Montag, 30. April 2012

Afghanistan: What occupying armies do

23 April 2012. A World to Win News Service. The U.S. and the government it installed in Afghanistan have initialled a draft "strategic partnership agreement" outlining how the U.S. will "transition from being the predominant foreign force in Afghanistan to serving a more traditional role of supportive ally." (The New York Times, 22 April 2012) The truth is, however, that the U.S. intends to continue to dominate Afghanistan. According to the NYT, the draft agreement contains few details except that Washington has declared, and Karzai has agreed, that the U.S. will not "walk away", for at least another ten years, from the country it has occupied for more than a decade already. According to the NYT, the agreement "sends a message" to the U.S.'s Nato allies, Pakistan and the Taliban that "we intend to be there" for the foreseeable future. "This is proof in the pudding that we intend to be there," said an American official quoted by the newspaper. "It shows the U.S. is going to be there for a long time," explained an unnamed European diplomat, who commented that the agreement was at least in part aimed at Iran.(!) It is also intended to "send a message" to other Nato countries who want to pull their troops out sooner than the date they had earlier agreed to, the end of 2014. The contents of this draft agreement were actually determined before the negotiator representing the U.S.'s hand-picked Afghan President Hamid Karzai saw it and signed on the dotted line. The points were worked out in advance by a 17 April Nato conference in Brussels. At the end of that meeting, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and Defence Secretary Leon Panetta announced that the core of the Nato plan was "keeping some international troops in Afghanistan beyond 2014, the year all American forces are supposed to be home from the war; and collectively agreeing to pay billions of dollars a year to support Afghan security forces." (NYT, 19 April 2012) The draft U.S.-Afghan agreement does not specify how long U.S. troops will remain in Afghanistan nor what they will do there. No Afghans have any say about that. The U.S. may like to pretend that the Karzai government is an "ally" and that it is occupying the country at his invitation, but recent events have shown that while Karzai may have his own interests and not always do what his American handlers tell him, he has little sovereign power. This is demonstrated by the fact that in each of the recent cases of abuse and crimes committed by U.S. occupation troops, Karzai has been powerless to react and the Afghan government has been told to stay out of matters where it has no jurisdiction. The most recent came to light on 18 April when the Los Angeles Times published photos of more than a dozen American soldiers posing mockingly with the body parts of dead Afghans said to have been Taliban fighters, on at least two occasions. The Los Angeles newspaper said that it had decided to publish only two of the 18 pictures given to it by a U.S. soldier upset about the conduct of his fellow troops and seeking to alert Americans to what's happening in Afghanistan. Most of the photos were kept from the public According to an Afghan human rights activist later quoted by the NYT, similar photos have surfaced before. Instead of welcoming the initiative taken in bringing these crimes to his attention, U.S. Defence chief Panetta downplayed the importance of the incident, calling it simply a "foolish decision" taken by "young people", and criticized the newspaper for making it public. "I am not excusing that behaviour. But neither do I want these images to bring further injury to our people and to our relationship with the Afghan people. We had urged the Los Angeles Times not to run those photos." By distinguishing between "our people" and emphasizing the danger to their lives, Panetta is implying that everyone else's lives are worth less. These disgusting photos were made public only a month after much worse demonstration of the worthlessness of Afghan lives in U.S. eyes, the massacre of 17 people, several entire families, in their homes in the province of the Panjwai district of Kandahar 11 March. Nine children (four of them girls under six), three women and four men were killed. Many were awakened from their sleep to be shot. A wounded villager died later. Some people in Afghanistan, including families in the area interviewed by the media, including the NYT, raised doubts about whether this mass murder was really the work of one soldier acting on his own, the 38-year-old staff sergeant Robert Bales, with no one else complicit. For example, the question has been raised about how he could have left his post twice without being detected. He left the first time heavily armed, wearing night vision googles as well as traditional Afghan clothing over his uniform, walked to a village, broke into a home and killed family members, burned the bodies and then walked back to base to take an hour and a half-long break. He left the outpost a second time at about 3 am and walked in the opposite direction to another area where he killed people in two neighbouring villages. Then he returned to the outpost and turned himself in. The outpost is small and comings and goings are watched by surveillance cameras. Each time he left he was seen by a guard. (Khaama.com [Afghanistan]; DailyRecord.co.uk, and other media reports). How was he able to do all that without any of his fellow soldiers and officers noticing something unusual, let alone stopping him? Further, the NYT, Wall Street Journal and other media coverage included interviews with village residents who said that they had been attacked by a group of American soldiers. U.S. officials have implied that the villagers confused Bales with the other soldiers who arrived by helicopter later that night, after his surrender, to investigate. Villagers told reporters that drunk American soldiers entered their village laughing and shooting, and threatening to kill people, including children, if they left their homes. In addition to the question of whether or not Bales really acted alone, there is a larger one: How much was his conduct different than the "normal" behaviour of U.S. troops? The soldier Bales was quickly removed from Afghanistan and the U.S. has taken total control of the investigation. If Afghanistan were really a U.S. ally and not its victim, can anyone imagine what would happen if 17 American family members were killed in their homes, allegedly by a single "rogue" Afghan soldier? Would the U.S. government be satisfied with the explanation that he was alone and merely acting out the "stress" caused by a thankless job (the implication: the Afghan people should be grateful for the occupation!) and maybe too much alcohol? Would it allow the perpetrator to be whisked away and the Afghan government to manage the news and the so-called investigation? What the U.S. government is "investigating" in this case is itself. This incident should be seen alongside earlier actions by U.S. military personnel that have come to light recently, such as the burning of copies of the Koran at the U.S.-controlled Bagram prison complex in a provocation and insult to the people's religious beliefs, and the photos of U.S. soldiers urinating on corpses, allegedly of Taliban fighters. These acts of "indiscipline" have to be seen in the context of the brutality that is the mission of the U.S. and Nato forces, such as the bombardment of civilians that has caused the death and injury of many thousands of Afghans, and the night-time Nato raids in remote areas of the country that constantly harass ordinary families and have led to many reported deaths. It should not need to be said that this is what the Afghan people have received from the occupation, instead of the sweet promises given by George W. Bush, Obama and other U.S. and Nato imperialist leaders. Instead the people of Afghanistan found themselves under the boots of occupiers. The main thing that has changed is that the Taliban were replaced by a not very different religious fundamentalist, woman-hating regime appointed by the imperialists. Now that the occupation is going so badly, Western officials are calling Karzai government officials corrupt, but they were no less corrupt when the U.S. bought them into office a decade ago. This is the reality of life for the Afghan people under the U.S.-led Nato occupation. But there is frustration on the side of the occupier forces too. Instead of their expected easy success and quick victory, they have run into obstacles and been forced to at least limit their objectives. The expenses of the war have gone beyond their capabilities and the economic crisis has added to their problems. The occupiers have neither been defeated nor able to declare victory. Under these conditions, it wouldn't be surprising if there were a morale problem among their troops. It is not surprising that occupation soldiers are upset about all the demonstrations and other manifestations of popular hatred for their presence and actions. Added to that, members of the Afghan Police and Army, cynically called Nato "allies" instead of puppet forces, have turned against them and killed a number of foreign troops and high-level officers, as well as other Afghan security forces and officials. The Kandahar massacre was followed by articles in the American media speculating about a "growing concern" over the discipline of U.S. soldiers and the role of unit commanders who are being held responsible. These articles tend to portray the American occupation soldiers as "stress victims" whose actions are understandable, if supposedly against the rules of conduct. But whether or not Bales was acting alone, what are his fellow soldiers doing in Afghanistan apart from trying to kill Afghans, and for an unjust cause? Isn't that what's happening on a vast scale, as part of official policy, led not only by low-level commanders but top generals and the U.S. president? Wasn't that what they were sent there to do? Similar actions have been registered in the course of the history of imperialist wars and occupations, including Korea, Vietnam and Iraq, as well as Afghanistan. The reason behind it is that as in any reactionary army, soldiers sent to fight and die for imperialist interests are trained to hate the people and especially hate those people they are sent to fight against. So they can easily and without hesitation continue to harass and kill not only those people who resist against them but also civilians and ordinary people too. These particular killings have to be seen and judged in the context of the nature of the war, and the U.S.'s wars, as a whole. In the end, what Bales did is not of a different nature than the killing of thousands of women, men and children through the use of missiles, drones, helicopters and infantry weapons by the US and their puppet army in Afghanistan, whether or not Bales' crime was carried out in an "undisciplined" manner. This action concentrates the criminal nature of the war itself. As long as the occupation lasts and as long as imperialist intervention in Afghanistan continues, these kinds of criminal acts, on a large and small scale, will continue. They are the logical result of the bigger crime of imperialist aggression and occupation. It is the U.S. itself that is responsible for Bales' actions.

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