Democratic Underground

There's a War in Afghanistan?

August 25, 2005
By Ken Sanders

This week, President Bush embarked on his latest PR campaign to convince the American people that the illegal and unwarranted invasion/occupation of Iraq was worth the sacrifice paid by other people's children. (After all, neither David Wolfowitz, Elizabeth Cheney, Valerie Rumsfeld, Jenna Bush, nor Barbara Bush would ever be sacrificed for such a noble cause.)

Never afraid to face a hostile audience, the President's first pro-war pep rally took place in Utah at the convention of Veterans of Foreign Wars. There, President Bush explained that the only way to honor the nearly 1,900 U.S. troops who have been killed in Iraq is to stay there and "finish the task."

In other words, the only way to ensure that those U.S. troops who died in Iraq did not die in vain is to send more to their deaths. Needless death honored through more needless death. The logic is compelling.

Besides, the stated "task" was the disarmament of Saddam's regime and the enforcement of U.N. resolutions. Indeed, when Congress authorized President Bush to use military force in Iraq, that authorization was limited to defending the U.S. against the "threat" posed by Saddam and enforcing all relevant U.N. Security Council Resolutions regarding Iraq. Similarly, when the U.S. officially notified the Security Council that military operations had commenced in Iraq, the stated purpose was the enforcement of Security Council resolutions. That's it.

Those tasks were completed on May 1, 2003, at the latest, the day Bush arrogantly swaggered across the deck of the USS Abraham Lincoln as though he had done something heroic.

At any rate, while Bush tries to sell the American public on more death and destruction in Iraq, another, older war continues. It is a war that has, to date, claimed the lives of 228 U.S. troops and innumerable civilians. It is a legal war, fought in a country actually tied to the attacks against the U.S. on September 11, 2001. It is Operation Enduring Freedom. It is America's forgotten war.

America would do well not to forget the war in Afghanistan.

While the Taliban are no longer officially in charge of Afghanistan, they are not yet defeated, either. Instead, a neo-Taliban insurgency has emerged, consisting of original Taliban members, the forces of notorious warlord Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, Pakistani Islamic extremists, and Afghan drug cartels. Thus, rather than having been destroyed as touted by the Bush administration, the Taliban has merely been transformed.

That transformation has been to the Taliban's capabilities, as well as to its structure. The Taliban insurgency is better funded and better armed than in years past, thanks in large part to Osama bin Laden (remember him?) and the al-Qaeda network. Learning from Iraq, the Taliban insurgents have employed such tactics as beheadings, assassinations, kidnappings, and suicide bombings.

By attacking foreign contractors and aid workers, the Taliban has ensured that many reconstruction activities have been reduced, if not entirely suspended. As in Iraq, Afghans end up blaming the U.S. and its puppet regime for the country's lack of security and delayed reconstruction.

The Taliban insurgents have also exacerbated sectarian tensions by killing at least five moderate Islamic clerics for defying the jihad against the U.S.-backed Karzai government.

Rather than fighting the U.S. military head-on, the Taliban insurgents have instead developed guerrilla tactics such as operating in small units, staging hit-and-run ambushes, and mixing with local populations. More and more it appears that, as is the case in Iraq, the Taliban insurgency in Afghanistan is content to slowly bleed the U.S.

The tactic should not come as any surprise to America - it was we who taught it to the Afghans, during their U.S.-funded war against the Soviet occupation.

The evidence suggests that the Taliban's strategy of bleeding the U.S. is becoming increasingly successful. Over the course of a year, attacks with mines and improvised explosive devices increased 40 percent. More troubling, the effectiveness of those attacks increased 30 percent, making them 80 percent likely to inflict death or injury. Additionally, there have been 74 U.S. military fatalities so far this year, far more than in any preceding year. More than 40 have been killed since March.

Afghanistan is America's forgotten war, a distraction from the "real" war being waged in Iraq. Preoccupied with the carnage being wrought in Iraq, the Bush administration (and America in general) has neglected Afghanistan and allowed the Taliban to regroup. As a result, the U.S. now must fight ruthless insurgencies on two fronts.

Hopefully, it isn't too late for the U.S. to re-focus on Afghanistan and avoid a debacle on the scale of Iraq. That, of course, would require real leadership, something we're sorely lacking.

Ken Sanders is a writer in Tucson whose work has been published by Z Magazine, Common Dreams, Democratic Underground, Dissident Voice, and Political Affairs Magazine, among others.

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