by Bill Berkowitz / WorkingForChange –
(December 12, 2003) — Last May, about the time President Bush was on board the USS Lincoln, basking in the glow of “Mission Accomplished” in Iraq, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld was in Afghanistan, proclaiming that US forces had “ended major combat operations” in that country.
The Washington Post reported that the Secretary said US Forces would “shift their focus to stabilizing and rebuilding the country.” Seven months later, Rumsfeld once again arrived in Afghanistan. This time he pledged that US troops would continue the hunt for Taliban and al Qaeda remnants, and if they were discovered in more than “ones and twos, they’ll be killed or captured.”
A few weeks earlier, addressing the troops in late November at Fort Carson, Co., President Bush executed a nifty cut-and-paste job on the very recent history of US involvement with Afghanistan, telling the troops that the US had “put the Taliban out of business forever.”
According to The Daily Mis-Lead, an online news service debunking Bush Administration lies and misinformation, the president made these comments “just a day after the Taliban launched a rocket attack on Kabul’s most prominent hotel.
It was also one day after Reuters reported Mullah Omar, the Taliban’s still at-large leader, ‘urged Afghans to unite against US-led foreign forces on their soil’ and the same day Afghanistan’s Foreign Minister desperately requested more international help in fighting off Taliban guerrillas.”
Old news: The US claimed it put the Taliban out of business and chased Osama bin Laden out of Afghanistan.
New reality: The US has launched the mother of post-major-combat operations; “Operation Avalanche” is focused on capturing or killing Taliban and al Qaeda militants.
Old news: US bombs killed thousands of Afghan civilians.
New reality: Fifteen children were killed in two recent US attacks. Six children “were crushed to death by a collapsing wall during an assault by US forces on a compound stuffed with weapons in eastern Afghanistan,” according to an Associated Press report.
Later, nine children were killed during a US bombing raid that targeted one, repeat one, Taliban militant — who villagers claim wasn’t around at the time — in a village in Ghazni province. “Seven boys and two girls, the oldest aged 12, died when the A-10 warplane sprayed a dusty field with 30mm high-explosive rounds,” the AP reported.
But rest easy, comrade. Army Maj. Christopher E. West told the AP that the US military was “sending a team of investigators to Ghazni province to determine if US forces were at fault.” To the mothers and fathers of the dead children, West added: “We regret the loss of any innocent life and we follow stringent rules of engagement to specifically avoid this type of incident while continuing to target terrorists who threaten the future of Afghanistan.”
I don’t know how many grandchildren Secretary Rumsfeld has (indeed if he has any), but if 6 or 9 of his grandkids were killed by errant bombs or missiles would he so cavalierly say — as he did at a recent press briefing when asked about targeting rebels in Afghanistan and Iraq: “We would be happy to capture them, we’d be happy to have them surrender, and if they don’t, we’d be happy to kill them. And that’s what’s going on… The goal is to stop terrorists from killing innocent men, women, and children, Iraqis, and coalition forces. It seems like a perfectly logical thing to me.”
If you think you’ve heard the last of Afghanistan, fuhgeddaboutit. I will write about the situation in Afghanistan: 1) As long the Bush Administration continues to trumpet Afghanistan as a “success story”; 2) As long as the mainstream media refuses to challenge that bit of received wisdom; and 3) As long as the public continues to pay the whole thing little mind.
When we left the story in late October, the Taliban were gathering in Pakistan and threatening to renew efforts at seizing parts of the countryside; the country had once again become a major drug portal for the western world; the Taliban were assassinating international aid workers; Hamid Karzai was still entrenched in Kabul surrounded by his US security force; and Zalmay Khalilzad, whose ambassadorship to Afghanistan was waiting approval by Congress (he has since been approved), was warning “that the Taliban movement and its Al-Qaeda partners in the region may be planning larger or ‘more spectacular attacks’ in Afghanistan as part of a campaign against the reconstruction process.”
In early December, the US finally got some good news: Abdul Rashid Dostum and Atta Mohammed, two of the most powerful warlords in the northern part of the country, began disarming their militias. In Afghanistan as part of his tour of Central Asia, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld congratulated the two warlords and reportedly told them that their disarmament was “an important step for this country.”
According to the Associated Press, the Ministry of Defense and its sponsors “hope to disarm and decommission 100,000 Afghan militia members as it creates the new army and national police. So far, the new forces have only 6,000 members.” During Rumsfeld’s visit, Afghan President Hamid Karzai maintained that his country was on the path to democracy and he vowed that “the Taliban … will not be able to disrupt this process.”
With Secretary Rumsfeld headed out of Afghanistan, the US proceeded with the launch of Operation Avalanche, the “largest operation yet to try to put down a growing Taliban insurgency in the most dangerous part of the country, the south and east,” according to the AP.
“This one is the largest we have ever designed,” military spokesman Lt. Col. Bryan Hilferty told reporters at the coalition military headquarters at Bagram, north of the capital Kabul. The enemy “isn’t going to know when we hit, he isn’t going to know what we’re doing.”
A previous US operation, ‘Operation Mountain Resolve,’ was launched on Nov. 7 and completed in early December. According to press accounts, it involved about 1,000 troops looking for Taliban remnants in the northeastern region bordering Pakistan, and it returned basically empty-handed.
“Operation Avalanche” may really be aimed at keeping the Taliban busy while Afghanistan’s loya jirga gets underway this weekend. Whether it will succeed in eliminating Taliban and al Qaeda remnants where “Operation Mountain Resolve” and a number of other colorfully named “operations” have failed before it, is doubtful.
The scorecard after Operation Avalanche’s first week: 15 dead children and no engagements with any Taliban or allied militants, the Gulf Daily News reported on Wednesday, December 12.
Afghanistan’s Loya Jirga
Over this coming weekend, nearly 500 delegates from all regions and Afghanistan’s many ethnic groups, including areas in “the remote northeast Badakhshan province bordering China to the deserts of the south, the mountainous eastern border and the great oasis city of Herat on the western fringes bordering Iran,” according to Pakistan’s Daily Times, were set to attend the loya jirga (traditional grand assembly) to ratify Afghanistan’s new constitution and set the stage for next year’s elections. The new constitution — in the works for the past nine months — largely echoes the constitution of 1964.
The good news is the gathering. The bad news, as Scott Baldauf of the Christian Science Monitor pointed out, is that although the constitutional convention “was supposed to be a break from the feuds of the past, a made-for-TV demonstration that the war-torn country had united around a blueprint for democracy,” the reality is that “a coalition of powerful guerrilla commanders [with control over as many as 70% of the delegates] is poised to wrest control of the proceedings and redraft the new Afghan constitution according to their own wishes.”
One of the main issues is whether to have a government dominated by a strong president — in the person of Hamid Karzai, as the US has lobbied hard for — or whether to develop a parliamentary system. Just prior to the loya jirga, Karzai announced that if there was a parliamentary system, he “would not be a candidate.”
Baldauf: “While the Karzai government says it welcomes a full and frank discussion on the future constitution — and US diplomats say they anticipated opposition all along — this is clearly not the loya jirga that they wanted. Far from a 10-day rubber stamp of the present constitution draft, which gives sweeping powers to the presidency and makes few provisions for checks and balances on his power, the loya jirga could well turn into a heated affair that sets faction against faction and leaves the US-backed Afghan leader weaker than when he started. In addition, some insiders now predict that the process could drag out for many weeks, and even months.”
Postscript: A Terrible Irony
As Ewen MacAskill pointed out in a recent edition of The Guardian, more than two years after attacking the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, Osama bin Laden “appears to be winning.” Despite being essentially kicked out of Afghanistan, losing many key lieutenants, and having his communications and financial capabilities “disrupted,” “from Kandahar to Baghdad, from Istanbul to Riyadh, blood is being shed in the name of Bin Laden’s jihad.”
That’s why even a smidgeon of good news for the Bush Administration about Afghanistan may turn out to be bad news on another front — the occupation of Iraq. Newsweek magazine reported that a meeting between three top envoys from al Qaeda and Taliban officials resulted in al Qaeda indicating it was cutting funding to the Taliban and shifting its operations to Iraq.
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