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From The Socialist newspaper, 4 August 2010

Afghanistan: US strategy in disarray

The concerted might of the strongest and largest military force in the world, that of the US, is failing to defeat the disparate and crudely equipped Taliban militias in one of the poorest countries of the world.

This is despite the US leading a force of nearly 120,000 troops fighting an estimated 28,000 Taliban, and having spent a phenomenal 190 billion over the nine years of the war so far.

The US-led coalition forces have also failed to remove al Qaeda, despite the fact that al Qaeda was said by a US national security advisor to have only around 100 members operating in Afghanistan.

US president Obama reviewed US policy in Afghanistan last December and decided on a surge of 30,000 extra troops.

During 2010, Helmand and Kandahar provinces were to be 'pacified', newly trained Afghan troops would take over, and US troops would start withdrawing next summer.

But since this plan was concocted, overall levels of violence have increased and the plan's objectives are increasingly seen as impossible.

The disarray in US strategy was indicated by the recent sacking of the US military General in command in Afghanistan, Stanley McChrystal, for criticising Obama's course of action.

Now the former US commander in Iraq, David Petraeus, has been given the poisoned chalice, yet he also has differences with Obama over the war strategy.

The Karzai-led Afghan government continues to be weak and corrupt, with its influence limited mainly to Kabul.

Far from bringing promised improvements to the lives of the Afghan people, the intervention of US imperialism has mainly brought violence and destruction, in a country that was once rich in culture and heritage.

Not only is the US-led coalition failing in Afghanistan, it has also been destabilising Pakistan, a country of 170 million people, having spread the conflict over the dividing border.

Aerial bombardment of the tribal areas in Pakistan has killed thousands of civilians, creating massive anger and desire for revenge in those areas and beyond.

Public exposure of the 75,000 leaked US military papers led to accusations that Pakistan is playing a 'double game', even assisting the Taliban against Nato troops.

US personnel have accused the Pakistani Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) of sponsoring suicide attacks by Haqqani fighters on the Indian embassy in Kabul; and former ISI head, General Hamid Gul, is described in some of the leaked files as an active Taliban organiser.

British Tory prime minister David Cameron joined this chorus when he accused Pakistan of 'looking both ways' during his recent visit to India, and US White House spokesman, Robert Gibbs, had already declared that the US "will not and cannot provide a blank cheque to Pakistan" if it fails to toe the US line (ie threatening to reduce the large sums of money given to Pakistan by the US).

Covert links

In the 1980s, the American CIA and Pakistani ISI funded and trained Islamist guerrilla organisations to fight the Soviet Union in Afghanistan.

The Taliban were a product of this, and of Pakistani and Saudi funded Madrassas (religious schools).

But now that US imperialism is at war with the Taliban, the Pakistani military has moved, under US pressure, against Taliban safe havens in Pakistan.

However, a wing of the ISI, at least, is covertly maintaining links with the Taliban and certain other Afghan military networks and factions, supporting some groups when it suits them, while opposing others.

This is to aid the trade and investment interests of a layer of Pakistan's military leaders and capitalists, and to preserve some influence for the time when the Nato troops largely withdraw from Afghanistan.

British journalist Patrick Cockburn recently described Pakistan's military intelligence as having "a strong influence, but not quite full control, over the Taliban.

The Taliban safe havens in Pakistan are never quite safe and the Taliban say privately that while they can generally operate in Pakistan, they never know when they might be arrested".

Prestige and interests

Pressure from within the US population for the withdrawal of US troops from Afghanistan is increasing, but for the US ruling class and government it is proving impossible without harming their prestige and their interests in the region.

Afghanistan has long been a country of strategic geographical importance for the imperialist powers of the world, being in a location that links together different blocks of countries.

Also it is rich in natural resources, with recent reports reaffirming that it has abundant gas, oil, gold, copper, iron ore and other minerals.

However, unable to stem the recovery of the Taliban, talk of fighting 'until victory' is no longer part of the vocabulary of Nato spokespeople; rather there has been furtive mention of 'talks'.

It has dawned on the coalition military leaders and governments that they will not be able to withdraw their troops and leave in place an Afghan army that can hold the Taliban in check.

The Taliban, until a movement of Afghan workers and peasants is built that can counter its forces, will most likely retain or regain control over many areas, and co-exist in a country divided into spheres of influence between the various tribal and ethnic warlords.

This in any case is the current reality. All the Taliban have to do is sit tight, continue resisting, and they will receive a continual stream of young people - many of whom have lost friends and relatives in the war - to renew their ranks.

When in power, the Taliban enforced a highly repressive, right-wing Islamist regime, that prevented women from working and being educated and that banned opposition parties and trade unions.

For Afghan workers and peasants, a choice between the reactionary Taliban, the other tribal and ethnic based warlords (who dominate the Afghan puppet government) or the US-led occupation, is a nightmare choice.

The foreign troops must be withdrawn immediately. But the competing Afghan political and military elites, backed by different foreign capitalists, will continue to cream off the wealth gained from exploitation of Afghanistan's natural resources and will bring no improvements in living standards to the impoverished majority in the country.

Workers' movement

For socialists therefore, calling for an immediate end to the war and occupation goes hand in hand with advocating the end of capitalism in Afghanistan and the wider region.

In particular, the Pakistani working class is numerous and potentially very strong. It will at some stage move to renovate and build its own organisations to be fit for challenging the existing regime in Pakistan.

The ruling class in India, which like that of Pakistan, wants to protect and extend its sphere of influence, must also be countered by a workers' movement from below.

The building of a strong workers' movement in any country of the region, armed with socialist ideas, under today's conditions would quickly lead to similar movements in neighbouring countries.

In Afghanistan also, aided by solidarity from workers internationally, the only way to develop security and decent living standards of the majority of people, will be through the building of democratic mass-based organisations of working-class people and the poor.

Such a movement will need to include in its programme the aim of establishing a workers' and peasants' government that can take public ownership and control of the mineral, gas, agriculture and other industries, and democratically plan the economy along socialist lines.

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In The Socialist 4 August 2010:

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