“…there is nothing in South Vietnam which could happen that realistically threatens the United States of America. And to attempt to justify the loss of one American life…linking such loss to the preservation of freedom…is to us the height of criminal hypocrisy…we found that the Vietnamese whom we had enthusiastically molded after our own image were hard put to take up the fight against the threat we were supposedly saving them from…They only wanted to work in rice paddies without helicopters strafing them and bombs with napalm burning their villages and tearing their country apart. They wanted everything to do with the war, particularly with this foreign presence of the United States of America, to leave them alone in peace…”
These are the words of John Kerry, speaking on behalf of American War Veterans who had returned from Vietnam, in a statement made before the US Senate Foreign Relations Committee in 1971.
Fast forward four decades, change ‘South Vietnam’ to ‘Afghanistan’, and the similarities are eerie; the implication that the US has learnt nothing from its misadventure in Vietnam is pitiful.
A major sign of incompetence is that a person does the same thing over and over again while each time expecting different results. The political leaderships of the US and UK, and Australia in tag-along mode, seem to be trapped in such an illusion with respect to their endeavors in Afghanistan.
Although it was their warmongering predecessors who launched the war, both Obama and Cameron, and Rudd and Gillard in Australia, have been equally foolish in their vain attempt to ‘finish the job’. But with no coherent strategy, an excess use of violent tactics coupled with gross incompetence, NATO rule has led to Afghanistan being controlled by drug barons, warlords and corrupt officials.
This week, Friday 7 October 2011 to be exact, marks the tenth anniversary of the war, and it is time to face the reality.
The war in Afghanistan has been a resounding failure. It is war that has dragged on for ten long and arduous years and still there is no clear end in sight. It is war in which two and half thousand Coalition troops have died. Australia’s tally now stands at twenty nine. Twenty nine human beings killed. Twenty nine grieving families separated, forever, from their loved ones. For what end?
As for the effect of the war on the people of Afghanistan, the story is far more horrendous. It is a tale of human tragedy that words cannot express. Tens of thousands of innocent people have been killed. Countless others have been injured and displaced. They are human beings too, despite their being treated as mere numbers and reduced to the rubric of ‘collateral’. They have families too. They have loved ones too.
The war has always been seen by the people of Afghanistan as an unjust occupation of their land. It has produced systematic abuses at the hand of Coalition forces such as those witnessed at Bagram airbase, and it has seen to the wholesale destruction of Afghanistan, village by village, province by province.
Little wonder the war is producing more refugees, who if they come here, being forced to risk their lives on leaky boats, seeking asylum, both major parties trip over each other in competing as to who can treat them more inhumanely. It’s a surreal affair.
The failure of the war can be put down to strategy being built on fundamentally flawed narratives.
Occupying another people does not produce greater security. The occupation of Kashmir by 500,000 Indian troops has not prevented attacks in Indian cities. The occupation of Palestine has not made the citizens of ‘Israel’ safe from attack. The presence of 27,000 British troops in Northern Ireland for 38 years did not prevent the IRA from attacking the UK mainland. Occupation naturally breeds resentment and hatred which leads to retaliation, continuing the cycle of violence and counter violence we now witness.
The failure can also be put down to flawed strategies used in the war itself. Take the most recent approach. We are told that ‘talks’ have been initiated with the Taliban. At the same time, we saw the beginning of a new ‘kill/capture’ strategy this year which seeks to target resistance leaders through ‘surgical operations’. One wonders how the US and NATO can expect to reach a peace deal with an opposition whose leaders they concurrently seek to assassinate?
Not only is the strategy flawed, so too is its implementation. Like most other ‘surgical’ missions undertaken by the US and NATO, the ‘kill-capture strikes’ have been anything but surgical. Many innocent civilians have been killed, further denting the attempted ruing of ‘hearts and minds’ on the part of the invaders.
In Australia, we have witnessed a monumental political failure on this war. In formulating a position on Afghanistan, Australian politicians, of all persuasions, have been suffocated by the demands of the Australian-US alliance. The consequence has been devastating policy paralysis and the absence of rationality on the issue of Afghanistan. As Professor Hugh White, ANU and former senior Defence Department official, noted last month,
“…[T]here is a serious policy failure in Afghanistan because I think we are proclaiming objectives that we have no serious prospect of achieving…all of the strategic objectives we have declared for ourselves I think are likely to fail. And we therefore have to ask ourselves, for what purpose are we putting young Australian lives at risk with a very high probability, really a certainty, that more Australians will die between now and the time when our forces pull out?”
Not only is it a policy failure, it is an outrageously expensive policy failure. The Government continues to spend over $1.5 billion a year, tax-payers funds that could be better spent in Australia to help the thousands of families struggling to make ends meet on a daily basis under tough economic conditions.
Justifications for Australia’s continuing presence in Afghanistan have become increasingly farcical and even mutually contradictory. In 2001 it was said Australia was heading to Afghanistan to come to the aid of its ally in order to avenge 9/11. Come the turn of the decade and behold, they are there to allegedly save its oppressed women, as if they run a philanthropic association, not a Capitalist government!
The reality is that politicians, from both major parties, have repeated the same meaningless lines about the war from the very beginning. Every time an Australian soldier dies, we hear the same empty platitudes repeated again and again by both political and military leaders. The Orwellian language used – ‘cautious optimism’, ‘fragile reversible progress’, ‘staying the course’ – is given meaning, not through its having any real precise meaning, but through repetition, emotion and nationalist sentiment.
Then there’s the unceasing spin. Defence minister Stephen Smith now wants us to believe that the recent attacks on high-profile figures attributed to the Taliban are a ‘sign of weakness’. Right. And the secretive, ‘unannounced’ visit of a defence minister is a sign of strength? After ten years, Western leaders still cannot visit Afghanistan openly, and when they visit in secret, they can’t go beyond the artificial constructs of the Green Zone or army bases. That is a sign of weakness.
Even when the writing is so indelibly printed on the wall, when experts, former intelligence officials, political correspondents, generals, academics, and aid agencies working in Afghanistan are all saying the war is unwinnable or there are grave problems with the coalition strategy, and when a majority of people in the US, UK and Australia oppose the war and want to see its end, Australia’s political leaders arrogantly and irresponsibly continue to perpetuate myth over reality.
The only responsible course of action for the Australian Government is to withdraw its troops, end the invasion, and, if it has the political will, to end this shameful legacy of serving the imperial agendas of others, which will no doubt gain ignoble mention in the chronicles of history. Only after the occupation ends, can the people of Afghanistan move forward to find a political solution.
Uthman Badar is the media representative of Hizb ut-Tahrir Australia, the local chapter of the largest global Islamic political party.
This article is based on a report, ‘Afghanistan – The Unwinnable War: The West’s failed strategy in Afghanistan and an alternative path for the region’ to be released at a seminar in Sydney and Melbourne on the occasion of the tenth anniversary of the war. All information can be found at www.hizb-australia.org/afghan-seminar.
The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect New Civilisation’s editorial policy.