The last few years have shown the hypocrisy of the U.S. and allied governments reasoning for their involvement in both Iraq and Afghanistan. In the name of ‘freedom’ and ‘democracy’ tens of thousands of civilians and thousands of troops have died to set up puppet governments run by warlords and thugs no better than the tyrants they have replaced.

The only winners have been large multi-national companies who have made billions from the war and seek to gain more from Iraqi oil fields and a gas pipeline through Afghanistan. It is for the profits of a few that working class people risk death and injury fighting wars for U.S. Imperialism.

If you also support the struggle for Aboriginal rights see Fight for Aborignal Rights

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Outsourcing occupation

For the past few years, private military contractors have out numbered US troops in Afghanistan despite a doubling in the size of the US occupation under the Obama administration. There were more contractors than US troops in Iraq a year ago, but the number of contractors dropped slightly this year to 120,000 — equal to the number of US troops. These contractors often provide “logistical” support as cooks, truck drivers, in warehouse workers, etc. Even the actual “guns for hire” are not often used in offensive operations but provide bodyguards, security for embassies and private businesses and even guards for military bases.

The October 6 New York Times reported that the US plans to vastly expand its embassy in Islamabad, and create a consulate in Peshawar, the capital of the Pakistan’s North-West Frontier Province. Providing security for these projects are large numbers of contractors from Xe Services (formerly Blackwater) and DynCorp. According to the NYT, “the Pakistani military and the intelligence agencies are concerned that DynCorp is being used by Washington to develop a parallel network of security and intelligence personnel within Pakistan” and “there have been a series of complaints by Islamabad residents who said they had been ‘roughed up’ by hefty, plainclothes American men bearing weapons”. The NYT also reported on August 21 that at hidden bases in Pakistan and Afghanistan, Xe contractors assemble and load Hellfire missiles and 1100 kilogram laser-guided bombs on remotely piloted Predator aircraft, work previously performed by CIA officers. They also provide security at the covert bases.

According to an October 16 Press TV report, the Pentagon has outsourced a new military intervention into Somalia: “Michigan-based CSS Global Inc. secured the contract under the plea of ‘fighting terrorism and piracy’ and ‘protecting’ Somalia’s Transitional Federal Government.” In the US itself, Blackwater was contracted to patrol the streets of New Orleans in the wake of Hurricane Katrina in 2005. Xe Services is also a leading trainer of police, private security and military within the US.

These private security firms perform tasks that would in previous wars would have been performed by uniformed military personnel. This has allowed US politicians and the supportive corporate media to fudge the figures when it comes to the size of occupation forces in Iraq and Afghanistan. In September the Obama administration was able to increase the number of US combat troops in Afghanistan by 14,000 without announcing any increase in overall troop numbers by withdrawing 14,000 uniformed logistic personnel whose duties were taken over by civilian contractors.

Historical use of mercenaries

The use of mercenaries in differing forms predates capitalism. Early class societies were ruled by warlords who maintained their rule through a privileged warrior class. In times of war and territorial expansion, ruling classes used their accumulated wealth to employ the idle warriors of other societies not directly involved in the conflict. One of the earliest records of the use of mercenaries is from 484 BCE, when the Persian empire employed Greek mercenaries to assist its invasion of Greece. All the ancient empires supplemented their regular armies with mercenaries. In Europe this practice continued under feudalism and was common during the emergence of capitalism.

As European states began carving up the world and trade wars took on a global scale, there emerged a company that makes modern private military companies look like rank amateurs. The London-based East India Company started on December 31, 1600, with a charter, granted by Queen Elizabeth I, that awarded the company a monopoly of trade with all countries to the east of the Cape of Good Hope and to the west of the Strait of Magellan.

The English East India Company traded mainly in cotton, silk, indigo dye, saltpetre, tea, and opium, but through its own private army and navy, it helped establish the British Empire in South Asia. The company gradually reduced its trading operations and turned solely to conquest, assuming rule and administrative functions over more and more of the Indian subcontinent. Company rule in India began in 1757 and lasted until 1858, when, following the Indian Rebellion of 1857, the UK government assumed direct administration of India and absorbed the company’s 24,000 troops into the British army. The company itself was finally dissolved in 1874.

The French and Dutch set up their own East Indies companies during this same period. In the Western Hemisphere, all the major European powers employed naval mercenaries known as privateers, who were essentially pirates contracted by a nation-state to disrupt the merchant shipping of its rivals. As the 19th century ended, the new imperialist states had gained enough wealth to afford large standing armies and navies. They no longer needed to supplement their military forces with mercenaries.

To maintain this advantage over smaller rivals, the idea was propagated that mercenaries were unsavoury and amoral. This went hand in hand with capitalist nationalism and the idea that for working people there was no greater honour than to fight “for your country” as a member of its national military forces. Many countries, including the US, Britain and Australia, outlawed their citizens becoming mercenaries. They became restricted to bit players in smaller conflicts during the Cold War.

Necessary for US imperialism

At the start of the 21st century, imperialist capitalism needs the widespread use of mercenaries once again. To overcome their bad reputation, these new mercenary forces have been re-branded as “private military companies” (PMCs) and individual mercenaries as “contractors”. The renewed outsourcing of war to privateers is due to sheer economic and political necessity as US imperialism struggles to maintain its global dominance without mass conscription into its official military forces.

The November 14 New York Times reported that White House budgeting uses $1 million per year per soldier in Afghanistan as a working number. The figure would greatly increase without contractors, who aren’t clothed, fed or equipped by the government. Nor does the government have to pay them when they leave the war zone. Contractors do not become veterans, so the government does not have to pay benefits or provide services that it does for its own troops. While the common image of contractors is of highly paid people from rich First World countries, the majority are drawn from poor Third World countries like Fiji and El Salvador or for the poorer countries of Eastern Europe. They receive high wages in comparison to wages paid in their home countries, but for the PMCs, the US and its imperialist allies, they are a cheap source of security and service task labour.

Another advantage for the imperialist occupying powers is the reduction in political costs. If another contractor dies, there is no flag-draped coffin. If PMCs cut costs by supplying inadequate equipment, as some relatives of contractors killed in Iraq have tried to prove, there is no political scandal. Similarly, when PMCs do not provide for their injured employees. Probably the most concerning advantage is provided by “corporate confidentiality”. This can be greater than military secrecy and allow government agencies to hide all sorts of illegal practices from public scrutiny, based on the legal right of capitalist businesses to keep secrets from competitors. This is probably why Washington now entrusts one of its most sensitive weapons, Predator drones, to Xe Services.

Not a moral issue

There is no moral difference between contractors and those in uniform. On September 16, 2007, when Blackwater contractors murdered 17 Iraqi civilians in Nisour Square, Baghdad, many on the left held this incident up to show that it is wrong to use reckless and amoral mercenaries. This ignores the fact that the US military uses similar tactics in built-up areas, known as “free fire zones”. The Iraq Veterans against the War “Winter Soldier” forums over the past few years have heard hundreds of US veterans from Iraq and Afghanistan testify to the regular killing of civilians by US soldiers.

The use of PMCs in Iraq and Afghanistan should be challenged because they are an attempt to reduce the political costs of these occupations and because they hide the real size of the occupation forces. Their use should be opposed because they add to the risks of the working people they employ. During World War I, Scottish socialist and anti-war campaigner John Maclean told a Glasgow anti-war protest: “A bayonet is a weapon with a working man at either end.” This is true whether the “cannon fodder” in the imperialist war machines wear military insignia or a company logo.

[Hamish Chitts is a member of the Revolutionary Socialist Party and one of the founders of Stand Fast — a group of veterans and military service people against the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. For information about Stand Fast visit Stand Fast or phone 0401 586 923.]

From Direct Action, Sydney, Australia

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Afghanistan occupation quagmire enters ninth year

By Hamish Chitts

October 7 marks eight years since the US-led coalition of imperialist powers and their client states invaded Afghanistan. Using the shock of the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks on New York and Washington as a smokescreen, the invasion of Afghanistan was the first major step in the US rulers’ “Global War on Terror” — the official name of a sustained campaign of Pentagon and CIA operations aimed at crushing all opposition in the Third World to US political and economic dominance.

While most people in the US were mourning the deaths of the thousands of victims of al Qaeda’s attacks, the central figures in the Bush administration was plotting how to exploit 9/11 to rally support for an invasion of Iraq. While then-president George Bush, vice-president Dick Cheney and defence secretary Donald Rumsfeld wanted to launch an immediate US attack on oil-rich Iraq, then-secretary of state Colin Powell persuaded Bush that “public opinion has to be prepared before a move against Iraq is possible”. Instead, it was agreed to first authorise a war against the Taliban regime in Afghanistan, which was providing sanctuary to al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden.

The collapse of the Taliban regime after a short US Air Force bombing campaign seemed to demonstrate the invincibility of US military power. However, as Washington Post assistant managing editor Bob Woodward revealed in his 2002 book Bush at War, it was due largely to the CIA’s bribing of local Afghan warlords to turn against the Taliban regime. According to Woodward, six CIA paramilitary teams distributed US$70 million to the traditionally mercenary Afghan warlords during the last three months of 2001. With local warlords turning their militias against them, the Taliban leaders and their militia fled to the mountains of eastern Afghanistan. With the “victory” in Afghanistan, the Bush administration turned to the real objective of the War on Terror — a “regime-change” invasion of Iraq, aimed at establishing US control over its large and cheaply extractable oil resources.

Eight years later, Afghanistan has become a military quagmire for the US-led occupation forces, with a resurgent Taliban-led armed resistance movement inflicting increasing casualties on the occupation forces, which now number 62,000 US and 34,000 allied foreign troops, including 1550 Australian troops. By the end of September, the occupation forces had suffered 1415 deaths since their invasion of Afghanistan, 77% of them since the end of 2005. Last year, there were 294 coalition military fatalities in Afghanistan; in the first nine months of this year there were 370.

Fraudulent elections

On August 20, a presidential election was conducted in Afghanistan. So far, due to widespread fraud, officials in Afghanistan have been unable to declare a result. In the lead up to the election, Australia, the US and UK all increased their troop numbers supposedly to ensure a “safe” and “fair” election. According to the September 21 Washington Post “only 39 percent of registered voters turned out, compared to 70 percent in the 2004 Afghan elections”. This 39% figure is based on a count of the number of ballots that were supposedly cast — 5.7 million. But this number gets even smaller as, day-by-day, more revelations surface of ballot box stuffing, individuals voting multiple times and many other incidents of electoral fraud across Afghanistan. The Press TV website reported on September 21 that election observers from the European Union “said that around one and a half million votes in favor of incumbent President Hamed Karzai could be fraudulent” and “that 300,0000 of the votes cast in favor of Abdullah Abdullah (main opposition candidate) are also suspicious”. The EU observer mission also said that another 100,000 suspicious votes were cast for other candidates.

Ghaith Abdul-Ahad, reporting for the London Guardian daily on September 18, met an election official from the district of Ahmad Aba in Paktiya who showed him “a series of photographs taken inside a brown cardboard voting booth in a village in Paktiya province of Afghanistan. One shows a man marking a big pile of ballot papers in the name of Hamid Karzai. Another shows a pile of election ID cards spread in front of an unidentified man wearing black shoes. ‘This man brought 120 cards and he used each of them to vote three times’, said the official.” He told Abdul-Ahad that he had taken the photographs to hand to his superiors but as election day unfolded he realised that his superiors were themselves taking part in the fraud. “I thought I would give the pictures to the election committee. But they were all working for Karzai.” The same official also said: “Everyone was cheating in my polling station. Only 10% voted, but they registered 100% turnout. One man brought five books of ballots, each containing 100 votes, and stuffed them in the boxes after the elections were over.”

A preliminary tally has put Karzai in the lead with 54% of the total vote — 3.1 million of the 5.7 million votes cast. Abdullah has 27.7% of the total vote. But with nearly 2 million of those ballots labelled suspect by observers and countless reported incidents of electoral fraud, the UN-backed Election Complaints Commission says it cannot announce a winning candidate until it has investigated all the complaints.

With US, EU and UN officials openly arguing with each other over how this electoral impasse should be resolved, even Afghans supportive of the occupation are turning against foreign interference in Afghan affairs. Ghulam Abbas, a shop assistant at a menswear store in central Kabul, told the Washington Post that he did “not understand how an election monitored by tens of thousands of international troops and observers could have been bungled so badly … In every other country, the results are known in three days, five days, at least a month. It shows the weakness of our government that they still can’t show a final result. And we don’t know the reason. Was it too much fraud? Or something else?”

Majority opposition

While the US-led occupation is being resisted by more and more people in Afghanistan, support for the occupation is also declining in the countries whose working people are being asked to fight, kill and die for it. CNN reported on September 15 that a CNN/Opinion Research Corp. survey released that day “indicates that 39 percent of Americans favor the war in Afghanistan, with 58 percent opposed to the mission. The 39 percent figure is down from 53 percent in April, and marks the lowest level of support since the start of the U.S. military mission in Afghanistan”.

In Australia the corporate media and government haven’t conducted any opinion polls on the occupation of Afghanistan since an Age/Nielsen poll in March, which showed 65% were opposed to PM Kevin Rudd’s decision to send more troops and 51% opposed Australian involvement outright. A BBC poll last November found 68% of Britons opposed the war and the September 10 Channel 4 News reported a survey by Britain’s National Army Museum that found only 25% of voters supported the war.

According to the Pew Global Attitudes Project, majority opposition to the occupation of Afghanistan is the overwhelming sentiment around the world, including in countries involved in the occupation. On August 31, the Washington-based Pew Research Center reported that 54% of Germans oppose it, as did 58% of Italians, 64% of French voters, 74% of Dutch voters, 52% of Canadians, 52% of Portuguese, 54% of Spaniards, 68% of Poles, 61% of Slovaks, 71% of Romanians and 72% of Bulgarians. There is majority opposition in nearly all countries not involved in the occupation, the exception being the racist, apartheid state of Israel, where 59% support the occupation of Afghanistan.

In the face of this global opposition to their occupation of Afghanistan, how have the US rulers and their allies responded? Washington and London have decided to send more troops and are pressuring other governments to do the same. This troop escalation will be additional to the major troop “surge” earlier this year by most occupying nations, including Australia. That surge was supposed to bring decisive victories for the occupation forces and “stabilise” the country for the August election. It did not and now the military top brass are saying another surge is needed to stop the first surge from failing.

General Stanley McChrystal, the top US commander in Afghanistan, was reported in the September 22 Australian as saying, “Failure to gain the initiative and reverse insurgent momentum in the near-term, while Afghan security capacity matures, risks an outcome where defeating the insurgency is no longer possible”. The number of US forces in Afghanistan is already slated to reach 68,000 by the end of this year, twice as many as were deployed there last year. According to the September 20 New York Times, McChrystal wants at least 45,000 more US troops deployed to Afghanistan.

In previous issues of Direct Action, comparisons have been made between the US-led wars in Iraq, Afghanistan and the failed surge-after-surge strategy employed during the 1961-75 Vietnam War by the US and its allies. Now, in another echo of the failed Vietnam War strategy, McChrystal is saying that the increased troop numbers are needed to change tactics. “We must do things dramatically differently — even uncomfortably differently — to change how we operate, and also how we think. Our strategy cannot be focused on seizing terrain or destroying insurgent forces; our objective must be the population”, he wrote in a leaked 66-page report. McChrystal is proposing concentrating on more, smaller-sized counter-insurgency groups operating in conjunction with “hearts and minds” reconstruction operations — the same tactics used in Vietnam!

It seems that the rewriting of the history of Vietnam War in the US has gone so far that US generals believe they won it and that application of the same tactics will work against the anti-occupation resistance fighters in Afghanistan. The failure of the occupiers to bring even a shadow of formal democracy to Afghanistan has lost them support among those originally favourable to the occupation. The Integrated Civilian-Military Campaign Plan for Afghanistan, signed by McChrystal and US ambassador Karl Eikenberry on August 10, noted that while most Afghans reject the reactionary “Taliban ideology”, “Key groups [of Afghans] have become nostalgic for the security and justice Taliban rule provided”, as compared to the arbitrary and corrupt rule of Karzai’s drug-running warlord-backed regime.

If most people in Afghanistan are against the occupation, if most people in the countries with occupying troops are against the occupation and if most people in the rest of the world are against the occupation, how can Kevin Rudd or Barack Obama say this war is being fought for “democracy”? Just as the people of Vietnam defeated foreign invasion and occupation so too will the people of Afghanistan. The question is how long and how many people will die before this happens? Workers and soldiers in occupier countries like Australia need to take a stand and work together to make sure the end of the occupation of Afghanistan happens sooner rather than later. We are the anti-war majority! Bring all the troops home now!

From Direct Action, Sydney, Australia

[Hamish Chitts is a member of the Revolutionary Socialist Party and one of the founders of Stand Fast — a group of veterans and military service people against the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. For information about Stand Fast visit the Stand Fast website or phone 0401 586 923.]

Monday, August 10, 2009

Support the troops - bring them home now!

By Hamish Chitts

[The following article is based on a speech given on behalf of the war veterans group Stand Fast at a public meeting in Rockhampton on July 10 as part of the Peace Convergence protests against the bi-annual joint Australian and US Talisman Sabre war rehearsals that occur in and around environmentally and culturally sensitive Shoalwater Bay. Talisman Sabre ’09 occurred between July 6-26 and involved 30,000 Australian and US troops. — Ed.]

Stand Fast is a group of veterans and former military personnel who oppose the current wars of occupation in Iraq and Afghanistan. Our members include veterans from World War II, Korea, Vietnam, the first Gulf War, East Timor and the current occupation of Iraq. We who have borne arms denounce these wars because they are about money, power and fear.

Stand Fast seeks to add weight to the antiwar movement in Australia through organising veterans to speak out against the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and by debunking the myth that “If you’re against the war, you’re against the troops”. We are also encouraging current serving members of the Australian Defence Force to inform themselves about what is really happening in Iraq and Afghanistan. We will provide advice and support for those who may question serving in either of these wars.

During the Vietnam War, an antiwar movement grew within the US military and by 1970, the US Army had 65,643 deserters — roughly the equivalent of four infantry divisions. In an article published in the June 7, 1971 Armed Forces Journal, Marine Colonel Robert D. Heinl Jr., a veteran combat commander with over 27 years experience in the Marines and the author of Soldiers Of The Sea, a definitive history of the Marine Corps, wrote: “By every conceivable indicator, our army that remains in Vietnam is in a state approaching collapse, with individual units avoiding or having refused combat, murdering their officers and non-commissioned officers, drug-ridden, and dispirited where not near mutinous. Elsewhere than Vietnam, the situation is nearly as serious … Sedition, coupled with disaffection from within the ranks, and externally fomented with an audacity and intensity previously inconceivable, infest the Armed Services ...”

In 1972, there was fear among some US generals that the majority of their armed forces would mutiny and take control if the Vietnam War did not end soon. Of course, we should recognise that ultimately it was the determined resistance and courage of the Vietnamese people that ended the war there.

Stand Fast also draws inspiration from the US-based group Iraq Veterans Against the War. Through IVAW, many have heard public testimony of the horrors of Iraq and Afghanistan across the US. Hundreds of IVAW members travel to schools, universities and demonstrations to speak out against these wars. Their testimony is having a strong pull on people in the US to protest against these wars, and their organisation is growing amongst the US armed forces. In the past few years, tens of thousands of US soldiers have resisted the occupation of Iraq and Afghanistan in a number of different ways — by going AWOL, seeking conscientious objector status and/or a discharge, asserting the right to speak out against injustice from within the military, and for a relative few, publicly refusing to fight.

While there are those who would like to dismiss war resisters as “cowards”, the reality is that it takes exceptional courage to resist unjust, illegal and/or immoral orders. For many resisters, it was their first-hand experiences as occupation troops that compelled them to take a stand. For others, “doing the right thing” and acting out of conscience began to outweigh their military training of blind obedience.

When an Australian soldier dies everyone is made aware of it, but there are Australian casualties occurring everyday in Iraq and Afghanistan that no one sees or hears about. Through my own experiences as a former infantry soldier and through those of my mates, I can tell you no-one who sees active service comes back the same. Recent figures from the US have shown that troops coming back from Iraq and Afghanistan are suffering three times more Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder than their counterparts did on return from Vietnam.

Military personnel are risking their minds as well as their bodies. But for what? For what are Iraqi and Afghan civilians paying with their bodies and their minds? It is being done for oil, in the interests of multinational corporations and it is being done for strategic real estate for the US military. Most people recognise this about Iraq, but not everyone knows that the same reasons have brought about the occupation of Afghanistan. In 1998, Californian company Unocal withdrew from negotiations with the Taliban government after failing for several years to be allowed to build a gas pipeline from gasfields in Turkmenistan through western Afghanistan to Pakistan and the Indian Ocean.

One of the negotiators for Unocal was a fellow named Zalmay Khalilzad. As a special adviser to Bush, Khalilzad was involved in planning the US invasion of Afghanistan, and afterwards it was named US ambassador to the puppet regime installed by the occupation forces. That regime, headed by Hamid Karzai, is comprised of warlord thugs and opium barons who are no better to the people of Afghanistan than the Taliban thugs they replaced. But the pipeline project is back on track.

Apologists for these invasions try to frame them as some form of self-defence, as if the thousands of Iraqi and Afghan civilians who have been slaughtered by these invasions had the capability or even the desire to attack countries like Australia or the US. Anyone who has any illusions that these wars are about stopping terrorists should look at the current deals being done between the Karzai government, the Taliban and Gulbuddin Hekmatyar. Hekmatyar, who is on America’s “most wanted” terrorist list, is the leader of Hezb-i-Islami, which has been fighting NATO troops alongside the Taliban.

Karzai has said that he would bring members of the Taliban and Hezb-i-Islami into peace negotiations (including offers of government positions and regional governorships) and include them in a tribal council. The US has voiced its opposition to this but, in what is becoming the defining character of the Obama administration, it says one thing and does another. The US administration has agreed to fund an Afghan government department to conduct negotiations with Hezb-i-Islami and the Taliban. It has agreed to kick in nearly US$69 million to offer sweeteners to win over the Taliban and other resistance forces.

Kevin Rudd has called Afghanistan a “good” war. It is not. It is no better than the war in Iraq and it is being fought for the same reasons. Many people thought Rudd and his party were antiwar. When they voted they hoped to end Australian involvement in these occupations. Many are still sitting at home hoping, but after two years and an increase in Australian involvement, it is clear this hope is an illusion. There are still almost 1000 ADF soldiers and sailors in the Iraq war zone, allegedly to assist operations in Afghanistan.

The majority of people in this country oppose the occupation of Iraq. The majority of people in this country oppose the occupation of Afghanistan. We can’t rely on Rudd anymore than we can rely on any other politician. That is why we need to keep building a movement against these occupations. We need to build a movement that can unite dissenting soldiers, peace activists, antiwar activists, political groups, community groups and unions. To do this we need to campaign for demands like “Bring the troops home now!” — demands that all these diverse groups can rally behind.

This weekend is a good example. There are many different people protesting for many different reasons but they are all here rallying behind the demand “Stop the Talisman Sabre war games!” We need to build this movement to show real support for the people in the armed forces, to show our real support for the people of Iraq and Afghanistan by demanding from the Rudd government a true and complete troop withdrawal from Iraq and Afghanistan immediately.

Both the ADF and the US military describe Talisman Sabre as, “focusing on operational and tactical interoperability through a high-end, medium intensity scenario involving live, virtual, and constructive forces. Includes combat operations transitioning into peacekeeping or other post-conflict operations.” Now if you cut through the military jargon, this means the Australian and US militaries refining their ability to conduct future Iraq and Afghanistan-style invasions and occupations of sovereign nations. This is one of the reasons I’m here representing Stand Fast in protest against these invasion and occupation rehearsals. Support the troops — bring them home now!

From Direct Action Sydney, Australia

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Afghanistan: Karzai builds warlord alliance

By Hamish Chitts

On August 20, Afghanistan will conduct its second presidential election under the US-led occupation. Current Afghan President Hamid Karzai is the clear frontrunner in the election, despite a December Gallup poll having found that only 10% of Afghans supported Karzai’s government. Karzai was handpicked by the US to head the Afghan government during the US-led invasion in late 2001.

During the 1980s US-backed war by Afghan Islamists against the Soviet-backed secular leftist People’s Democratic Party government, Karzai was the CIA’s contact in Afghanistan. When the Pakistani-created Taliban emerged in the mid 1990s, Karzai was an initial supporter but then broke with them, refusing to serve as their UN ambassador after they took control of Kabul in 1996. However, in August 1998 he told the Washington Post that “there were many wonderful people in the Taliban”.

The Taliban was driven out of Kabul and other Afghan cities in late 2001 after — as the Washington Post’s Bob Woodward detailed in his 2002 book Bush at War — the CIA and US Special Forces distributed US$70 million in bribes to buy the support of local warlords who had previously backed the Taliban regime.

While the US-led invasion of Afghanistan was underway, 16 representatives of Afghan militia factions opposed to the Taliban met in December 2001 in Bonn, Germany, under the auspices of the UN to set up a new Afghan government. According to the US Public Broadcasting Service’s September 2002 Frontline program “Campaign Against Terror”, “In a surprise move, the US arranged for Hamid Karzai, the Pashtun leader whom the US was promoting as a viable candidate for leading the interim administration, to address the opening session of the conference via satellite phone from inside Afghanistan.” By the end of the Bonn conference, on December 5, Karzai had been selected to head the Afghan Interim Administration.

In an effort to appear independent of his US masters, Karzai has become increasingly outspoken in criticising the slaughter of Afghan civilians by the occupation forces. After a May 4 US air strike in the western province of Farah that killed at least 140 civilians, Karzai told the crowd of mourners: “I have been talking to the foreigners about preventing civilian casualties on a daily basis for the past five years. I tell them ‘terrorism does not live in the houses and villages of Afghanistan … those who wear turbans and Afghan clothing are not necessarily Taliban. Stop bombing them’.”

Karzai’s ‘narcostate’
US President Barack Obama’s administration has responded to Karzai’s criticisms by publicly labelling his government corrupt. In January, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton told the US Senate: “Afghanistan has turned into a narcostate ... The Afghan government is plagued by limited capacity and widespread corruption.” This fact has long been known. The January 9, 2006 Newsweek, for example, reported that Ahmad Wali Karzai, President Karzai’s half-brother, was “alleged to be a major figure” in the opium trade “by nearly every source who described the Afghan network to Newsweek”. Since the overthrow of the Taliban, Afghanistan has emerged as the source of 90% of the world’s heroin supply. Under the US-backed Karzai regime, opium exports account for 52% of Afghanistan’s GDP

The June 24 New York Times reported that “Karzai has deftly outmaneuvered a once formidable array of opponents, either securing their backing or relegating them to the status of long shots” in the upcoming presidential election. “With the Taliban now stronger than ever — early this month, attacks reached their highest level since 2001 — a Karzai victory could threaten the American-led push to turn the war around...

“Yet there is a widespread perception among Afghans that Karzai is the American favorite. Some American officials express resignation that they may be stuck with him for five more years. Indeed, the Obama administration appears to have begun preparing for that prospect. American officials, for instance, have done nothing to oppose the discussions between Karzai and Zalmay Khalilzad, the former American ambassador here, about Khalilzad’s becoming a senior official in a new Karzai administration.”

Karzai has been increasing his chances for re-election by creating an alliance of warlords. On June 1, the Bloomberg news website reported that “While large parts of the east and south [of Afghanistan] are out of Karzai’s control because of a renewed Taliban insurgency, his political authority over the rest of the country is intact. He’s bought off once-powerful warlords with government positions, and appointed loyalists as governors in each of the 34 provinces.”

The May 10 London Sunday Times reported that “One of Afghanistan’s most wanted terrorists is to be offered a power-sharing deal by the government of President Hamid Karzai as the country’s warlords extend their grip on power. Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, who is on America’s ‘most wanted’ terrorist list, is to hold talks with the Kabul government within the next few weeks. Hekmatyar is the leader of Hezb-i-Islami, which has been fighting Nato troops alongside the Taliban … [His group] is expected to be offered several ministries and provincial governorships in return for laying down its arms and agreeing not to disrupt the presidential elections due in August…

“A representative of Richard Holbrooke, President Barack Obama’s regional envoy, has met Daoud Abedi, an Afghan-American businessman close to Hekmatyar, and the US administration will fund an Afghan government department to conduct negotiations with Hezb-i-Islami and the Taliban. It will be headed by Arif Noorzai, the former tribal affairs minister, and will receive $69m (£45m) of largely US money to offer sweeteners to win over the Taliban.” The Obama administration’s effort to bribe the Taliban is a clear admission that Washington is losing the war.

Growing GI resistance

Growing numbers of US soldiers are seeing through the lies that they are defending democracy in Afghanistan. Organised through Iraq Veterans Against the War (IVAW), soldiers are joining the growing resistance to participating in Washington’s Afghan war. One example is IVAW member and GI Victor Agosto, who has refused to fight in Afghanistan and may face court martial for doing so.

Agosto, who returned from a 13-month deployment to Iraq in November 2007, is based at Fort Hood in Killeen, Texas. On May 19, Agosto was ordered to get his medical records in preparation to deploy to Afghanistan. He refused to do so. “There is no way I will deploy to Afghanistan. The occupation is immoral and unjust. It does not make the American people any safer. It has the opposite effect”, he told the Inter Press Service on May 21. Agosto had already been questioning his service in Iraq and saw parallels with Afghanistan. “Both occupations fuel the insurgencies in those countries. We are creating ‘terrorists’ and we are killing so many innocent people.” He argues that the wars are both “power plays” whose real intent is to “establish more control and spread US hegemony.”

US Army soldiers are resisting service at the highest rate since 1980, with an 80% increase in desertions, defined as absence for more than 30 days, since the invasion of Iraq in 2003, according to the Associated Press. More than 300 US soldiers fled to Canada, 75 of them to Toronto. Many assumed they’d get a visa, settle down and live a normal life. But the Canadian government has rejected their refugee claims and ordered them deported. Some go into hiding. Others wait for appeals and judicial reviews of their cases. Many US soldiers stationed in Europe who refused service in, or in support of, the wars in Iraq or Afghanistan have been tried in US military courts in Europe and imprisoned in the US military’s prison at Mannheim. The most well known are Blake Lemoine in 2005 and Agustín Aguayo in 2006-2007.

From Direct Action Sydney, Australia

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Australian death squads in Afghanistan

By Hamish Chitts

Last month the Melbourne Age revealed that members of the Australian Defence Force (ADF) had covered up the killing and wounding of civilians in Afghanistan by Australian Special Air Service (SAS) troops. In the same month, The Australian newspaper proudly reported the use of SAS patrols as death squads carrying out assassinations in Afghanistan.

In July 2006, near Tarin Kowt in Uruzgan province, Abdul Baqi was driving with members of his family when their car was fired upon. Baqi was killed, his wife blinded and their daughter so badly injured she later had a leg amputated. His son, a niece and a nephew were also injured. Afghan MP Haji Abdul Khaliq, who is related to the victims of the attack, told the May 11 Age he was convinced Australian soldiers were responsible. Khaliq said: “We asked the governor and police chief who made the investigation. They said that they were Australians [who had fired at the car]. They did not give any sign to stop. And my car’s windows were not dark. Inside the car was visible.” He said none of the Australian soldiers helped the injured. “They didn’t even give them a bottle of water and they didn’t even take them to hospital.”

ADF chief Angus Houston told an Australian parliamentary hearing in early 2007 that an investigation had found no substance to the allegations that Australian troops were involved in the shooting. An ADF spokesperson told The Age that Khaliq’s claims did “not correspond to coalition patrol reporting”. This contradicts the evidence ADF investigators found — that a SAS patrol was nearby when Baqi’s car was attacked and reported a “contact” (meaning they’d fired their weapons) in the same area where the car was hit. At the time, the SAS patrol believed taxis were ferrying Afghan resistance fighters in the area. Abdul Hakim Monib, the former governor of the area, told reporters that a senior ADF officer had told him Australians were responsible. “They expressed their sorrow for the incident and they said, ‘We thought they were the enemy.’ They said it was a mistake and we are upset about it”, said Monib.

Plausible deniability?
The Age reported that it was “almost certain” the information about Australian troops having attacked the Baqi family was not passed on to Houston before he gave his testimony to the parliamentary committee. However, it is unlikely that relatively low-ranking ADF investigators, upon finding that Australian troops may have killed and maimed the family of an Afghan MP, would decide not to inform the officials in Canberra. It is more likely that the Australian government tried to conceal the fact that Australian operations had resulted in the slaughter of innocent civilians. Prime Minister Kevin Rudd has refused calls to hold an independent investigation and has asked Houston to set up an investigation of the original investigation, whose correct findings never saw the light of day.

Prior to the 2003 invasion of Iraq, the US and Australian governments used the supposed existence of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq to justify the invasion. When they could no longer hide the fact that these weapons did not exist, these same governments called this “a failure of military intelligence” and blamed their intelligence agencies for not giving them the correct information. In reality, it was known even at the lowest levels of Australia’s spy organisations that there were no weapons of mass destruction. When the truth came out, the politicians were ably assisted in covering up the fact that they had lied to a few senior intelligence officials, who took the blame for deceiving the public and resigned — taking decent payouts and still able to pursue lucrative consulting contracts with private military and security corporations.

The Department of Defence has yet to release the findings of two inquiries into allegations Australian troops were responsible for the deaths of Afghan civilians this year. In January, an Australian military operation allegedly left four civilians dead. Five children were killed in an incident involving Australian troops in February. No doubt investigators will find there is no substance to these allegations as well.

Phoenix program revisited
The May 7 Australian reported that ADF special forces troops had taken part in a “targeted assassination” of a senior Taliban leader, Mullah Noorullah. The report could not say how senior Noorullah was, nor when the assassination took place, but it did say the assassination occurred in Deh Rafshan district in southern Uruzgan, where the Australian Special Operations Task Group is based. The Australian went on to admit: “The SOTG tag is commonly used by [the ADF] as a synonym to describe elite Special Air Service operatives authorised to hunt and kill Taliban leaders in an Afghan variation on the Vietnam-era Phoenix Program.”

The Phoenix program officially ran from 1967 to 1972, but the US and its allies in Vietnam employed similar tactics before and after these dates. Through infiltration, detention, terrorism and assassination, the program was designed to “neutralise” the civilian infrastructure supporting the National Liberation Front (NLF) of South Vietnam. The program used small special forces units, including the Australian SAS, for the systematic murder of Vietnamese civilians suspected of supporting the NLF. Men, women and children who were family members of an alleged NLF leader were massacred. Between 20,000 and 70,000 people were murdered, and tens of thousands more were detained and tortured.

The US military and CIA also used these methods in Latin America throughout the 1970s and ’80s and up to the present day. US-funded and trained death squads have propped up brutal and unpopular pro-US governments in Chile, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras and Nicaragua. In Colombia they continue to operate, murdering union officials and anyone considered a left-wing leader. Today Washington uses death squads in an attempt to destabilise the leftist government of Bolivia and the revolutionary government of Venezuela.

Washington has also used death squads in Iraq since 2003. In a report by Rafael Epstein for the ABC Lateline program in November 2008, Australian Major General Jim Molan admitted to overseeing assassinations of suspected resistance supporters. In 2004 Molan was chief of operations, coordinating all of the occupation forces in Iraq. He said:“I conducted these kind of operations every day of the week for the year that I spent in Iraq. We go to extraordinary lengths to try to get it right. But in a war, things don’t always go the way you want them to go and unfortunate accidents, incidents, do happen.”

Operation Peeler
Operation Peeler is the name given to the activities of Australian SAS death squads in Afghanistan’s Uruzgan province. According to Australian military documents, its aim is to “disrupt Taliban leadership and Improvised Explosive Device facilitators”. This means night raids on villages, doors kicked in and detention or assignation of people suspected of being part of or supporting the resistance. Those detained face torture at the hands of local and foreign interrogators — the same people behind extraordinary renditions, waterboarding and the Abu Ghraib prisoner abuse.

In November 2007, the SAS killed three men, two women and a child during an assault on an alleged insurgent house. The alleged insurgent was not there. Last September, the SAS was ordered to assassinate someone identified as “Musket”. Pro-government villagers thought the approaching Australian troops were resistance fighters; the Australians thought the villagers were resistance fighters and in the ensuing gunfight mistakenly shot dead a district governor, Rozi Khan, and another man and wounded five others. An Australian investigation found: “The forensic evidence is not available to definitively attribute responsibility for Rozi Khan’s death.” During March and April this year, the SAS reportedly carried out a major operation in parts of Helmand province that resulted in the deaths of 80 alleged Taliban fighters. In at least one case, it called in US air strikes on a civilian house where a resistance commander was allegedly making a last stand.

The use of Australian SAS troops as death squads that originate in the US Phoenix program should disgust all working people, including soldiers involved in Operation Peeler. The fact that these operations continue under Rudd and US President Barack Obama should shatter any illusions that these politicians are any different from Howard and Bush. There is no real difference between the policies of the leading capitalist politicians in Australia and the US; they all serve the interests of imperialist capitalism, with its drive to dominate the natural and human resources of the Third World.

From Direct Action Sydney, Australia

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Rudd government prepares for new wars

By Hamish Chitts

The global crisis of capitalism is being used by the ALP as an excuse to water down workers’ rights and measures to tackle climate change as well as for a general "belt tightening" of public services. But the Rudd government is keeping its commitment to maintain the Howard government’s annual 3% real increase in the Australian Defence Force (ADF) budget. This will increase from $22 billion last year to almost $24 billion this year. In 2009, military spending will surpass 2% of GDP, a level not reached in almost 20 years. This is Australia’s biggest military build-up since World War II.

A new white paper, unveiled by PM Kevin Rudd on May 2, outlines the long-term build-up of the ADF, led by a multi-billion-dollar naval investment. The navy will receive 12 new submarines to replace the current Collins-class vessels. This will double the size of Australia’s submarine fleet and enable the navy to deploy up to seven submarines to the north of Australia, including at "choke points" of maritime traffic in the Indonesian archipelago. Also on the shopping list are eight 7000-tonne warships equipped with ballistic missile defence systems, a new class of 1500-tonne corvette-size patrol boats and at least eight P-8 Poseidon long-range surveillance aircraft. Six new heavy landing ships and 24 naval combat helicopters will also be purchased.

The air force will get 100 new F-35 fighters and seven pilotless aerial surveillance vehicles, possibly the US-made Global Hawk, operating out of an expanded Edinburgh air base in South Australia. The army is to get seven new Chinook helicopters, 1100 personnel carriers, and new rockets and mortar systems. The Defence Signals Directorate will set up a centre to increase the electronic spy agency’s monitoring of internet and telephone communications. The white paper claims the upgrades are all aimed at boosting capacity to move ADF units en masse, allowing the military to "act independently where we have unique strategic interests [the Asia-Pacific region]". A new land-attack cruise missile able to travel almost 400 kilometres will be fitted to submarines, frigates and air warfare destroyers.

Threats rather than solutions
In a speech addressing a US think-tank, the Center for a New American Security, in Washington on April 10, titled "Australia and the United States: The Indispensable Alliance", Australian war minister Joel Fitzgibbon said: "Our global security environment will be challenged by the consequences of climate change and associated resource security issues, involving future tensions over the supply of food, energy and water". Fitzgibbon admits that the Australian government recognises the catastrophic consequences and potential human suffering resulting from climate change. What is its solution? Boosting its ability to use military force, rather than serious plans to reduce climate change or provide assistance to people affected by it.

This is not a policy failure of this particular government but a standard capitalist response to crisis. Speaking at an Australia-Israel Chamber of Commerce function on April 24, Rudd said his "government will not resile even in the difficult times from the requirement for long-term coherence of our defence planning for the long-term security of our nation. This is core business for government." That is, in times of crisis, the priority is to maintain and increase the capabilities of the military in order to protect the property and profits of Australian big business, not to look after the interests of the working majority. A beefed-up military is needed to secure overseas profits for Australian capitalists and to suppress any resistance to this from the exploited here or abroad. And it is working people who have to pay for this permanent war footing — with cuts in their living standards, or with their very lives.

Talisman Sabre ‘war games’
Of course, Canberra will not do this on its own, but as part of its imperialist alliance with Washington. As part of this alliance the ADF conducts regular war preparation exercises with the US military. The biennial Australian-US war "games" known as Talisman Sabre 09 (TS09) will be held from July 6 to 26, involving 30,000 troops from both militaries in the Timor Sea and at joint Australian-US training facilities: Shoalwater Bay in Queensland and Bradshaw and Delamere Range in the Northern Territory. Support sites will include ADF and civilian facilities in Australia, offshore and overseas. The main purpose is to increase "interoperability" between the two militaries. The Australian Department of Defence says the exercise will practise "combat operations transitioning into peacekeeping or other post-conflict operations" — i.e., Afghanistan-style operations and other future wars of occupation of Third World countries.

TS09 is to proceed despite many concerns raised by its two predecessors in 2005 and 2007. Negative environmental, social and economic impacts and the rights of Aboriginal people all take second place to Australian imperialism’s military alliance with Washington and the US military’s need for large tracts of land and sea for target practice.

Shoalwater Bay is home to the largest dugong population in the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park World Heritage Area and is considered crucial to the stabilisation and recovery of local dugong numbers. The region also supports nesting sites for green turtles and critical feeding areas for turtles and dugongs and is home to 26 species of dolphins and whales, including humpbacks. Cowley Beach, also part of the reef heritage area, contains important wetlands and has nationally significant populations of migratory birds. There are endangered and vulnerable species of both flora and fauna. The Delamere Range is located within the Kakadu wetlands catchment, and this region hosts threatened fauna and migratory species.

Nuclear-powered vessels, potentially carrying nuclear weapons and almost certainly carrying depleted uranium munitions, were used in TS07. They pose a nuclear risk. In Tokyo in 2006, radiation was detected in the waters around a nuclear-powered submarine, the USS Honolulu. The impact of nuclear radiation on the Great Barrier Reef is not known.

Perchlorate, an ingredient of live ammunition, is highly toxic. Perchlorate has been found in groundwater in 25 US states and near many US bases overseas. The people of Byfield and Yeppoon are concerned that perchlorate may be leaking into their water supply because one of the live firing areas at Shoalwater Bay is within the catchment of their water supply. Despite the risk, local authorities will not test the water.

Red and white phosphorus are extremely toxic. Mangrove death has been reported from past use of white phosphorus in military exercises in Shoalwater Bay. Red phosphorus is used in markers for sea mines and has been released into waters in the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park in previous exercises. Red phosphorus markers washed ashore on a Yeppoon beach after TS05.

It is the policy of the US Navy to dispose of domestic waste (including paper and plastic) overboard — a significant threat to marine wildlife. Other impacts include ballast release, reduced air quality, collision with marine animals, fire potential, noise pollution, waste disposal (including sewage,) chemical and fuel spills, erosion from amphibian craft landings and weapons damage.

Social cost
As well as an enormous monetary cost, there is a social cost when large numbers of troops are allowed "rest and recreation" in one place. Around the world, military bases have become centres of major social problems. The governor of Okinawa in Japan has said that US bases on the island brought a major increase in prostitution, drugs, alcoholism, rape, sexually transmitted diseases and abuse of women and children. The Anglican Church in Hobart has reported frequent sexual assaults on juvenile men and women by visiting US service personnel.

Many of the training areas to be used during TS09 contain sacred sites and areas of significance to Aboriginal people. In the Shoalwater Bay area alone, there are thousands of archaeological sites providing evidence that the Darumbal people regularly moved between the mainland and nearby islands to access food and raw materials or for ceremonial purposes. The Darumbal wish to re-establish physical and spiritual links to their land. They state that ownership of, and access to, land and sea are the basis of their cultural renewal.

Protests against TS09 will occur during the exercises. The largest will be on July 10-12, when protesters from across Australia will converge on Shoalwater Bay and nearby Rockhampton. By taking a stand against the threats posed by TS09, these protests provide an opportunity to highlight the militarist madness of capitalism to people in general and especially to members of the US and Australian military forces. This madness can be stopped only when workers and soldiers unite to replace capitalist rule with working people’s governments, governments capable of organising working people to replace the capitalist profit system with a socialist planned economy oriented to meeting social needs and sustaining the environment. For more information on the protests against TS09, visit Peace Convergence.
From Direct Action Sydney, Australia

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Veterans Group reflects on brutality of war and question how politicians use our armed forces on ANZAC Day

Press release

23 April 2009

The Australian-based veterans group Stand Fast, comprised of veterans and former military personnel who oppose the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, today called on people to reject blind patriotism and flag waving this ANZAC Day. Stand Fast has called for reflection on the brutality of war and for people to question if Australia’s current wars are really in the interest of the people of Australia.

In Brisbane Stand Fast spokesperson and East Timor veteran, Hamish Chitts said the group thinks the increasing spectacle of flag waving and cheering on ANZAC Day departs from its origins as a sombre day of remembrance. The group is concerned that this trend stops people openly questioning these wars amid fears that they will be accused of being ‘unpatriotic’ or not supporting the troops.

Vietnam veteran and Sydney based Stand Fast member Gerry Binder said, “The original idea was to remember the brutality that war is so that we would never let it happen again, not marching up and down with bands and people waving and shouting and cheering.” He said, “I’ve marched in Anzac Day marches and I was horrified that people are bringing their kids to cheer, to clap. I don’t want to be congratulated; I want them to understand that this must not be repeated.”

In Melbourne former army Major Chip Henriss, a Bouganville and East Timor veteran said, “I march on ANZAC Day every year but along with my medals I wear a button that says "War is Terror". For us in Australia it's been about mainly young people that have gone off time after time on what we believed was a just crusade only to return wounded physically and mentally. Yes I love the mates I served with and many of whom continue to serve but it doesn't mean I can't see these wars for what they are.”

According to Chitts Stand Fast believes that “to claim these wars bring democracy and that they are in our best interests are ridiculous. Stand Fast believes politicians are looking after the interests of big business and dressing it up to look like the people of Afghanistan or Iraq have the capability and desire to attack Australia”.

Former Royal Australian Navy officer Mark Rickards led over 70 vessel boardings in the Red Sea following the first Gulf War. Speaking from Hobart Rickards said, "Anzac Day is an opportunity to pay tribute to those who served, and particular who died, in wars which were fought in defence of peace. However it is also the perfect time to stop and reflect on the growing death toll of Australian service personnel who are currently serving in unjust wars.

Chitts continued, “These members of parliament, both Labor and Coalition vie with each other to be more ‘the diggers friend’ than the other. Most have never served in the Defence Force and would be horrified if their children did. As veterans, our thoughts are with all those who have suffered from war, those still suffering physically and mentally because of war and all those still in harm’s way in Iraq and Afghanistan. No more blood should be shed for the profiteers. Those who truly support the troops should join the call to bring all the troops home now”.

For further information contact Hamish on 0401 586 923 or email or visit

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Afghanistan: Rudd endorses Obama’s war surge

By Hamish Chitts

By the end of March, 10 Australian soldiers had been killed in the US-led occupation of Afghanistan, including nine in the past 18 months. Last month alone, there were two Australian Defence Force deaths in separate incidents as the Rudd government endorsed Washington’s decision to escalate the occupation forces’ war in Afghanistan. Total “coalition” fatalities in Afghanistan had reached at least 1061 by the end of March, 90% of which have occurred since 2005. The number of Afghan war dead is unknown.

On March 27, US President Barack Obama announced what he called “a broad new approach on Afghanistan”. Obama actually narrowed official US goals — replacing the stated aim of bringing “democracy” to Afghanistan with a more limited mission to “defeat” the Saudi Arabian millionaire Osama bin Laden’s al Qaeda terrorist network. “I want the American people to understand that we have a clear and focused goal: to disrupt, dismantle and defeat al Qaeda in Pakistan and Afghanistan, and to prevent their return to either country in the future”, Obama said.

In addition to the plan announced in February to send an extra 17,000 US troops to Afghanistan, Obama now plans to send 4000 more to serve as trainers and advisers to the US-created Afghan army. The new strategy calls for a “civilian surge” involving mainly international police training Afghan police and greater economic aid for Afghanistan and neighbouring Pakistan. With the arrogance typical of the world’s self-appointed cop, Obama proclaimed benchmarks for the governments in Islamabad and Kabul to measure their progress in fighting “al Qaeda”.

War against al Qaeda?

In reality, the imperialist powers’ counter-insurgency war in Afghanistan is against Afghan anti-occupation guerrillas organised by the leaders of the Taliban, an Afghan Islamist movement created, with Washingtion’s approval, by the Pakistani military intelligence agency in 1994-95. The Taliban ruled most of Afghanistan from 1996 to the end of 2001. Following the 9/11 al-Qaeda terrorist attacks, Washington decided to invade and occupy Afghanistan as a propganda preparation for the prime target of its “Global War on Terror” — US-imposed “regime change” in oil-rich Iraq.

After six years of counterinsurgency war in Iraq, in which more than 1 million Iraqis and 4300 US troops have been killed, Obama announced on February 26 that “by August 31, 2010 our combat mission in Iraq will end”. However, he also announced that he plans to leave up to 50,000 US troops engaging in “targeted counter-terrorism missions” in the Iraq warzone for an indefinite time after this date. Bringing US troop numbers in Iraq to the same level as in Afghanistan is thus being sold by the Obama administration to the US public as the “end” of Washington’s Iraq war. Immediately after Obama made his Iraq “Mission Accomplished” announcement, NBC Pentagon correspondent Jim Miklaszewski reported that “one senior military commander told us that he expects large numbers of American troops to be in Iraq for the next 15 to 20 years”.

In an interview with the Australian Broadcasting Corporation’s March 26 7.30 Report television program, David Kilcullen, a former Australian army officer who now works as a top ranking US State Department counterinsurgency warfare adviser, estimated that it would take at least another 10 years for the US-led occupation forces to militarily defeat the Afghan resistance forces.

Obama’s new strategy for Afghanistan demands that Washington’s puppet Afghan government do more to fight corruption, curb the drug trade and share power with the regional authorities. These noble-sounding goals are purely for US public consumption however. The majority of the warlords now ruling Afghanistan have been bribed to remain loyal to the US since the formation of the Northern Alliance that defeated the Taliban government in 2001. Now the receivers of these bribes are expected to fight corruption!

Obama’s idea of Afghan President Hamid Karzai’s government sharing power with Afghan regional authorities is a veiled admission that the supposedly democratically elected central government controls little more than Kabul itself.

While urging a counter-narcotics effort to curb “one of the Taliban’s key funding sources”, Obama ignored the fact that many officials in the Afghan puppet regime make a lot of money from opium. In a 2007 report for the US Army War College’s Strategic Studies Institute, John Glaze wrote: “Afghan government officials are now believed to be involved in at least 70 percent of opium trafficking, and experts estimate that at least 13 former or present provincial governors are directly involved in the drug trade ... In some cases ... [local leaders] are the same individuals who cooperated with the United States in ousting the Taliban in 2001.” US officials know that if they tried to eliminate the Afghanistan opium trade, they would lose most of their Afghan collaborators. The new counter-opium effort will be aimed only at the 30% of the opium trade protected by the Taliban resistance forces.

Rudd’s honour guard at Pentagon

On March 26, a week after the latest ADF fatality in Afghanistan, a military honour guard welcomed Australian PM Kevin Rudd to the Pentagon. This was the first time in his 27 months as US war secretary that Robert Gates had welcomed a foreign head of government in this way. A spokesperson for Gates said: “It was not merely a sign of respect for the prime minister, but a measure of our appreciation for Australia’s contributions on the battlefields of Afghanistan”. Rudd enjoyed US military honours in Washington because he’s been willing to sacrifice soldiers’ lives for the imperalist occupation of Afghanistan, despite a majority of Australian voters now being opposed to Australia’s involvement in this war.

In New York the next day, Rudd described Obama’s new Afghanistan strategy as “absolutely right” and a “credible long-term strategy denying terrorists a safe haven in Afghanistan”. Rudd then invoked the 9/11 attack on the New York World Trade Center to justify the continuing occupation of Afghanistan, ignoring the fact that none of the perpetrators of that attack were Afghans and that al Qaeda is headquartered in Pakistan.

The Rudd government claims that the soldiers it has sent to Afghanistan have died fighting for “freedom”, but the realities of the occupation show it is not for the “freedom” of the Afghan people. A recent survey by several aid agencies found that, while in 2004 nearly 80% of Afghans surveyed thought security was improving, now nearly 80% say security has worsened. While the killing of civilians by foreign bombs and village searches by occupation troops has turned many Afghans against the occupation, it is the US- (and Australian-) backed warlords and opium barons who have made life for many Afghans even worse than it was under the religious fanaticism of the Taliban. According to the Afghan news website Quqnoos, just one hospital, the Ibn-e Sina Emergency Hospital in Kabul, has had more than 600 suicide attempts referred to it during the past 12 months. The deputy director of the hospital said they are “mainly women, trying to commit suicide to flee violence in life”. This is in the capital, Kabul, which has supposedly enjoyed “freedom” for seven and a half years!

At the beginning of March, the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission said that poverty has forced 80% of the children in western Ghor province into labour. Marzai Rahimi, head of the child development section of the commission in Ghor, said that “the children who are forced into labour are aged between 7 years and 16 years”. She said that 60% of girls were forced into marriages before reaching adulthood. “When these girls go to the houses of their husbands, they force them into labour”. Particularly in poor rural communities, child slavery and debt bondage are growing, but are often disguised as marriage, labour or family affairs.

Extreme poverty, lack of awareness about child rights, weak law enforcement and conservative traditions have forced many children into debt bondage. Destitute parents sometimes offer their young daughters as “loan brides” in order to pay off debts, settle feuds or achieve other social and economic benefits. Drug smugglers who pay poor farmers in advance often demand young brides when farmers fail to produce opium and lack other means to repay their debts. In the western province of Herat, the department of women’s affairs and a local rights group said more than 150 cases of selling children, mostly girls, were reported in 2008.

The Rudd government’s commitment to Obama’s war escalation in Afghanistan will lead to more deaths of Australian soldiers and more Afghan deaths. What are these deaths for? Is it to continue a war originally undertaken as a propaganda preparation for the harder-to-sell invasion of Iraq? Is it for military honour guards when Australian politicians go to Washington? Is it to maintain a regime of thugs and opium barons that brutalises its own people? The US-led forces have already politically lost this war. It is time to bring all the troops home now.

From Direct Action Sydney, Australia

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Labor tiptoes around sending more troops to Afghanistan

By Hamish Chitts

Australian soldiers of the Special Operations Task Group (SOTG) were searching through homes in southern Uruzgan province on February 12, when, they claimed, they were fired on by Afghan resistance fighters. The troops returned fire, killing five children and wounding two children and two adults. In a slightly conflicting report, the Afghan Defence Ministry said one woman and two children were killed and eight other people wounded. However, its condemnation of the Australian Special Forces was clear: "The Defence Ministry condemns the martyring of one woman and two children and the wounding of eight others ... in an operation by international forces ... and asks international forces not to conduct operations without the coordination of Afghan forces."
Australian troops help occupy Afghanistan as part of the nobly named International Security Assistance Force. The ISAF is led by the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO), which in turn is dominated by the United States. Last September, due to mounting anger in Afghanistan over civilian casualties, the ISAF issued a directive saying its soldiers should not enter an Afghan house or mosque uninvited without having the lead from the Afghan army. The directive also said ISAF troops should retreat if they were able and there was a risk of civilian casualties. While this directive sounds like an important concession for minimising civilian casualties, the recent actions of the Australian SOTG and other ISAF forces prove that the directive does not reflect the tactics still being employed.
In order to minimalise their own casualties the foreign forces (as in Iraq) are ignoring the presence of unarmed civilians and using greater firepower than ever in their military operations. So-called advances in weapons technology have not only made hand-held weapons, like grenade launchers, more deadly but have also made rapid assaults like air strikes more readily available to the ground forces occupying Afghanistan. If troops approaching a village are fired upon, they can call on the air force to bomb the building (and surrounding buildings) where the shots came from rather than fighting house to house. If the troops are already in a built-up area they can employ their own devastating weapons in a similar way.
The killing of unarmed civilians by the occupation forces has turned more and more Afghans against the occupation and its puppet government in Kabul. On February 18, US President Barack Obama ordered that an additional 17,000 US soldiers be sent to Afghanistan. The US plan to increase the number of occupation troops in Afghanistan will only lead to an increase in the numbers of those taking up arms against the foreign occupiers.

Canberra under pressure
Since Obama’s announcement, the US has been pressuring its allies to increase their occupation troop numbers. The day after Obama’s order, US war secretary Robert Gates said: "The [US] administration is prepared ... to make additional commitments to Afghanistan, but there clearly will be expectations that the allies must do more as well."
Australia is the largest non-NATO contributor to the ISAF, but Australian war minister Joel Fitzgibbon downplayed this in order to point the finger at other nations for not rallying to the US call. On February 18, Fitzgibbon said: "Australia could double its troop numbers tomorrow, and without significant additional contributions from others it would make no difference. We have always said this is not about numerics. It’s about ensuring, [before] we even consider doing more, that those NATO countries, which I believe are under-committed, are prepared to do more."
Fitzgibbon has tried to sidestep whether the Australian government will add to the 1090 troops it already has in Afghanistan by saying other countries have to commit first. The pressure is now back on the Australian Labor government because other countries are increasing their troop commitments. Germany has announced it will send an extra 600 troops, while Italy said it would add an additional 500. The February 21 London Daily Telegraph reported that Britain, which has 8300 troops in Afghanistan, is considering sending 1500 more.
British foreign minister David Miliband said on a recent visit to Kabul that Britain was already paying a high financial and human cost for its role in Afghanistan: "The high level of British casualties is something which brings trauma to Britain." London wants to spread more of this trauma to its NATO allies by announcing plans for a 3000-strong permanent defence force for NATO in central Europe. In an interview with the Financial Times, British war secretary John Hutton said the force could persuade some reluctant NATO countries to send more troops to Afghanistan, by assuring them that there were enough NATO troops to defend alliance home territory.
At a February 20 meeting in Krakow, Poland, NATO war ministers agreed to make "election security" in Afghanistan a top priority. The US and especially its NATO allies are using the excuse of a "constitutional crisis" in Afghanistan to justify a troop surge. Hamid Karzai’s "mandate" as Afghanistan’s president runs out in May, but there will not be elections until August. The NATO powers are citing the potential political instability from this "constitutional crisis" as the reason more NATO troops are needed, rather than the reality of a growing popular resistance to the occupation.
The February 19 British Independent reported that a confidential NATO document that it had seen gave clear evidence of this reality. Summarising the document, the Independent reported: "Direct attacks on the increasingly precarious Afghan government more than doubled last year, while there was a 50 per cent increase in kidnappings and assassinations. Fatalities among Western forces, including British, went up by 35 per cent while the civilian death toll climbed by 46 per cent, more than the UN had estimated. Violent attacks were up by a third and roadside bombings, the most lethal source of Western casualties, by a quarter. There was also a 67 per cent rise in attacks on aircraft from the ground, a source of concern to Nato which depends hugely on air power in the conflict."

‘Tough year’ ahead
The top US commander in Afghanistan, General David McKiernan, gave an unusually frank assessment after Obama’s surge order was announced: "Even with these additional forces, I have to tell you, 2009 is going to be a tough year". This year will be tough for the occupiers, and so will the next one because the longer the occupation goes on, the more Afghans take up arms to resist. McKiernan indirectly admitted this, saying: "We’re not going to run out of people that either international forces or Afghan forces have to kill or capture."
On February 19, asked how long Australian troops would remain in Afghanistan, Fitzgibbon replied: "No one believes we will meet with success any time soon. The reality is we are talking years." McKiernan said: "For the next three to four years, I think we’re going to need to stay heavily committed and sustain in a sustained manner in Afghanistan." He also said that the bolstered number of US soldiers in Afghanistan — about 55,000 in all — was two-thirds of what he has requested.
The US-led occupation has already lasted more than seven years, at an enormous physical and mental cost to both the people of Afghanistan and the foreign troops. Add McKiernan’s prediction, and that means that the occupation would last for at least 10 years.
The US government is ignoring the lessons from Vietnam, Iraq and Palestine. Popular organised resistance to foreign occupation cannot be defeated by more troops or greater force; it only results in greater loss of life and a protracted, bitter conflict that the occupiers end up losing anyway. After the Vietnamese resistance was able to withstand US troop surges in the late 1960s — which took the US occupation force to over 569,000 troops — the surge in the US anti-war movement, particularly within the ranks of the US military, forced Washington and its allies to withdraw their forces from Vietnam. Without their presence, the US-installed puppet regime in Saigon and its million-strong army began to disintegrate, finally collapsing completely on April 30, 1975 in the face of a six-week offensive by the Vietnamese national liberation forces.
The defeat and withdrawal of the imperialist occupation forces in Afghanistan is inevitable; the people of Afghanistan are making sure of that. But it is the responsibility of the working people and soldiers of the occupying countries to organise to make this happens sooner rather than later.
From Direct Action Sydney, Australia

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Why the US is losing the war in Afghanistan

By Hamish Chitts

Barack Obama’s first military act as US president was to order two remote-controlled air strikes that killed 22 people, many civilians, in Waziristan, northern Pakistan. The Hellfire missile attacks on two villages were accompanied by presidential rhetoric about "smart power" and "tough love" that could easily have been spoken by his predecessor, George Bush.
Obama’s continuation of US bombing of territory of its supposed ally without consultation with and against the wishes of the Pakistani government’s, his plan to "surge" 30,000 troops into Afghanistan, tensions between NATO members over Afghanistan and even growing tensions between the US and its puppet government in Kabul are all signs that US imperialism has already lost the war. But as in Vietnam and in Iraq, many more civilians, resistance fighters and soldiers will die before Obama or another president decides that the US can withdraw "gracefully".

Unpopular occupation
The US and its allies have knowingly installed a corrupt puppet government whose powers don’t extend far beyond the outskirts of the Afghan capital, Kabul. A Kabul resident quoted in a January 19 article in the French newspaper La Depeche said: "Nobody I know wants to see the Taliban back in power, but people hate [puppet president] Hamid Karzai and his deeply corrupted government. The parliament and the government are useless and don’t care about our security. With so many internally displaced refugees pouring into Kabul from the countryside, there’s mass unemployment — but of course there are no statistics."
Warlords and opium barons installed by the US as local governors rule the rest of the country with an iron fist in their own interests. These brutal unelected officials are judge and jury, with their own militias (backed by foreign troops) as executioners.
Eman Mansour wrote in the Scottish fortnightly Journal on January 16: "The US government brought back to power the men who devastated the country and the lives of the people like no government before. These are the criminals of the Northern Alliance who fought among themselves from 1992-96, immersing the country into deep turbulent years of unimaginable crimes: abductions, torture, rape, looting and forced labour."
The Taliban regime quickly collapsed in 2001 because it did not have popular support. Now more and more people are realising that the new regime of old criminals is no better or worse than the Taliban. This is one of the main reasons more and more Afghans are joining the growing resistance against the US occupation.
The high number of civilians killed by US, NATO and allied forces is another reason for people joining the resistance. A report released by an independent Kabul-based group called Afghanistan Rights Monitor on January 20 said that military operations conducted by US-led NATO and coalition forces in 2008 caused at least 1100 civilian deaths and 2800 injuries and displaced from their homes around 80,000 people. Around 680 died in air strikes, it said, adding that US combat aircraft conducted at least 15,000 close air support missions over the year. Afghan forces had meanwhile killed around 520 civilians, the report said.
The ranks of those fighting against the occupation grow with people who have lost friends and relatives in indiscriminate attacks on villages. In a sign that things aren’t going well for the US, Hamid Karzai said on January 20 that the US and its military allies have not heeded his calls to stop air strikes in civilian areas. Karzai told the Afghan parliament: "For years the Afghan people have come to me and said, ‘We are allies and we are committed to fighting terrorism and we welcomed the international community in Afghanistan — why are we the victims of air strikes?’"

Previous surges
During the Vietnam War, US troop numbers were increased from 25,000 "advisers" to 120,000 troops in just seven months between March and November 1965. Only a few months later, in February 1966, the US military argued that this first surge had prevented the immediate fall of the South Vietnamese government, but that another would be necessary to conduct offensive operations to defeat North Vietnamese and National Liberation Front forces. A year and a half later, the US troop level had reached 429,000 — plus tens of thousands of "allied" troops, including Australians. These surges were not enough to defeat the people of Vietnam, and the US eventually had to withdraw, but only after many more years of carnage, including "Vietnamisation", in which the US sought to have Vietnamese kill each other on its behalf.
On January 10, 2007, Bush announced the deployment of "20,000 additional American troops to Iraq". The full increase turned out to be 28,000 by mid-June 2007, and this level has been maintained although Obama is now talking about reducing troop numbers in Iraq for his surge in Afghanistan. While the US claims that Iraq is now more secure, the surge has not worked. The resistance has not been defeated and history is repeating itself as the US and allies like Australia, knowing that they cannot win the war, continue to build up and re-equip Iraqi forces. The "Iraq-isation" of the war is a sign of defeat, just as "Vietnamisation" of the Vietnam War was.
On January 27, the first troops from the Third Brigade of the 10th Mountain Division settled in Logar and Wardak provinces, neighbouring Kabul, as part of Obama’s promised increase of up to 30,000 extra US troops in Afghanistan by the middle of this year. This surge will double US forces to 60,000. However, as in Vietnam and Iraq, the increased number of civilian casualties caused by troop escalations is likely to win more people to the resistance.

The cost of saving face
One particularly disgusting aspect of US imperialism is its willingness to prolong war, to kill more people, including the soldiers it holds in such esteem, so that it can save face or withdraw gracefully. In Vietnam, the US continued the war for five years after it had decided to pull out. Hundreds of thousands of civilians, resistance fighters and soldiers died during those five years. The US also knows it has lost in Iraq, but its military and civilian leaders are now talking of combat operations until at least 2011, meaning more years of misery and death for everyone involved, especially the Iraqi people.
Obama’s commitment to the occupation of Afghanistan hasn’t been given a timetable yet, but it has already been going on for more than seven years. The greater the number of US troops involved in the fighting, the longer it will take for the US to withdraw.
The occupation of Afghanistan is not a "good war", as our politicians claim. The fact that more and more Afghans are taking up weapons to resist the occupation proves that US imperialism is not interested in Afghan freedom and democracy. The Afghans’ struggle is to remove a brutal foreign occupier. How many more people have to die attempting to prevent this?
Australian Labor PM Kevin Rudd is also considering increasing Australian troop numbers in Afghanistan. Australia’s contingent of 1090 troops is the largest non-NATO contingent fighting in Afghanistan. Eight Australian soldiers have already died pointlessly in this war. How many more soldiers will Rudd allow to be killed while the US looks for a way to withdraw gracefully? As the corporate media and politicians try sell this unjust war, we need to continue increasing the political pressure on the Rudd government to withdraw from the occupations of both Iraq and Afghanistan.

From Direct Action Sydney, Australia