Iraq in Miniature
May 12, 2005
By Ken Sanders
Spring has arrived in Afghanistan and after the coldest winter
in a decade, the sun is shining, the poppies are blooming, and the
casualties are mounting.
Back on February 20, 2005, the Associated Press reported that
the bitter winter, blamed for the deaths of more than 120 Afghan
children, had curtailed Taliban operations in Afghanistan. U.S.
military commanders boasted that they did not take winters off.
Five days later, Taliban insurgents launched three separate attacks
throughout southeastern Afghanistan, resulting in the deaths of
nine Afghan soldiers and a wounded U.S. soldier.
Throughout March, Taliban fighters and insurgent rebels continued
to launch attacks against U.S. and coalition forces, as well as
against Afghan soldiers, police, and civilians. U.S. military personnel
were killed and wounded in ambushes by Taliban militants, as well
as by land mines, roadside bombs, and other improvised explosive
devices (IEDs). An Afghan couple providing medical care in southwestern
Afghanistan were killed by unidentified gunmen and scores more Afghan
civilians were killed and wounded in roadside bombings.
According to the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID),
throughout Afghanistan there were at least twenty attacks in March,
as well as in April. There were only ten such attacks in February.
In what was surely pure coincidence, Afghan President Hamid Karzai
announced in March that the parliamentary elections would be pushed
back from May until September.
The resurgence of violence led Lieutenant General David Barno,
outgoing commander of Combined Forces Command in Afghanistan, to
predict on April 16, 2005, that there would be "high profile" attacks
by the Taliban in the coming months.
He didn't know how right he was.
The next day, Taliban fighters attacked the main U.S. military
base in Kandahar by exploding a loaded fuel tanker parked outside
the base's perimeter. The explosion set off a chain reaction, detonating
four more tankers. The following week, insurgents fired rockets
at the U.S. military's forward operating base in eastern Afghanistan,
near the Pakistani border. According to a U.S. military spokeswoman
on April 23, 2005, the attacks on U.S. military installations demonstrated
increased coordination among Taliban fighters.
In the past week alone, the upsurge in violence throughout Afghanistan
has resulted in the deaths of more than 100 people. While many of
the casualties were Taliban militants, Afghan soldiers, policemen,
and numerous civilians were also killed and wounded. On May 9, 2005,
two U.S. Marines were killed in a five-hour gun battle with Taliban
fighters in the mountains of eastern Afghanistan. Only days earlier,
six U.S. soldiers were wounded when their unit was ambushed by Taliban
fighters. Two lost their legs.
In the midst of the recent violence, the Taliban declared that
it had stepped up its attacks on coalition forces, targeting U.S.
forces first. In addition to its declaration of increased violence,
the Taliban rejected the Afghan government's offer of amnesty, over
U.S. objections, to Taliban leader Mullah Mohammed Omar.
Simultaneous with the Taliban's re-emergence is a rise in violent
crime throughout Afghanistan. Afghans have witnessed a sharp increase
in armed robbery, kidnapping, rape, and murder. Evidence suggests
that members of Afghanistan's police force are involved in the crime
wave. Most disturbing is the rise in kidnapped and murdered children.
In Kandahar, four to five children a day are kidnapped for ransom
then frequently mutilated, raped, and murdered after desperate families
pay the ransom.
Things are now so bad in Kandahar that people there are reminiscing
about "the good old days" under the Taliban. Indeed, according to
one of several urban legends regarding the rise of the Taliban,
it was a rash of kidnappings in Kandahar that caused the Taliban
and its strict form of Islam to be welcomed by residents of the
The growing instability in Afghanistan is reflected in a report
released on May 10, 2005, by CARE International and the Afghanistan
NGO Safety Office. Entitled "NGO Insecurity in Afghanistan," the
report concludes that "escalating violence" throughout Afghanistan
has resulted in an "unprecedented number" of NGO fatalities. Things
there are so bad that CARE and ANSO estimate that the NGO fatality
rate in Afghanistan is higher than "almost any other conflict or
post-conflict setting." In fact, earlier this month, three Afghan
women were found beaten to death for working with foreign NGOs.
All of these recent events in Afghanistan should strike a familiar
chord in those familiar with the history of post-Saddam Iraq. In
both cases, the U.S. propped-up brutal regimes only to forcibly
remove them, at great civilian cost, once they ceased to serve U.S.
interests. The remnants of those regimes, displeased with their
ouster, as well as militants offended by Muslim subjugation to U.S.
imperialism, instigate insurgencies against the occupying militaries
and those who support them.
The U.S., not about to be shown up by a bunch of "thugs," embarks
upon a counter-insurgency, resulting in "collateral" deaths too
numerous and inconsequential to be counted. Enraged by the United
States' callous disregard for the lives of those it purports to
liberate, Iraqis, Afghans, and those sympathetic to their plights,
join the ranks of the insurgencies or, perhaps, terrorist organizations.
Round and round we go.
While Afghanistan may currently be Iraq in miniature, if things
there continue to destabilize, particularly at their current rate,
that will not long remain the case.