Afghanistan remains the forgotten war, yet, in an eerie lockstep with Iraq, it seems to be following a distinctly Bush administration-style path toward “the gates of hell.” While almost all attention in Washington and the U.S. media has been focused on the president’s new “surge” plan in Iraq is it for 21,000 or 50,000 American troops? Just how astronomical will the bills be? Just how strong will congressional opposition prove? Just how bad, according to American intelligence, is the situation? Afghanistan is experiencing its own quiet surge plan: more U.S. (and NATO) troops, more military aid, more reconstruction funds, more fighting, more casualties, heavier weaponry, more air power, more bad news, and predictions of worse to come.
The repetitive and dismal headlines, often tucked away in back pages, tell the tale:
On the fighting:
“Group: Over 1,000 Afghan Civilians Killed” (“More than 1,000 civilians were killed in Afghanistan in 2006, most of them as a result of attacks by the Taliban and other anti-government forces in the country’s unstable south, a rights group said Tuesday .”)
“No Foreseeable End to Assaults Facing Royal Marines in Helmand” (“Another day, another attack. Yesterday the barrage of mortars, rockets, and rifle fire began raining down on the British base at Kajaki at just after six in the morning .”)
“Taliban Forces Retake Town” (“Taliban forces in southern Afghanistan have taken control of a town which British troops had pulled out of after a peace deal with local elders .”)
On calls for intensification of the military struggle:
On the repetitively dismal tale of “reconstructing” Afghanistan and on drugs:
“Afghan Rebuilding Hit by ‘Violence and Waste’” (“The international body established to coordinate Afghanistan’s reconstruction effort marked its one-year anniversary on Wednesday by admitting it was struggling to make progress in the face of rising violence, waste, and poor administration.”)
“Afghanistan: Girls and Women Traded for Opium Debts” (“On 4 November 2006, Nasima, 25, a member of a local women’s council, grabbed the AK-47 from the policeman guarding the council meeting in the Grishk district of southern Helmand province and killed herself. She had had enough of the daily beatings by her husband. Like many other women in Helmand, Nasima was given away by her family in 2005. Her father owed a huge amount to an opium dealer .”)
On predictions of more and worse to come (with faint hopes of better sooner or later):
“New U.S. Commander in Afghanistan Expects Rise in Suicide Attacks in 2007” (“The incoming commander of U.S. troops in Afghanistan said Monday he expects Taliban militants to launch more suicide attacks this year than in 2006, when militants set off a record 139 such bombings .”)
“NATO General Expects Offensive, Says Taliban Beaten” (“The Taliban will launch an offensive within months once the snows melt, but they are effectively a beaten force, according to the outgoing head of NATO forces in Afghanistan .”)
So goes the repetitive, if ever deepening, tragedy of our other war and under such headlines lie massive tragedies that seldom make the headlines anywhere like the plight of Afghanistan’s “liberated” women (as recently vividly described by former humanitarian aid worker and author of Kabul in Winter, Ann Jones), who remain “by custom and practice, the property of men,” capable of being “traded and sold like any commodity,” despite all the hoopla about their improved status offered by the Bush administration.
In the case of Afghanistan, the question remains: What ever made the top officials of the Bush administration think that they could succeed in conquering and occupying Afghanistan, when so many others from Alexander the Great to the imperial British and the imperial Russians failed so dismally at the same task?