In July, following its April release of footage of a US Apache helicopter firing on civilians, including children, Wikileaks, coordinating with the Guardian, Der Spiegel and the New York Times, released 92,000 secret US documents dating from January 2004 to December 2009, relating to the war in Afghanistan. Thousands more were held back. Julian Assange, the prime mover behind Wikileaks, said that “you have to dig down in the archives to understand”. Not much archaeology is needed. The leaks show, in the words of the US military itself, the atrocities carried out against civilians by US, British, French, German and Polish ISAF troops and the cover-ups involved; the scale and extent of the Taliban attacks; the dubious role of Pakistan and the involvement of Iran; assassination squads and special forces at work with ‘collateral’ damage; the lies and misinformation put out by the US and Britain and the other militaries involved and the lack of trust between the ‘allies’. President Obama, initially commenting on the leaks, said that they showed how bad things were under the Bush regime, and the White House used the logs to further blame Bush for “under-resourcing” the war. Secretary of Defence Robert Gates said, with the gall of a US war chief, that Wikileaks had “blood on its hands” and that they were damaging to “our relations and reputation in this key part of the world”!
The Guardian calls these Afghan war logs “the unvarnished picture”, but it’s not quite that. These logs are secret, not “top secret” or a higher classification. Much of what they contain (or what’s been reported so far) was in the public domain already and much could have reasonably been surmised from official statements and reporting. A point on the controversial ‘intelligence’ contained in many of the logs is that this is one of the major, most lucrative industries in the whole corrupt ‘state’ of Afghanistan, a state that is rotten to the core; a great deal of the information, at this level, is totally unreliable. The information from higher up is no better: the Afghan intelligence unit, the National Directorate of Security, is a bitter rival of the Pakistani ISI and its intelligence is coloured accordingly. Former US ally and powerful warlord, Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, is involved with Iranian intelligence units, further muddying the waters. US Major-General Michael Flynn said in January that foreign newspaper articles about Afghanistan were more useful than intelligence gathered on the ground.
What the logs clearly show, though, is the extent and depth of the war – the sheer scale of it all and the imperialist rivalries, killings and chaos that it is spreading. They show the real nature of the war, the atrocities, torture, intrigues, the corruption and the growing recognition that the war in unwinnable. The idea of a stable Afghan government in 2, 4 or 10 years time is manifestly risible. By the end of this month 100,000 US forces will be on the ground, plus 50,000 others, tens of thousands of ‘contractors’ and mercenaries and thousands of NGOs more or less representing the interests of the states that they come from; plus hundreds of thousands of Afghan soldiers. The current propaganda from ISAF/NATO is about how civilian casualties have been reduced through their policy of “courageous restraint” and how the Taliban are increasing civilian deaths. There’s no doubt about the latter as the war spreads; but General Petraeus’s recent orders to “pursue the enemy relentlessly” can only mean more civilian grief. There’s no one Taliban enemy but factions, ethnicities, tribes and even local farmers taking up arms against the military despoliation of their lives and land. One of the factors of this war is that whenever there’s an ISAF push, in Kandahar or Helmand for example, Taliban and anti-coalition forces appear where they didn’t exist before. To add to the chaos being generated, Afghan border guards, police and army units have been fighting each other in some instances. This is turning out not to be a fight against the Taliban or al-Qaida, but an increasingly complex local and regional war involving Pashtun, Uzbek, Tajik and Hazara factions with wider powers interceding.
The war is spreading
The war is spreading, involving and arousing other forces of imperialism. Pakistani territory and peoples have been hit by ‘black’ US special units, Warthog warplanes, Apache helicopters, drones and howitzer shells, and there has even been bombing by B52s in order to deny Taliban the safe havens described as “unacceptable... intolerable” by the White House. This is the slow implementation of the threat made several years ago by the US to “bomb Pakistan back into the Stone Age”. Afghan President Karzai has had secret meetings with the Pakistani secret services (ISI), with the latter encouraging rapprochement between his faction and the ISI-sponsored jihadi network of Sira-juddin Haqqani, giving the latter the Pashtun south and consolidating Karzai in Kabul (the US was not party to these talks). In echoes of the Great Game between Britain and Russia over a hundred years ago, Pakistan regards the small, but significant presence of India in what they claim as their backyard with the fear and horror of a threatened imperialism. This danger is highlighted in a report by Matt Waldmen of the Harvard Carr Centre, documenting how the ISI “orchestrates, sustains and strongly influences (the Taliban... even being) represented as participants or observers on the Taliban supreme leadership council, the Quetta Shura”. As William Dalrymple says in The Guardian, 2.7.10, Afghanistan is turning into a proxy war between India and Pakistan.
Behind Pakistan, China lurks in the shadows, and in the geo-strategic games being played out, particularly in the confrontation with Iran, US and British forces have a free rein along the Afghan/Iranian border. This latter is one of the ‘values’ of the US presence in Afghanistan. There are further tensions within ISAF/NATO itself; disagreements and unilateral actions involving Germany, France, Holland, Canada, with US ‘policy’ only demonstrating the tendency towards imperialist chaos in and beyond Afghanistan itself.
Iraq: the war continues
The war in Iraq is instructive here. President Obama, who called it “a dumb war”, has now said that he has brought it to “a responsible end... as promised and on schedule”. This will obviously be news to the people of Iraq where more civilians are living in intolerably frightful conditions and more are dying than in Afghanistan. In Iraq there is still no functioning government 5 months after ‘democratic’ elections; and, from nothing, al-Qaida is now firmly established there. At any rate, the US won’t be leaving Iraq any time soon but retreating behind its fortresses. As Seumus Milne shows in The Guardian, 5.8.10, at least 50,000 US troops (plus British forces and tens of thousands of mercenaries) will remain in 94 bases, “advising, training... providing security and carrying out counter-terrorism measures”. In fact, as Milne makes clear, there is a “surge” of private contractors to be based in “enduring presence posts” across Iraq. Killings and torture are still commonplace here, health and education have worsened as has the position of women; fifteen hundred checkpoints divide the capital and ordinary Iraqis protesting on the streets about the frequent power cuts have been labelled “hooligans” and attacked by Iraqi troops. If the Iraq war has been a monumental and bloody failure on the part of US and British imperialism then not only are these latter still very much involved but are also now locked into an even bloodier and irrational mess in Afghanistan that has even more dangerous implications for the whole region and beyond. Baboon, 12.8.10
. This Hekmatyar is a well known mass murderer. He was given aid and training by the US and Britain in the 1980s and held talks with British officials in Whitehall. Britain backed Hekmatyar to conduct secret operations inside the Muslim republics of the Soviet Union.
. Haqqani is a warlord in the Harkat-ul-Mujahideen (HUM) terrorist network. Pakistan has also backed him in its proxy war against India in Kashmir. Britain has provided covert aid to the HUM in the past and there are reports that Britain was involved in units of this group being sent to fight in ex-Yugoslavia and Kosovo in the 90s. Many HUM fighters have received indirect aid from Britain. Two of the four London bombers were trained in Pakistani camps run by the HUM. So much for being in Afghanistan to keep the streets of London safe!