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US War Strategy Under Strain
IMAGES OF death and destruction in the village of Khorum demonstrated the horrific reality of Bush and Blair's 'war against terrorism'.
Bush said that the Taliban would "pay the price" for 11 September attacks. But it's ordinary Afghans who are the innocent victims of a futile war that will not end terrorism and will make the world a more unstable and dangerous place.
Opinions polls in the US and Britain have shown a majority in favour of air-strikes on Afghanistan. But many of those who feel that "something must be done" have grave reservations about any action which results in the deaths of innocent civilians.
On 13 October 50,000 marched on an anti-war demonstration in London - bigger than any national protests during the Gulf War or the war in Kosovo. Significantly it included a large, organised Muslim contingent. At least a quarter of a million people protested against the war in Italy.
These demonstrations and anti-US protests around the world show that Bush and Blair do not have a blank cheque to wage war against the people of Afghanistan and that the 'anti-terrorist' coalition is being built on shaky foundations.
The ruling class in Britain and the US have said that this will be a long war. If the civilian death toll rises as a result of bombings, cold and starvation, the mood could harden against it.
After several days of intense bombing, death and destruction, Bush boasted that the richest nation in the world had air-supremacy over one of the poorest! But the bombs have not realised US imperialism's main aim of rooting out bin Laden. Nor have they overthrown the Taliban.
Now the US war strategists are drawing up plans for the use of ground forces. However there are clearly fissures opening up within the US administration and the 'anti-terrorist' coalition about what to do next.
They do not want to get embroiled in any lengthy ground war or occupation of Afghanistan which might result in massive casualties, as happened with the Soviet occupation from 1979 to 1989. But there is a real fear that the situation could spiral out of their control in Afghanistan and more widely.
It's a sign of the difficulties that US imperialism faces, that they are forced to rely on the Northern Alliance as an ally to defeat the Taliban and shape a post-Taliban 'solution' for Afghanistan.
When the forces which make up the Alliance were in 'power' between 1992 and 1996, 50,000 Afghans were killed through repression and fighting between rival factions. It was because of the Northern Alliance's horrific record of raping, looting and destruction that the Afghan population in many areas initially welcomed the Taliban.
There is general agreement within the international coalition that the mainly Tajik and Uzbek Northern Alliance must not be allowed to form a post-Taliban government on their own. Instead they want to try and cobble together some kind of coalition government that will also include forces representing the Pashtuns, who are the biggest ethnic group in Afghanistan.
The US appears to have deliberately held back from bombing Taliban positions north of Kabul for fear of the Northern Alliance prematurely seizing Kabul before some kind of 'settlement' has been worked out. But as one US Defence official commented: "This is a very complex area. It makes Bosnia look homogeneous" (Financial Times 16 Oct).
Any post-Taliban government imposed on Afghanistan by US imperialism, even under the guise of the UN, will be extremely unstable and unable to solve any of the problems ordinary Afghans face. Only a government of workers and poor as part of a socialist federation of the Middle East can offer a lasting solution.
The more 'gung-ho' sections of the US administration, especially in the Defence department are still pushing to widen the war beyond Afghanistan and into Iraq. There have even been attempts to link the anthrax outbreaks in the US to the Iraqi regime in order to justify an invasion, including seizure of the Basra oil-fields.
However the 'doves', around Colin Powell, realise that military attacks on Iraq would blow apart the international coalition and enormously destabilise the world situation.
The coalition is already fraying at the seams. That's why Blair has been flying all over the world desperately trying to do a quick repair job and hold everything together.
The bombing of Afghanistan has provoked anti-US demonstrations throughout the Muslim world, including Indonesia, the world's largest Muslim country. "There's a huge concern that Indonesia could be the world's biggest powder-keg" commented one US diplomat (Guardian 11 October).
In Pakistan, General Musharraf has moved quickly to try to quell unrest by removing military chiefs sympathetic to the Taliban, arresting Islamist leaders and ordering security forces to open fire on protesters.
But potentially the situation could explode, especially if the war drags on for any length of time. A Newsweek poll found that the percentage of Pakistanis supporting the Taliban against the US has gone up by 40% to 83% since the bombings began.
The Saudi regime is also walking a knife-edge and Israel/Palestine remains a tinder-box (see The Socialist page 4). Bush has even raised the idea of extending the war on terrorism to South East Asia, which would add fuel to the existing anti-US imperialism mood.
It's clear that this will be a long, drawn-out and complicated war. But the rifts within the coalition, the growing anti-US protests and movements against the war all indicate that US imperialism won't be able to move around the globe at will in defence of its own interests.
The longer the war goes on, the more unstable the world situation will become. The task for socialists now is to build on the sizeable anti-war protests which have already taken place; to campaign for the formation of new mass parties which can represent the interests of the working class and poor internationally and to fight for a socialist alternative to the horrors of poverty, terrorism and war which this capitalist system engenders.
In The Socialist 19 October 2001: