Afghanistan agreement – death squads to continue

Fight Racism! Fight Imperialism! 227 June/July 2012

The Enduring Strategic Partnership (ESP) agreement between the US and Afghanistan was signed by Presidents Obama and Karzai in May. In the days that followed, dozens of Afghan civilians were killed by US air strikes. In the Fatih Mohammed Pech area of Sangin, a mother and her five children were killed when their home was bombed. In Nawboor village in Baghdis province, US helicopters killed 15 civilians, including children. There were more casualties in Logar and Kapisa provinces east of Kabul. President Karzai, compelled to token protest, exclaimed: ‘If the lives of Afghans are not safe then the strategic partnership loses its meaning.’ JIM CRAVEN reports.

The ESP agreement had been paraded as an important stage in the hand-over of security responsibility to Afghan national forces and the end of US night-time raids. In fact, it was neither. Aiming to kill or capture anti-occupation fighters, night raids by US/NATO special forces terrorise the local population, destroying homes and killing civilians. Contrary to international law, entire villages are held for questioning for prolonged periods and thousands of people have been detained without charge.

The night raids are a major cause of opposition to the occupation amongst the Afghan people. President Karzai had to appear to insist that they were brought under Afghan control before he would sign the ESP agreement. US Central Command totally rejected Karzai’s demands but the US administration wanted to sign a deal before the NATO summit in May in order to bolster long-term support from the wavering Europeans. At the same time, the number in the US who want troops to be removed as soon as possible has risen from less than half to almost two-thirds of the population. In this election year, President Obama hoped to maintain the illusion that the war is coming to an end without making any commitment to leaving. Answering his rhetorical question, ‘Why don’t we leave immediately?’, Obama told the US people, ‘We must give Afghanistan the opportunity to stabilise’!

It was against this background of contradictory priorities and lies that the ESP agreement was cobbled together. According to the Memorandum of Understanding that accompanied the agreement, special force raids, led ostensibly by Afghan troops, will have to be sanctioned by the Afghan Operational Co-ordination Group. But this is already the case. The most important raids, those led by or consisting entirely of US/NATO special forces or CIA militias, are not covered by the memorandum. They will continue without any Afghan veto. As US Captain John Kirby commented, ‘In practical terms, not much has changed’.

US will stay in Afghanistan

Furthermore, the ESP agreement says nothing about the number of US troops to remain after 2014 and what their role will be. These will be part of a ‘Bilateral Security Agreement’ to be concluded within the next year. This is likely to be after Obama’s re-election is safely complete because any such agreement will allow for thousands of US troops to remain in Afghanistan until at least 2024. US combat operations are supposed to end in 2013 and the remaining troops to concentrate on training Afghan forces, but the agreement will undoubtedly allow US forces or their CIA counterparts to act against Al Qaeda or other generalised ‘terrorist threats’ that, in effect, will give them freedom to undertake whatever military operations they wish.

Nor is the plan to transfer responsibility for security to Afghan forces genuinely feasible. It may happen on paper, but on the ground US forces will remain in command for a long time to come and US bases will be transferred to the Afghans in name only. The Afghan army and police are riddled by drug-running and corruption and infiltrated by anti-occupation fighters. So-called ‘blue on green’ attacks, where members of the Afghan police or army attack US/NATO forces, have accounted for 80 deaths and over 100 injuries since 2007. Three quarters of the killings have taken place in the last two years and 22 of those this year. A dozen of the 414 British military deaths in Afghanistan result from ‘blue on green’ attacks. Annual desertion rates among Afghan forces are around 20%. In order to cut costs, a meeting of International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) countries in April 2012 discussed slashing the proposed size of the Afghan forces from 352,000 to 230,000. Swedish foreign minister Carl Bildt had earlier pointed out the dangers of such cuts: ‘We will have given 100,000 people training and a gun and then made them unemployed.’

The occupying powers are planning, however, to increase the number of Afghan ‘local police’ from 10,000 to 30,000. These forces were created by the imperialists, supposedly to give local people a role in defending their neighbourhood from insurgents. In reality, most of them have become the personal militia of local warlords, accused by human rights groups of threatening the local population and carrying out extra-judicial killings.

Military action overrules negotiations

The US military insists it must weaken the anti-occupation forces before meaningful peace negotiations take place. The present US stance – not so much a negotiating position as an ultimatum – is that the anti-occupation forces must cut all ties with Al Qaeda, recognise the Afghan constitution, lay down their arms and accede to the US military presence until at least 2024. In fact, in late 2007, the Taliban offered to cut ties to Al Qaeda, form a government of national unity until the constitution could be rewritten and elections held and to accept a timetable for foreign troop withdrawal instead of the immediate withdrawal it had previously insisted upon. The offer was ignored by Presidents Bush and Obama. The Taliban’s first confidence building proposal in the recent discussions – that five prisoners should be released from the US prison at Guantanamo in return for concessions on the Taliban’s part – was also rejected. In March, the Taliban withdrew from the peace talks saying the US was being ‘shaky, erratic and vague’. They were followed by other sections of the anti-occupation forces.

General John Allen, US commander of ISAF, recently claimed that the Taliban was in retreat, its leadership in Pakistan divided and dispirited and its foot soldiers deserting in large numbers. These assertions were contradicted by two US politicians returning from Afghanistan. Democratic Senator Dianne Feinstein, chair of the Senate intelligence committee, said ‘what we found is the Taliban is stronger. The Taliban has a shadow system of governors in many provinces. They’ve gone up north. They’ve gone to the east. Attacks are up’. While Republican Mike Rogers, chair of the House intelligence committee, spoke of ‘the growing strength of the Taliban’ being ‘a huge problem’.

In mid-April, anti-occupation fighters attacked military bases, embassies and Afghan parliament buildings in three areas of Kabul, and simultaneously targets in the capital cities of the eastern provinces of Nangarhar, Logar and Paktia. Professor Mohammed Isaqzadeh of the American University in Kabul said, ‘We have never had such a co-ordinated attack.’ One British journalist described it as ‘the most ambitious insurgent assault of its kind since the US intervention in 2001’. Two weeks later, while President Obama was visiting Kabul, anti-occupation fighters attacked ‘The Green Village’ in the east of the city, where foreign mercenaries and contractors are housed. Announcing the raid as the start of its spring offensive, the Taliban said it would target the foreign military, Afghan government officials and members of the High Peace Council.

Threats of more war in Asia

In March, it was announced that no charges would be brought against any US serviceman over the NATO air strike that killed 24 Pakistani soldiers in November 2011. The Financial Times reported Pakistan as being in the grip of ‘hysterical anti-Americanism’. Since President Obama came to office, there have been over 260 strikes in Pakistan by Predator and Reaper drones. In January, Obama claimed ‘drones have not caused a huge number of civilian casualties’ – as though even the ‘several dozen’ killings admitted by US officials weren’t important. Many hundreds of civilian deaths have been credibly reported and the actual total is probably higher still. Commenting on the futility of the raids as a means of eradicating what the US labels ‘terrorist groups’, a top Pakistan government official said, ‘The number three in Al Qaeda has been killed at least five times but there is always a new number three. It is the mentality that gives rise to Al Qaeda that you need to defeat.’

Relations between Pakistan and the US are now at such a low that Pakistan fears the US wants to seize its nuclear weapons and so has started to increase production and distribute them around the country. In April, Pakistan tested an intermediate-range missile capable of reaching all parts of India. A week earlier India had tested a similar missile. India is closely allied with the US in its strategy to contain China. The US allowed India to purchase nuclear materials contrary to the non-proliferation treaty. President Obama also reneged on a promise made to Pakistan that he would tackle the long-term dispute between Pakistan and India over Kashmir. India is the only country in the region not to condemn the US night raids in Afghanistan. Nor has India joined with Iran, Russia, China and Pakistan in opposing the long-term presence of US troops there. Imperialist intervention is raising the threat of wider regional conflict. This year, for the first time, arms spending in Asia will exceed that of Europe.