Magazine of Socialist Action in Australia

Afghanistan: More troops die as the misery continues

Reading Time: 4 minutes

The recent surge in so-called “green on blue” attacks has again brought into question Australia’s involvement in the Afghanistan war and occupation. In particular focus is the death of three Australian troops from such incidents where Afghan forces attack coalition allies.

Over a decade since the invasion began, life for ordinary Afghans has not improved. Al Qaeda and the Taliban continue to operate and local hostility to foreign occupation is as strong as ever. While the cycle of death and misery continues many more people are asking if Australia should be there, and if troops should have been sent in the first place.

Following the 9/11 attacks on the US, Australia joined the invasion of Afghanistan. The reasons given for Australia falling in behind the US led occupation were to defeat Al Qaeda and the Taliban, and to capture Osama Bin Laden. We were told this would end the threat of terrorism and bring peace and stability to Afghanistan and the world.

In reality this was about maintaining the US/Australia military alliance. Gillard admitted as much in parliamentary debates in 2010, renewing Australia’s commitment to the occupation and giving this as the first reason to continue Australia’s involvement.

In the last five years alone over 13,000 civilians have been killed in the conflict according to the UN. August this year was one of the deadliest months since the war began with 374 civilians killed and 581 injured. The actual civilian toll is undoubtedly much higher.

Military files released by Wikileaks in 2010 relating to Afghanistan revealed hundreds of unreported civilian killings by coalition forces. In addition, probably tens of thousands of civilians have died indirectly from the war, as a consequence of displacement, starvation, disease, exposure, lack of medical treatment and crime. Life expectancy in Afghanistan is just 44 years.

Millions of refugees have fled the conflict, mainly to Pakistan and Iran. The hypocrisy of the Gillard government is on full show when Afghan refugees are denied asylum in Australia or locked up for long periods of detention, despite Australia’s role in creating the mess they are attempting to escape.

The dream of installing a pro-US regime through Western style ‘democracy’ is pie in the sky as evidenced by increasingly low voter turnouts and ballot stuffing in recent elections. Retreating from the initial myth that defeating the Taliban and building democracy in Afghanistan is the reason for the occupation, Australian Foreign Minister Bob Carr has stated that “Taliban involvement in the coalition [government] would be desirable”.

Since the occupation began the opium trade has increased massively, with many of the proceeds going to the corrupt US and Australian backed Kazai government.

The killing of Osama Bin Laden by US forces in 2011 has not resulted in the smashing of Al Qaeda. In fact, the operation only further undermined the position of US imperialism in the region, laying the groundwork for the emergence of similar forces to Al Qaeda and the Taliban in the future.

The last two years have seen a dramatic increase in “green on blue” attacks. In 2008 there were just 2 casualties from such attacks, less than 1% of coalition casualties. By 2011 this had increased to 33 casualties (6%), and in 2012 there have been 51, accounting for 15% of coalition casualties.

The rise in such attacks represents a worrying trend for the US and its allies as they look to hand over security to Afghan forces by 2014. The handover of security is a key plank to the withdrawal of occupying forces and such incidents only make this task increasingly difficult.

The reasons for these attacks are varied and the lack of information released makes specific incidents difficult to analyse. Some of the attacks are put down to cultural differences arising from backwards views held by some coalition troops. The recent reports of anti-Islamic comments on Facebook from an Australian soldier who served in Afghanistan just highlights this issue. There have also been countless scandals involving coalition forces denigrating local people. This has infuriated local Afghan forces.

However, NATO tends to play down a far more significant problem of Taliban infiltration and defections of Afghan security personnel to the Taliban. Some senior coalition commanders have estimated that as much as 50% of “green on blue” attacks are due to infiltration and defection.

US forces, recognising the significance of this trend have been implementing a “guardian angel” policy, where one or more soldier is designated to keep watch on allied Afghan forces, and in the words of US Defence Secretary Leon Panetta, “watch people’s backs”. All US and NATO troops have been directed to carry loaded weapons at all times.

All up 19 Australian soldiers have been shot in “green on blue” attacks, with 7 killed. Following the recent surge in these attacks joint patrols between coalition and Afghan forces were suspended. Joint patrols look set to resume, but these latest incidents only emphasise the deep divisions in Afghan society and the dead end of the military occupation.

The devastation wrought on the lives of ordinary Afghans by the US war machine and its allies is no basis on which to rebuild a war torn society. Despite billions of dollars spent, and tens of thousands of lives lost, the situation has not improved. Afghan people are in desperate need of a political alternative to foreign military occupation.

The capitalist system promoted by US imperialism provides no way forward for ordinary people in Afghanistan. Only a united movement of workers and the poor can point a way towards a system where people needs are met and security is assured.

This would only be possible on the basis of public ownership of key industries and the untapped mineral deposits which are estimated to be worth $1 trillion dollars. Rather than allowing the US and their allies to plunder this wealth these resources should be collectively controlled by ordinary Afghan people. That way the wealth can be used to lift people out of poverty and provide clean water, electricity, housing and healthcare to all.

The Socialist Party calls for the immediate withdrawal of Australian troops from Afghanistan, along with all other foreign occupying forces.

By David Suter


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