People's Democracy

(Weekly Organ of the Communist Party of India (Marxist)


No. 37

September 11, 2011

 Afghanistan: Military Quagmire for the US


Yohannan Chemerapally


EVEN as the US government and the American people are commemorating the 10th anniversary of the September 11 terror attacks on the American mainland, more American blood is continuing to be shed outside its borders. In retaliation for the dramatic terror attacks by a dozen terrorists, the US had invaded two sovereign countries - Afghanistan and Iraq. Afghanistan was the first country to be occupied immediately after the events of September 11, 2001. Though the Americans had quickly succeeded in installing a government of their choice in Kabul and Baghdad, resistance to the occupation has continued unabated, particularly so in Afghanistan.


The shooting down of a US Chinook helicopter by the Taliban in the first week of August is an illustration. The incident resulted in the worst toll in a single day for American soldiers since the occupation of Afghanistan began ten years ago. Thirty one US Special Forces (the Navy Seals) troops along with seven Afghan soldiers were killed when their helicopter came down during a fire fight with the Taliban forces in Eastern Afghanistan. The soldiers killed belonged to the same elite force which had raided Osama bin Laden’s hideout in Abottabad and terminated his life. The highest casualty figures recorded in a single incident in recent American history was when 30 US Marines and a soldier were killed in a 2005 helicopter crash in the Iraqi province of Anbar, a stronghold of the local resistance at the time.


The Taliban was quick to claim credit for the attack which killed 38 soldiers. In a statement, the Taliban said that the helicopter was shot down when the US forces were conducting a night raid in the Joye Zarin area located in the Tangi valley. The district is located in the volatile Maidan Wardak province around 50 km south of the capital Kabul. After the incident, US forces had besieged the Tangi valley, conducting house to house searches. Pajhwok Afghan News (PAN) reported that US troops have been “detaining and harassing civilians” since the downing of the Chinook helicopter.




The NATO led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) said in a statement issued a few days after the incident that an air strike “killed the Taliban leader Mulah Mohibulah and the insurgent who fired the shot associated with the August 6 downing of the CH-47 helicopter, which resulted in the deaths of 38 Afghan and coalition service members”. This was the first tacit admission by the US authorities that the helicopter was indeed shot down by the Taliban resistance forces. A senior Afghan official told the AFP that Qari Tahir, a Taliban commander, lured the US forces into the valley. “The Taliban knew which route the helicopter would take and as the helicopter approached, they attacked it with rockets and other modern weapons. It was brought down by multiple shots”. The Taliban has denied that the men responsible for the downing of the helicopter have perished in a NATO air strike. “This is not true. After seeing the enemy statement we contacted the ‘mujahid’ (fighter) who shot down the helicopter and he is not dead. He’s busy conducting jihad elsewhere in the country”, the Taliban spokesman told AFP.


After the Obama administration started its “military surge”, night time raids in areas under Taliban influence have dramatically increased. Night raids have become the favourite military tactic being employed by the US led forces in Afghanistan. Senior US military officials had claimed that the night raids which kept Afghan families sleepless had played an important role in turning the tide militarily against the Taliban forces. Senior US military officials, including the outgoing Commander, Gen David Petraeus had said that the Taliban was on the run from the areas previously under their control in south and the east  mainly because of the aggressive NATO military campaign that was being conducted. But to be on the safe side of history, Petraeus also said that the situation in Afghanistan is “fragile and reversible”. Figures put out by NATO headquarters reveal that Special Forces conducted 2,832 night raids in the second quarter of the year, twice the number of the raids conducted in the same period a year ago. NATO said that 834 “insurgents” were killed and 2,941 captured in the recent raids. President Karzai had warned on several occasions that the “night raids” are counterproductive and generate sympathy for the Taliban among the populace.   


But the events of the last couple of months have shown that the assessment of the US officials of the ground situation in Afghanistan has been overly optimistic. The Taliban have launched high profile assassinations and daring attacks in cities like Kabul and Kandahar. Ahmed Wali Karzai, president Hamid Karzai’s half-brother and political confidant, was the most high profile casualty of the spate of suicide attacks the Taliban has launched since May this year. The controversial Ahmad Wali was the strongman of Kandahar running the place as his fiefdom. Before the American invasion, Kandahar was the spiritual headquarters of the Taliban leadership. Karzai’s brother had worked for the CIA but in recent times had fallen out with his American mentors. There were stories in the American media that the junior Karzai was profiting immensely from the multi-billion dollar narcotics smuggling business.


Other prominent officials who were killed by the Taliban in the last couple of months were the mayor of Kandahar, Ghulam Hamidi, an American favourite and the city’s police chief, Abdul Raziq. In June, the Taliban militants attacked the highly fortified Intercontinental hotel in Kabul, killing 18 people. In the third week of July, Jan Mohammad Khan, one of president Karzai’s closest advisers was assassinated along with Hashem Wattanwal, a member of parliament from Uruzgan province. Before that Mohammed Daud Daud, who was in charge of security for eight Northern provinces, was felled by an assassin’s bullet. In the first six months of this year 191 government officials and government figures were assassinated. The Taliban while launching its spring offensive in May had announced that it was giving the highest priority to the targeting of high officials working for the Karzai government. The Afghan people’s feelings of insecurity will be compounded by the knowledge that president Karzai is unable to provide security to his closest allies.




The Obama administration is insisting that the latest setbacks will not change the plans for the proposed withdrawal of the US troops from Afghanistan. After the downing of the helicopter, the Pentagon spokesperson said that “one single incident does not represent a watershed or trend”. He insisted that the Taliban is “on the run” and that “their momentum has been reversed”. The US defence secretary Leon Panetta said that the large number of casualties that resulted from the crash of the helicopter was “a reminder to the American people that we remain a nation at war”. Panetta said that the heavy casualties should not however “derail” the US efforts to “defeat al Qaeda and deny them a safe haven in Afghanistan”. Panetta, who till the other day was the CIA chief, knows fully well that the al Qaeda is not a factor in contemporary Afghan politics. President Barak Obama also continued in the same vein. Speaking after the deaths of the American soldiers in the helicopter crash, he said that the US forces will ensure “that Afghanistan is not a safe haven for terrorists”.


President Obama had announced in June that the US will withdraw 10,000 troops by the end of the year and another 33,000 by September 2012. At present there are around 100,000 American troops in the country. Out of this, 10,000 are “special forces” in the forefront of “counterterrorism” operations. These counter-terrorism operations which involve drone attacks, are viewed in Afghanistan and outside as systematic assassination of all opponents of the American occupation. By 2014, Afghan forces are supposed to assume the major responsibility for maintaining the security of their country. Recent incidents involving skirmishes between the US troops and the Afghan forces they have helped to train have shown that there is a looming trust deficit emerging between the two sides. There have been many incidents in which the Afghan security personnel have turned their guns on their foreign trainers. In the second week of August, US forces were engaged in a fierce exchange of fire with Afghan security forces in southern Kandahar. Four Afghan policemen were shot dead and four wounded in that incident. The defection rate in the Afghan security services is said to be very high.    


Already this year, 365 American and NATO soldiers have been killed in Afghanistan. In the second week of August, five NATO soldiers were killed by a roadside bomb in southern Afghanistan bringing the number of foreign troops killed in the first fortnight of August to 50. Violence has been the worst since the American occupation of the country began in 2001. An UN report put out in July said that 1,462 civilians were killed in incidents related to the conflict in the first six months of the year. This is 15 per cent more than the figures reported in the first half of 2010. The UN warned that the resentment of the Afghan populace against the escalating “night raids” conducted by US special forces is rising and were often followed by violent protests.