Category Archives: Afghanistan

Fifteen years of U.S. crimes in Afghanistan, Nov. 5, 2016
The 15-year U.S. war in Afghanistan barely gets mentioned, even when NATO airstrikes massacre 30 civilians
The U.S. war continues to take a heavy toll on Afghan civilians, yet Clinton and Trump never even discussed it
Ben Norton

At least 30 civilians, including women and children, were killed in NATO airstrikes in Afghanistan on Thursday. Dozens more civilians were wounded.

The site of the attack, in Afghanistan’s northern Kunduz province, was near the remnants of a hospital bombed by NATO forces almost exactly one year before.

These new casualties come just after the U.S.-led war in Afghanistan entered its 16th year. The ongoing conflict, which gets little coverage in the media and has hardly been mentioned in the presidential campaigns, is one of the longest conventional wars in U.S. history, and has taken an enormous toll on the South Asian country’s civilian population.

Airstrikes were called in on Thursday after heavy fighting erupted between Taliban militants and U.S. and allied Afghan forces in the northern village of Buz Kandahari.

Kunduz Governor Asadullah Amarkhil called the attack “a horrible incident,” Reuters reported. Afghan villagers brought the bodies of the slain civilians into the nearby city of Kunduz and held angry protests.

“These bodies you see here are either children or women, they are not Taliban. All innocent children and women killed here — look at the bodies there,” a resident told Reuters.

Two U.S. soldiers were also killed in the fighting.

This latest attack took place roughly three miles from the center of Kunduz, where NATO forces bombed a hospital operated by Doctors Without Borders in October 2015.

Last year’s attack killed another 30 civilians, including 14 hospital workers. A hospital nurse said there “are no words for how terrible” the bombing was, noting that “patients were burning in their beds.”

The U.S. military’s version of the story changed multiple times, and was full of contradictions. Ultimately, no U.S. officials lost their jobs because of the attack.

Doctors Without Borders called the hospital bombing a war crime. The U.N. high commissioner for human rights similarly said it could have been a war crime.

The medical humanitarian group, known internationally as Médecins Sans Frontières, or MSF, emphasized that it had “communicated the precise locations of its facilities to all parties on multiple occasions over the past months.” Yet its facility was repeatedly bombed for more than 30 minutes, even after MSF “frantically phoned” Washington.

The Kunduz hospital was the only large medical facility in all of northeastern Afghanistan, yet MSF was forced to withdraw from the area after the attack.

Millions of Afghans have had their lives permanently changed by the U.S. war, which marked its 15th anniversary on Oct. 7 — an unpropitious date that came and went with little attention in the media, and virtually no acknowledgment by major American politicians.

More than a decade of nonstop war has pushed Afghanistan to the brink of catastrophe. And things are getting worse, not better.

At least 220,000 Afghans were killed in the first 12 years of the war, in a conservative estimate, according to a report by the Nobel Prize-winning organization International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War.

Since 2012, Afghan civilian casualties have increased, with children making up a growing portion of victims. The violence in 2015 was the worst since the U.N. began tracking the casualties.

In the first nine months of 2016, 2,562 Afghan civilians were killed, including more than 600 children, and another 5,835 were injured, according to the U.N. Assistance Mission in Afghanistan.
A graph released by the U.N. mission shows how civilian casualties have gradually risen in the past several years.

A May report by Amnesty International noted that the number of Afghans “who have fled violence and remained trapped in their own country, where they live on the brink of survival,” has doubled in just over three years.

At least 1.2 million Afghans are displaced within their country — a rise by some 240 percent since 2013. Another roughly 2.6 million Afghans are refugees, stuck outside of their country’s borders.

Afghans make up one of the world’s largest refugee populations. Yet the European Union, which has backed the NATO war in Afghanistan that has displaced so many people, made a deal to send Afghan refugees to Turkey, in a plan experts said is illegal and immoral.

Even child refugees are not spared. From 2007 to 2015, the United Kingdom deported 2,018 unaccompanied children to Afghanistan — in another program human rights officials have warned is illegal.

None of this is to mention the enormous costs of the war for U.S. taxpayers. Numerous reports estimate that the war in Afghanistan has cost at least $1 trillion. That is money that could have been invested in social services, health care, infrastructure, education and so much more.

The war drags on. President Obama promised countless times that he would end it in 2014. Instead, he has extended it multiple times.

The Taliban was itself a product of U.S. war. In order to fight the Soviet Union in Afghanistan in the 1980s, the U.S. and its allies Pakistan and Saudi Arabia trained, armed and funded extremist Islamist militants, giving birth to the extremism that haunts the region today.

While fighting between the Taliban and U.S.-led forces escalates, Obama nears his last days in office. Neither Hillary Clinton, the most likely candidate for U.S. president, nor her opponent Donald Trump has presented a strategy for ending the war. The Afghan people, meanwhile, cannot wait. They are dying, suffering, losing their homes and loved ones.

As Nicholas Haysom, the U.N.’s secretary general’s special representative for Afghanistan, put it in February, mere statistics do not “reflect the real horror of the phenomenon we are talking about.”

“The real cost we are talking about in these figures,” Haysom continued, “is measured in the maimed bodies of children, the communities who have to live with loss, the grief of colleagues and relatives, the families who make do without a breadwinner, the parents who grieve for lost children, the children who grieve for lost parents.”

Ben Norton is a politics reporter and staff writer at Salon. You can find him on Twitter at @BenjaminNorton.

Afghanistan as an empty space

Afghanistan as an empty space
by Marc W. Herold (Department of Economics and Women’s Studies, Whittemore School of Business and Economics, University of New Hampshire), February 26, 2006

Argument: Four years after the U.S.-led attack on Afghanistan, the true meaning of the U.S occupation is revealing itself. Afghanistan represents merely a space that is to be kept empty. Western powers have no interest in either buying from or selling to the blighted nation. The impoverished Afghan civilian population is as irrelevant as is the nation’s economic development. But the space represented by Afghanistan in a volatile region of geo-political import, is to be kept vacant from all hostile forces. The country is situated at the center of a resurgent Islamic world, close to a rising China (and India) and the restive ex-Soviet Asian republics, and adjacent to oil-rich states.

The only populated centers of any real concern are a few islands of grotesque capitalist imaginary reality — foremost Kabul — needed to project the image of an existing central government, an image further promoted by Karzai’s frequent international junkets. In such islands of affluence amidst a sea of poverty, a sufficient density of foreign ex-pats, a bloated NGO-community, carpetbaggers and hangers-on of all stripes, money disbursers, neo-colonial administrators, opportunists, bribed local power brokers, facilitators, beauticians (of the city planner or aesthetician types), members of the development establishment, do-gooders, enforcers, etc., warrants the presence of Western businesses. These include foreign bank branches, luxury hotels (Serena Kabul, Hyatt Regency of Kabul), shopping malls (the Roshan Plaza, the Kabul City Centre mall), import houses (Toyota selling its popular Land Cruiser), image makers (J. Walter Thompson), and the ubiquitous Coca-Cola1.

The “other,” the real economy — is a vast informal one in which the Afghan masses creatively eke out a daily existence.2 They are utterly irrelevant to the neo-colonist interested in running an empty space at the least cost. The self-financing opium economy reduces such cost and thrives upon invisibility. The invisible multitudes represent a nuisance — much like Kabul’s traffic — upon maintaining the empty space. Only the minimal amount of resources — whether of the carrot or stick type — will be devoted to preserving their invisibility. Many of those who returned after the overthrow of the Taliban are now seeking to emigrate abroad, further emptying the space.3

The means to maintain and police such an empty space are a particular spatial distribution of military projection by U.S. and increasingly NATO forces: twenty-four hour high-level aerial surveillance; a three-level aerial presence (low, medium, high altitude); pre-positioned fast-reaction, heavily-armed ground forces based at heavily fortified key nodal points; and the employ of local satraps’ expendable forces. The aim of running the empty space at least cost is foundering upon a resurgent Taliban, who have developed their own least cost insurgency weapons (e.g., improvised explosive devices and suicide bombings) and are putting them to good use.

Read more

Preparing permanent military bases

Iraq, Afghan Commitments Fuel U.S. Air Base Construction

By Bradley Graham
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, September 17, 2005; A18

BAGRAM, Afghanistan — The Soviets built a runway here more than 20 years ago to land fighter jets. The Americans, having pretty much worn that one out with their jumbo cargo planes, are building a new, longer strip meant to withstand the U.S. military’s heaviest loads.

The construction, at the four-year mark in America’s military presence in Afghanistan, isn’t stopping there. Plans call for expanded ramps for fighter jets and helicopters, multiple ammunition storage bunkers and a six-story control tower, for a total bill exceeding $96 million.

An even more expensive airfield renovation is underway in Iraq at the Balad air base, a hub for U.S. military logistics, where for $124 million the Air Force is building additional ramp space for cargo planes and helicopters.

And farther south, in Qatar, a state-of-the-art, 104,000-square-foot air operations center for monitoring U.S. aircraft in the Middle East, Central Asia and Africa is taking shape in the form of a giant concrete bunker. The $500 million price tag includes a set of support facilities that would be the envy of any air force.

All in all, the U.S. military has more than $1.2 billion in projects either underway or planned in the Central Command region — an expansion plan that U.S. commanders say is necessary both to sustain operations in Iraq and Afghanistan and to provide for a long-term presence in the area.

But the building boom has raised questions, particularly in view of expectations that fewer U.S. troops will be engaged in Iraq and Afghanistan starting next year.

"With all this construction, how long are we going to be here?" an Air Force captain asked Army Gen. John P. Abizaid, the Central Command’s top officer, as the general toured a line of A-10 attack jets here this week. In the distance, 12-wheel dump trucks hauled loads of dirt and phalanxes of bulldozers pushed fresh earth to make way for the new runway.

"I don’t know myself," Abizaid replied. He noted that the base could end up being turned over to the Afghans. But U.S. combat operations may be required "for quite a while," he added, "so making it right to start with is not a bad investment."

U.S. military commanders anticipate that reductions in ground forces in the region will not necessarily mean reductions in air power — or at least not as quickly.

In Afghanistan, where plans call for NATO troops to supplant some U.S. soldiers, possibly by next year, U.S. aircraft will still be needed to provide cover, officers said. In Iraq, where homegrown forces are the key to withdrawing U.S. troops, development of an Iraqi air force lags well behind formation of the new army.

"As the ground force shrinks, we’ll need the air to be able to put a presence in parts of the country where we don’t have soldiers, to keep eyes out where we don’t have soldiers on the ground," said Lt. Gen. Walter E. Buchanan III, who oversees Central Command’s air operations.

At its peak strength in the region during the "shock and awe" phase of the invasion of Iraq, the U.S. Air Force operated from about three dozen bases. Some were in Central Asian countries that previously had been closed to U.S. military aircraft, others in Middle Eastern countries that expanded the number of airfields available for U.S. flights.

In the past two years, the number of bases in the region used by U.S. military planes has dropped by more than half, to about 16, as the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan have evolved into grinding ground campaigns against elusive insurgents.

But U.S. aircraft still fly often — an average of 170 sorties a day last month for strike, airlift, refueling and surveillance missions over Iraq, and 65 a day over Afghanistan, according to Central Command figures. And combat planes frequently are being used in nontraditional ways — for instance, to scout for suspicious activity or to ferry supplies to reduce the load for more vulnerable ground convoys.

Here at Bagram, about 40 miles north of Kabul, concrete slabs on the runway surface have literally been crumbling under the weight of heavy transport aircraft. Repair teams attempt to patch cracks as many as six times a day. But U.S. commanders ultimately concluded that it would be easier and cheaper to build a new 11,800-foot runway.

The project is due for completion in March, and the timing has proven fortuitous. Last month, the government of Uzbekistan ordered the United States to stop flying out of Karshi-Khanabad air base, known as K2, which had become a vital logistics hub for U.S. military and humanitarian operations in Afghanistan. While the Pentagon has shifted the C-130 transport planes once stationed in Uzbekistan to Manas air base in Kyrgyzstan, plans call for at least some of those planes to move eventually to Bagram, enhancing its growing role as a major air logistics center.

The efforts at Bagram, along with a $34 million runway improvement project at Kandahar in southern Afghanistan, are being driven by the military mission in Afghanistan, according to Buchanan and other senior commanders.

But other major airfield expansion work in the region, notably at al-Udeid air base in Qatar and al-Dhafra in the United Arab Emirates, is related not to any specific conflict but rather is meant to establish these locations as "enduring bases" for U.S. military aircraft, Buchanan said. The expectation is that these bases will remain available for U.S. use for at least another decade or two.

"In a number of cases, we’re asking host countries to contribute, and in most cases they are," said Col. Josuelito Worrell, who manages Air Force construction in the Central Command region. For example, a substantial share of the bill for the new operations center and aircraft support facilities at al-Udeid is being funded by the Qatari government, U.S. officers said.