The December 21, 2015, killing of six U.S. soldiers in Afghanistan once again vaulted the U.S. war and occupation of that country onto the front pages. The Obama administration declared that the U.S. combat role in Afghanistan had ended as of the end of 2014. Tell that to the families of the six who expected their loved ones to come home but received coffins instead.
The question continues to be asked: Why are U.S. troops still in Afghanistan after 15 long years?
This war has lasted longer than the U.S. civil war, World War I, and the Vietnam War combined. Supposedly, U.S. troops are there to train Afghans to do the fighting. But we’ve all seen that movie before: After 15 years, shouldn’t the Afghans be “trained” by now?
To be sure, part of the rationale for continuing the occupation of Afghanistan was getting Osama bin Laden. But he was killed in Pakistan in May of 2011. So that can no longer be asserted as a reason for perpetuating the U.S. war.
The essence of U.S. foreign policy is occupation, militarization, escalation, war and expansionism—all in furtherance of the corporate agenda. And it certainly is not limited to Afghanistan. The U.S. has invaded 74 countries over the past century and currently has military deployments in over 150 of them.
As a working class formation, the Labor Fightback Network (LFN) urges that the labor movement help provide leadership in building a broad and united labor-community coalition to demand that the troops be brought home now, starting with Afghanistan but also including in rapid order Iraq (where U.S. troops have re-engaged) and Syria. And that would mark a fundamental change in Washington’s foreign policy to one based on respect for the right of other nations to settle their own destiny.
Our country cannot be the world’s policeman.
Washington long was interested in occupying Afghanistan—well before 9/11. As George Mantiot of the Guardian wrote:
“Afghanistan has some oil and gas of its own, but not enough to qualify as a major strategic concern. Its northern neighbors, by contrast, contain reserves which could be critical to future global supply. In 1998, Dick Cheney, [later] U.S. vice president but then chief executive of a major oil services company, remarked: ‘I cannot think of a time when we have had a region emerge as suddenly to become as strategically significant as the Caspian.’ But the oil and gas there is worthless until it is moved. The only route which makes both political and economic sense is through Afghanistan…
“Pipelines through Afghanistan would allow the U.S. both to pursue its aim of diversifying energy supply and to penetrate the world’s most lucrative markets. Growth in European oil consumption is slow and competition is intense. In South Asia, by contrast, demand is booming and competitors are scarce. Pumping oil south and selling it in Pakistan and India, in other words, is far more profitable than pumping it west and selling it in Europe.”
As the author and journalist Ahmed Rashid has documented, in 1995 Cheney’s U.S. oil company Unocal started negotiating to build oil and gas pipelines from Turkmenistan, through Afghanistan and into Pakistani ports on the Arabian Sea. The company’s scheme required a single administration in Afghanistan, which would guarantee safe passage for its goods. Soon after the Taliban took Kabul in September 1996, the Telegraph reported that “oil industry insiders say the dream of securing a pipeline across Afghanistan is the main reason why Pakistan, a close political ally of America’s, has been so supportive of the Taliban, and why America has quietly acquiesced in its conquest of Afghanistan.”
For the first year of Taliban rule, U.S. policy towards the regime appears to have been determined principally by Unocal’s interests. In 1997 a U.S. diplomat told Rashid, “the Taliban will probably develop like the Saudis did. There will be Aramco [the former U.S. oil consortium in Saudi Arabia] pipelines, an emir, no parliament and lots of Sharia law. We can live with that…
“In September , a few days before the attack on the Twin Towers, the U.S. energy information administration reported that ‘Afghanistan’s significance from an energy standpoint stems from its geographical position as a potential transit route for oil and natural gas exports from central Asia to the Arabian Sea. This potential includes the possible construction of oil and natural gas export pipelines through Afghanistan.’ Given that the U.S. government is dominated by former oil industry executives, we would be foolish to suppose that such plans no longer figure in its strategic thinking.”
The Costs of the War
Over 2,000 U.S. soldiers and marines have been killed and thousands more grievously wounded to date in the Afghanistan war and occupation. Authoritative figures of Afghans who met a similar fate are hard to come by but a Wikipedia article states “During the war in Afghanistan (2001–present), over 26,000 civilian deaths due to war-related violence have been documented; 29,900 civilians have been wounded. Over 91,000 Afghans, including civilians, soldiers and militants, are recorded to have been killed in the conflict, and the number who have died through indirect causes related to the war may include an additional 360,000 people.”
The war has cost U.S. taxpayers a trillion dollars and will require hundreds of billions more after the fighting ends, according to the Financial Times.
This at a time when virtually every human services program in this country is under severe assault, including pensions. The infrastructure continues to crumble despite repeated assurances from the bosses and bankers that it will at last be addressed. But where will the money come from given the prioritization given the wars and occupations?
The choice is guns or butter, and it will take a mass movement of considerable power to force the nation’s rulers to change course and agree to the latter. After all, neither Alexander the Great, nor Great Britain, nor the former Soviet Union could prevail in Afghanistan. The U.S. is caught in a quagmire—a winless, endless war that can only result in more death and destruction.
Needed: A United Antiwar Movement
Ideally, there should be in place by now a broad, representative, democratic and united peace movement that can mobilize thousands in the streets in support of united front demands. A few years ago such a formation appeared to be on the horizon, and it included some key labor forces. But unfortunately differences over demands erupted causing the trade unionists to pull out.
Realistically, there is no prospect today for organic unity of the various key groups. But there remains an urgent need for united actions that, perhaps, could emerge if these groups were willing to move forward together to co-sponsor them. If this were forthcoming, the prospects could brighten for involving sections of the labor movement which would unlikely be won over to a fractured movement.
After all, the world looks to us—living as we do in the belly of the beast—to put aside all the barriers that have precluded unity in the past. Despite the fact that not a single member of Congress—so far as we can tell—has advocated the immediate withdrawal demand, no one disputes the fact that the people of this nation are war weary and would like to see the U.S. get out of Afghanistan and other countries in the region. If ever there was a time when fresh and constructive unity initiatives are needed from antiwar groups, this is it.