Coming on top of growing instability in Turkey, Washington’s escalating involvement in Syria, and moves toward an independence referendum in Iraqi Kurdistan, the attack in Afghanistan shows the difficulties the U.S. rulers face as they try to impose imperialist “stability” on the toilers in the Middle East and Asia.
Defense Secretary Jim Mattis made an emergency visit to Kabul, Afghanistan’s capital, April 24 to assess the deteriorating situation there, where Taliban and Islamic State forces have been expanding their reach. The attack three days earlier by a handful of Taliban forces disguised as Afghan soldiers, aided by inside help, killed over 140 Afghan soldiers coming from prayers. It was the deadliest Taliban attack in the 16-year war, raising a question mark over the combat effectiveness of the 700,000-strong Afghan army.
A U.S.-led NATO coalition ousted the reactionary Taliban government in November 2001. At its height, Washington had more than 100,000 troops there. Since the drawdown of most U.S. and other NATO forces in 2014, the Taliban has steadily regained territory, inflicting record casualties on civilians and troops.
U.S. Afghan commander Gen. John Nicholson has called for 3,000 more U.S. troops. There are currently 9,800 U.S. soldiers there.
Washington’s war in Afghanistan is the longest in U.S. history, with devastating consequences for working people there. By the middle of 2016, the Watson Institute at Brown University reported, over 31,000 civilians have been killed in Afghanistan, and another 22,000 in Pakistan as the war spilled across the border.
The United Nations reports that 118,000 people were driven from their homes in Afghanistan from January to April of 2016 alone.
After the Soviet Union was asked by the then Afghan government to intervene and occupy the country in the 1980s, Washington cobbled together disparate Islamist forces to challenge them. When the disintegrating Soviet Union withdrew its troops in 1989, these forces fought each other. In 1996, the Taliban took Kabul and power. These Islamist currents also produced founding cadres for al-Qaeda and Islamic State. The Taliban offered refuge to Osama bin Laden and al-Qaeda.
Washington invaded in 2001 and has been bogged down ever since.
There is growing instability in Turkey following a contested razor-thin 51.4 percent victory for Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan in an April 16 referendum to alter the constitution to grant him stronger executive powers. The changes are supposed to take effect after presidential elections in November 2019.
The election took place under a state of emergency declared by Erdogan after a failed coup attempt last summer.
“Our ‘no’ side, which did not have the state resources of the “yes” side, registered a ‘partial victory,’” Ertugrul Kurkcu, Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) honorary president and member of parliament for Izmir told the Militant April 21. The HDP has wide support among Turkey’s large Kurdish population, which voted 60 percent ‘no’ on the referendum, he said.
“We are going to see a lot of instability in the next couple of years,” said Kurkcu. “A huge section of the population views the results as fraudulent because of the many voting irregularities and the repression. The HDP calls for annulment of the results and a new discussion in parliament.
“Also the economic situation is not bright with 13 percent officially unemployed, including 25 percent of youth,” he said. “Erdogan lost the vote in the industrial centers of Istanbul, Ankara and Izmir. His power base is shrinking.”
Since the state of emergency was imposed, Ankara has purged tens of thousands of teachers, judges and “dissidents” in both the public and private sectors. Thousands were jailed pending trial on charges of “terrorism,” including popular HDP co-chair Selahattin Demirtas and 12 other HDP parliamentarians.
The day after Erdogan declared victory, President Donald Trump phoned to congratulate him. That same day the Turkish ruler extended the state of emergency.
Ankara is striving to carve out a bigger role in the conflicts in the region, especially because of advances in the struggles of the Kurds for independence. There are some 30 million Kurds spread across Syria, Iraq, Iran and Turkey. Roughly half the region’s Kurds live in Turkey.
Besides waging war against the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) in southeast Turkey, Ankara has sent its troops into northwestern Syria to block Kurds allied with Washington from linking up areas they control along the Turkish border.