Above all a superpower is “never to be humiliated.” And when humiliated, its impulse is to respond with violence. … “A more focused, restrained, internationalized response to Al Qaeda could have been more effective without being a stimulus to expanded terrorism,” as it has become.
What could have happened if the atrocity of September 11, 2001 had been treated as a crime with a coordinated international intelligence investigation and not as the case for war in Afghanistan? The 9/11 attack was not an armed attack by the country of Afghanistan on the United States. It was a crime committed by non-Afghan individuals who died in the attack and a conspiracy planned by an international terrorist network that could have been pursued, captured and tried in a court of justice. Moreover, many Muslim leaders were critical of Osama bin Laden and the 9/11 attacks. Yet, rather than capitalizing on this and the international offers of intelligence, our government chose tougher over smarter: generals with firepower over detectives with brains. As it has since, given the metastasis of US counterterrorism operations across the world under the expanding canopy of the global war on terror.
In response to a request by Representative Barbara Lee, the Congressional Research Service has identified 30 instances in which Presidents Bush and Obama have invoked the 2001 Authorization for Use of Military Force (authorizing military action against perpetrators and facilitators of 9/11) in the past 12 years, with the caveat that the list represents only disclosed military interventions. American military force has been used in the Philippines, Georgia, Yemen, Djibouti, Kenya, Ethiopia, Eritrea, Iraq and Somalia – with no direct connection to 9/11. Special operations forces (popularly known as “killing instruments”) now infiltrate more than 100 countries, justified by a still-classified 2004 order allowing their agency to operate “anywhere in the world” waging dirty wars wherever Al Qaeda is suspected to be operating. Often neither Congress nor the US embassy nor the country they’ve entered has knowledge of their presence. As one Navy SEAL told The Washington Post with chilling aplomb, “We’re the dark matter. We’re the force that orders the universe but can’t be seen.”
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The current war on terror – spawned from 9/11 and launched October 7, 2001, with a massive air attack followed by a ground attack against Al Qaeda and the Taliban for sheltering them – harbors four tragic ironies. First, the United States enabled Al Qaeda and the Taliban beginning in the late 1970s through the 1980s, with the national security goal of seeing the Soviets defeated in their 1979-89 war in Afghanistan.
Second, since declaring the war on terror for the sake of national security in 2001, we are a country riddled with profound national insecurity. War on terrorism – any place, any time, anywhere in the world – for purposes of national security has resulted in a pervasive fear and insecurity among many Americans, despite more than $1 trillion spent each year on the most lethal military in the world, a vast intelligence network and homeland security. As we extend the boundaries of our drone wars, secret bases, special ops and military contractors, as we muscle up on weapons and warships that could demolish whole countries, we end up with “an expanded perception of threat rather than a greater sense of security.”
Third, this rudderless, woebegotten war in Afghanistan – which has lurched from air assaults and cluster bombs to “winning hearts and minds,” followed by brutal tactics – embodies historian Howard Zinn’s definition of war: “the indiscriminate killing of huge numbers of people for ends which are uncertain.” The stated aim for launching the war was to entrap Osama bin Laden, destroy Al Qaeda and remove the Taliban regime that harbored Al Qaeda. With Osama bin Laden assassinated, Al Qaeda in diaspora throughout the Middle East and Africa, the virulent corruption of the Karzai government, the Taliban out of government but firmly entrenched and Afghan security forces killing US and NATO soldiers who trained them, why are we still there? To assure our preferred transit route for regional oil and gas resources? To further enclose China militarily? Or is it because we can’t admit failure? One observer noted bitterly after visiting the 9/11 site, “Our government increases the number of our dead and wounded by continuing to prosecute a war that today lacks even a semblance of motive.”
Lastly, given recent news of the CIA supplying millions of dollars to the Karzai government since 2001 to buy loyalty – but much of which fuels corruption and warlord power – one wonders what the CIA has learned from its history of schemes that have created situations worse than the one they are supposedly fixing. Moreover, an estimated $30 million of our tax dollars in corrupt, drug-pushing, misogynist hands when our government dithered over health benefits to first responders at 9/11 and is bent on cutting Social Security benefits to seniors is militaristic madness.
US Role in the rise of the Taliban and Al Qaeda
The CIA initially supported Afghan fundamentalist Muslim guerrillas (or mujaheddin) with weapons and war resources against the pro-Soviet government in 1979 to provoke a Soviet invasion of Afghanistan and fatally mire the USSR in its own Vietnam. After the Soviet invasion, the US escalated its military aid to the Afghan militants throughout the 1980s. USAID funded a companion strategy in the early 1980s – the development of textbooks for Afghan schoolchildren filled with jihad images and text, including weapons, soldiers, landmines and tales of heroic violent resistance to the Soviets. The books continued to be used through the 1990s and were still widely available in 2002, when the story broke. This inculcation of violence through US-funded children’s textbooks was sustained in Pakistani refugee camps and madrassas filled with war-orphaned boys of the Soviet-Afghan conflict. The camp and madrassa culture set the stage for the violence and misogyny of the Taliban, the next generation of mujaheddin whom we now battle fecklessly in what might be seen as the pre-eminent blowback of US military and CIA incursions abroad.
The US venture to build a militant anti-Soviet base in Afghanistan also generated the Al Qaeda network. In the 1980s, tens of thousands of fundamentalist Muslims, among them Osama Bin Laden, were recruited by the CIA and its Pakistani and Saudi Arabian collaborators from numerous countries to military training camps along the Afghan-Pakistan border to join the guerrilla war against the Soviets. The US and Pakistan provided military trainers, weapons and war resources; and Pakistani and Afghan military leaders were secretly brought to military bases in the United States for warfare training. As correspondent Ahmed Rashid ironically observed, “What Washington was not prepared to admit was that the Afghan jihad, with the support of the CIA, had spawned dozens of fundamentalist movements across the Muslim world.” Virtually all leaders of Islamic terrorism and terrorist attacks in the past 30 years, including the 1993 bombing of the World Trade Center, the 1998 bombings of US embassies in Tanzania and Kenya, and the September 11, 2001, attacks on the East Coast, have roots in the covert US military training and aid to the Afghans in their war against the Soviets.
Sorrows of War
How many Americans have any sense of the numbers of US soldiers and Afghan civilians killed, severely wounded, homeless and driven to suicide in this longest of American wars – now stalemated, ignored by the press, and unworthy of note in the 2012 presidential debates? According to a 2010 report by 29 aid organizations on the civilian emergency in Afghanistan, approximately 100,000 Afghans remain internally displaced because of the war. With increasing militant violence against the US-NATO presence, “social protection and access to basic services are eroding” and the widening insecurity has restricted aid agencies reaching those in need of their services. The UN Mission in Afghanistan estimates about 15,000 civilians were killed by armed militants and US, NATO and government forces between 2007 and 2012 (the majority by armed militants fighting the foreign troops). Nearly 2,300 American soldiers have died and 18,000 were injured in the war since 2001. But this is only one dimension of the complex human costs of this war borne by soldiers and their families.
In 2012, more active-duty military committed suicide than died in the Afghanistan war, from despair, unrelenting grief and guilt, and breakdown from multiples deployments – the invisible wounds of war. Nearly 30 percent of 834,463 Afghanistan and Iraq War veterans treated at V.A. clinics and hospitals have been diagnosed with PTSD, a coverall for the unrelieved war injuries to their psyche and soul. Child abuse in Army families of a deployed parent is three times higher than in non-deployed families. And because of the complex injuries from IEDs in this war, the military has increasingly “off-loaded the burden of care for service members’ health onto their families, and mainly onto women.”
Costs of War
When George W. Bush took the country to war in Afghanistan in October 2001, he peddled its cost at $60 billion then moved on to another indulgent round of tax cuts for the wealthy despite rising deficits from his first round. By the 10th anniversary of 9/11, the interest payments alone on this debt-financed war and the Iraq war were $200 billion and estimated to grow to $1 trillion by 2020.
The tragedies of war are incalculable, considering the huge numbers of civilians killed, injured and robbed of their productive lives and relationships; cultural treasures destroyed; the pollution of arable land by landmines and cluster bombs; the abject poverty of war widows and children and their vulnerability to sex trafficking; and the depression and hopelessness of survivors – civilians and veterans alike. Acknowledging the impossibility of putting a comprehensive price on war, the Costs of War Project at Brown University has collated the war-related expenses found in various government agencies’ budgets. These include the US costs of combat and development projects in Afghanistan, the current and future medical costs for injured and disabled veterans of the war, the growth in Homeland Security budget attributed to the war, the related costs of our drone war in Pakistan and interest on this debt-funded war from 2001-13.
Altogether the war in Afghanistan has cost American citizens $1.834 trillion, or 30 times President Bush’s touted cost. The authors concede this is a conservative figure that excludes the social costs to families caring for veterans and record-breaking rates of veteran suicide, unemployment, homelessness, domestic violence and family breakup with its punishing setbacks for children. Nor does it include the collateral effects of the Afghanistan and Iraq wars: higher oil prices, intensified recession and the loss of domestic jobs. One million dollars spent on military creates 8.3 jobs, whereas the same $1 million would create 15.5 jobs in education or 14.3 in health care. Nor does it tabulate the waste and fraud of military contractors. According to a federal audit of Pentagon contractors in Afghanistan, 16 percent of monies paid to contractors has been for “questioned and unsupported costs.” No matter the Afghanistan war’s outcome, the defense industry and mercenary contractors win, with windfall profits.
Women and War in Afghanistan
Since 2001, Afghan women have suffered anew the dangers and deprivations of war, the increased militarization of society and worsened male violence in the chaos of war. Misogynist warlords permeate the national government – the Parliament, Cabinet and the extremely conservative judiciary. They have imposed restrictions on women comparable to those of the Taliban – to wit the Shiite Personal Status Law passed in summer 2009, which permits men to starve their wives if they refuse sex, denies women legal guardianship of their children, requires wives to have their husbands’ permission to go outside, and allows rapists to pay their victims rather than face criminal justice.
Women activists – including the Revolutionary Association of Women in Afghanistan, Malalai Joya and Afghan expert Ann Jones – report that equal rights for women was a “feel good” fiction used to sell the 2001 war and to prop up the markedly corrupt Karzai government. “My people,” said Joya, who was illegally banished from the Afghan Parliament for exposing the corruption and criminal past of many warlord parliamentarians, “are crushed between two powerful enemies. From the sky, occupation forces bomb and kill civilians. And on the ground, the Taliban and warlords continue their crimes.”
Twin wars are ravaging Afghanistan: an internal war against women, fueled by patriarchal fundamentalism and an ideological and imperial US-NATO war against the Taliban. Peace in Afghanistan will require a revolution in women’s rights, given that violence against women is normative, as much as it will necessitate the US-NATO military withdrawal and the Taliban renunciation of Al Qaeda and violence. Peace negotiations need Afghan women leaders at the table to assure that both wars are in the negotiations; that peace is brokered with justice for all women, men and children; and that women have a secure and substantive place in the power-sharing plans that emerge. Ann Jones, chronicler of the condition and capacity of women in Afghanistan from her years teaching there, concludes “Whatever happens to women in Afghanistan is not merely a women’s issue; it is the central issue of stability, development and durable peace.”
The most recent report (2011) of the highly respected Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission provides a window into the state of the government and the plight of women after 10 years of war. “During , due to the deteriorating state of security, expansion of conflict, culture of impunity and lack of rule of law…[h]orrifying cases of violence against women such as rape and trafficking of women and children continued to rise.” President Karzai, who has yet to approve the report, recently appointed five new commissioners to the Human Rights Commission, none of whom has experience in human rights and one of whom, ex-Talib Abdul Rahman Hotak, opposes the Afghanistan Law on the Elimination of Violence Against Women as “violating Islam.”
In January 2013, Malalai Joya was asked what she would say if requested to speak to the US and NATO about the war in her country. She replied: “Stop this criminal war in my country as soon as possible. Your war, waged under a fake banner of human rights and democracy, is in fact a war against poor Afghan people. You are not only traitors to the Afghan people but to your own people as well. You are stealing from the pockets of poor Americans and Europeans and wasting billions of dollars on killing … to safeguard only the interests of a very small, elite minority. You have a massive war and propaganda machine to sell your lies. But the world’s conscience, which includes a large number of US antiwar veterans, is against you.”
Refusal, Regret and Reconciliation: Soldiers and Veterans Against the War
“Because veterans know the horror and insanity of war firsthand, speaking out in behalf of peace is necessary and right.” – Camilo Mac Bica, Vietnam veteran
The growing resistance of soldiers and veterans to the war in Afghanistan is, in the words of Vietnamese Zen Buddhist monk and teacher Thich Nhat Hanh, “the light at the tip of the candle, illuminating the way for the whole nation.” Their transformation away from military violence to witnessing for peace “can teach us how to make peace with ourselves and each other, so we never have to use violence to resolve conflicts again.”
In 2009, US Army Specialist Victor Agosto refused to deploy to Afghanistan after returning from 13 months in Iraq, for which he was court-martialed, demoted and sentenced to 30 days in jail. In response to his commander’s order to deploy, he wrote “There is no way I will deploy to Afghanistan. The occupation is immoral and unjust. It does not make the American people any safer. It has the opposite effect.” At his military base in Fort Hood, Texas, Agosto made the decision not to go AWOL to “set an example for other soldiers to see…that the war is wrong…. and that I think they should do the same.” He described numerous soldiers shaking his hand or flashing a peace sign, others disagreeing but expressing respect for his decision, and none expressing bitterness about it. Agosto believes that the war can be ended only at the grass-roots level and that soldiers’ refusal to fight can help bring about the end of the war, as it did in Vietnam. “You’ll never regret following your conscience and … adherence to an oath is not a valid excuse for betraying your conscience.”
Graham Clumpner, a former Army Ranger deployed in the Afghanistan war in 2005-06, marched side by side with Suraia Sahar of Afghans for Peace during the 2012 anti-NATO protest in Chicago. With more than 40 other veterans, he hurled his Global War on Terrorism medal toward the gate of the NATO Summit where generals and politicians were meeting to determine the fate of the war in Afghanistan. “I reject any affiliation with this war,” he asserted. “This war, it’s changed so many lives, and it’s changed my own. I joined because I wanted to help women. I wanted to be the patriarchal savior who came in and fixed the problems, and I didn’t understand that I was actually the one making the problems worse. What we were seeing on television when we’d sit in the chow hall about the war was much different from the reality on the grou. … [W]e were taking casualties on a weekly basis, and we were seeing other units do the same. We could also see that when we entered a home, even if there wasn’t a terrorist there before, there was when we left. And we were radicalizing the entire population just by our presence.”
Asked about Afghans for Peace, Suraia Sahar explained: “We’re a global Afghan-led peace movement speaking out against the occupation and war in Afghanistan. And we’re here to protest NATO and call on all NATO representatives to end this inhumane, illegal, barbaric war against our home country and our people. … They are not there to liberate Afghanistan’s women. You cannot liberate women through occupation and through war, through violence, through bombs, through tanks, through weapons. … [W]e need to refocus our priorities on their basic human needs: education, health care…And also we need to focus on reconciliation efforts and reparations, as well. … [I]t’s the first time an Afghan-led peace movement is now working side by side with a veteran-led peace movement. And…this is the beginning of something new, something better … reconciliation and peace.”
Jacob George, a self-described hillbilly farmer from Arkansas, volunteered for Afghanistan where he served three tours. Today, he rides across the country with other cyclists of the veterans’ collective, A Ride Till the End, which he co-founded to raise awareness and speak out against the war in Afghanistan. A handful of experiences moved him from “For God and Country” to Christian nonviolence. One was landing with other soldiers by helicopter onto an Afghan farmer’s field. “[T]he farmer looked at me like I was a demon. … [I]t got me thinking what would I do if a helicopter landed on my grandpa’s farm and a bunch of heavily armed people ran off. … ” Not until spring 2010, after he had finished his tours of duty, was he moved to take a stand against war, the catalyst being his 19-year old brother Jordan’s orders to deploy for Afghanistan. “I was looking at him, and he was terrified. … [I]t hit me that this war had gone on for an entire generation.” In protest, Jordan went AWOL and the brothers, together with up to 50 anti-war activists, veterans and friends have cycled more than 7,000 miles telling their story through music – music about “the wounds of war, and veterans’ rights to heal, and what this [war] is doing collectively to us as a nation and to our souls.” Last year, Jacob spent a month working with Afghan children, children whom he says he could have killed as a soldier – yet who treated him “like a brother. … The irony was I went to Afghanistan to learn a deep dark level of hate, and then in the end I went back to Afghanistan to learn what love really is.”
Nao Rozi, an Afghan National Army veteran, left the army rather than kill other soldiers, strangers whom he was supposed to hate. Deeply affected by the war, he attempted suicide.
“I held a weapon before people I didn’t know and who didn’t know me. … We weren’t enemies because we didn’t even know one another. Even before greetings, we were supposed to kill one another. … There were so many dead young bodies, and all of them were strangers to me. I thought, why did we do this to one another? Who benefited from these deaths? Weren’t their mothers waiting for them at home? Veterans who commit suicide are not cowardly. … They are victims of the war. Life becomes meaningless. It becomes difficult. You think you’ve done something such that you feel you no longer have the right to live. Those US veterans who committed suicide had a conscience. … They fought in Afghanistan. Some killed. … Those thoughts afflict them day and night.”
Nao Rozi has become a peace activist. He lives and works with the Afghan Youth Peace Volunteers, “seeking a better life, seeking a better world.”
Veterans Resolution Against the War in Afghanistan
Adopted on: January 15, 2009
Whereas, Iraq Veterans Against the War is an organization that has opened its membership to veterans of the war in Afghanistan;
Whereas, the war in Afghanistan is continuing into its seventh year with rising casualties among the Afghan people, and with US and Coalition forces facing their deadliest year since the invasion;
Whereas a primary motivation for the prolonged occupation of Afghanistan is competition between the US, Russia and China for control of oil and natural gas resources in Central Asia and the Caspian Sea;
Whereas, the military occupation is creating tension and resentment among the Afghan people, to include Afghan women, many of whom are calling for the removal of all foreign occupying troops;
Whereas, the Afghanistan war dehumanizes the Afghan people and denies them their right to self-determination;
Whereas, our military is being exhausted by involuntary extensions, and activations of the Reserve, National Guard and Individual Ready Reserve, and by repeated deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan;
Whereas, service members are facing serious health consequences due to our government’s negligence in Iraq and Afghanistan and mismanagement of the Department of Veterans Affairs;
Whereas, there is no battlefield solution to terrorism, and any escalation of the war in Afghanistan will only serve to exacerbate the plight of the Afghan people, destabilize the region, and further the breakdown of our military;
Therefore, be it resolved that Iraq Veterans Against the War calls for the immediate and unconditional withdrawal of all occupying forces in Afghanistan and reparations for the Afghan people, and supports all troops and veterans working towards those ends.
Revolutionary Afghanistan Women’s Organization (RAWA) is the oldest political/social organization of Afghan women struggling for peace, freedom, democracy and women’s rights in fundamentalism-blighted Afghanistan since 1977.