The last 12 years have brought only suffering to Afghanistan – and there’s more to come.
Operation Enduring Freedom – the U.S. government’s official name for its war and occupation of Afghanistan – is supposed to be coming to an end.
But the arrangement established under a proposed deal between the U.S. and Afghan governments to “end” the occupation is hard to tell apart from the existing occupation—since it includes the continued presence of U.S. military bases, troops and contractors throughout the country, and exempts U.S. personnel from any civil or criminal action under Afghan law.
It’s occupation by another name—and the goal remains the same: a continuing U.S. military presence in the region, not to “fight terrorism,” but to carry out the agenda of the American empire around the globe.
And the man running the show is Democratic President Barack Obama. His embrace of such an agreement, not to mention the U.S. “war on terror” more broadly, is yet more evidence that the Democratic Party doesn’t have the interests of ordinary people at heart, as it claims—whether they live in the U.S. or Afghanistan.
In late November, thousands of Afghan leaders came together in the capital city of Kabul for a loya jirga, or grand council, to hear U.S.-backed Afghan President Hamid Karzai explain the details of the agreement brokered with the U.S. But it quickly became clear that the proposal was merely a means to extend the U.S. military presence for at least 10 years to come.
The proposed accord would allow the U.S. to keep up to nine military bases in Afghanistan—and mandate that it fund the Afghan government’s security forces through at least 2024, at an expected cost of some $6 billion a year.
It also allows for the presence of an indefinite number of foreign troops, though Karzai claims the number will be some 15,000 soldiers, the majority of them from the U.S. U.S. troops and contractors working with the Defense Department would be allowed to enter the country without having to obtain passports or visas.
U.S. troops will be able to engage in combat operations in “mutually agreed” circumstances, including giving support to Afghan forces. Under the agreement, U.S. soldiers are exempt from civil or criminal complaints under Afghan law—jurisdiction will lie solely with the U.S., which has never allowed its own soldiers to face charges in Afghanistan for the killing of Afghan civilians. In November, Reuters reported that a lack of U.S. cooperation halted Afghan officials’ investigation into the deaths of at least 10 civilians after they were detained by U.S. Special Forces troops between October 2012 and February 2013.
Also in the new agreement, U.S. troops will be allowed to enter and raid Afghan homes under “extraordinary” circumstances. Initially, this provision was supposed to be obtained in exchange for a letter from Obama apologizing for “mistakes” made in Afghanistan—but administration officials deny such an apology is in the works.
As a female delegate to the loya jirga angrily yelled out during deliberations, “All the night raids can be categorized as exceptional cases.”
In fact, just days after the loya jirga, the ongoing consequences of U.S. occupation were made clear once again when a U.S. drone attack left one Afghan child and two women dead. NATO forces claimed they were trying to kill a lone “known militant” riding a motorcycle in Helmand Province.
At the loya jirga, Karzai told attendees, “We want the Americans to respect our sovereignty and laws and be an honest partner.” Then, he added, “And bring a lot of money.”
But Karzai also threw a wrench into U.S. plans by announcing to the loya jirga that even if it approved the agreement, he wouldn’t sign it until after new presidential elections in April 2014. The loya jirga, consisting of delegates over which Karzai had final say, overwhelmingly approved the deal and urged Karzai to sign it by December 31.
In response, U.S. National Security Advisor Susan Rice threatened the so-called “zero option”: If Karzai doesn’t sign the deal by the new year, the U.S. will prepare to pull out all its forces by the end of next year.
This was simply calling Karzai’s bluff—he and his government are dependent on U.S. troops, and the U.S. aid that comes with them, to stay in power. making the likelihood that Karzai will be able to continue to hold off signing unlikely. Karzai’s threat to not sign may be an attempt at leverage to renegotiate some points, but he is very unlikely to continue holding off on the signing.
But the Obama administration also needs the agreement—not because it gives a damn about the lives of ordinary Afghan civilians, but because the country remains a strategic asset in maintaining U.S. imperial interests.
As Eric Ruder wrote at SocialistWorker.org last year, the Obama administration’s clear aim has been to remain in Afghanistan for the much longer haul:
[D]espite the spin, the plain fact is that the war will definitely continue for at least two and a half more years—until the end of 2014, or halfway through Obama’s second term, if he wins one. And after that? Administration officials expect that “as many as 20,000 U.S. troops may remain after the combat mission ends,” according to the Associated Press. Under this timeline, the last U.S. troops would actually leave the Afghan battlefield in 2024, making Afghanistan a 23-year-long war.
As Britain’s Guardian newspaper wrote, “[I]f the U.S. does not strike a deal in Afghanistan after 2014, they have no staging ground to launch drone strikes into Pakistan, or would have to negotiate one with one of the former Soviet republics, giving a wider strategic importance to the clash with Karzai.”
Writing at TomDispatch.com in early November, Robert Dreyfuss noted:
Twelve years after the U.S. invaded Afghanistan to topple the Taliban and a decade after the misguided invasion of Iraq—both designed to consolidate and expand America’s regional clout by removing adversaries—Washington’s actual standing in country after country, including its chief allies in the region, has never been weaker…
There are plenty of reasons why America’s previously unchallenged hegemony in the Middle East is in free fall. The disastrous invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq generated anti-American fervor in the streets and in the elites. America’s economic crisis since 2008 has convinced many that the United States no longer has the wherewithal to sustain an imperial presence.
The Arab Spring, for all its ups and downs, has challenged the status quo everywhere, leading to enormous uncertainty while empowering political forces unwilling to march in lockstep with Washington. In addition, oil-consuming nations like China and India have become more engaged with their suppliers, including Saudi Arabia, Iran, and Iraq. The result: throughout the region, things are fast becoming unglued for the United States.
Of course, the U.S. government is still the world’s most deadly purveyor of violence. As Dreyfuss acknowledges, Obama can order raids by Special Forces almost anywhere, and he can carry out assassinations around the globe by calling in the drones. The U.S. is still the dominant imperialist power in the world, with by far the largest military—but it has weakened by a series of failures, of which Afghanistan is only one.
These two faces of U.S. imperialism can be seen in the agreement reached with the Iranian government to temporarily halt that country’s nuclear program. Iran agreed to the deal in the hopes that this will lead to the lifting of the brutal sanctions inflicted by the U.S.—including unfreezing $4.2 billion in oil revenues in foreign banks.
But the Obama administration also hopes to benefit from the easing of a confrontation that has escalated at times toward a military conflict—in a region where the U.S. has lost influence to Iran, especially with the dismal end of the Iraq occupation two years ago.
With this in mind, it’s clear that the U.S. is attempting to shore up its strategic position by cutting the deal with Karzai and the Afghan government. But for the people of Afghanistan, the reality of 12 years of war and occupation has been not the liberation once promised them by the U.S., but only more bloodshed.
As author and activist Malalai Joya told the Nation, “These twelve years, we’ve lived in civil war. In the Taliban time, we had one enemy: the Taliban. Now we have three: the Taliban, warlords and the occupation forces.”
If the U.S. gets away with the agreement it is trying to make in Afghanistan, Joya and other opponents of injustice will continue to face the enemy of “occupation forces” for years to come.