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War in Afghanistan: Not in Our Name

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Posted on Nov 15, 2009
AP / Rafiq Maqool

British marines arrive in Kabul, Afghanistan, in 2006.

By Jane Merrick, Brian Brady and Kim Sengupta, The Independent

Editor’s note: This article originally appeared in The Independent.

Seven out of 10 Britons back The Independent on Sunday’s call for a phased withdrawal of troops from Afghanistan as a landmark report by Oxfam this week exposes the real human cost of the war.

The powerful dossier by the aid agency reveals how women and children in Afghanistan are bearing the brunt of the ongoing conflict, undermining the international community’s claims that they are the very people being helped by the West’s activities.

Its contents will add to mounting concerns among the public, and in some quarters of the military and the House of Commons, that the US and the UK are fighting an ill-conceived and ill-judged war that has left as many as 32,000 Afghans dead and 235,000 displaced.


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In a ComRes poll for the IoS this weekend, an overwhelming proportion – 71 per cent – supported this newspaper’s call for a phased withdrawal of British forces from Afghanistan within a year or so, while just 22 per cent disagreed.

Nearly half – 47 per cent – think that the threat of terrorism on UK soil is increased by British forces remaining in Afghanistan, while 44 per cent disagree. The position is at odds with the argument put by government ministers that the Afghan campaign was vital to preventing terrorism around the world – and in the UK.

Douglas Alexander, the Secretary of State for International Development, last night told the IoS that UK forces must remain in Afghanistan to prevent it becoming a “safe haven” for al-Qa’ida, and exporting terror to places including Britain.

Oxfam’s report, published on Wednesday, comes at a critical time in Kabul, London and Washington, as politicians and generals decide whether more troops should be sent to fight the Taliban.

President Barack Obama said on Friday a decision would be made “soon” on whether to agree to the request of US commander General Stanley McChrystal for 40,000 more soldiers.

The President has been urged by the US ambassador to Kabul, Karl Eikenberry, to resist a surge, because President Hamid Karzai’s government lacks legitimacy.

Mr Brown will set out Britain’s long-term strategy in Afghanistan in a speech at the Lord Mayor’s Banquet in London tomorrow. Britain has 9,000 troops in Afghanistan and Mr Brown has already agreed to send a further 500.

But there were signs this weekend that cabinet unity is starting to fracture over the conflict, with Peter Hain, Secretary of State for Wales, telling The Times that the Government needed to “get a grip” on the mission strategy. Andy Burnham and John Denham were also said to be expressing doubts.

The IoS poll revealed that 46 per cent believed that Mr Brown has handled the issue of Afghanistan better than David Cameron would do as PM, while 39 per cent backed the Tory leader.

Oxfam does not advocate a withdrawal from Afghanistan, but its report, The Cost of War in Afghanistan, amounts to a forceful indictment of the mission. It is expected to reflect a catalogue of evidence that ordinary Afghans are paying a heavy price after eight years of war.

Researchers for Oxfam spoke to more than 700 Afghans in 14 provinces, who provided powerful testimonies.

Shamsullah, in Balkh province, said: “Families sell their daughters for money to save the other members of the family from starvation.” Mirwais in Herat said: “Illiteracy, forced marriages and all other domestic violence are the consequences of the war on women.”

And Noor Mohammad, from Nangarhar, said: “There are lots of differences between now and the past. But one thing that is the same is the bombing. Before it was the Russians, but now it is the Americans.”

The wide-ranging evaluation of the lives of Afghans lists daily challenges, including the threat of lethal attacks from all sides, unemployment, poor education and healthcare, discrimination and violence against women.

It echoes other official research, collated by the IoS.

Various casualty counts suggest that between 12,000 and 32,000 civilians have been killed either directly or indirectly due to the fighting since 2001.

The United Nations has said the “surge” in fighting in recent months has also taken its toll on the non-military population. More than 2,000 had died as a result of the conflict in the first 10 months of this year – at a faster rate than any time since the initial invasion.

The number of botched Nato air strikes, killing civilians, is continuing to rise. Latest UN figures for the first half of this year alone report 40 rogue air strikes, which are believed to have killed 200 civilians. The figure compares with the 116 Afghan civilians killed in 13 aerial strikes in 2006, and 321 in 22 attacks the following year. In 2008, 552 were killed.

The total number of “internally displaced persons” is rising for the first time since 2001.

More than eight years after the war began, the country’s literacy rate is still the fourth-lowest in the world, and almost half of all children between seven and 12 are not attending primary school.

The British government has spent at least £12bn on the war so far. Some 232 British troops have been killed since combat operations began.

Mr Alexander, a close ally of the Prime Minister, said Britain’s national security was behind the mission to stabilise Afghanistan. He added: “Progress on weakening the Taliban and strengthening the Afghan state will create the conditions for a new political settlement in the country.

“Delivering on these objectives will neither be quick nor easy, despite the outstanding heroism of our troops. It requires political leadership within Afghanistan and co-ordinated efforts by the international community. What is at stake, however, is not simply a stronger Afghanistan but a safer Britain.”

The President’s options: Four scenarios rejected by Obama

President Obama has rejected four options presented to him, all of which involve sending more troops to Afghanistan, and none of which had attached any strings relating to withdrawal, or reform in the Karzai administration. They were:

1. Send between 10,000 and 15,000 extra troops to augment the 68,000 US military on the ground now. Vice-president Joe Biden – a long-time supporter of counter-terrorist, as opposed to counter-insurgency, measures – favours this option.

2. Send 20,000 more troops. This, together with Option 3, is the so-called McChrystal-lite scenario.

3. Send 30,000 more troops.

4. Send 40,000 more troops, as General McChrystal wants. The danger is that it could give other, less committed members of the coalition all the excuse they need to pull out.

The widow: ‘The war continues because of outsiders’

Muslima, a widow from Kabul

“I lost my husband in a suicide attack. He was killed when he was riding a motorcycle. We had moved to Peshawar, in Pakistan, where we lived in poverty. We came back to our country when we thought it was safe. Now I am a widow and my children are fatherless.

“When the fighting increased during the civil war, we migrated to near Jalalabad. We spent three years living in tents. Then we spent another two years in the main city and things were very hard. Then we had to move again, to Pakistan, before coming here.

“Now the war continues because of outsiders who don’t let us live in peace. We spend day and night in fear. We are always afraid that there will be an explosion. We wonder, will our children come home from school? Mostly poor people’s rights have been violated. Poverty is extreme in Afghanistan. My own children have been deprived of the right to education. We are in need of food. There are no jobs for our young generation. There is no life for them. If people are jobless, they will commit crimes like kidnapping, killing. They become suicide bombers, and destroy our country.”

The farmer: ‘It is worse under Karzai’

Mohammed Azizi, veterinarian and farmer from Parwan

“Year by year, the security situation has become worse and suicide attacks have spread. We have suffered for a very long time. We have very bad memories from the Taliban period. I still can’t understand why they hated us. They called themselves Muslims, but they burnt our homes.

“I know a person that loaded his donkey with food. The Taliban asked him what he was carrying. He explained that he had brought food for his children. But these cruel people threw fuel on the donkey and burnt him alive along with the food.

“When the American war against the Taliban took place, we were optimistic. We thought that Allah was bringing us light after darkness. Now, during the time of Karzai we know that the security situation has got worse instead of better. The government should not focus on building their own wealth. It should think of reconstructing our country.”

The housewife: ‘Please stop the war’

Fatima, a housewife from Kabul

“I lost my youngest son to a rocket attack. He was 18 years old. Our house was looted and destroyed in the war. We had to leave with just some clothes. We went to Kandahar and settled in Nasaji City.

“All people suffer during war but women and children suffer the most. When the Taliban came, all of the schools were closed for women. Nobody could leave their homes to work. We went to Pakistan until we were convinced that our country was secure enough to return.

“Nowadays, suicide bombers are scaring people. People can’t go anywhere without the fear that something bad will happen. but if we want peace we have to discuss this with our people – including the Taliban and mujahadeen, they are our Muslim brothers.

“My message to the international community is: stop the war. We are tired of war. We do not want brothers killing brothers any more.”

New and Improved Comments

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By moemeyers, November 18, 2009 at 11:56 am Link to this comment

how sad this world has become.  It s only
for the rich to live in!

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By Dave Schwab, November 18, 2009 at 11:05 am Link to this comment

President Obama is currently deciding whether to send as many as 60,000 additional U.S. soldiers to the war in Afghanistan.

Urge Obama to live up to his 2009 Nobel Peace Prize. Tell him to withdraw troops from Afghanistan—not send more.

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By melpol, November 18, 2009 at 8:12 am Link to this comment

Hundreds of autonomous tribes led by ferocious chieftains roam Afghanistan.
Their camels carry, rifles, mortars and explosives. They will kill to protect their
private oasis. Unless they are disarmed and brought under control, Afghanistan
will never be united. President Karzai and his cabinet must take a vacation from
fattening their bank accounts. As ferocious tribal leaders they should once again
ride their camels to a glorious victory against dissidents and infidels.

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By ardee, November 17, 2009 at 5:59 am Link to this comment

When the Taliban came, all of the schools were closed for women. Nobody could leave their homes to work. This was really sadening.

When the Americans came all the schools were destroyed. Nobody could leave their homes in fear of some guy in the States blowing them up by remote control. This was really saddening.

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By ilovebeeswarzone, November 16, 2009 at 4:33 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

war is so hard on the good people of afghanistan,the Nato troops are there to get rid of those who hurt them they need people to keep away from the ennemys and help our troops it is the ennemys who plant the bombs so many and their family help to do it so you afghans have to take a stand on the right side before it is to much blood spent for you,the free world is getting tired of seeing spill blood ,thank you.longer32

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By Tim, November 16, 2009 at 3:55 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Diamond is right. Do you all really believe this BS about nation building while our own nation continues to suffer an uncalcuable national disaster on the economic front? Its about the oil sirs and ladies. We love it. We bathe in it. It sustains our suburban utopia. Ours is depleted, Canada’s is to expensive (extraction methods). Mid-east or bust baby! Ride a bike fatties, stop the war. But we won’t. We cognitive misers.

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By Glen Wayne, November 16, 2009 at 10:36 am Link to this comment

Ivory Dove     ePIe         November 16th, 09

You don’t win peace with war

The Afghan mission is a motley sore

A Sisyphean mission
A mission accomplished not
A smooth talkin Rock;.... the World’s Don not.
‘Learn from the ants thou sluggard’ (retard!)
Retard and harmony, Requiem and procession
require more than keys or blow hard.
Save the predators for Orion aliens or decrepit bards
You don’t win peace with war.
You don’t burn ebony
to craft a dove of ivory.

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By the tshirt doctor, November 16, 2009 at 10:04 am Link to this comment


i thought Obama won because he promised to get us out of Afghanistan?

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thecrow's avatar

By thecrow, November 16, 2009 at 8:14 am Link to this comment

10, 20, 30, 40 thousand…

400 thousand “trigger-pullers” could not “clear and hold” the TAPI corridor:

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OzarkMichael's avatar

By OzarkMichael, November 16, 2009 at 5:47 am Link to this comment

ardee said Ozark cares not for the dead, the maimed, the dispossessed. He cares not that we alienate more and more each day, nor that this military operation can never achieve its stated goals.

No, defend Bush on the grounds that Obama said he would fix Afghanistan too…..

In fact I have written on Truthdig that we should get out of the war long before Obama was elected. But that isnt the point. What I care or do not care about isnt the point, either.

Yet, I have written many times on Truthdig that we need to get out of Afghanistan, and ardee has read what I wrote. He still has to take the cheap shot anyway.

Ouroborus said: It’s not about you or us, you jackass; did you read the article?

The article drags in our President. Our President Obama campaigned and won on the promise that he could win this war. Thats the point. We own this war. No slight of hand will make that go away.

Nice try though.

Ouroborus followed up: Sometimes I just burst at the ignorance and lack of empathy and exhibit both.

If you must show your ignorance and lack of empathy please try to limit yourself to one or the other, and not exhibit both at the same time.

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Ouroborus's avatar

By Ouroborus, November 16, 2009 at 4:58 am Link to this comment

ardee, November 16 at 8:34 am #

You spoke better than I. Sometimes I just burst at the
ignorance and lack of empathy and exhibit both.

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By montanawildhack, November 16, 2009 at 4:50 am Link to this comment

So 71 percent of Brits want out of Afghanistan!!!! So what…  As far as I can tell the Zionists have an equal amount of control over Great Briton’s Parliament as they do over the US Congress..  And if a real honest poll was done in America the masses would be at least 71 percent agin this stupid war…  So I hope the British masses take the lead on this one and stand up to the war mongers and demand out of Afghanistan…. Being an Irish-American I can’t say I harbor much love for the limies but they did burn down the White House and for that I can forgive them a lot…  Go Brits….

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By ardee, November 16, 2009 at 4:34 am Link to this comment

I find it amazing that some can read an article likek this and closed mindedly repeat some formulaic bullshit, ideologically sponsored ,meaningless mantra.

Ozark cares not for the dead, the maimed, the dispossessed. He cares not that we alienate more and more each day, nor that this military operation can never achieve its stated goals.

No, defend Bush on the grounds that Obama said he would fix Afghanistan too…..

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Ouroborus's avatar

By Ouroborus, November 16, 2009 at 12:25 am Link to this comment

OzarkMichael, November 15 at 10:07 pm #

It’s not about you or us, you jackass; did you read he

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By OzarkMichael, November 15, 2009 at 6:07 pm Link to this comment

The Truthdig article, War in Afghanistan: Not in Our Name has the most bogus title possible.

Barack Obama ran for US President with his main foreign policy genius being that he would win the war in Afghanistan. He promised he would focus on it and win it. He accused McCain of just letting it go and losing.

And the American people elected Barack Obama. So like it or not, the War in Afghanistan is in our name, despite unrealistic Truthdig article titles.

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By diamond, November 15, 2009 at 3:09 pm Link to this comment

How can the United States possibly leave? What would happen then to the the poor, lonely, orphaned little gas and oil pipeline from the Caspian Sea to Karachi? Have a heart, people.

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