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Vol. 74/No. 14      April 12, 2010

Obama visits Kabul
amid war escalation
(front page)
March 29—President Barack Obama made his first visit to Afghanistan yesterday, following a recent escalation of the eight-year U.S.-led war. In carrying through this course—with broad bipartisan support—Obama has laid his own claim to the war, dropping the once-frequent criticisms of his predecessor’s military policy.

Since taking office, the administration has ordered 50,000 additional troops to Afghanistan. The rolling deployment has made possible the launching of a new campaign to take and hold major population centers throughout the country.

The intensifying combat has left at least 83 U.S. soldiers dead in Afghanistan so far this year—roughly double the number during the same period in 2009. More than 2,400 Afghan civilians were killed in the conflict last year, according to the United Nations.

The recent U.S. military offensive represents a new phase in Washington’s evolving “counterinsurgency” strategy, which aims to weaken the Taliban and other anti-U.S. Islamist forces and establish a sufficient base of political support for a U.S.-backed regime in Afghanistan with a capable military force of its own.

Unlike the George W. Bush administration, the current White House has largely turned over management of the war to the U.S. military leadership. U.S. general Stanley McChrystal, top U.S./NATO commander in Afghanistan, has been leading a range of initiatives and policy shifts to better meet the specific, long-term challenges the imperialists face in advancing their goals.

Among the more recent changes, the Pentagon is instituting a new system of deployment—“campaign continuity”—in which specific units will be rotated in and out of the same regions in the country in order to gain political insight and establish relationships with local bourgeois forces.

McChrystal has also ordered the shutting down of amenities at major U.S. bases, including many stores, recreational facilities, and U.S. restaurants such as TGI Fridays. Ostensibly, the move is designed to free up needed space for the expanding army. The Miami Herald quoted one command sergeant major explaining, “This is a war zone, not an amusement park.” The Herald cited other officials saying that the orders are also about conveying a message that Washington does not intend to Americanize the country.

Following a brief pep rally with troops in Kabul, Obama met with President Hamid Karzai, who had just returned from a diplomatic trip to Iran. “We … want to continue to make progress on the civilian process,” Obama said during public remarks alongside Karzai—an implicit statement that Washington is not pleased with the Karzai government.

In many areas of the country Washington faces a challenge in presenting the Afghan government as a credible and preferable alternative to the Taliban. While the Taliban is widely hated and feared for its brutality and repression, government politicians and police have earned their own reputation for rampant corruption and criminality.  
Washington’s ties with Islamabad
Obama’s visit also comes several days after a two-day “strategic dialogue” in Washington in which U.S. secretary of state Hillary Clinton and U.S. military officials met with a Pakistani delegation, which included the country’s top general and foreign minister.

Recently, Islamabad has increased its cooperation with the U.S. government in disrupting and weakening Washington’s main Taliban enemies. In return, Washington is expected to increase economic aid and accelerate its shipment of military aircraft, naval vessels, and other materiel. The stronger alliance puts Islamabad in a better position to play a leading role in negotiations with the Taliban, and thereby strengthen its influence in Afghanistan.

Pakistani officials also pressed for more far-reaching rewards to which Clinton gave no public response: greater access to U.S. markets, restraints on New Delhi’s growing influence in Afghanistan, and a civilian nuclear energy pact such as Washington has negotiated with the Indian government.

Alongside the intensification of the war in Afghanistan, Washington has stepped up operations in Pakistan, including strikes by aerial drones. So far this year, Washington has conducted 25 drone attacks, more than any other three-month period since the war began, and double the average rate in 2009.

Unlike the previous administration, which never officially acknowledged the strikes, the White House has sought to publicly justify the use of drones for assassination missions. Harold Koh, the State Department’s top lawyer, issued a statement March 25 declaring the “legality” of the strikes. “Great care is taken,” Koh said, to assess in each attack that civilians deaths and damage to property would not be “excessive in relation to the concrete and direct military advantage anticipated.”  
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