The Afghan spiral

Submitted by Matthew on 14 March, 2012 - 9:54

According to the United Nations, 3,120 civilians were killed by US, British, other NATO, and Karzai government forces in Aghanistan between 2006 and the end of 2011.

A large chunk of those deaths are caused by aerial bombings — 187 in 2011.

Despite constant and increasingly hollow claims by US and NATO commanders that there is progress towards peace, the civilian deaths are not decreasing.

The UN figure for civilian killings by pro-US forces has increased some years and decreased others, but in 2011 was almost twice what it was in 2006.

The figure for civilian deaths overall shows a steady increase.

The UN says that about two-thirds of the civilian killings are the work of the Taliban. Although the UN’s bias, and in a situation where hard facts are often difficult to pin down, is likely to be to minimise the responsibility of the US and its allies, and to maximise blame on the Taliban, the Taliban is known to be a clerical-fascistic force and to have ruled brutally in 1996-2001, so it is likely enough that the Taliban has killed most of the civilians.

The people of Afghanistan have not reacted by rallying to the US and its allies.

In 2001, Taliban rule in Kabul collapsed quickly. On the evidence, the Taliban was very unpopular in Kabul. However, even then the Taliban was probably not so unpopular in the countryside, where it was less aggressive in imposing its special version of Islamic codes, and where broadly Islamist ideas had wide support.

Many people who dislike and fear the Taliban will be even more hostile to what they see as rule by an alien power or by the corrupt and incompetent local allies of that alien power.

The nett effect of the decade of military intervention by the US and its allies has thus been not to finish off the Taliban, but to some degree to rebuild its support.

All these trends have been highlighted by recent events:

• The killing of 16 Afghan civilians on 11 March, by a US soldier gone berserk;

• The killing of six UK soldiers by a Taliban bomb on 6 March;

• The uproar (including the killing of two US soldiers by Afghan troops they were working with) which followed Afghan refuse workers, on 22 February, discovering burned copies of the Quran at the US’s Bagram base.

US government policy is to withdraw US troops from combat operations in 2014 (though the US will almost certainly try to keep some military foothold), and the UK government is looking to disentangle itself too.

Given the reality of the Taliban and the Karzai regime, US and UK withdrawal is unlikely to lead to peace, and may well trigger many horrors.

Only strong intervention by the labour movement in Pakistan, to undermine the base of the Taliban, can change that calculus decisively.

But the foreign troops are doing more harm than good, and making the probable sequels worse. The sooner they’re gone the better, or at least the less-bad.

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