Seven Years in Afghanistan: From “War on Terror” to “War of Terror”

“The sovereignty and territorial integrity of the country,” says Kayani, “will be defended at all cost and no external force is allowed to conduct operations inside Pakistan.” National Security Advisor Mahmud Ali Durrani said on Sept. 21, “The bottom line is that the message is loud and clear and the Americans know it.” On October 2 Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani went so far as to declare, “These [drone] attacks are a form of terrorism.”

Yet “senior U.S. officials” have told the New York Times that (unnamed) Pakistani officials have approved ground raids. Is this not the arrogance of the rapist who insists he had his victim’s permission

On the other hand, one unnamed government official quoted by National Public Radio isn’t bothering to suggest the U.S. has permission. “Definitely, the gloves have come off,” he declared, “This [Sept. 3 attack] was only Phase 1 of three phases.” While Mullen assures Pakistan the U.S. respects Pakistan’s sovereignty, U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates tells BBC the U.S. will take whatever action necessary to “protect our troops” and a Senate panel hearing Sept. 29 that international laws allow the U.S. to take unilateral actions inside Pakistan. What are the Pakistani people to make of these mixed signals?

Army spokesmen General Athar Abbas told the Associated Press Sept. 16 that field commanders have been ordered to fire on any forces crossing the border with Afghanistan. That plainly includes U.S. forces. A council of 3000 tribesman in South Waziristan enraged by the recent attacks then vowed to join the Pakistan Army to “take up arms against the US.” “We will take the war to Afghanistan to confront the Americans,” they vowed.

Meanwhile some forces angered at the U.S. aggression targeted the Marriott Hotel in Islamabad, possibly because CIA agents and Marines were known to stay there. The blast on Sept. 20 produced the highest death toll (at least 54 including two U.S. military personnel) of a terrorist attack in Pakistan since 2001. Some analysts attribute it to al-Qaeda and the Pakistani Taliban, although a hitherto unknown organization, Fedayeen Islam, claimed responsibility.

“We’re Not Going to Win This War”

In Afghanistan, on the other hand, al-Qaeda is largely defeated. Syed Saleem Shahzad, writing in the Asia Times, estimates there were only about 75 Arab fighters in Afghanistan as of April (many more Uzbek jihadis, however), and recent U.S. intelligence reports allude to al-Qaeda in Afghanistan only in passing. They depict Iraq as the most active al-Qaeda theater, and even there, the so-called “al-Qaeda in Iraq” is a homegrown copy-cat operation likely lacking operational ties to any international headquarters. It is a creation of the U.S. invasion, and in any case, on the decline for months.??The Taliban has regained control of much of the Pashtun south, and gets ever more sophisticated in its guerrilla tactics against the U.S. and NATO forces. ISAF and U.S. deaths have risen from 130 in 2005 to 191 in 2006 to 232 last year. This year’s toll, already at 236, sets a new record. (More U.S. troops—134—have died than in any prior year in Afghanistan.)

This year Taliban fighters bombed Kabul’s only five-star hotel, killing six; opened fire on an Independence Day observance in Kandahar, killing three; attacked a prison in Kandahar, freeing 400 inmates; unsuccessfully attacked Camp Salerno, one of the largest U.S. bases in Afghanistan; and killed or wounded 31 French special forces near Kabul. According to RAND analyst Seth Jones, “It is generally accepted now across all [U.S.] government agencies that the situation in Afghanistan has significantly worsened and has become quite dire.” Joint Chief of Staff Chairman Adm. Mike Mullen told Congress recently, “I’m not convinced we’re winning it in Afghanistan.” That’s despite an increase in U.S. troop strength from 21,000 in 2006 to 31,000 today.

In a recent New York Times interview, newly appointed CENTCOM commander Gen. David H. Petraeus stated, “Obviously the trends in Afghanistan have been in the wrong direction, and I think everyone is rightly concerned about them…Certainly in Afghanistan, wresting control of certain areas from the Taliban will be very difficult… In both [Afghanistan and Pakistan], in certain areas, the going may be tougher before it gets easier.”

British officials present an even bleaker picture. Sir Sherard Cowper-Coles, British ambassador to Afghanistan, reportedly told the deputy French ambassador to Kabul François Fitou last month, “The foreign forces are ensuring the survival of a regime which would collapse without them . . . They are slowing down and complicating an eventual exit from the crisis, which will probably be dramatic… In the short term we should dissuade the American presidential candidates from getting more bogged down in Afghanistan . . . The American strategy is doomed to fail.” These are observations by a top diplomat of the nation most deeply invested alongside the U.S. in the Afghan War. He proposes replacing Karzai with “an acceptable dictator.” The top British military commander in Afghanistan agrees; Brig. Mark Carleton-Smith stated last week, “We’re not going to win this war.”

A recently completed National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) on Afghanistan is apparently so grim its contents won’t be made public.??Hard to believe that on May 1, 2003 Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld confidently declared that “major combat activity” had ended in Afghanistan. Mission accomplished, the Bush administration frenziedly prepared to invade and occupy Iraq.

“The People Support the Taliban”

The dirty little secret suppressed by the mainstream press is that the Taliban, like it or not, has considerable popular support. Afghan senator Abdul Wali Ahmadzai, who was captured and held by the Taliban for two months, now says, “The important point is that the people support the Taliban. This is the main problem: now the people do not like the government and they support the Taliban.” Support for Karzai has plummeted due to corruption (including accusations credited by the State Department that Karzai’s brother is involved in heroin smuggling) and his association with the foreigners who continue to bomb the country. Aware of resurgent Taliban support, Karzai has urged Mullah Omar to return to the country (from his presumed sojourn in Pakistan); invited the Taliban to join the government; and sought the aid of the Saudis, the Talibs’ former ally, aid in arranging negotiations. ??Meanwhile public opinion in the nations contributing to the occupation of Afghanistan is now overwhelmingly against continued deployment. Majorities or pluralities in the U.K., Canada, Italy, France, the Netherlands, Australia, Poland, and Spain all want out. Maybe they don’t see fighting Afghan resistance fighters as a “war on terror” but something more prosaic and depressing: an un-winnable counterinsurgency effort like the Algerian or Vietnam wars. Washington’s reported bid to take over sole command of the Afghan war, cutting NATO out of the command structure, will likely fuel European and Canadian opposition.

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