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Christian Parenti is a correspondent for The Nation and author of "The Freedom: Shadows and Hallucinations in Occupied Iraq" (New Press, 2004).

He received a PhD in sociology from the London School of Economics in 2000 and he has been a Soros Senior Justice Fellow and a Ford Foundation Fellow at...








 
 

Afghan Autopsy

(Page 3)

The Afghan communists of the People’s Democratic Party of Afghanistan took over in 1978 with dreams of jump-starting modernization and development in their deeply backward nation of mountain villages, nomads and dirt roads. Instead, they triggered immediate crisis. The communists of the PDPA favored expanding education, gender equality and land reform, but their doctrinal cleavages led to almost immediate internecine warfare within the party. In 1967, the PDPA had split into two groups—the Khalq and Parcham—but there was violent rivalry even within the Khalq faction.

The new government succeeded in alienating Afghanistan’s largely autonomous tribal leaders. Scattered rebellions soon erupted.  By April, 1979, whole units of the Afghan army were defecting to the rebels. As early as March 30, 1979, Robert Gates, former director of the Central Intelligence Agency, attended a meeting at which Under Secretary of Defense Walter Slocumbe asked whether there was “value in keeping the Afghan insurgency going, [and] sucking the Soviets into a Vietnamese quagmire.”

As former national security advisor to President Jimmy Carter, Zbigniew Brzezinski, explained in a 1998 interview with Le Nouvel Observateur, the U.S. began aiding the tribalist and Islamic uprisings as early as July 1979. By early autumn, the Afghan army had collapsed and the USSR, fearing that Islamic rebellion in Afghanistan would quickly spread to its Central Asian republics, invaded on Dec. 24, 1979.

Soviet Special Forces, or Spetnaz, commandos killed one communist leader, Hafizullah Amin, who had earlier killed Nur Mohammed Taraki, and replaced Amin with the more agreeable Babrak Karmal.  For the next eight years, the Soviet Union bled into the Hindu Kush mountains, sending in war material and fresh troops only to bring out zinc caskets and heroin-addicted vets. As the war progressed, the Red Army’s tactics devolved: mines were dropped indiscriminately from planes and civilian populations bombed.

The U.S. effort in this conflict was also massive, described by Fred Halliday as “the largest covert operation in the history of the CIA.”

From 1979 to 1992, America channeled a minimally estimated $3 billion to the various mujahedeen factions fighting the Russians and then the Najibullah regime.  The Saudi dynasty sent an equal amount, while additional aid flowed from China, Iran, assorted Islamic charities, drug-running operations, privatized CIA funding sources (such as the collapsed Bank of Commerce and Credit International) and various Arab millionaires (such as Osama bin Laden).

Most of the arms were Soviet hand-me-downs purchased from the increasingly Western-oriented Egypt.  Running the pipeline of arms, training, money, information and drugs in and out of Afghanistan was the Pakistani Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) agency. Described as a state within a state, the ISI almost doubled in size during the war and became the most religiously politicized apparatus of the Pakistani government.

Throughout the Reagan years, U.S. funding for the mujahedeen steadily increased. Facilitated by innocuously named lobbying groups like the Afghan American Educational Fund, above-board appropriations for the largely secret campaign reached $250 million annually by 1985.  Much more issued from the CIA’s black budget. Fully a third of U.S. monies went to the religious zealot and Pashtun Gulbuddin Hekmatyar. Now this feverishly anti-American warlord has joined forces with the Taliban.

Among the many volunteers who joined the jihad was the young Osama bin Laden. Another was his now close comrade, the Egyptian surgeon-turned-terrorist, Ayman al-Zawahiri. Charged with conspiracy in the assassination of Egypt’s Anwar Sadat, Zawahiri was arrested, tortured and, upon release, fled to Afghanistan. Known as “Afghan Arabs,” these foreign fighters also included Pakistanis, Filipinos, Chinese,  Indonesians and Malaysians.

By the time the Afghan communists were vanquished and the mujahedeen were victorious, Afghanistan was devastated. In place of a state, it had seven competing guerrillas parties. Civil war and banditry consumed the next decade and from this emerged the Taliban—a messianic, largely illiterate, vigilante force that sought to impose Muslim law and order upon Afghanistan’s anarchic state of war.
For the U.S. to have succeeded after ousting the Taliban would have taken Herculean effort, single-minded dedication, enormous sums of money, a deft cultural and historical expertise, wise political balancing between rival Afghan factions and ethnic groups and a careful vetting of Afghan allies.

Instead, the American-led invasion and occupation of Afghanistan was marked by carelessness, parsimonious budgeting and a deep cultural ignorance rooted in a sense of technology-based omnipotence.

Central to the Afghan failure was the Bush administration’s obsession with Iraq—the land of oil, cornerstone of Arab nationalism, strategic linchpin to a globally crucial region.  In the Bush imperial scheme, Afghanistan served as a stepping-stone to Iraq and a political prop with which to sell and justify the more nebulous war on terror. As a project in and of itself, Afghanistan was always a sloppily handled sideshow.

Consider again the salient facts: Well before 9/11, the Bush team’s earliest cabinet meetings touched on regime change in Iraq.  Days after 9/11, then Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz suggested that the U.S. skip an invasion of Afghanistan and proceed directly to Iraq. His boss, Donald Rumsfeld, complained that there were no good targets in Afghanistan. But the Afghan invasion had to happen for U.S. foreign policy to have any credibility.  As it happened, the Afghan war was an advertisement for Rumsfeld’s goal of “military transformation” and his theory of light, fast warfare. 

Once the Afghan occupation began, the political process was rushed. Warlords were allowed to take over the government. The loya jirga, the constitution, the presidential elections, and the parliamentary elections were all rushed processes, designed to meet U.S. political deadlines. This was the quickest way to create the short-term appearance of stability and success and thus was the quickest way to Iraq. But this process created a hopelessly dysfunctional, intensely corrupt Afghan government, and that foreordained Western failure. After all, who would stand up as the West stood down?

The international community’s military spending in Afghanistan has outpaced development spending by 10 to 1. This is a core mistake in a war that is fundamentally political. Despite the disproportionate military spending, the U.S. deployed only 9,000 troops to hunt Osama bin Laden during the first two years. The ratio of support troops to combat soldiers in the U.S. military is such that a force of 9,000 translates into little more than 800 or 900 soldiers actually in the field at any one time.

Dig last updated on Nov. 28, 2006


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By Rick, November 29, 2006 at 8:15 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Here we go again,
  More negative, one-sided reporting,  propaganda.  I have been living in kabul for six months,  and I have seen many unusual things, however,  if you lived here,  you would see the progress being made, which has less to do with the west and more to do with the Afghan’s desire to build their own lives,  they are warm, generous people,  they accept the sporadic violence as a part of life,  and forge on,  and I have not met one, not one,  whom would welcome,  much less allow the Taliban to exude influence here.  This country will succeed,  it will take many years,  however,  one can see amazingly positive developments everyday, if one is at ground level for more than a few days, you should try that,  if you really want to be objectve.

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By John Cunningham, November 29, 2006 at 4:36 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

As an old Vietnam veteran I can say I’m a bit qualified to comment on the opium/heroin aspect.  People that use and sell drugs are financing terrorism.  The users are totally absorbed in their own personal brand of pity and we’re all expected to be understanding and get all touchy-feely.  The dealers are in it for the money, they should be executed.  All we have to do is look at our inner cities here in the States and we can see in a smaller way how much ‘allowing’ a drug trade benefits those local communities.  Here in Philadelphia they shoot each other everyday, everyday.  You have to drag users kicking and screaming into rehabs or jail.  You have to do to dealers/growers what they deserve, you shoot them.  Spray the heroin fields with whatever chemical is necessary to kill the crop. The heroin farmers will go through their withdrawal, they’ll thank you for it a few years from now.  Cut off the drugs you cut off the funding and they will eventually run out of bullets.  It won’t be pretty.  How many more years are you going to make excuses for it?

City slickers/country bumpkins/bullies/builders

I got out of the army in ‘72, never thinking I would ever have anything more to do with the military.  I’m now back in my comfort zone, American cities.  Philadelphia and then in ‘81 moved up to Buffalo.  In ‘84 I joined the National Guard.  I had always heard jokes city people would say about country people and vice versa.  But, it wasn’t until I got to Buffalo when I now was living with people that did have a resentment toward their big city, New York City.  It wasn’t a hatred and was mostly expressed in a joking manner, but it was something that always seemed to be in the back of their minds.  Not unlike how a lot of people have this hatred of President Bush in the back of their minds, seeming to me to be continually clouding their thought processes.  I again found this back of the mind displeasure of things city when I went to Louisiana in ‘89 for a military school.  Now, it was only for a month but I noticed that these Louisianians living 100 miles north of New Orleans read from the same script that many in Western New York were reading.  Kind of makes me wonder if any of us living in huge population centers could really depend on help from National Guard units that might be tasked to help a city in case of disaster.  Can you say Katrina?  I’m not being accusatory, I’m just going by feelings and impressions that have built up over the last 59 years. Some totally amazing things go on in cities, as evidenced by the fact that terrorists don’t blow up farms, they blow up cities.  An Israeli diplomat made this analogy to explain the middle east.  It was the bully on the beach story.  Most middle easterners really don’t do much but get themselves whipped into a froth and shoot weapons into the air, the bully on the beach.  Israel builds a sandcastle on the beach and the bullies response is to go over and knock it down.  Some other bully’s response is to fly jets into the World Trade Center.  Transfer what I’m alluding to to what’s going on in Afghanistan and it seems to me we’re dealing with easily threatened bullies.  We all went through growing up years, how do you deal with a bully?  Do the NATO countries have to wait until they walk into a major European city a nuclear bomb and we all wake up in the morning to find that Paris disappeared over night?  ‘They’ don’t like us because we do interesting things, they don’t.  They’re oh so into allah but have no qualms about growing heroin.  One way or another they’re going to kill you.  To paraphrase WW2 General Patton, we shouldn’t die for our beliefs, they should die for theirs.

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