Obama Claims “Significant Progress” Regarding Afghanistan War: Progress in Whose Interest?

By Kenneth J. Theisen

President Barack Obama unveiled his administration’s Afghanistan strategic review on Thursday, December 16th.  The summary made available to the public claimed “progress” for the U.S. in pursuit of its war aims in Afghanistan, but failed to provide details to demonstrate these claims.

Obama stated, “In pursuit of our core goal we are seeing significant progress.”  He went on to claim, “"we are on track to achieve our goals." In many ways the review and Obama’s remarks are reminiscent of Walt Rostow, the U.S. National Security Advisor who in 1967claimed the U.S. could see the “light at the end of the tunne”l when describing “progress” during the US war against the Vietnamese people.

The light then was illusory and in 1975 the U.S. suffered military defeat in that war. Similar to  Rostow’s statement in 1967 to justify the escalation of the Vietnam war, Obama’s so-called “strategic review” is intended to justify many more years of the U.S.’s brutal, unjust war of terror in Afghanistan and Pakistan.

In the review, in Obama’s remarks, and at a press briefing by Secretary of War Robert Gates and Secretary of State Clinton, the administration focused on three separate points in the Afghan war which they asserted indicated progress for the American imperialists: defeating al-Qaida forces, winning the support of Pakistan against al-Qaida and the Taliban, and pushing back against Taliban influence and control in Afghanistan.

Let’s look at each of these assertions.  The report claims, "There has been significant progress in disrupting and dismantling the Pakistan-based leadership and cadre of al-Qaida over the past year. Al-Qaida's senior leadership has been depleted, the group's safe haven is smaller and less secure, and its ability to prepare and conduct terrorist operations has been degraded in important ways."

The summary of the report gave no details on how many al-Qaida leaders have been taken out of action by death or capture or how many civilians were killed as collateral damage while attacking these leaders. It did not give details on how often the U.S. has violated the law by engaging in assassination and attacks across Pakistan’s border. U.S. missile strikes, which violate international law and kill innocent Pakistanis, are now regular features of Obama’s Afghan war. In Obama’s first year of 2009, the CIA launched approximately 53 missile attacks.  There has been more than double that number of attacks in 2010. But the Obama administration’s dog and pony show on Thursday made it clear that the U.S. plans to accelerate and continue attacks on Al Qaeda and Taliban forces in Pakistan.

The report states that, "Pakistan and Afghanistan continue to be the operational base for the group that attacked us on (Sept. 11, 2001). The presence of nuclear weapons in the region also lends to its distinct status, highlighting the importance of working with regional partners to prevent extremists, including core al-Qaida, from acquiring such weapons or materials…Al-Qaida's eventual strategic defeat will be most effectively achieved through the denial of sanctuaries in the region and the elimination of the group's remaining leadership cadre. Even achieving these goals, however, will not completely eliminate the terrorist threat to U.S. interests... Our posture and efforts to counter these threats will continue unabated."

In other words, the U.S. will continue to make war on the people of Pakistan through continued attacks on Pakistani soil regardless of international law and regardless of how long it takes. The above also highlights U.S. fears that Islamic extremists and their allies within the Pakistani security forces could gain access to nuclear weapon or materials.  Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence Directorate (ISI) security force helped create the Taliban and factions within Pakistan have continued to support the Taliban. Islamic forces are now a major factor within Pakistan and this complicates the Afghan war and makes it much more difficult to achieve U.S. imperialist objectives within the region.  This is why the Obama administration has escalated not only the Afghan war but also spread that war across the border into Pakistan.

The summary of the report goes on to state, “The momentum achieved by the Taliban in recent years has been arrested in much of the country and reversed in some key areas, although these gains remain fragile and reversible." What the report fails to acknowledge is the fact that while the U.S. has increased its attacks against the Taliban in Southern Afghanistan and also against the Haqqani forces in eastern Afghanistan, the insurgent forces have spread their insurgency into the western, central and northern areas of Afghanistan. The report also fails to mention the increased insurgent attacks on local puppet officials, aid organizations and other Afghan puppet government allies. In some areas under U.S. “control,” the U.S. has installed local mayors, but then these puppet mayors have literally been unable to find any other Afghans who will take positions in the local puppet administration.  The mayors are only able to survive because of 24/7 U.S. guards.

The report states, "We are also supporting Afghanistan's efforts to better improve national and sub-national governance, and to build institutions with increased transparency and accountability to reduce corruption - key steps in sustaining the Afghan government."  This totally disregards the massive corruption within the Karzai puppet government.  All independent reports acknowledge the Afghan government as one of the most corrupt in the world.  The report also fails to mention the fraudulent elections that are a regular fact of Afghan governance.  These elections undermine any “legitimacy” that the U.S. claims for its puppet government allies.

One of the key elements in the U.S. strategy in Afghanistan is the turning over of security duties to the Afghan puppet troops. The report talks about this - "The Afghan Ministries of Defense and Interior, with help from the NATO Training Mission-Afghanistan, have exceeded ANSF growth targets, implemented an expanded array of programs to improve the quality and institutional capacity of the ANSF, and sharply improved their training effectiveness."

It makes it sound as if this is well on track to allow U.S. imperialist forces to turn over the major fighting to the Afghan puppet forces.  But the truth is much harsher. The desertion rate is so bad that Afghan troops are often locked into their transport vehicles for fear that they will desert on the way to military operations.  There have been several attacks on imperialist forces by the Afghan troops or police they have trained. Drug addiction among the puppet troops is a major problem.  The vast majority of puppet troops and police are illiterate. Afghan police forces are widely acknowledge as corrupt and are despised by ordinary Afghans. Many of the troops and police sign up for the puppet forces because it is the only job they can get in a country where unemployment is endemic. The puppet forces also do not reflect the ethnic makeup of the country.  In areas where the insurgency is largely made up of Pashtuns, the government has a very difficult time recruiting within this ethnic group.  As a result the puppet troops in these areas are usually viewed as outside forces and are not able to win the allegiance of the local populace.

When Obama came into office he emphasized that he would use the U.S. imperialist weapon of diplomacy in the U.S. war of terror. The report mentions this emphasis – "In 2011, we will intensify our regional diplomacy to enable a political process to promote peace and stability in Afghanistan, to include Afghan-led reconciliation, taking advantage of the momentum created by the recent security gains and the international consensus gained in Lisbon."

Since taking office, the Obama administration has tried to persuade Taliban leaders and fighters to switch sides and give up the insurgency. It has tried to get the Taliban leadership to engage in negotiations with the Karzai government.   At one point the U.S. worked with an imposter who passed himself off as a Taliban intermediary.  So far these attempts at negotiations have borne no fruit.

Part of this diplomacy involves Pakistan. According to the report, "In Pakistan, we are laying the foundation for a strategic partnership based on mutual respect and trust, through increased dialogue, improved cooperation and enhanced exchange and assistance programs." Optimism runs a bit wild in the report. 

Despite trying to buy off the Pakistan government with billions of dollars in military and other aid since 2001, the Pakistani government has not always been a reliable ally to the U.S. imperialists. Not only was the Taliban actively supported by Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence Directorate, but it still may be by some factions within the military and security forces of Pakistan.

The regular attacks by the U.S. across the border also have made it more difficult for the Pakistan government to do U.S. bidding. These attacks which have the tacit support of elements within the Pakistani government are widely opposed by the Pakistani people, not only because they kill innocent Pakistanis, but also because they violate Pakistani national pride. 

When Pakistan military forces did bow to U.S. bribes and pressure, it in essence resulted in civil war within regions of Pakistan. This caused much suffering for the Pakistan people.  It also resulted in increased activity by the Islamic extremists within Pakistan against the government which even in the best of times has a precarious hold on power.  Pakistan’s military's has refused to go after top leaders of the Taliban and the Haqqani network. This is one of the reasons that the U.S. has resorted to missile attacks into Pakistan.

This lack of cooperation may have been alluded to in the report in the section which reads, "Progress in our relationship with Pakistan over the last year has been substantial, but also uneven. We worked jointly in the last year to disrupt the threat posed by al-Qaida, and Pakistan has made progress against extremist safe havens, taking action in six of seven agencies of the Federally Administered Tribal Areas." The Haqqani network and other Afghan extremist groups are believed to be based in the seventh tribal agency of North Waziristan. This area has been the target of many of the U.S. missile attacks.

In his Thursday remarks, Obama claimed that Pakistan was “increasingly coming to realize that the Al Qaeda and Taliban leaders who have been given safe havens pose a threat to Pakistan as well as the United States.” But he further stated, “Progress has not come fast enough.” He said the U.S. “will continue to insist to Pakistani leaders that terrorist safe havens within their borders must be dealt with.”  In the meantime the U.S. will continue its cross border attacks by Predator and Reaper drones in Pakistan’s tribal areas.

It is also possible that covert special forces operations along the border will increase. At Thursday’s press briefing Secretary of War Robert Gates alluded to this when he stated, “There are a lot of, as we say in our building, kinetic actions taking place along that border.” The U.S. military has special operations forces working along with Pakistani military units.  The U.S. is also involved with the training of Pakistani border forces.  The extent of this is largely unknown due to its covert nature and the fact that the U.S. has troops on the ground in Pakistan would undoubtedly cause opposition in Pakistan and in the U.S.

In September U.S. forces engaged in a cross-border operation. A U.S. helicopter strike killed three Pakistani border soldiers.  Due to popular pressure, the Pakistani government responded by temporarily shutting down a critical U.S. supply route into Afghanistan.  The U.S. eventually apologized to the Pakistani government for that attack.  But we should not be fooled into thinking that opposition in Pakistan will deter the U.S. from continuing its war of terror within Pakistan.

Obama has spent much of his time justifying his Afghan war.  While dramatically escalating the war with tens of thousands of additional troops, he promised to start withdrawing troops in July 2011.  But recently he attended a NATO conference in Lisbon where he talked about 2014 as being a target date for “transition.”  While a small number of troops may actually be withdrawn next year, the truth is that the U.S. will continue to wage the war in Afghanistan, and now in Pakistan, for as long as it takes to achieve U.S. imperialist objectives.  This was the message delivered earlier in Lisbon, Portugal and this week in the strategic review remarks.

Admiral Mike Mullen is the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. He recently returned from  meeting Pakistan’s military leader, General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani. Mullen stated, “The review rightfully focused on the criticality of Pakistan in terms of overall success.”  He went on to emphasize that it was crucial for the administration to maintain a “long-term commitment” to Pakistan.  This is just another administration official delivering the same message as Obama with the emphasis being on long-term.
It is interesting that the summary of the strategic review did not mention an earlier Pentagon report.  Earlier this fall, the Department of Defense released a congressionally mandated report describing security developments in Afghanistan from April 1 to September 30. That report stated that violence in Afghanistan was at an all-time high since the war started in 2001. The report said combat incidents were up 300 percent compared with 2007. It also noted a 55-percent increase over the previous quarter in "kinetic events," including direct and indirect fire, surface-to-air fire, and exploded, found or cleared roadside bombs. In 2010 U.S. forces have encountered more than 18,000 attacks from Taliban fighters armed with automatic weapons, rocket-propelled grenades and in some cases missiles, according to the Pentagon. That compares with about 10,600 such attacks in 2009.

It also reported that the number of Afghans rating their security situation as "bad" was the highest since a nationwide survey began in September 2008.

A survey in the U.S. also spells bad news to the Obama administration.  A new Washington Post-ABC News poll shows that 60 percent of Americans think the war is not worth fighting. But in an echo of the Bush regime’s disregard of public opinion, Secretary of State Clinton stated at the press briefing, "I don't think leaders, and certainly this President, will not make decisions that are matters of life and death and the future security of our nation based on polling," Clinton said. Maybe she should have said you are either with us or against us. But the bottom line is that our imperialist leaders do not care what the people of Afghanistan, Pakistan or the U.S. think. They are in office to represent the interests of the ruling class.

Let us assume for the sake of argument that the report and the Obama administration leaders are correct – that there is progress in their war of terror in Afghanistan. We then need to ask in whose interest is this war being waged.  It is not being fought to protect Americans, Afghans or Pakistanis despite what we are told. It is being fought to further the interests of the U.S. imperialist ruling class.  If millions of Afghans and Pakistanis have to suffer Obama, Clinton, Gates, etc. could care less. The masses are merely pawns in this war.  Are you prepared to allow your government to wage this war for many more years, even if there is “progress?” How many more victims of the U.S. war of terror will have to die before we in our millions say no, not just in polls, but by taking to the streets to demand the end to this war.  When do we stand up and force accountability on those in the Bush regime who began this war and those in the Obama administration who continue and expand it?