Archive | Afghanistan

America forces who have tortured or killed civilians in Afghanistan



Huria Musadiq, Afghanistan Researcher for Amnesty International

US forces who have tortured or killed civilians in Afghanistan have not been brought to justice because of failures in the US military justice system, human rights group Amnesty International said yesterday.

At least 1,800 Afghan civilians have been killed by coalition troops between 2009 and 2013, Amnesty said in a report released in the Afghan capital, but only six cases against US military personnel went to trial over the period.

Several families seeking justice from the US government attended a conference in Kabul to give dramatic accounts of their experiences of loss and torture, among them burqa-clad women who had survived a deadly air strike.

by  Zabiullah Rashidi

U.S. Navy Seabee with Naval Mobile Construction Battalion 1 fires the M2 .50 caliber machine gun during crew serve weapons familiarization training with NMCB 26 at the Tarnak Weapons Range in Kandahar (2)

“The US military justice system almost always fails to hold its soldiers accountable for unlawful killings and other abuses,” Richard Bennett, Asia-Pacific director for Amnesty, said in a statement urging the need for reform.

“Thousands of Afghans have been killed or injured by US forces since the invasion, but the victims and their families have little chance of redress.”

The US Department of Defence said troops go to extraordinary lengths to avoid civilian casualties and it took all credible reports of injuries and deaths seriously.

“The United States has investigated US military personnel and civilian personnel, including contractors, for civilian casualties that are alleged to be not incident to lawful military operations,” said spokeswoman Navy Commander Amy Derrick-Frost.

Victims at the conference told of how they witnessed the killing of family members in night raids and survived torture by US troops.

Mohammad Saber, from the eastern province of Paktia, recalled the moment when US forces arrested him and three others in a raid on his home after a party.


Saber’s wife, sister and niece were shot dead on the spot, while his brother and nephew were left to die of their wounds and he was taken away for questioning with the three men.

“We should not let this go unanswered, those who killed my family must be punished,” he said, choking on his words. “The Americans call the Taliban terrorists but they are themselves terrorists for raiding homes and committing atrocity.”

Most US forces, along with coalition troops, will leave Afghanistan by the end of the year and the country’s Western backers hope a deadlock between rival presidential candidates will be broken before a key Nato summit in early September.

Another victim described being among a group of 18 people who were tortured, and some killed, in Wardak province, an hour’s drive from Kabul, when they were arrested in a raid by US special forces.

“Their clothes were taken off, their legs were stretched out and they were beaten,” said Qand Agha, an elderly man with a slight frame, grey beard and turban.

“I was sitting in a room when they were all getting killed in front of me and then put in black body bags.”

Qand Agha was taken with other survivors that day to Bagram prison, where he was held for a year without being charged.

The Department of Defence said its troops were banned from torturing prisoners and it was committed to humane treatment of all those detained.

“We take vigilant action to prevent such conduct and to hold any such perpetrators accountable for their wrongful acts,” Frost said.


Airstrikes caused more than half the casualties documented over the five years ending in 2013, among them many women and children, and families were still hoping for justice.

“Evidence of possible war crimes and unlawful killings has seemingly been ignored,” Bennett said, adding that even when cases had been prosecuted, courts appeared biased in favour of soldiers and Afghans were rarely invited to testify.

Those seeking justice included two women cloaked in head to toe covering burqas, left blind by airstrikes two years ago that killed seven women and a child as they collected firewood.

The women sat silently beside their male chaperones, in line with Afghan custom, and let them speak.

“We pleaded with them to ask the Americans to stop the bombing because they were women, and not Taliban, but they didn’t stop and bombed for two hours,” said Baba.

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Amid Promises to End Afghanistan War, US Bombings Hit Two-Year High


Central Command reveals US military carried out 436 air strikes on the country during August alone

A U.S. Army helicopter taking off from Forward Operating Base Shindand, Afghanistan, Oct. 3, 2012. (Photo: DoD/public domain)

A U.S. Army helicopter taking off from Forward Operating Base Shindand, Afghanistan, Oct. 3, 2012. (Photo: DoD/public domain)

Just months away from what President Obama refers to as the “end of the U.S. combat mission” in Afghanistan, the U.S. military escalated its air bombardments on the country.

In response to an information request from the Boston Globe, Central Command revealed that during the month of August, the U.S. carried out 436 “weapons releases” on Afghanistan, referring to air strikes. This is the highest number of air strikes on Afghanistan since August 2012, according to U.S. Central Command’s own data, pictured in the graph below.


Military officials are still working to compile data for the month of September, officials told the paper.

The data was released just over a week after Afghanistan’s new president, Ashraf Ghani,approved the U.S. Bilateral Security Agreement, which locks in at least another decade of U.S. military presence in the country, far past the formal “end” to the war at the conclusion of this year. The heightened bombings, furthermore, were revealed the same week the longest war entered its 14th year.

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Ashraf Ghani Was Not Elected by the Afghan Majority


Posted by: Sammi Ibrahem, Sr

He Has No Legal Authority to Sign a Bilateral Security Agreement

By Kadir Mohmand

Dr. Ashrarf Ghani was not elected by the Afghan majority but “selected” by the U.S. government . He has no authority to execute any bilateral security agreement on behalf of the Afghan people.


Recently, even the United States government and UNAMA admitted publicly that the election was permeated with fraud. The United States government “selected” Dr. Ghani because it is only concerned about the quick signing of a bilateral security agreement. The United States already knows he will sign it . Ghani’s connections with the United States are well known and documented. The U.S. needs the bilateral security agreement so that it can have its nine permanent military bases in Afghanistan to control the Afghan people’s vast untapped Rare Earth Elements (REEs) worth trillions and for geopolitical reasons. Since the collapse of the superpower, the Soviet Union in 1989, the U.S. wants military bases in Central Asia located on its new outer defense perimeter next to Russia and its former provinces, China, Pakistan, Iran and India. Without a lawful bilateral security agreement, the United States must end its occupation of Afghanistan and completely remove all of its troops and military bases.


The forced and “selected” Afghan unity government, which consists of communist war criminals such as Rashid Dostum, Mohammad Mahaqiq and war lords, and drug traffickers, cannot represent the Afghan people. These criminals need to be prosecuted in lawful tribunals and imprisoned for their war crimes they have committed these past four decades. Secretary Kerry’s “selected” government of warlords and criminals is not acceptable to the Afghan majority.

I strongly believe this forced-signing of the bilateral security agreement will escalate the war in Afghanistan and the surrounding region. It is part of the United States’ divide and conquer policy. I think the war strategy diplomacy needs to change to a peace negotiation strategy with the Afghan Freedom Fighters, which is supported by the majority of Afghans. The current U.S. war approach with its proposed bilateral security agreement is just a formula that perpetuates the continuation of occupation, division, corruption and war. I believe the bilateral security agreement, which allows permanent U.S. military bases and troops in Afghanistan, will not lead to true peace and stability, as the presence of such foreign troops on Afghanistan’s soil only causes more war as evidenced by the past thirteen plus years.

Is it just and legal that puppet leaders are signing security agreements that are forced upon them by the invader/occupier? In the past, Karzai was forced to sign agreements in the middle of the night. I believe the majority of Afghans do not even know what the Bilateral Security Agreement is and what the REEs are and their value. I think if Afghans do not wake up soon the reality will be foreign (U.S.) permanent military bases in Afghanistan, which will only benefit the greedy war profiteers, puppet government, foreigners and war lords. For Americans, it will only mean more suffocating debt and more young soldiers returning home physically and emotionally wounded, and grieving widows and families. I think the approach has to change to a peace approach from the present war approach,

First of all, from the start, I believe that the invasion and continued occupation of Afghanistan was illegal. Second, based on this illegality, I believe that any agreements, such as the Bilateral Security Agreement, signed by the puppet governments are not lawful and tainted by this war/occupation. The United States’ invasion and occupation of Afghanistan violates the UN Charter and international law. As you know, the United Nations’ Charter is a treaty, which was ratified by the United States. As a ratified treaty it became part of U.S. law. Therefore the U.S. must comply with the UN Charter. Article 2 (4) of the Charter, bans the use of armed force against another country except under two circumstances. It reads, “ All Members shall refrain in their international relations from the threat or use of force against the territorial integrity or political independence of any state, or in any other manner inconsistent with the Purposes of the United Nations.” This article has also become part of the international customary law.

Under the UN Charter, there are two exceptions to the ban on the use of armed force. First, a country can use armed force against another country in self-defense as provided for in Article 51. Second, a country can use armed force when the UN Security Council approves such force to maintain or restore international peace and security. Neither of those exceptions was met before the United States invaded Afghanistan and began waging war.

The United States’ war in Afghanistan is beyond the scope of self-defense allowed by Article 51. Self-defense can only legally take place when an armed attack takes place against a state. The Afghan government in 2001, led by the Taliban, did not attack the United States on 9/11. Nineteen individuals, fifteen (15) from Saudi Arabia, attacked the United States. Also, individual Afghans did not attack the United States. That is a fact. During the past twelve plus years, no evidence has ever been produced by the United States to the contrary. Propaganda, speculation and expert opinions in the media do not constitute credible and relevant evidence. Furthermore, there was no imminent threat that Afghanistan would attack the U.S. or another UN member country. Self- defense can only be used to repel an attack. Immediately after the tragic events of 9/11, the attacks stopped. There was no imminent threat to attack the U.S. by the Afghan government before or after 9/11.

In addition, the UN Charter and well established international customary law, provide that self-defense would warrant only measures, which are proportionate to the armed attack and necessary to respond to it. It must not entail retaliatory or punitive actions. The United States’ war tactics in Afghanistan are retaliatory, punitive and illegal. In and of itself, the use of cluster bombs, weaponized drones, uranium tipped weapons is a disproportionate use of force and unnecessary force. The United States’ illegal use of self-defense is collectively punishing an entire nation. It is in violation of the UN Charter and international law. Furthermore, the right to Self-Defense set forth under Article 51 cannot be legally used against Afghanistan because the Afghan government allegedly refused to extradite Bin Laden. Extradition matters are resolved through peaceful measures in courts and not through the use of armed force with massive cluster bombs, drones, uranium tipped weapons etc. which have killed thousands of innocent Afghans and ordinary Americans serving in the military, during the past twelve years. I believe this illegal war and continual killing of innocent Afghans violates the UN Charter and international law.

When the United States invaded Afghanistan, the United Nations’ Security Council did not authorize the United States or any country to use military force against Afghanistan under Chapter VII (7) of the UN Charter. The UN Security Council can invoke Chapter VII use of force to maintain or restore international peace and security only when actual military force was being used. “Terrorism” can be a threat to international peace. However, during the thirteen plus years, there has been no evidence showing that the Afghan government or any Afghans committed or were involved in the tragic terrorist attacks on 9/11 nor that it was a threat to international peace and security. Propaganda on television and opinions of experts is not evidence. I believe the United States’ war in Afghanistan is illegal and amoral and has only led to a vicious cycle of blood shed, genocide, drug trafficking and corruption.. Thus, I believe that any Bilateral Security Agreement would not be legitimate as it was signed by a corrupt, puppet government not supported by the majority of Afghans. Although some weak –minded, puppet, and war profiteering Afghans argue that if there are no foreign permanent military bases inside Afghanistan, our neighboring countries will invade and take our territory. As history has shown, Afghans are capable of defending Afghanistan even against super powers and countries that have more sophisticated weapons.

I believe to stop this blood shed and further chaos, the United Nations , France, China, Russia, England and the United States need to act and hold peace negotiations now with the Afghan Freedom Fighters to reach an agreement that can lead to true peace and stability. As history has shown, countries that have waged war in Afghanistan have suffered economically and have left in defeat. The British, the Soviet Union, Alexander the Great left defeated and economically weakened. Now the United States is in a big mess. I believe this war approach is not in the long term, best interests of the United States or Afghanistan. The U.S. economy is weak. A country cannot be a leader or secure with a weak and failing economy. This war approach in Afghanistan is not making the U.S. more secure or the economy stronger. It is just perpetuating more war, debt, and corruption. After almost four decades of suffering and war, Afghans deserve better. After thirteen plus years of war and a failing economy, Americans deserve better.

In sum, any bilateral security agreement signed by Ashraf Ghani, Abdullah Abdullah or any other selected puppet of the forced so-called unity government is not legal as it would not be signed by an “elected” Afghan leader. It will not be accepted by the majority of Afghan people.

Sadly, I believe the Afghan people will be subjected to many more decades of suffering because of the actions of superpowers like the United States , which cannot stop playing games in Afghanistan, the Heart of Central Asia. For more than a decade, I along with other Afghans, who are not war profiteers, war lords or war criminals, have drafted and presented Plans for bringing Peace in Afghanistan. The United States and Afghanistan’s neighbors must stop interfering in Afghanistan so that these peace plans can be implemented by the Afghan majority to determine their own path to peace.


Abdul Kadir Mohmand

Former Representative of the Afghan Freedom Fighters for North America in the 1980s

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White House quietly sets new Afghanistan withdrawal deadline: Never


Despite “withdrawal,” thousands of U.S. troops to continue occupation

With no public discussion or explanation, the White House signed a new deal on Sept. 30 with the government of Afghanistan to keep 10,000 U.S. troops occupying the country. There is no plan or timeline for a full withdrawal of U.S. troops — ever. The deal includes nine U.S. military bases across the country “until the end of 2024 and beyond.”

Make no mistake — U.S. troops will forever be attacked and killed as long as they are in Afghanistan, like the four U.S. troops killed in September.

The eventual drawdown outlined in the agreement, in other words, ends with permanent U.S. bases and permanently garrisoned U.S. troops. Like all the other promised drawdowns in the past, this one too is subject to change.

The millionaire politicians in Washington have decided on their own that the country’s longest war, which has long been opposed by a large majority of the U.S. public and troops, will never end.

Service members and veterans are already battered by 13 years of disastrous occupations. The White House is now telling our community: “You will continue to die. You will continue to lose your limbs. You will continue to come home with the psychological trauma of war. You will continue to leave your families behind. Why? Because we have decided so behind closed doors. And your lives are so meaningless to us that we don’t even owe you an explanation.”

The President’s only statement called it an “historic day,” proudly attributing this major decision — to never end the unpopular, costly war — to “two years of hard work.”

In recent months the insurgency in Afghanistan has increased its attacks. That is what awaits the remaining troops abandoned forever in Afghanistan. Those nine U.S. bases will never cease to be targets of a widespread armed insurgency that was mostly undeterred even by the largest-scale U.S. military operations.

Washington has sentenced U.S. troops to an endless cycle of death, maimings and trauma. As a top U.S. military commander anonymously revealed, the war is like “a ‘Tom and Jerry’ cartoon which never ends… the only difference is the cartoon does not claim lives, but here we lose men every day.”

A kick in the face to service members and their families

Nearly five years ago, on December 1, 2009, President Obama gave a major speech at West Point on “the way forward in Afghanistan.”

It was a much-anticipated and widely watched speech. Public opinion, inside and outside the military, wanted the long war to end. Everything about the speech was chosen tactically, from the venue to the words. Everything was explained carefully. He delivered the news people did not want to hear.

I watched that speech in a room full of military families, whose loved ones had been on repeated deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan for the past eight years. Some had been wounded, most saw them change with PTSD, and some had been killed.

They all cried and held each other when the President explained that the war wasn’t ending now, as they were hoping. It would instead intensify, greatly increasing the number of troops on the ground to fight a growing insurgency.

In that speech, he said to them, “I know that this decision asks even more of you — a military that, along with your families, has already borne the heaviest of all burdens.”

But his painful announcement came with an assurance: that after this brief, 18-month surge, “our troops will begin to come home.”

This was the main public message — we know you’re exhausted, but it will all be over soon.

Behind the scenes, the Pentagon and White House were forming a very different plan.

Permanent extension of war gets no such speech

The promise of a withdrawal in July 2011 was quickly abandoned and extended to 2014. When with withdrawal was supposed to begin in 2011, the Pentagon instead announced a surprise deployment of an additional 1,400 Marines.

The President gave no major speech to service members and their families explaining why this had to happen. We continued to wait. The years 2009 to 2012 became, by far, the deadliest of the war.

But 2014 remained the stated deadline for the end of the war. Vice President Joe Biden assured everyone that U.S. troops would be “totally out, come hell or high water, by 2014.”

Soldiers and Marines prepared themselves for what they thought would be their last tour. Mobilizations against the war declined as there was a commonly-held belief that the war was at its end.

Now we can see that was all a lie.

How come the President, in reversing his promise and demanding the ultimate sacrifice from service members and their families, didn’t give a speech like he did at West Point in 2009? What happened to Biden’s “hell or high water”?

In 2009, U.S. casualties were surging in Afghanistan and the hugely unpopular Iraq occupation was ongoing. The U.S. government had a lot of difficult public relations work based on anti-war sentiment among the population and the growing body count that was making the headlines.

It wasn’t our lives that Washington cared about. It was managing the political fallout and embarrassment. They used a carefully crafted speech to quell frustrations and give the impression that the end was in sight.

The new agreement will mean permanent deployments, injury and death. They are hoping to sweep it under the rug, so that no one will make a big deal out of it or even notice — except for those tens of thousands of U.S. troops who will rotate in and out of the war.

Just five days prior the U.S. government decided that U.S. troops would also start deploying back to occupy Iraq, a story that was also minimized in U.S. newspapers.

Who cares what rich politicians say? Refuse to go!

The occupation of Afghanistan, like Iraq, is based on lies and false rationales.

The politicians and generals will continue to throw our lives away, regardless of the will of the people, without even an explanation why we must sacrifice indefinitely.

Many U.S. service members have taken the correct and courageous stand to refuse to deploy to Afghanistan.

That is the only option service members have left. Only taking control of our own lives can end the pointless and unjust bleeding in Afghanistan.

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Signed Agreement Locks in Ten More Years of Afghan War


Bilateral Security Agreement, signed Tuesday, will allow thousands of US troops to remain in the country for at least another decade

Ambassador James B. Cunningham, left, and the new Afghan national security adviser, Hanif Atmar, after signing the security pact. (Photo: Shah Marai/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images)

Locking in at least another decade of U.S. military entanglement, the United States and Afghanistan signed a controversial Bilateral Security Agreement at a ceremony in Kabul on Tuesday.

The provisions of the pact will allow for U.S. training, funding, and arming of the Afghan military and keep thousands of U.S. troops beyond what President Obama has repeatedly called the “end of the war” later his year.  A key part of the agreement also extends immunity to U.S. service members under Afghan law.

Critics charge that the deal allows the Obama administration to pay lip-service to ending an unpopular war while, in fact, paving the way for long-term occupation and dependency. “A country’s sovereignty is very important,” Laila Rashidie, member of Afghans United for Justice, told Common Dreams. “Thirteen years of U.S.-led military occupation continues to compromise this. A truly free Afghanistan would not depend on U.S. troops.”

Signing the BSA was the first major act of Afghan President Ashraf Ghani, who was inaugurated on Monday following a hotly contested election clouded by allegations of fraud. The U.S.-backed president clinched the security deal at a signing ceremony at Kabul’s presidential palace on Tuesday, currying praise from the Obama administration, which had voiced frustration at outgoing President Hamid Karzai’s refusal to sign. The deal is set to go into effect in January 2015 and last until the year 2024.

The deal stipulates long-term U.S. military presence in Afghanistan and access to numerous bases and installations in the country, including facilities located in Bagram, home to the notorious U.S. military prison. The pact does not detail the exact number of U.S. troops to remain, but Obama has previously stated he plans to cut U.S. troops down to 9,800 by the beginning of 2015, then cut that number by half at the end of next year, with further cuts slated for the end of 2016. As of earlier this year, there were approximately 50,000 NATO troops in Afghanistan, 34,000 of which were American.

Peter Lems, Program Officer at the American Friends Service Committee, told Common Dreams that even if the U.S. sticks with Obama’s timetable for troop reductions, of which there is no guarantee, the stated plan does not constitute a real end to the war.

“That’s one of the biggest problems with the War on Terror since September 11: these wars don’t end,” said Lems. “We have this crazy situation where we have undeclared wars and, perhaps because of the nature of undeclared conflicts, it’s easy to look at them as dissipating but never-ending.”

The deal also allows the U.S. to pursue “counter-terrorism” missions as long as they “complement” those of the Afghan military and “authorizes United States government aircraft and civil aircraft that are operated by or exclusively for United States forces to enter, exit, overfly, land, take off, conduct aerial refueling, and move within the territory of Afghanistan.” Critics warn that the stipulation is likely to allow the U.S. to continue its covert drone wars against the region, including neighboring Pakistan.

Under the agreement, the U.S. is to play a critical role in “advising, training, equipping, supporting, and sustaining” the Afghan military, as well as “developing intelligence sharing capabilities; strengthening Afghanistan’s Air Force capabilities; conducting combined military exercises.” Many warn that “training” is in fact cover for holding onto bases and other geopolitical footholds.

According to Lems, this provision sets the conditions for long-term U.S. domination. “To have the U.S. fully fund that apparatus will lead to dependence, but also encourage Afghan officials to use force and violence the way the U.S. has,” he said.

Meanwhile, U.S. service members are granted immunity under Afghan laws. The issue of immunity for U.S. troops has long been a point of contention for the Afghan people, who have faced a staggering civilian death toll, as well as a spate of high-profile massacres, including the 2012 Panjwai massacre, in which 16 Afghan civilians were gunned down and killed and 6 more wounded by U.S. Army Staff Sgt. Robert Bales.

The approval of the deal, which will keep U.S. aid dollars flowing, was championed by Ghani as “helpful for Afghan stability and prosperity and for the stability of region and that of the world.”

But critics counter that this is simply an example of how the U.S. uses militarized aid as a tool for dominating poor countries.

“There already is long-term dependency,” said a human rights analyst who visits Afghanistan regularly and requested anonymity to protect the security of NGOs working on the ground. “The Afghan army would collapse overnight if the U.S. pulled its funding. The Afghan sees signing this agreement as a key piece to keeping aid going.”

“A country’s instability is caused by foreign interference and intervention,” said Rashidie.

The Bilateral Security Agreement was a condition for NATO’s status of forces agreement, signed later on Tuesday, which extends similar privileges to thousands of foreign troops now slated to remain in Afghanistan past the end of this year.

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Afghanistan: In imperialism’s bloody wake

NOVANEWSProletarian issue 61 (August 2014)


Lessons of yet another useless vicious and predatory war. 
In March, British soldiers completed their withdrawal from Afghanistan, aside from two bases in Helmand. In some corners, the move has been portrayed as a largely symbolic one, since Nato countries will continue to fund and train the Afghan forces that they set up in the hope of creating enough stability for ‘peace’ to be declared and business to be resumed.

In fact, however, this presentation is rather wide of the mark. Despite the continuing presence of a small contingent of highly-armed British troops – who will no doubt continue to wreak wanton destruction on the lives and livelihoods of Afghan people – and despite the best-laid plans of the imperialist invaders, the withdrawal actually marks a humiliating defeat for British imperialism in Afghanistan.

Despite the massive advantages of finance and equipment, Nato’s armies have totally failed to defeat the Afghan people’s resistance. In one of the poorest countries in the world, fighters with flip-flops and Kalashnikovs have seen off the drones, helicopters, B-52s and super-charged ground forces of the most advanced armies in the world.

In a remarkably frank 26 July report, the New York Times admitted that:

Taliban fighters are scoring early gains in several strategic areas near the capital this summer, inflicting heavy casualties and casting new doubt on the ability of Afghan forces to contain the insurgency as the United States moves to complete its withdrawal of combat troops, according to Afghan officials and local elders.

The report went on to note that the Afghan resistance had “found success beyond their traditional strongholds in the rural south and are now dominating territory near crucial highways and cities that surround Kabul, the capital, in strategic provinces like Kapisa and Nangarhar”.

However: “Their advance has gone unreported because most American forces have left the field and officials in Kabul have largely refused to talk about it. The Afghan ministries have not released casualty statistics since an alarming rise in army and police deaths last year.

In other words, the situation is so dire that the flagship newspaper of the US ruling class feels constrained to point out that both the US aggressors and their local stooges dare not admit the truth as to the real extent of their predicament, floundering as they are on the edge of defeat.

For their part, the resistance is further probing the enemy for weaknesses, in the time-honoured traditions of guerrilla warfare. The New York Times report continued:

“‘They are running a series of tests right now at the military level, seeing how people respond,’ one western official said, describing a Taliban effort to gauge how quickly they could advance. ‘They are trying to figure out: Can they do it now, or will it have to wait’ until after the American withdrawal, the official added, speaking on the condition of anonymity because the coalition has officially ceded security control.

The newspaper’s interviews with “local officials and residents in several strategic areas around the country suggest that, given the success of their attacks, the Taliban are growing bolder just two months into the fighting season, at great cost to Afghan military and police forces.

In Kapisa, a verdant province just north of Kabul that includes a vital highway to northern Afghanistan, insurgents are openly challenging and even driving away the security forces in several districts. Security forces in Tagab District take fire daily from the Taliban, who control everything but the district centre. Insurgents in Alasay District, northeast of Kabul, recently laid siege to an entire valley for more than a week, forcing hundreds of residents and 45 police officers to flee. At least some of the local police in a neighbouring district have cut deals with the Taliban to save themselves.

In the past month, a once-safe district beside the major city of Jalalabad, east of Kabul, has fallen under Taliban control, and a district along a crucial highway nearby is under constant threat from the Taliban. South of Kabul, police forces in significant parts of Logar and Wardak provinces have been under frequent attack, to deadly effect.

And, further confirming the reality of a nationwide insurgency, a popular war of liberation, the newspaper report continues:

The efforts of this fighting season have not been solely in the countryside, or traditional strongholds like those in Helmand. The Taliban have made strides in Nangarhar Province, home to one of the most economically vibrant cities in the country and a strategically important region. Surkh Rod, a district that borders the provincial capital Jalalabad and was safe to visit just three months ago, has become dangerous to enter.

“‘The difference is that five months ago there were more government forces here; now it is the Taliban,’ said Nawab, a resident of Shamshapor village.” (‘Taliban making military gains in Afghanistan’ by Azam Ahmed, 26 July 2014)

Presidential elections

The above-cited report also notes that the resistance surge comes at “a time when an election crisis is threatening the stability of the government”. Following the 14 June run-off between the two leading presidential candidates, Abdullah Abdullah and Ashraf Ghani, the country has been in political gridlock, with both candidates alleging fraud and Abdullah claiming that he has been cheated of victory, whilst periodically threatening that he would unilaterally declare his own government.

The ensuing crisis has seen panic visits to Kabul by US Secretary of State John Kerry, in so-far-unsuccessful attempts to knock the two puppets’ heads together in order to cobble together some sort of credible political order.

The New York Times reported: “‘If Abdullah goes for it and declares himself president, forget it, this is over,’ said a former Afghan official who remains close to many of Afghanistan’s top security officials. ‘Fighting the Taliban won’t even be an issue because who is going to do it? The army will be split. So will the police.’

Indeed: “Some western officials have begun to warn that the crisis poses a greater immediate threat to the Afghan government than the Taliban.” (‘Kerry pushes for solution to Afghanistan election crisis’ by Mathew Rosenberg and Carlotta Gall, 11 July 2014)

Clearly, as in Iraq, Syria, Palestine and Libya, in Afghanistan, too, US imperialism has found itself stuck between a rock and a hard place.

Human cost of the imperialist defeat

While the cost to the country’s people has been huge, nevertheless they are steadily seeing off the invaders and have made it impossible for them to achieve either their real aim – the domination of this strategically vital corner of Asia – or any of the stated aims that have been cobbled together at various times since the invasion for public consumption.

Afghanistan has long been a country blighted by imperialist design. In the 19th century, the competition between the Russian and British empires for control there was dubbed ‘The Great Game’. In recent history, a progressive, socialist-leaning revolution was subverted by US imperialism through a proxy war that cost millions of Afghan lives, destroyed infrastructure and turned back the clock on all the country’s social progress, bringing religious fundamentalism to a country that had formerly been famed for its tolerance.

Since the Nato imperialist invasion of 2001, more than 13 years of war have taken a tremendous toll on the country. While Britain has lost 448 soldiers, and the US has lost 3,450, with many thousands more wounded, nobody on the imperialist side has bothered to take a full and accurate count of the Afghan casualties. Conservative estimates put the civilian death toll at 20,000, but the true numbers are extremely hard to determine.

Australian academic Dr Gideon Polya, author of Body Count: Global Avoidable Mortality since 1950, believes that a scientific analysis of the available figures leads to an estimated violent death toll in post-invasion Afghanistan of between 850,000 and 1.7 million, and he estimates the avoidable non-violent death toll – resulting from disease, poverty and all the other associated ills of the war – to be as high as 5.5 million, leading to a total avoidable death toll of 7.2 million people.

This is a genocide in the true sense of the word – and one that is totally hidden by the complicit western media. No wonder US General Tommy Franks announced from Iraq that, “We don’t do body counts.” (See the Afghan Holocaust, Afghan Genocide website)

As well as creating some 2 million external and half a million internal refugees, the invasion and occupation have brought Afghanistan to such a pass that it now has the distinction of having the highest infant mortality rate in the world (187 deaths per 1,000 live births) by an extremely large margin (war-torn Somalia is in second place with 106). To put that in perspective, Libya had a comparable rate (185 per thousand) in 1950 under the BP-backed monarchy, but this declined rapidly and consistently after the revolution, so that by 2011 it had fallen to 12.26.

Afghanistan today also boasts the second-highest under-5 mortality rate in the world. One in five children born there will die before they reach their fifth birthday. It is hardly surprising, combining such realities with the incessant threat of drone strikes and the incredible levels of impoverishment and insecurity, that an estimated two-thirds of the population now suffer from mental-health problems as a result of the 13-year war.

The costs of the war fall on taxes while profiteers make a fortune

The war we were led into by a social-democratic Labour government has so far cost the UK treasury around £30bn. It is a sad indictment of the imperialist system that such spending must always be prioritised over investment in schools, hospitals, or infrastructure. This is not a ‘choice’, but an inevitable result of a system that feeds off domination of the globe and the extraction of massive superprofits from oppressed populations abroad.

Tens of millions of pounds every year have been spent on private security contracts, awarded mainly to the government’s old friend G4S – the prisoner-losing public-abusing company that seems to be increasingly reaping what Nato governments sow. It was embarrassingly revealed in an inquiry held by the US Senate, who awarded more than £82bn in private contracts to a G4S subsidiary, that this money had largely been spent on funding local warlords.

Halliburton (formerly run by ex-VP Dick Cheney) gained $39.5bn in contracts in Afghanistan over the course of the war, with a further estimate of over $138bn US tax dollars going to private and publicly-listed firms. As of last year, there were over 110,000 private contractors in Afghanistan alone, many of which are private military contractors. These mercenaries are part of a sector that is now worth $100bn a year thanks to imperialism’s incessant warmongering, and its desire to keep the real body counts out of the public eye.

By contrast to these vast figures spent on destroying the country, Britain spends a paltry £180m a year on ‘aid’ for Afghanistan – almost half of which returns to Britain through contractors and corruption, according to a 2008 report.

Opium production

Despite the influx of soldiers and contractors – ostensibly brought to the country in order to ‘capture Osama’, ‘defeat al-Qaeda’ and ‘prevent terrorism’, and later kept there under various pretexts including ‘defeating the ‘Taliban’, ‘liberating women’ and ‘curtailing opium production’ – violence and opium production in Afghanistan have steadily soared since 2001, and the global market for opium is now worth over £35bn annually.

In fact, the only time Afghan opium production dropped was in 2001. A phenomenal 99 percent reduction (accounting for 75 percent of the global supply) was achieved after the Taliban-controlled government decided to ban poppy cultivation in 2000.

The invasion reversed the situation completely, however. Today, heroin users are enjoying the highest supply and cheapest prices of the drug since before the war began, and some 90 percent of the world’s supply is now of Afghan origin, with Nato soldiers routinely protecting the growers and the drug lords (sorry, ‘Nato’s allies in the struggle for democracy’).

If we take at face value the stated aims for the invasion of Afghanistan, then the war has not only failed, but has had theopposite effect in almost every case.

The ‘war on terror’ has done nothing to make imperialist populations safer, but has led to the deaths of millions of men, women, and children in Afghanistan, Iraq, and across Africa, killed en masse indiscriminately and in cold blood. It has resulted in a booming global trade in opium and heroin, the destruction of women’s rights, and a massive increase in global instability.

Loss of rights in Britain

The negative effects of the supposed ‘war on terror’ have been felt at home, too, although we have generally forgotten to be outraged about them any more.

Civilians in Britain are liable to be detained for up to 90 days with no charge under new anti-terrorism laws – introduced by the last Labour government, let us remember. Eighteen British muslims were kidnapped in Afghanistan and Pakistan and shipped off without trial to be tortured in Guantanamo Bay with the cooperation and connivance of British secret services, and many more have been tortured, rendered, extradited, imprisoned and assassinated.

We’re also just now discovering the extent of the huge increase in the surveillance of British people that has become the norm, both by our own state and by the US secret services. We were already the country with the highest number of CCTV cameras per head of the population anywhere in the world, but now we can add blanket wiretapping of phones and online communications to the list of paranoid and intrusive observations of British workers.

Imperialism is a paper tiger

Overall, however, the message for workers from Afghanistan is a positive one. Once again, it has been clearly demonstrated that while imperialist firepower and machinery can wantonly destroy the lives, infrastructure and the very fabric of a nation and its material achievements, the imperialists cannot subdue the people by means of their armed force alone, nor keep a people in subjugation once they have decided to resist.

The fact is that the death knell of open colonial domination was sounded with the victory of the October revolution. Every people on earth has learned from the anti-racism of the Soviets, who disproved in practice the prevailing racism of the European empires. They have learned from the ‘asymmetrical warfare’ of Chairman Mao and the Chinese communists, who showed how a weak, peasant population can defeat a strong imperial power. And they have benefitted from the technology of the USSR, which created that ‘great equaliser’, the AK-47 assault rifle, whose flexibility and sturdiness is legendary.

In such a world, imperialist invasions are ultimately doomed to failure. But since imperialism’s need to control markets and materials, as well as to extract superprofits by exploiting workers and keeping them in the most appalling conditions, knows no limits; and since economic crisis is built into the capitalist system, demands the destruction of previously-produced goods and leads to the intensification of the competition for sources of profit, imperialism will keep driving the world to war all the same, regardless of the doomed outcome, and regardless of the incalculable and unforgiveable waste of people and resources.

What better example could there be of this bloodthirsty system’s utter uselessness to humanity, or of the urgent need to rid ourselves of the exploiters who leech their wealth from the creation of so much unnecessary misery?

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Afghanistan and Iraq: it’s the Same War


Global Research

Four years ago the U.S. and Britain unleashed war on Iraq, a nearly defenseless Third World country barely half the size of Saskatchewan.

For twelve years prior to the invasion and occupation Iraq had endured almost weekly U.S. and British bombing raids and the toughest sanctions in history, the “primary victims” of which, according to the UN Secretary General, were “women and children, the poor and the infirm.” According to UNICEF, half a million children died from sanctions related starvation and disease.

Then, in March 2003, the U.S. and Britain — possessors of more weapons of mass destruction than the rest of the world combined — attacked Iraq on a host of fraudulent pretexts, with cruise missiles, napalm, white phosphorous, cluster and bunker buster bombs and depleted uranium (DU) munitions.

The British Medical Journal The Lancet published a study last year estimating Iraqi war deaths since 2003 at 655,000, a mind-boggling figure dismissed all-too readily by the British and American governments despite widespread scientific approval for its methodology (including the British government’s own chief scientific adviser).

On April 11, 2007, the Red Cross issued a report entitled “Civilians without Protection: the ever-worsening humanitarian crisis in Iraq.” Citing “immense suffering,” it calls “urgently” for “ respect for international humanitarian law.” Andrew White, Anglican Vicar of Baghdad added, “What we see on our television screens does not demonstrate even one per cent of the reality of the atrocity of Iraq…”

The UN estimates two million Iraqis have been “internally displaced,” while another two million have fled — largely to neighbouring Syria and Jordan, overwhelming local infrastructure.

An attack such as that on Iraq, neither in self-defence nor authorized by the United Nations Security Council is, in the words of the Nuremberg Tribunal that condemned the Nazis, “the supreme international crime.” According to the Tribunal’s chief prosecutor, US Supreme Court Justice Robert Jackson, such a war is simply mass murder.

Most Canadians are proud that Canada refused to invade Iraq. But when it comes to Afghanistan, we hear the same jingoistic bluster we heard about Iraq four years ago. As if Iraq and Afghanistan were two separate wars, and Afghanistan is the good war, the legal and just war.

In reality, Iraq and Afghanistan are the same war.

That’s how the Bush administration has seen Afghanistan from the start; not as a defensive response to 9/11, but the opening for regime change in Iraq (as documented in Richard A. Clarke’s Against all Enemies).That’s why the Security Council resolutions of September 2001 never mention Afghanistan, much less authorize an attack on it. That’s why the attack on Afghanistan was also a supreme international crime, which killed at least 20,000 innocent civilians in its first six months. The Bush administration used 9/11 as a pretext to launch an open-ended so-called  “War on Terror” — in reality a war of terror because it kills hundreds of times more civilians than the other terrorists do.

That the Karzai regime was subsequently set up under UN auspices doesn’t absolve the participants in America’s war, and that includes Canada. Nor should the fact that Canada now operates under the UN authorized International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) mislead anyone. From the start, ISAF put itself at the service of the American operation, declaring “the United States Central Command will have authority over the International Security Assistance Force” (UNSC Document S/2001/1217). When NATO took charge of ISAF that didn’t change anything. NATO forces are always ultimately under US command. The “Supreme Commander” is always an American general, who answers to the American president, not the Afghan one.

Canadian troops in Afghanistan not only take orders from the Americans, they help free up more American forces to continue their bloody occupation of Iraq.

When the U.S. devastated Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia (1961-1975), leaving behind six million dead or maimed, Canada refused to participate. But today Canada has become part of a U.S. war being waged not only in Iraq and Afghanistan, but also in a network of disclosed and undisclosed centres of physical and mental torture, like Guantanamo Bay in — let’s not forget — illegally occupied Cuban territory. And what we know about what the U.S. government calls terrorism is that it is largely a response to foreign occupation, and what we know about American occupation is that it is a way the rich world forces the rest to surrender their resources.

General Rick Hillier bragged that Canada was going to root out the “scumbags” in Afghanistan. He didn’t mention that the Soviets, using over 600,000 troops and billions in aid over ten years, were unable to control Afghanistan. Britain, at the height of its imperial power, tried twice and failed. Now, Canada is helping another fading empire attempt to impose its will on Afghanistan.

Canadians have traditionally been able to hold their heads high when they travel the world. We did not achieve that reputation by waging war against the world’s poor; in large part we achieved it by refusing to do so.

Canada must — immediately, and at the minimum — open its doors to Iraqis and Afghanis attempting to flee the horror being inflicted on their homelands. We must stop pretending that we’re not implicated in their suffering under the bombs, death squads and torture. This means refusing to lend our name, our strength and the blood of our youth in this war without end against the Third World.

David Orchard is the author of The Fight for Canada: Four Centuries of Resistance to American Expansionism and ran twice for the leadership of the Progressive Conservative party. He farms at Borden, SK and can be reached at tel

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US caused rise of jihadist forces


Women marching in support of Afghan revolutionary leader Taraki.

When Western politicians and pundits point the finger of blame at the people of the Middle East for the rise of Islamic fundamentalism, it is especially insulting. It is US foreign policy that has led to the rise of jihadist forces. Cases in point are the examples of Iran, Afghanistan and Iraq.


First, let’s take Iran. How did the Islamic Republic come into being? Let’s go back to the CIA’s first large scale operational success, the 1953 coup.  This is at a time when, thanks to its 1906 Constitutional Revolution, the country had a parliamentary system. In April 1951, Mohammad Mossadegh, a nationalist leader, was elected prime minister. Britain called for, and the United States supported, a worldwide embargo of Iran’s oil. Mossadegh was demonized by the imperialist media. Time Magazine called Mossadegh a “mad man.”

The CIA and the British MI6 developed a comprehensive plan called Operation AJAX. The mastermind of the plot was CIA Middle-East agent, Kermit Roosevelt, grandson of President Teddy Roosevelt. The plot involved organizing right-wing military leaders and financing groups of criminal elements. Street riots of bands of thugs were staged, offices of newspapers loyal to Mossadegh were burned, and the parliament was attacked. Then, the CIA-designated generals arrested Mossadegh and declared Martial Law. The Shah was put on the throne as a tyrant with absolute power.

The Western media celebrated the CIA coup. The New York Times wrote: “underdeveloped countries with rich resources now have an object lesson in the heavy cost that must be paid by one of their number which goes berserkwith fanatical nationalism.”

Following the coup, the client state unleashed a wave of arrests, torture and executions. Before the coup, the leftist Tudeh Party had been the largest organized force. The nationalists were also strong and well-organized. But now, any opposition to the Shah’s regime was repressed with extreme brutality.

Still, despite all the repression, there was bound to be resistance to the Shah’s dictatorship. And this resistance led to the revolution of February 1979. But by the time of the revolution, the left and the secular nationalist forces had been crushed, so the revolution was led by Ayatollah Khomeini.

The Islamic Republic is not an ultra-reactionary force like Al Qaeda, the Taliban and ISIL. But in a country where the left used to be the strongest organized force, thanks to the CIA coup, only the clergy was in position to win power in 1979.


In Afghanistan, the US role in the rise of Islamic forces was not indirect. The US organized and funded them. Afghanistan had a communist-led social transformation, what is called the Saur Revolution. In April 1978, the government tried to crush the country’s main communist party, the Peoples Democratic Party of Afghanistan, and arrested almost its entire leadership.

An uprising by the lower ranks of the military freed the popular party leader, Nur Mohammad Taraki. On April 27, the PDPA and progressive members of the Afghan military overthrew the monarchy of Zaher Shah. Two days later, hundreds of thousands took to the streets in celebration. Many waved the red flags of the PDPA, a party with close to 50,000 members that had wide popular support in the cities.

In a country of less than 20 million, 200,000 peasants received land from the PDPA government. The revolutionary state set up extensive literacy programs. The government trained many teachers, built schools and kindergartens and instituted nurseries for orphans. By 1985, there had been an 80% increase in hospital beds. The government initiated mobile medical units and brigades of women and young people to go to the undeveloped countryside and provide medical services to the peasants for the first time.

Afghanistan made tremendous progress during this era. But the era came to a quick end. Immediately following the revolution, the CIA organized counter-revolutionary forces. Washington formed and funded a militia of mercenaries supported by feudal landowners. This militia called itself the Mujahedeen. The Carter administration called them “freedom fighters.”

Al Qaeda and other jihadists militias today trace their roots to the Mujahedeen. The US organized them, trained them and funded them. Osama bin Laden was one of the leaders of the Mujahedeen. The Mujahedeen carried out a terror campaign in the countryside, torturing and murdering teachers, doctors and women who worked outside of the home.

Western media coverage of developments in Afghanistan was simply that the Soviet Union invaded to expand its so-called empire. But the Soviet Union had no intention of conquering Afghanistan. The Afghan government insistently requested Soviet military assistance and the Soviets only reluctantly agreed to do so. Zbignew Brezhinski, at the time Carter’s national security adviser, later revealed that US support for the Mujahedeen started in July of 1979, months before the Soviet intervention.

The huge cost of Soviet military involvement in Afghanistan, their arms race with US imperialism and a shift to the right in the leadership, resulted in the Soviet Union pulling troops out of Afghanistan in 1989.

But the revolutionary Afghan government did not collapse when the Soviets pulled out. Supporters of the regime fought bravely against a better-armed and well-funded force. It wasn’t until 1992, three years later, that the Afghan government fell to the Mujahedeen. Then the rival factions of the Mujahedeen started fighting each other. In 1996, the Taliban, a faction formed from some Mujahedeen fighters, took power with backing from Pakistan’s ISI. The Taliban gained control of most of Afghanistan. When the Taliban took over, Washington moved to work with them. It was only after Sept. 2001 that the US made the Taliban its enemy. And to this day, the misery of the Afghan people continues thanks to the U.S. occupation.


Modern Iraq came into being in the aftermath of World War I with the Sykes-Picot agreement. The former Ottoman provinces of Basra, Baghdad and Mosul became the new British mandate of Iraq. The country was ruled by a British-installed monarchy, and continued to be occupied by British military bases.

But on July 14, 1958, a military rebellion led by Abd al-Karim Qasim and the Free Officers movement turned into a country-wide revolution. The revolution put an end to colonial domination and marked the beginning of Iraq’s real independence.

Over the next three decades, the US applied many tactics to weaken and undermine Iraq as an independent country. After Iraq completed nationalizing the Iraqi Petroleum Company in 1972 and signed a defense treaty with the USSR, the US added Iraq to its list of “terrorist states.”

Washington supported the more rightist elements within the post-revolution political structure against the communist and left-nationalist forces. For example, the US backed the overthrow and assassination of President Abd al-Karim Qasim in 1963. And Washington applauded the suppression of the left and unions by the Arab Ba’ath Socialist Party governments in the 1960s and 1970s.

In the 1980s, the US encouraged and helped to fund and arm Iraq, under the leadership of Saddam Hussein, in its war against Iran. Iraq was not a client state but the US wanted to weaken the Iranian revolution and the Iraqi state both. Former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger summarized the real US attitude about the war: “I hope they kill each other.”

And then there was the so-called first Gulf War in 1991, when the US destroyed much of Iraq. More than 88,500 tons of bombs were dropped on the country. The civilian infrastructure throughout the country—water, power, phone and sewage systems, food and medicine production, storage facilities, schools and hospitals, roads and bridges, and more—were targeted, often many times over.

The sanctions on Iraq were the most comprehensive in history; in reality, it was a blockade of the country that was to last for 13 years, killing more than 1 million people, half of them children under the age of five. The sanctions lasted through the presidencies of Bush I, Clinton and Bush II, up to the 2003 invasion,

Still, the desired goal of regime change was not achieved. It became clear that regime change could only be accomplished by a military invasion. After a major public relations campaign, US and British forces invaded Iraq on March 19, 2003. The entire government and state apparatus was disbanded, from the military to the government ministries to the state-run food-distribution and health-care systems.

The occupying forces ripped apart the social fabric of the country. They deliberately promoted ethnic and religious conflicts to weaken resistance. As a result, while most Iraqis primarily identified themselves as Iraqis prior to the occupation, now the occupiers have created a deep divide between Shiite and Sunni.

What finally worked for the occupiers was not military victories. It was General Petraeus’ so-called surge strategy. It wasn’t so much the actual surge of the troop numbers, however. It was putting a number of former resistance fighters on the US military payroll. Up to that time, by supporting Shiite militiamen connected to the Iraqi government, the US had effectively promoted a campaign of ethnic cleansing by US allied Shiite forces against the Sunni population, who were killed in the thousands and forced out of their homes and neighborhoods. Al Qaeda forces had also done the opposite, massacring the Shiite and destroying their holy sites. Now, fighting for their community’s survival, significant numbers of resistance fighters accepted the US offer to become part of the military.

One of the reasons that ISIL has made such impressive gains is that the military did not fight them. And the military did not fight them because much of the rank and file and the officers see Maliki as a sectarian Shiite, not as the prime minister of Iraq.

There are many other examples of the US weakening independent states in the Middle East, the most recent being Libya. Also, Israel has consistently played a key role in weakening left and nationalist Arab governments and forces.

So, on the question of why Islamic fundamentalism is on the rise, we should give credit where it’s due: The U.S. government.

Posted in Afghanistan, Iran, Iraq, Middle East, USA0 Comments

Under Cover of Secrecy, Detainees Moved From Afghanistan’s ‘Forgotten Guantanamo’


Estimated 38 detainees left to languish in Bagram prison notorious for torture and abuse

- Sarah Lazare

Multi-bed housing at Bagram prison (Photo: US State Department / Creative Commons)

The United States has moved a dozen people held at Afghanistan’s notorious Bagram prison to their countries of origin, leaving approximately 38 non-Afghan detainees to languish behind bars, Reuters revealed Friday.

President Obama informed U.S. Congress of the transfers in a letter delivered on Thursday. Information about the repatriations was not disclosed to the public, in keeping with the intense secrecy surrounding this detainee population.

According to an anonymous U.S. defense official who spoke to Reuters, detainees were returned to France, Kuwait, and Pakistan at the end of May. The conditions of their repatriation, the length of their incarceration, and the identities of those moved were not immediately clear.

While the U.S. ostensibly handed partial control over the prison to Afghan authorities last year, it continues to detain non-Afghans held at the facility, which has been referred to as the Forgotten Guantanamo.” The men are believed to have been detained in Afghanistan or transferred by the CIA to the prison, where they are stripped of their legal rights and, in many cases, held in legal limbo without charge or trial.

The prison is known for torture and abuse, including sleep deprivation, beatings, sexual assault, rape, and humiliation.

The fate and identities of the remaining detainees, who hail from Yemen, Tunisia, Pakistan, and Russia according to Reuters, are still unknown.

As Spencer Ackerman recently pointed out in the Guardian, President Obama’s announcement last month that he will extend the U.S. war in Afghanistan for at least another two years could force many of those held at Bagram prison to face longer incarceration.

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The Fundamental Lie of the Afghan War

The Bergdahl Swap and Beyond


As a general rule, U.S. wars are based on lies. Some of these are soon exposed; the lies about Saddam Hussein’s weapons of mass destruction and al-Qaeda links used to justify the invasion and occupation of Iraq were exposed (to anyone paying attention) within a few months, or at least by the end of 2003. The lie that Spaniards mined the USS Maine in Havana Harbor in 1898, used to justify U.S. war and the colonization of Cuba, Puerto Rico, Guam, Hawaii and the Philippines, was exposed much later. The lies about the Gulf of Tonkin Incident of 1964, used to justify the escalation of the Vietnam War, were only exposed in the 80s and 90s. The Big Lie surrounding the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan has not yet been adequately exposed and discussed.

The lie was hinted at, rather than expressed outright. The lie was there that was no distinction between the Taliban and al-Qaeda. “We make no distinction between terrorists and those who harbor them,” declared George W. Bush. This is the heart of the Bush Doctrine. The point was to justify the overthrow of a regime by actively confusing distinctions, encouraging people to see the Taliban as actively in cahoots with al-Qaeda plots, hence enemies of America and “terrorists” by definition.

Most people in the U.S. initially bought Barack Obama’s differentiation between the second Iraq War as “war of choice” and “strategic blunder” and the Afghan War as a “necessary war” to punish and crush al-Qaeda.. (That’s what the polls suggested; they never, unfortunately, allowed those polled to describe either conflict as neither a necessary war nor a war of choice but as a “criminal war.”)

But now (or as of February, according to a Gallop poll) 49% of people in this country consider the war beginning in 2001 as a “mistake,” while 48% disagree. If there was once a consensus that Iraq was a mistake, but Afghanistan a good cause, there is a growing realization that there is no “good war,” or at least little likelihood that U.S. troops will enter one on the right side anytime soon. Look at the splendid results of the U.S./NATO assault on Libya, and the ongoing agony of an Iraq wrecked by its encounter with would-be “liberators.”

Sen. John McCain, who is not one to apologize for any war or acknowledge the lies behind them, recently called the five Taliban leaders released from Guantanamo “hard-core military jihadists who are responsible for 9/11.” This is patently false; there is no evidence that any of these men even knew what bin Laden was up to, or had any stake in or desire for attacks on the U.S. Only if you believe that al-Qaeda and the Taliban are one, the distinctions between them unworthy of your attention, can you blithely assign responsibility for the attacks on the released men.

It needs to be repeated again and again: the Taliban is not al-Qaeda. Al-Qaeda is not the Taliban.

Al-Qaeda is an Islamist global terror outfit that wants to provoke and intensify conflict between the Muslim world and the West (and Israel). It had bases in Afghanistan dating back to the 1980s, when Osama bin Laden was cooperating with the CIA to overthrow the pro-Soviet regime. Bin Laden returned to Afghanistan in 1996, having been expelled at U.S. order from Sudan; he was welcomed by anti-Taliban friends. When the Taliban swept to power later that year, they allowed bin Laden to remain out of appreciation for his role in the mujahedeen efforts in the 1980s, and in accordance with the Pashtunwali code of hospitality. They accepted funds and other assistance from al-Qaeda but neither steered the other. In all likelihood the regime of Mullah Omar knew nothing about an al-Qaeda attack on the U.S. and subsequent U.S. attack.

The Taliban is a xenophobic Pashtun-nationalist movement rising out of the disorder of the period from 1978 to 1996. It is dedicated to the implementation of Sharia law in Afghanistan, which it thinks the only way to maintain peace and order. For better or worse it has a broad social base, rooted in the traditional religiosity of the culture.

(Of course the Taliban is not alone in implementing Sharia law. Saudi Arabia, once one of the Taliban regime’s major supporters—with Pakistan—also cuts off thieves’ hands and stones adulterers. But are administrators of a system of draconian punishment, specified according to the Qur’an or to their interpretation it by God Himself, necessarily “terrorists”? Does the word retain any utility when applied so broadly?)

Afghan-born U.S. State Department official Zalmay Khalilzad, who served as ambassador to both Afghanistan (2003-5) and Iraq (2005-7)—a neocon close to Paul Wolfowitz and Richard Perle—once welcomed the overthrow of the Northern Alliance regime and the ascension of the Taliban to power. “The Taliban does not practice the anti-US style of fundamentalism practiced by Iran,” he wrote in a Washington Post op-ed in 1996. “It is closer to the Saudi model.” As a UNOCAL executive after temporarily leaving government Khalilzad attempted to negotiate with Taliban members to construct an oil pipeline from the Caspian Sea through Afghanistan to the Indian Ocean. He entertained Taliban with a barbeque at his Texas ranch. Should he be detained for consorting with terrorists?

McCain calls the Taliban Five “the worst of the worst, the hardest of the hardest” and “the hardest and toughest of all.” He wants us to think that Obama has just unleashed five Osama bin Ladens intent on striking America at the earliest opportunity. Who are they really?

There are three considered “first tier”: one Taliban cabinet minister (former Minister of the Interior, Khalrullah Khairkhwa), and two deputy ministers (former Deputy Minister of Intelligence Abdul Haq Wasiq, and Deputy Minister of Defense Mullah Mohammed Fazl). The other two are considered “second tier” in terms of importance, both senior military commanders: Muhammed Nabi Omari and Mullah Horullah Noori.

Guantanamo documents indicate that they all had (or might have had) some connection to al-Qaeda, mostly following the U.S. invasion when the Taliban united with other, including rival, groups to resist. Wasiq, Fazl and Omari are accused of al-Qaeda ties, but also of ties to Hezb-e-Islami, a formerly a bitter foe of al-Qaeda but willing, from October 2001, to join a sort of coalition. One should not imagine that every attack on U.S./NATO forces that occurs in Afghanistan today is staged by the Taliban. Many others oppose occupation as well.

Wasiq as intelligence minister reportedly sought al-Qaeda assistance to train his ministry’s staff in “intelligence methods” at some point. But he was also in contact with Hezb-e-Islami. Khairkhwa is accused in a 2006 “threat assessment” of probable association with the mysterious al-Qaeda leader Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, but he is also identified as a member of a delegation that met with Iranian officials to discuss Iranian aid to the Taliban and a possible Tehran-brokered alliance between the Northern Alliance (which Iran had supported) and the Taliban against the U.S. (This came to naught.) He is also accused of narco-trafficking. (A number of warlords governing parts of Afghanistan and some of Karzai’s relatives are accused of this as well.)

In one document Noori is described as “associated with…senior al-Qaeda members and other extremist groups.” He “fought alongside al-Qaeda as a Taliban general” versus the Northern Alliance. This makes it sound like the Taliban played a supporting role to al-Qaeda. But the conflict then was principally between the Northern Alliance (the former rulers, who’d toppled the pro-Soviet regime) and the Taliban, with al-Qaeda playing a supporting role.

The worst of the worst? Kate Clark of the Kabul-based Afghanistan Analysts Network disagrees. “Fazl,” she declares, “is the only one of the five to face accusations of explicit war crimes… ” But these are crimes (against Shiite Hazzara civilians) that occurred in Afghanistan before the U.S./NATO invasion. They have nothing to do with the U.S. and were not a cause for that invasion. They are simply grounds to declare Fazl some sort of “terrorist” hoping the public paying attention assumes his terror was somehow directed at the U.S. (and thus the justification for his long confinement).

Defending the Bergdahl-Taliban Five trade, State Department spokesperson Marie Harf explains that “being, you know, mid-to-high-level officials in a regime that’s grotesque and horrific also doesn’t mean they themselves directly pose a threat to the United States.” (She is perhaps thinking of the grotesque and horrific regimes that are dear friends of Washington.)

The former chief military prosecutor at Guantanamo, Air Force Col. Morris Davis from 2005 to 2007, says, “I wasn’t familiar with any of these [Taliban Five] names … we had more than 12 years. If we could have proven that they had done something wrong that we could prosecute them for, I’m confident we would have done it, and we didn’t.” The unprosecutable detainees languished as hostages until they were exchanged for Bergdahl. I doubt they were sent off with apologies for years of detention and torture, during which they were not found guilty of any crimes in any court.

For years U.S. military commanders have acknowledged that the Taliban cannot be defeated militarily. There will have to be a negotiated settlement. Current Afghan president Hamid Karzai, while wary of U.S.-Taliban talks that sideline his weak government, favors negotiations with the Taliban (and even occasionally, when piqued by the U.S., threatens to join the group again, as he had in 1996 as their first foreign minister). As negotiations take place, likely in Qatar, U.S. representatives will have to treat the Taliban with some modicum of respect. (A Taliban report on the handover of Bowe Bergdahl expresses contempt for one of the three U.S. Special Forces involved for refusing to shake hands.)

Respect for reality requires that we clearly distinguish forces and resist such simplistic thinking as that represented by Sen. McCain’s remarks. You cannot tell yourself, “Well, the Taliban and al-Qaeda were aligned at the time of 9/11, so it’s true enough to say these freed men were responsible for 9/11. Or if not, there’s no harm done by saying it—since they’re all evil. You’re either for us or against us.” Such is the culture of lies that continues to churn out wars.

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