians, Muslims and the minority Ethiopian Jewish community.

In Somalia, Amnesty International reports a rate of 98%. A number of projects were designed to eradicate the practice there, but they all collapsed in 1991 when the the state disintegrated and the multinational forces subsequently withdrew.

No one proposes going to war against any of these countries as a legitimate response to a barbaric practice. Only Afghanistan has come to symbolize western governments' half-baked, parasitic response to violence against women.

The driving force for the war in Afghanistan is not the liberation of women, not democracy. It is not oil or hegemony or even self-defense (Afghanistan is not a threat to Canada) though all these help to motivate support from particular constituencies back home.

The defining move in the Afghanistan War is retaliation for September 11. The goal is not self-defense, but revenge.

Nearly twenty-five hundred years ago, after chewing for about 400 years on a series of events that focused on Orestes, son of Agamemnon and Clytemnestra, at the end of the Trojan War, the Greeks came to understand that revenge is endless.

Not that it evolves over a long time; it moves furiously without end. Retaliation creates an emptiness that appears to justify more retaliation and so it goes in an endless cycle. I say endless because, as our friends in Israel are learning, it cannot be stopped unilaterally by one side or the other. It cannot be walled out.

It is, as we used to say, a cycle of violence, and it only stops when those who remain on both sides are so weary of the carnage, so stricken by their many losses, so sick of the orgy of blood that they cannot and will not rise to the lofty challenge of another round.

Revenge cannot be satisfied by retaliation. That is not a difficult goal; it's impossible.

As if to prove it, Osama bin Laden is still said to be hiding out along the Afghanistan-Pakistan border.

Carefully omitted from the week's news reports is the new annual survey of the UN Office on Drugs and Crime.

Afghanistan has just harvested its biggest opium crop ever, up 59 percent from last year.

You're probably thinking that you did hear that somewhere, but you may be remembering last year which was up 40% over 2004--and that was on the heels of a massive increase in 2003. Just to get our balance on this, in 2001, the Taliban eliminated poppy cultivation in nearly all of Afghanistan except the area controlled by the Northern Alliance. That resulted in a harvest of 185 tons just a few months before the invasion by US forces. This year, the harvest was 6100 tons an increase by more than 30 times. That program is headed at high speed in the wrong direction and has been getting steadily worse (i.e., accelerating) for five years. This year's crop is "big enough to cover 130 percent of the entire world market."

A recent US State Department fact sheet cautiously admitted that "The narcotics industry accounts for over one-third of Afghanistan's gross domestic product and poses a threat to that country's stability and emerging democracy."

Photo courtesy of United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime used with permission.Recommend this Post

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AppleJuiceFool said...

Are you daft? You really believe that revenge was the motivating factor in our attack on Afghanistan? No. The motivating factor was to punish those responsible for the 9-11 attacks, as a deterrent to future attacks. September 11 was a test. If we had failed to act, we would have opened the door and encouraged every 2-bit terrorist to attempt similar attacks. Not to mention the fact that terrorists we kill are unable to attack us.

Jim Terral said...

What you describe sounds like a definition of revenge with a vague and improbable wish for deterence added on as a cosmetic afterthought.

Deterence is a Cold War concept. NATO is a Cold War alliance. For all the words about a new, post-911 reality, the Global War on Terror is deeply rooted in a Cold Warrior's revised vision of the World War II separation of combat and politics.

We hear talk of appeasement and Islamofascism as if the ghost of Neville Chamberlain were walking the Middle East. Video footage from Lebanon and Afghanistan look like the Korean War without jeeps. The planes are faster and more lethal; the infantry is motorized and more divorced from the people; the troops have laptops which make them less, not more able to engage the kind of conflict they are in. The thinking is hopelessly out of touch with an enemy such as Hezbollah that can change seemlessly from war to reconstruction while western governments are still dithering about what to promise; or Hamas which can move from rocket attacks to solving the problems of municipal government.

Alliances on the ground are fluid, and there appear to be frequent tactical changes, such as from stone throwing to suicide bombing to rocket attacks in Gaza; from Taliban to "neo-Taliban" in Afghanistan; from anti-tank warfare to reconstruction in Lebanon; from holding court to governing in Somalia.

NATO appears to be having second thoughts about continuing down this path. After 911, Article 5 of the NATO Charter, which says that an attack on one is an attack on all, was invoked. That was satisfactory for a speedy retaliation--for revenge. But as a modus operandi for the long war, it is demonstrably not working--not in Iraq, not in Afghanistan, not in Lebanon, not in Somalia, not in Colombia, not anywhere, not even New Orleans. Bush inspires terrorism. That's not what we need.

For NATO governments, being lawful is small compensation for being wrong.