By John LaForge
If it were proved to me that in making war, my ideal had a chance of being realized, I would still say ‘No’ to war. For one does not create a human society on mounds of corpses. — Louis Lecoin, “Paix immédiate”
After so much blood and destruction in Afghanistan, a lot of people dream of Secretary of State John Kerry reviving his monumental 1971 question, “How do you ask a man to be the last man to die for a mistake?”
A July ABC News/Washington Post poll found only 28 percent of North Americans think the war is worth fighting. “… a steady drumbeat of bad news” like these poll numbers forced Gen. Joseph Dunford, commander of occupation forces in Afghanistan, “to turn his attention to the home front” to try and combat the viral realization that the war is lost.
Last year, Gen. John Allen, Dunford’s predecessor, put the chances of victory this way, “Let me make sure I’m clear on this: Nothing is sure.”
Former Pentagon Chief Leon Penetta has said that corruption in Afghanistan’s government and safe havens in Pakistan for the resistance fighters were major US problems. “None of those are likely to be fixed with American firepower,” he said. One thing “fire” power could fix is the million-dollar-per-month CIA cash deliveries to the offices of Afghan President Hamid Karzai — just fire the CIA delivery boys.
Because of the persistent strength of the Taliban, the slow-paced drawdown of US troop numbers is accompanied by fear that imperial gains made through US bombing and invasion will be lost. “[M]any areas in the south and east where troop pullouts are under way have had only tenuous security gains at best, despite years of hard-fought [US]-led advances,” the New York Times said last summer.
Some of the General Staff’s fears harken back to the bloodier war in Vietnam, where the US propped up similarly corrupt regimes. “Alliance commanders acknowledge that one of their greatest fears is an insurgent offensive on Kabul,” the Times reported last May. Even if such an offensive failed technically — “like” as the Times put it, “the Tet Offensive in the Vietnam War” — it would so humiliate Afghan, US and NATO forces that their governments would face bolder demands for immediate withdrawal.
US Needs to Concede on Status of Forces
“Status of forces” negotiations are ongoing over how and how many US troops are to stay in country. The Orwellian “pullout” may leave 12,000 soldiers forever. One sticking point is Afghanistan’s demand that US troops not be granted immunity from prosecution for crimes committed there.
With US atrocities blaring from front pages, radios and TVs, it’s easy to understand Afghanistan’s indignation. There is the video of US Marines urinating on Taliban corpses, the burning of a truckload of Korans taken from prisoners by US soldiers, hundreds of civilian deaths caused by US jets, thousands of terrifying nighttime house raids by US commandoes, and the recurrence of massacres, one of 16 civilians by Army Staff Sergeant Robert Bales.
Atrocities committed last winter moved the Afghans to ban US commandoes from an entire province. Reports had it that US Special Forces commanded Afghans troops in torturing and killing civilian villagers. A statement by President Karzai hinted that the crimes “may have been committed by Special Operations forces and not just Afghans.” Karzai called US forces “occupiers” with “little regard for the lives of ordinary Afghans.” After Marine Staff Sgt. Frank Wuterich — the ringleader in the massacre of 24 civilians in Iraq — was sentenced to three months in jail and a reduction in rank (he had faced 152 years in prison), one can see why Afghan negotiators are holding fast against immunity.
In another echo of the US war in Vietnam, battlegrounds in Afghanistan once called “vital” have been abandoned to the Taliban. One example is the Pech Valley, formerly referred to gravely as “central to the campaign” against the Taliban and al-Qaida. More than 100 US soldiers died there and hundreds more were wounded, but it’s now been deserted by the Pentagon. In 1971, John Kerry, who was then a combat veteran, told a panel of senators, “We watched while men charged up hills because a general said that hill has to be taken, and after losing one platoon or two platoons they marched away to leave the hill for reoccupation by the North Vietnamese.”
The Pech Valley symbolizes the whole of the Afghan quagmire, where it is only vital that the bloodshed be ended. It’s as Dr. King said of Southeast Asia: “The great initiative in this war is ours. The initiative to stop it must be ours.”
John LaForge is a Co-director of Nukewatch, a nuclear watchdog and environmental justice group in Wisconsin, edits its quarterly newsletter, and writes for PeaceVoice.