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Fighting with Pinpricks: The other war

Published: March 28, 2008
Section: Opinions


the_hoot_3-28-08_page_03_image_0001.jpgLast week saw newly energized protests marking the fifth anniversary of the Iraqi War as well as a new wave of attacks indicating that the widely held illusion of “the surge’s” success is becoming less tenable every day. This, coupled with Iraq’s widely publicized 4000th American fatality this week, makes it easy to forget that Iraq is not the only Asian country where the United States is losing a war.

The other war, the War in Afghanistan, stalemated only months after it began when the Taliban and Al-Qaeda retreated into a mountainous border region leaving the US and its allies free to install a weak new regime. It didn’t take long for the Taliban and its supporters to begin a low intensity guerilla insurgency, and they’ve been slowly wearing down the US and its puppet regime ever since. In the last six months, however, the stalemate has broken, and the Taliban have seized the advantage. The question is no longer who will win in Afghanistan, but rather, how long will it take the US and NATO forces to lose.

To understand why this is, it’s helpful to look at a recent battle. In this case, the coalition “victory” in the “Battle of Musa Qala” is instructive. Taliban forces captured to town in Helmand Province back in February 2007, and last December NATO, the US, and the Afghan Army, such as it is, decided to take Musa Qala back. The 4,500 coalition forces laid siege to the town, blanketing it with ordinance from B-1 and B-52s bombers, A-10 attack planes, Apache helicopters, AC-130 gunships, and ground based artillery. After six days of this onslaught, the two to three hundred Taliban forces fled the city. To take the town of 15,000, one US and one UK soldier paid the ultimate price. For all their efforts, the US led forces killed, according to the Times of London, only one militant. Fortunately, the allies did not drop all those bombs in vain; indeed, in addition to the one Talib, the US killed an astounding 40 civilians.

Despite this, US and NATO spokespeople hailed Musa Qala as a great success, but a closer look indicates otherwise. The US relied on heavy artillery to win the battle. The problem, as Musa Qala shows, is that such impersonal combat tends to kill more civilians than close quarters fighting, because heavy artillery cannot delineate between civilian and combatant as well as the human mind. In the last few months, as the Taliban strengthened, the US and its allies are leaning more and more on these tactics which not only are criminal in their devastation of civilian populations, but also further alienate an Afghan public which was never happy with US occupation or with the corrupt US-backed government to begin with. This new opposition to the US’ heavy-handed and bloody tactics led to an explosion of violence in the areas surrounding Musa Qala in the days and moths following the battle. This violence remains out of control to this day.

In short, the Taliban lost the city, but they succeeded spectacularly in expanding resistance to the US and gaining new followers who may not be wild about Taliban ideology but who are hungry to end the brutal American presence in their country. Expect to see more and more Musa Qalas in the months to come as the United States continues to lose its grip on Afghanistan.

Given this situation, it is shocking that the Western media don’t cover Afghanistan more closely. While approval of the Iraqi War plummeted last year, most Americans remain blissfully ignorant of our imminent defeat in the other war, as well as the human devastation which we have wrought on a mostly defenseless people. The presidential candidates have capitalized on this ignorance. Even Barack Obama, the supposedly anti-war candidate, wants to continue this failed effort. In fact, he has positioned himself as something of the John McCain of Afghanistan, promising more troops in that conflict once Iraq is finished. This surge logic will fail in Afghanistan as spectacularly as it did in Iraq; if it accomplishes anything, it will only be to ratchet up the civilian body count. In order to ensure that no more American, British, and Afghan citizens are slaughtered in vain, voters must demand of their candidates an end not only of the criminal and failed Iraqi War, but also of the criminal and failed Afghan War.