Afghanistan’s Eighth Anniversary with Another Crumbling Empire

Posted on October 7, 2009 by

A U.S. Air Force B-1B Lancer bomber takes off on a strike mission against Afghanistan on Oct. 7, 2001, for "Operation Enduring Freedom". DoD photo by Senior Airman Rebeca M. Luquin, U.S. Air Force. (Released) Wikimedia Commons:

A U.S. Air Force B-1B Lancer bomber takes off on a strike mission against Afghanistan on Oct. 7, 2001, for "Operation Enduring Freedom". DoD photo by Senior Airman Rebeca M. Luquin, U.S. Air Force. (Released) Wikimedia Commons:

While no doubt some Afghans will be celebrating the continued, lucrative, presence of another empire in their midst, and the momentary protection offered by armies from 42 nations, others will be celebrating the fact that under their sustained and expanding fire another empire grinds noisily into its eighth year of failure. At the moment, the ever more obstreperous General Stanley McChrystal is making statements such as the one in the image above, suggesting that more occupation troops are needed so that they can look like less of an occupation force. Astounding. Instead of occupiers, they will merely appear in Afghan eyes as tourists with guns, presumably. This is the logic that is being sold by “top brass.” This logic comes from a general whose specializations in Iraq were targeted assassinations, not counterinsurgency; his units engaged in repeated abuse of detainees, not “winning hearts and minds” (source). As for the Obama administration, pledging itself to think about a strategy for Afghanistan does not mean quite the same as pledging itself to think: “I don’t think we have the option to leave,” said White House spokesman Robert Gibbs, “That’s quite clear” (source). Any regime that does not know what it is still doing in another nation cannot afford to slice off parts of its brain and render certain ideas “unthinkable.”

However, that too is to be celebrated, because it is with just this degree of hubris that the empire will more quickly meet with ruin. It is not just McChrystal’s fallacies that will speed empire to ruin, when his boss encourages digging in deeper. Recognizing that after recent major troop increases, oddly enough the Taliban have simultaneously increased their hold over 80% of Afghanistan, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates has to say: “the Taliban do have the momentum right now” (source). And that really bothers him of course, because leaving now would mean that his enemies will sense a chance “to defeat a second superpower,” and, “what’s more important than that in my view is the message that it sends that empowers al Qaeda … The notion that they have come back from this defeat, come back from 2002, to challenge not only the United States but NATO, 42 nations, is a hugely empowering message should they be successful” (source). So empire is about saving face for empire? The regime confuses itself now, for it was Obama himself who recently said, “I’m not interested in just being in Afghanistan for the sake of being in Afghanistan or saving face or, in some way, you know, sending a message that America is here for the duration” (source). Then, as we saw above, his own spokesman says “I don’t think we have the option to leave.” No wonder they cannot decide on the right tactics; they do not know as much as what to say from one day to the next.

There is mounting opposition to the continuation of the Afghan war by majorities of voters right across many NATO nations (including the U.S. itself, the U.K., Canada, Australia, Germany). European public opinion on the whole is in favor of reducing or withdrawing troops from Afghanistan (55% of West Europeans and 69% of East Europeans according to a recent German Marshall Fund poll) (source). In the face of that, all the Obama administration can  offer regarding anti-war protesters such as those at the gates of the White House itself this Monday, October 5, is that: (a) they did not even know they were there (looking outside the windows of the White House is apparently also off limits); and, (b) a condescending, paternalistic dismissal: “I think the president has long believed that whether your opinion is on one side of this issue or the other, that this is the greatness of our country, is that you get to amplify that opinion” (source). In other words, cheer up, America may be just a paper-thin democracy, but that is still far better than the democracy implanted and paid for by NATO nations in Afghanistan (see here).

In the meantime, while Americans debate whether they can afford health care for themselves, the monthly cost per soldier in Afghanistan is $76,870 (source). If any of those soldiers is ever successful in killing a Talib by using a bullet, rather than a bomb, artillery shell or missile (all of which are far more expensive), it costs about $82,500 to kill one Talib, using bullets alone (source). Total war-related U.S. funding for Afghanistan now stands at $223 billion, according to the Congressional Research Service. Whatever the U.S. saves from drawing down forces in Iraq is likely to be more than expended in Afghanistan, where the total cost of the war could reach a trillion dollars (source). Almost 1,500 NATO troops have been killed thus far in Afghanistan (source), and the death rate is growing (source).

Coalition military fatalities by month during the Afghan-war. Source: and on Wikimedia Commons at

Coalition military fatalities by month during the Afghan-war. Source: and on Wikimedia Commons at

As many as 32,000 Afghan civilians have been killed in the war since it started (source). This is not counting those who have needlessly died from famine even while occupied by Western forces awash in multi-million dollar contracts and imported luxuries. In fact, for some foreigners, Kabul can even be a “luxurious hidden paradise.”

As the Taliban have spread to the point that there is substantial Taliban military activity in 97% of Afghanistan (source) and heavy activity in 80%, are they promising “global jihad”? No, quite the contrary: “Afghan Taliban say they pose no threat to the West.” What if you do not believe them? “If the Taliban did return to power, I believe we are strong enough to deter them from attacking us again by strong and credible punishment and by containing them with regional allies like India, China and Russia,” said former State Department official Leslie Gelb (source). But surely their Al Qaeda “friends” will take advantage of the return of the Taliban? With a force numbering perhaps as few as 100? As Obama’s National Security Adviser, General James Jones said: “The al Qaeda presence is very diminished. The maximum estimate is less than 100 operating in the country, no bases, no ability to launch attacks on either us or our allies” (source). Yet, if one asks General David Petraeus, he says repeatedly that there is no al Qaeda presence in Afghanistan (source).

A confused regime, speaking out of both sides of its mouth, admits to having no strategy for winning an unwinnable war, that is also by very far an entirely unnecessary war.

For those interested in copious amounts of background reading, you can download the following PDFs of international press extracts ranging across the topics above, and many more, complete up to 07 October 2009:

Afghanistan: Occupation and Resistance (3.4 mb, 280 pages)

Afghanistan Elections 2009 (3.07 mb, 160 pages)

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