Lindsey German examines the latest developments in the ‘war on terror’, from Afghanistan to Syria and the extradition of Babar Ahmad and Talha Ahsan
Some 80% of people in Britain now think the Afghan war is an unwinnable disaster, according to a recent Daily Mirror poll. Yet 11 years on from the original invasion and bombing of Afghanistan this fact isn’t mentioned in most news or discussed at the main party conferences.
The British establishment chooses to ignore this disastrous war - apart from when yet another general or politician tells us that everything is on course for victory. But the picture is very different on the ground.
A bloody and futile war
In Afghanistan, NATO soldiers - mainly British and American - are being killed every week. An increasing number are victims of attacks by the very Afghan police and army who are supposed to be replacing them in two years’ time.
Afghans are subject to air strikes, night raids and constant danger as a result of the war. In the border areas, and in Pakistan, unmanned drones are attacking every day, bringing further deaths of civilians.
Militarily the west is losing this war. The recent attack on Camp Bastion (the army base of choice for visiting politicians to be filmed because it is regarded as safe) was carried out by only 14 Taliban, yet it did more damage to US planes than at any time since the Vietnam War, destroying six Harriers completely and seriously damaging two more.
Exit strategies mostly include some sort of deal with at least sections of the Taliban, leaving both NATO soldiers and their families, and millions of Afghans, wondering what this war was really about.
The official reason for continuing the war is that it is helping to make Britain safe from terrorism. Frankly, everyone from the security forces to the dogs in the street knows this is a lie perpetrated to justify a war which has no justification other than strategic imperial control by the western powers.
Threat of new wars
Just as the Afghan war drags towards an ignominious, bloody and drawn out denouement, the threat of new war hangs over the Middle East. Fighting broke out on the Turkish/Syrian border last week, which led to Turkey’s parliament endorsing cross border incursions into Syria in the coming year.
Turkey’s NATO membership and pro-western stance has led to covert intervention and support in the past months. There are likely to be further flashpoints which exacerbate the threat of war.
And Iran’s sanctions are now biting hard, leading to internal conflicts. Israel’s Prime Minister Netanyahu is threatening bombing of Iran. In the aftermath of the US elections, now only a month away, threats to Iran are likely to increase.
In addition, the reach of the war on terror is far greater than its immediate victims in the countries which have been bombed, invaded and occupied. This weekend, Babar Ahmad and Talha Ahsan arrived in the US to face trial on terrorism charges for events which took place in Britain but for which they were denied the right to be tried in their own country.
Their cases, linked forever by government and media with that of Abu Hamza in an attempt to bury the actual facts, should have been brought to trial here, where the two men have already spent 8 and 6 years in prison respectively. They have been imprisoned without trial for a grotesque and inhuman period. They now face high security solitary confinement in US jails, plus little chance of a fair trial.
These men, with their families and friends, have campaigned long and hard to prevent these extraditions, most recently on Friday when I joined them outside the Law courts in the Strand in London as we waited for the results which were feared but expected.
The campaigners have done a fantastic job of raising the profiles of their cases, but ultimately without success. They were up against governments, shadowy security forces and a hostile media, but fought bravely.
When I spoke to the protest I stressed that these men and their families were victims of the war on terror. We said back in 2001 that waging war on mainly Muslim countries would lead to severe attacks on civil liberties and to the demonisation of Muslims.
Muslim equals extremist equals terrorist is now common parlance in media and establishment circles. It is barely conceivable that someone like Babar Ahmad could have spent so long in jail without trial 20 years ago, let alone that the British government could have been complicit in such an unjust extradition law.
Levels of Islamophobia have reached record levels across Europe, with bans on building mosques, wearing certain types of clothing and attacks on Halal food now commonplace.
We are still seeing the consequences of the terrible turn taken by Bush and his ally Blair 11 years ago - and the nightmare is far from over. This is even more reason to join the anti-war movement in the weeks and months ahead - and on 20 October, when we can send a strong anti-war message to the government as part of a mass demonstration against austerity.
As national convenor of the Stop the War Coalition, Lindsey was a key organiser of the largest demonstration, and one of the largest mass movements, in British history.
Her books include ‘Material Girls: Women, Men and Work’, ‘Sex, Class and Socialism’, ‘A People’s History of London’ (with John Rees) and ‘How a Century of War Changed the Lives of Women’.