Ten Ways the US is Turning Afghanistan into Iraq
by Juan Cole
3 Apr 09 | Informed Comment
1. Exaggerating the threat. An Afghan army foot patrol was attacked by guerrillas in Helmand Province on Wednesday, according to AP. US and Afghan soldiers responded, engaging in a firefight. Then the US military called in an air strike on the Taliban, killing 20 of them. On Tuesday, a similar airstrike had taken out 30 guerrillas.
It is this sort of thing that makes me wonder why the Taliban (or whoever these guys in Helmand were) are considered such a big threat that the full might of NATO is needed to deal with them. They have no air force, no artillery, no tanks. They are just small bands, apparently operating in platoons, who, whenever they mass in large enough numbers to stand and fight, can just be turned into red mist from the air.
2. The US has actually only managed to install a fundamentalist government in Afghanistan, which is rolling back rights of women and prosecuting blasphemy cases. In a play for the Shiite vote (22% or so of the population), President Hamid Karzai put through civilly legislated Shiite personal status law, which affects Shiite women in that country. The wife will need the husband’s permission to go out of the house, and can’t refuse a demand for sex. (Since the 1990s there has been a movement in 50 or more countries to abandon the idea that spouses cannot rape one another, though admittedly this idea is new and was rejected in US law until recently).
No one seems to have noted that the Shiite regime in Baghdad is more or less doing the same thing. In Iraq, the US switched out the secular Baath Party for Shiite fundamentalist parties. Everyone keeps saying the US improved the status of women in both countries. Actually, in Iraq the US invasion set women back about 30 years. In Afghanistan, the socialist government of the 1980s, for all its brutality in other spheres, did implement policies substantially improving women’s rights, including aiming at universal education, making a place for them in the professions, and so forth. There were socialist Afghan women soldiers fighting the Muslim fundamentalist guerrillas that Reagan called “freedom fighters” and to whom he gave billions to turn the country into a conservative theocracy. I can never get American audiences to concede that Afghan women had it way better in the 1980s, and that it has been downhill ever since, mainly because of US favoritism toward patriarchal and anti-progressive forces.
4. It begins. The US is creating local militias in Wardak called the Afghan Public Protection Force. You wonder how long it will be before the Karzai government is engaged in firefights with them (cf. Fadl in Baghdad earlier this week).
5. Now thousands of private security contractors (i.e. mercenaries) will be hired in Afghanistan. But they won’t be Americans for the most part. Children, can you say “Hessians”?
I don’t understand the concept of paying someone $200,000 a year to guard armed GIs being paid a fraction of that. Wouldn’t it be better to expand the size of the army if you need more troops? Wouldn’t it be more efficient to have one line of command? Aren’t these essentially high-priced MPs?
6. The secretary of defense is predicting that the US military will be in Afghanistan indefinitely and will only achieve limited goals there. (!)
I ask myself, “why?”
7. An attempt by officials in the Obama administration to replace Guantanamo with Bagram in Afghanistan has been shot down by a Federal judge. The government actually argued that the three men (2 Yemenis and a Tunisian) did not have habaeus corpus rights because they are in a war zone.
Why are they in a war zone? Because the US government transported them there!
9. While militaries spend tens of billions on fighting disgruntled Pashtun tribesmen, a fifth of pregnant women or women with newborns are malnourished in Afghanistan. In Iraq, as well, public health crises took a back seat while hundreds of billions were spent on weapons and warfare.
10. A new Friedman unit. It was always the “next six months” that would be “crucial” for Iraq. It is now “this year” that is crucial for Afghanistan. By the math of Friedman units, does this mean the Afghanistan occupation will last twice as long as the Iraq one?