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NATO air strike kills up to 90 in Afghanistan
U.S. rulers debate course as war deepens
Immigrants dropped from state health plan
Official joblessness climbs to 9.7 percent
Chicago Labor Day march supports immigrant rights
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A socialist newsweekly published in the interests of working people
Vol. 73/No. 36      September 21, 2009


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(lead article)
NATO air strike kills
up to 90 in Afghanistan
U.S. rulers debate course as war deepens
AP Photo
Afghan security forces guard burnt out remains of fuel tanker struck by NATO war planes September 4 in Karduz, north of Kabul. The air strike killed many civilians.

An air strike by U.S.-led NATO forces in Afghanistan killed as many as 90 people September 4, according to Afghan officials. The escalation of the war and rising U.S. casualties is also provoking a sharpening debate among liberals and conservatives alike in both the Democratic and Republican parties.

The air attack comes on the heels of a disputed election that further undercut the credibility of the U.S.-backed government of President Hamid Karzai in Kabul. Karzai issued what has become a routine statement that he was “deeply saddened” and promised to investigate.

The air strike, which was called in by German troops, struck two fuel tankers that they said had been captured by the Taliban and became stuck in a river. U.S. and NATO military officials speculated that civilians had been forced by the Taliban to unload the fuel, reported the New York Times. Villagers who survived said they went to the site to get free fuel.

Gen. Stanley McChrystal, Washington’s top commander of U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan, also issued a statement expressing concern for the “safety and protection” of the Afghan people and promised an investigation. As part of the U.S. military’s new strategy, McChrystal recently issued a directive restricting the use of air strikes.

The emerging differences over the war among capitalist politicians, and in the media, is not a difference over whether Washington should have invaded in the first place or whether or not to pull out entirely; instead the disagreements are over what course will best defend the interests of U.S. imperialism. How many troops? What military strategy? Can they transform the Afghan army into a cohesive force that will defend U.S. interests? Can they put together a stable capitalist regime in Afghanistan? What about Pakistan?

The debate has heated up as President Barack Obama is deciding how many more troops to send to Afghanistan on top of the 21,000 additional troops he ordered there soon after taking office. According to news reports, McChrystal is expected to present Obama three options: send 10,000 to 15,000 U.S. troops, send about 25,000, or send nine to 10 combat brigades of up to 45,000 troops.

McChrystal is also implementing a shift in U.S. strategy away from focusing on ground combat with Taliban forces in the countryside, toward holding more populated areas and combining this with economic development projects. It has been called “clear, hold, and build.”

In a September 1 column that is controversial among his fellow conservatives, George Will came out against sending more troops and the new strategy.

“Counterinsurgency theory concerning the time and the ratio of forces required to protect the population indicates that, nationwide, Afghanistan would need hundreds of thousands of coalition troops, perhaps for a decade or more,” Will wrote. “That is inconceivable.”  
‘No choice but to try’
Other conservatives answered Will. In a column titled “In Afghanistan, No Choice but to Try,” Michael Gerson, a former speechwriter for George W. Bush, decried what he called “the stirrings of a cross-ideological revolt against American military involvement in Afghanistan.”

Gerson said that although there are no guarantees that Washington will win, “It is not a serious strategy to exaggerate American obstacles in Afghanistan.”

The Wall Street Journal, in a September 3 editorial, said, “If the U.S. were to depart, the Taliban would soon control at least the southern and eastern parts of the country. Kandahar would probably fall, too.”

“Now is the time for Mr. Obama to give his generals everything they need to defeat the Taliban,” the editorial said, “or leave and explain why he’s concluded that Afghanistan is no longer worth the fight.”

“We are about to see,” the Journal’s editors continued, “if our current Commander in Chief has the nerve of his predecessor to withstand a Washington panic.”

The same day Will’s column appeared, the Republican National Committee’s Web site posted a statement headlined “Stand Strong, Mr. President” and called on Obama to speak out against critics of the war.

Disenchantment among Democrats, New York Times reporter Helene Cooper wrote September 3, was leaving Obama “in the awkward position of relying on the Republican Party, and not his own, for support.”

One of the more prominent liberal Democrats who opposes sending more troops is Sen. Russell Feingold. He said that Obama should start discussing a “flexible timetable” for reducing U.S. troops in Afghanistan. The senator argued that Washington’s Afghan policy was driving more “extremists” into Pakistan.

According to the Times, Vice President Joseph Biden is one of several high-ranking officials in the Obama administration who has reservations on sending more troops. He argues that Pakistan is more important than Afghanistan, the paper said.

Richard Holbrooke, special representative to Afghanistan and Pakistan, and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, the Times said, are expected to back a troop increase.  
Lack of confident course
The debate among capitalist politicians in both parties reflects a lack of confidence among U.S. rulers about being able to forge a stable regime in Afghanistan, which is strategically located between Pakistan and Iran and not far from India and Russia.

David Ignatius, a columnist for the Washington Post who is considered a Washington “insider,” captured the ruling class quandary.

He said there is “little evidence” that Washington’s counterinsurgency doctrine will work in a country as large and impoverished as Afghanistan.

“Even in Iraq, the successes attributed to counterinsurgency came as much from bribing tribal leaders and assassinating insurgents as from fostering development projects and building trust,” Ignatius wrote.

Afghanistan “may be one of those messy situations where the best course is to both shoot and talk,” he said, “a strategy based on the idea that we can bolster our friends and bloody our enemies enough that, somewhere down the road, we can cut a deal.”
Related articles:
U.S. troops out of Afghanistan!

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