US military intervention is what devastated Afghanistan in the first place, more bombing is not going to fix it, argues Chris Nineham
Almost exactly twenty years after the West invaded the country Afghanistan is the centre of world attention again.
The Taliban, the West’s stated enemy when it invaded, is now occupying a large proportion of the country and contrary to all the West’s predictions, taking city after city around Afghanistan. This is happening just weeks after the Western military pull out from the country.
Incredibly, the response from many commentators and military advisors is that the West must ‘stay engaged’ and ‘keep bombing the country.’ Under pressure from political hawks, Biden has indeed escalated bombing attacks, including blanket bombing runs by long range B52 bombers.
This is desperate, deadly and utterly misconceived. Western politicians and the media alike are completely delinking the occupation and the Taliban takeover. In parliament last month Boris Johnson was claiming that the war had been a success because it had rooted out terrorism in Afghanistan. Shadow Foreign Secretary Angela Rayner joined the chorus implying that the West had left too early.
In fact, the occupation and the current crisis are closely connected.
In alliance with brutal Northern warlords, the 2001 Western invasion of Afghanistan managed to push the Taliban far into the South and West of the country and declare ‘victory’. What followed was disastrous for the Afghans. There was no attempt to rebuild the country after the invasion, the Western backed government under Hamid Karzai was deeply corrupt and in hoc to very unpopular forces, many of them linked to atrocities.
Finance and military resources were controlled by the US led authorities and Western NGOs. Promised reforms and improvements never materialised. By 2006, the Taliban were able to regroup and mount growing resistance as anger at the occupation grew. They were the only major force in the country that opposed the occupation and they were able to draw around them more and more militia and other support.
In response, the number of foreign troops increased, culminating in the surge ordered by President Obama in 2009. Unsurprisingly, Western escalation only increased anger as the civilian death toll mounted with a series of infamous attacks on weddings and funerals and the deaths of tens of thousands of civilians.
According to the “Costs of War” project at Brown University about 241,000 people have been killed in the Afghanistan and Pakistan war zone since 2001 as a direct result of the fighting.
Meanwhile the already weak economy has been shattered. Afghanistan remains right at the bottom of the league table of impoverished countries. According to the World Bank, the poverty rate was 47% in 2020, compared to 36% in 2007.
Last month’s pull out was an admission of defeat. It was brought forward from September to avoid the risk of Vietnam-style images of US emergency airlifts.
All this has been disastrous for the Afghan people and it poses three very serious problems for the US and its allies. The first is that a Taliban victory or a protracted civil war will increase instability in the region and Afghanistan may become a haven for terrorist groups hostile to the West. The second is that it has all been a historic and very public humiliation for Western military power after the US’s longest ever foreign war.
The third, connected, is that regional powers are stepping into the breach. The Taliban has already conducted high level meetings with the Chinese and Iranian governments. It will be these powers as well as Pakistan, Russia and India who will now be setting the political and diplomatic agenda in the area. The extent of the defeat for the US is exposed by the fact that the US has been finding it hard to find countries in the region who will let it launch bombing attacks on Afghanistan from their territory.
In these circumstances the anti-war movement needs to argue loud and clear that the warnings and predictions we made back in 2001 have been borne out in the most tragic way. The current situation is a direct result of one of the most disastrous wars in Western history that has cost the US trillions of dollars and thousands of soldiers lives.
We must do this to set the record straight but also to ensure no such adventures are tried again and that the West doesn’t get pulled back into the country. Reparations and a refugee programme for Afghans in the West are what is needed. Not more bombing.
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Chris Nineham is a founder member of Stop the War and Counterfire, speaking regularly around the country on behalf of both. He is author of The People Versus Tony Blair and Capitalism and Class Consciousness: the ideas of Georg Lukacs.
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