"Side effects" of the war
While the U.S. assumed an easy victory, events did not develop as they planned or expected. The mass discontent against the occupiers, the increasing ability of the Taliban and other reactionary opposition forces to make use of that discontent, and the help provided them by the Pakistani army were the main factors that caused the U.S. to get stuck in a long war that Washington could not abandon. The deterioration of the situation forced the U.S. and its allies to increase their troop strength to more than 150,000, not counting private military contractors. This meant a huge increase in the financial cost of the war. The imperialists might have been prepared to pay that price, seeing it as an investment for their long-term interests. It is estimated that the Afghan war cost the U.S. 100 billion dollars a year at its peak. That is a huge expense, especially in view of the financial crisis world capitalism is sunk in.
U.S. forces have lost nearly 2,100 soldiers so far, while almost 20,000 were injured in the Afghanistan war. According to The New York Times, "45 percent of returning veterans from Iraq and Afghanistan are claiming disability benefits. A quarter of those veterans – 300,000 to 400,000, depending on the study – say they suffer from some form of post-traumatic stress disorder." (13 October 2012)
Since American soldiers have been trained to treat the masses of ordinary people as the enemy or "terrorists" and do not show mercy even to children and elderly, many of those who fought in Afghanistan and Iraq have been mentally reshaped and disfigured to become eager killers. A few may now be employed as "security contractors" or in higher ranking positions, but others are simply left to fester.
Some reports on the "side effects" of such horrible wars actually unveil the terrifying nature of these wars themselves. For example, a report a few months ago disclosed the rape and murder of a 65 year-old woman in Delaware, whose naked body was found in a wooded area. She was murdered by a combat veteran, Staff Sgt. Dwight L. Smith Jr., 25 years old, with no previous conviction. A letter he wrote to his father explains much more:
"I am going to be honest with you dad. I have killed a lot of men and children. Some that didn't even do anything for me to kill them. Also some that begged for mercy. I have a problem. I think I got addicted to killing people. I could kill someone go to sleep wake up and forget that it ever happened. It got normal for me to be that way. I never wanted to be this way. I just took my job way to serious. I took things to the extreme. Anyone can tell you that I changed. It is like being a completely different person." (NYT, 9 November 2012)
When the imperialists invaded Afghanistan, they were in a situation of covering up their real and vicious plans for the region, and falsely claim that they wanted to liberate the country from the fundamentalists. They claimed they wanted to free women, reconstruct Afghanistan based on democratic principles and achieve peace They pronounced an endless list of promises. But the people of Afghanistan did not have to wait to see the real results. The reality of the imperialist war became apparent right away. The occupiers raided houses in the middle of night, stopped and searched ordinary people, killed women and men, children and elderly and whole families in cold blood. Soldiers shot and blew up people on the ground and air bombardments and missile strikes murdered them from far away.
The people soon saw the rule of warlords and other Islamic fundamentalists, and their overlords, the U.S. and its imperialist allies. People soon saw the destruction of their economy and their livelihoods, and many became homeless. And they soon witnessed an economy based on the drug trade and imperialist "donations". Women soon saw the return of Islamic laws and restrictions that increased the level of violence against women in all aspects of the society.
Through the twelve years of war so far tens of thousands of civilians have been killed and many more injured. The latest International Amnesty report released on 23 May says that more than 2,700 civilians were killed and 4,800 injured in 2012 alone. The report confirms the torture of prisoners at the hands of the U.S. and their Afghan "security forces" (which should be called mercenary militias and death squads). It also confirms the extensive violence against women in official institutions and in society. The report stresses that the war has left almost half a million people displaced (not counting those forced to flee the country), many of them living in camps with limited or no access to water, health services and education. (AI Report on Afghanistan 2013). These are the results of a war that was supposed to bring prosperity; democracy and peace for the people.
In sum, this war has done much to expose the imperialists' lies and has driven many Afghans into the arms of the Taliban, especially in the southern and eastern part of the country, despite their bitter experience when the Taliban were in power and the hatred they might have for the Taliban. Due to the lack of a strong revolutionary force in Afghanistan, the U.S. might be able to reduce the political damage to themselves, but the damage to the people and the country has already been done.
What is the purpose of the new strategy?
Given the political, military and economic problems in sustaining this war indefinitely with no success in sight, and due to questions of strategic priorities, there is tremendous pressure on the U.S. to reduce its forces and continue the war in a different way.
This means cutting back on the number of troops and keeping enough soldiers in Afghanistan to enable them to control the country and conduct the war mainly with Afghan soldiers. This brings to mind the U.S.'s attempt to "Vietnamize" the war in Vietnam after it became apparent that military victory was not likely.
At the same time the U.S. has been trying to draw the Taliban to the negotiating table. There have been some talks but they have not gotten anywhere so far, at least according to the media, yet the U.S. is still trying to get the Taliban to negotiate. Maybe the U.S. has reached the conclusion that they cannot defeat the Taliban militarily, but more importantly, it sees no problem in principle in sharing power in Afghanistan with the Taliban. There might be some contradictions, some political price because the Taliban were the initial target of the war, but the U.S. seems to have come to the conclusion that it is better off to pay that price.
Does this mean that the U.S. imperialists have accepted defeat and are retreating, or that they have achieved their goals and are making a substantial change in their Afghanistan strategy for that reason? As mentioned before, there is no short answer, but the shortest answer is that they were not defeated but did not achieve their initial goals either. They certainly encountered obstacles and were unable to overcome most of them.
The imperialists attempted to overcome these problems by allocating more money and troops. At the same time they limited their goals and had to reveal the real nature of their occupation to the ordinary masses in Afghanistan, to the world and back home and drop the fake promises under which they had concealed their war of aggression, such as liberating women, reconstructing the county and so on. Not only did they not get rid of the Taliban, they added another fundamentalist and corrupt government, not to mention the twelve years of atrocities by the occupiers that the people of Afghanistan will never forget.
To look at it from another angle, the U.S. has not abandoned or diluted the main goal it was seeking to achieve: to set up a bastion in this region that is so strategically important for American global dominance. But first of all this goal has already exacted a very high price. Secondly, even if the U.S. were to succeed, this victory might not be stable because of the complexity of the contradictions in the region. In fact, the interaction of so many contradictions in this region that has caught the U.S. and its allies by surprise are what has made this region very unstable for most of the last two centuries.
The occupation of Afghanistan and the functioning of the occupiers gave rise to an intense contradiction between the people and the imperialists that will continue in the years ahead with the presence of the U.S. forces, and given the masses' discontent both politically and economically that is a big source of potential instability. But there are also other contradictions, including the contradictions between the various imperialists and regional powers. Russia, China, India, Pakistan, Iran and others will continue to manoeuvre and cause problems for the U.S. The contradiction between the U.S. and the Taliban is another source of instability. There is also the contradiction between the U.S. and its appointed government that is not helpful for the U.S. imperialists.
The U.S. war in Afghanistan is not a thing of the past, and opposition to the occupation of Afghanistan should not be either.