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Vol. 72/No. 51      December 29, 2008

U.S. officials: Afghan war
‘more complex’ than in Iraq
(front page)
Washington is increasing troops and other resources in Afghanistan, where top U.S. military officials say they are planning for a protracted war. Their fight against the Taliban, al-Qaeda, and other forces based in Pakistan and Afghanistan, they say, has proved to be more complicated than Iraq, where U.S. imperialism has made progress toward establishing a stable allied regime.

Officials have announced one combat brigade—comprised of about 3,500 troops—will be sent to Afghanistan in January, with two more brigades likely to arrive by late spring.

While no specific commitments are made beyond January, David Petraeus, head of the U.S. Central Command, has said the U.S. military plans to increase its troop levels by some 20,000.

There are about 60,000 foreign troops in Afghanistan from 41 countries. Of these, about 31,000 are from the United States, two-thirds of which fight under NATO command, the rest under direct U.S. command.

U.S. commanders have stressed that the troop increase has little in common with last year’s 36,000-troop increase in Iraq, dubbed the “surge.”

“The increase in international forces that are needed here will be needed for a sustained basis for some period of time, until we get to a point where the Afghan security forces have the lead,” Gen. David McKiernan, commander of international and U.S. forces in Afghanistan, told National Public Radio December 5. “So, it’s not a temporary surge sort of approach; it’s a more sustained security increase.”

In a New York Times op-ed piece published last month, former U.S. defense secretary Donald Rumsfeld described the differences between the conditions under which Washington carried out the surge in Iraq and what exists in Afghanistan today. In Iraq, Rumsfeld explained, the troop increase coincided with several other key factors that began to unfold in late 2006, none of which exist in Afghanistan.

Al-Qaeda’s base of support in the Sunni areas began to disintegrate in late summer of 2006, Rumsfeld said. As forces there previously allied with al-Qaeda increasingly found themselves victims of the group’s murder, theft, and extortion, they decided it was in their interest to join the fight against it. The U.S. military has not forged similar alliances in the predominantly Pashtun areas along the Afghan-Pakistani border where the Taliban is based.

In Iraq, the U.S. military had killed the top leadership of al-Qaeda and the former Baathist regime that had continued to fight U.S. forces. Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr was forced to draw down his Mahdi Army militia as the Iraqi army and police force, which grew to some 320,000 by December 2006, gained battle experience.

By comparison, explained Rumsfeld, Afghanistan is 80,000 square miles larger than Iraq, while the military and police force is less than one-fourth the size.

Also, unlike Iraq, Afghanistan has little natural resources, while a massive narcotics industry continues to thrive there.

McKiernan cites Afghanistan’s 30 years of war and long-term political chaos as well as its continued economic and social underdevelopment—a condition in which U.S. imperialism has played no small role—as “environmental reasons” why their war in Afghanistan will require an “extended commitment.”

Their war in fact extends well beyond the Afghan borders into Pakistan, where Islamist forces, including the Taliban, have historically been funded and nurtured by the government, which has used them as a proxy for extending its political influence in the region.

Islamabad’s policy of support for Islamist fighters had previously also served the interests of U.S. imperialism—which backed Mujahideen forces against the Soviet Union in Afghanistan in the 1980s—until the U.S. rulers began to consider the establishment of the Taliban government resulting from that course as a problem.

Following Washington’s invasion of Afghanistan in 2001, the Pakistani government turned against elements of the Taliban and other Islamist groups on its own soil. The Pakistani military launched a war against these groups in parts of the country’s northwest, predominantly Pashtun mountainous region.

Civilians have been caught in crossfire and displaced by the hundreds of thousands, while forces connected to al-Qaeda and the Taliban remain entrenched in Pakistan along the Afghan border.
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