A Primer on the Wars in Afghanistan and Pakistan
H. Patricia Hynes*
The U.S.-NATO war in Afghanistan began in October 2001 with bombing and missile attacks on Kabul followed by military operations on the ground. The “war on terrorism” was a retaliatory response to the September 11 attacks on the New York World Trade Center and the Pentagon. The stated goals over the course of the U.S.-led war in Afghanistan were to hunt down the mastermind Osama bin Laden and his Al-Qaeda network, wrest control of the country from the Taliban, improve the status of Afghani women, and establish democracy.
Human and Economic Impacts
What are the human impacts of the war in Afghanistan?
Soldier and civilian deaths have been escalating each year since the war began, with 2009 being the deadliest. Nearly 1000 U.S. soldiers have been killed and 5000 injured; suicides have increased dramatically among young veterans due to multiple deployments and the overall stress of combat. War is far deadlier for civilians whose country is embroiled in war: An estimated 30,000 Afghanis have died and 250,000 have been displaced as a result of the war. Many thousands more have died prematurely from starvation and disease. The 100,000 deaths from heroin overdose worldwide comprise another war casualty, given that the output of opium from Afghanistan has grown to 92% of world supply.
Afghan women and children bear the brunt of the war. Domestic violence and the murder of women in public life have increased; the country has the second highest rate worldwide of women dying in childbirth. Parents sell daughters for food money; the literacy rate has stalled at 4th lowest in world; and UNICEF labeled Afghanistan as one of the three most dangerous places in the world for a child to be born. All after 8 years of war allegedly to end the tyranny of the Taliban, usher in a stable democracy, and guarantee women's rights. (Sources: 1)
How costly is the Afghan war?
Each soldier in Afghanistan costs U.S. taxpayers $1 million per year, a mind-numbing figure which includes the hefty costs of private military contractors. Given the $100 billion price tag for the Afghan war in 2010, we are lurching toward another trillion dollar war, particularly with the projections of a long war by top military officials.
The number of Pentagon contractors in Afghanistan will likely grow to 160,000 as the number of U.S. soldiers reaches 100,000, the highest ratio of private military contractors to soldiers in U.S history. The Afghanistan war has been called the first U.S. contractor war; and it heralds a future in which waging war no longer requires citizens for soldiers, only money for mercenaries.
According to a federal audit of Pentagon contractors in Afghanistan, 16% of monies paid to contractors has been for “questioned and unsupported costs.” No matter the war's outcome, the defense industry and mercenary contractors win -- with windfall profits.
How is it that Congress wrangled for nearly a year over the cost of universal health care and then passed the largest defense budget in the history of the world ($636 billion) in late December '09 with nary a whimper nor headline? (Sources: 2)
Does the war economy affect the domestic economy?
U.S. unemployment reached 10% at the end of December 2009 and is projected to rise in 2010. When we include the underemployed, and those who have given up looking for a job, the rate climbs to 17.3% - at a time when states are suffering lower tax revenues and making large cuts in local human, social, educational and cultural services.
The National Priorities Project
provides up-to-date information for every state, city and town on what their war tax money could purchase in alternative domestic goods and services. For example, the 2009 cost of war to Massachusetts taxpayers could fund 600,000 Head Start jobs, provide health care for 1.5 million people, and fund renewable electricity for 7.5 million citizens.
Defense apologists argue that the Pentagon and the military industrial complex form the keystone of the economy, assuring military and defense-related civilian jobs as well as technical innovation. However, recent analysis of the effect of defense spending on job creation challenges this axiomatic notion. Comparing $1 billion spent on clean energy, health care, and education to the same amount spent on defense, researchers found that a larger number of jobs with mid- to high-range salaries and benefits would be created in the non-defense sectors than in defense. The reason?
Military jobs provide relatively high average wages and much more generous benefits than the other sectors, thus fewer jobs overall per billion dollars spent. A related study assessed the long-term (20 year) effect on jobs and economic growth of current defense spending (5.6% of GDP). The results reveal a diminished economy: a loss of 2 million jobs and a reduction of 1.8% GDP. (Sources: 3)
Has the status of Afghan women improved since the 2001 war and 2005 elections?
Since 2001 women have suffered anew the dangers and deprivations of war, the increased militarization of society, and worsened male violence in the chaos of war. Misogynist warlords permeate the national government - the Parliament, Cabinet, and the extremely conservative Judiciary. They have imposed restrictions on women comparable to those of the Taliban - to wit the Shiite Personal Status Law passed in summer 2009 which permits men to starve their wives if they refuse sex, denies women legal guardianship of their children, requires wives to have their husbands' permission to go outside, and allows rapists to pay their victims rather than face criminal justice.
Women activists -- including the Revolutionary Association of Women
in Afghanistan, Malalai Joya (illegally banished from the Afghan Parliament for exposing the corruption and criminal past of many warlord Parliamentarians), and Afghan expert Ann Jones -- report that equal rights for women was a “feel good” fiction used to sell the 2001 war and to prop up the markedly corrupt Karzai government.
President Obama's recent decision to escalate the war disregarded the fate of Afghan women, a point made obvious when he failed to cite their extreme plight in his December 2009 war speech at West Point. According to Joya, the mujahideen, the warlords in government, and the Taliban are one and the same for women: “It's as easy to kill a woman in my country as it is to kill a bird.” (Sources: 4)
Does U.S. military aid for development in Afghanistan serve humanitarian purposes?
Military aid for development crept into recent U.S. wars as the component of counterinsurgency (or COIN) which would win the hearts and minds of the civilian population under siege. Ten percent of the war budget in Afghanistan is allocated for “humanitarian” aid such as school and health clinic building, bridge repair, road building, and so on; and it is administered through USAID. A new investigative report on USAID Afghanistan development projects finds that the agency is understaffed in the field and fails to manage, visit or audit their programs -- a recipe for waste, corruption, fraud and extortion. Further, USAID projects have recklessly bloated budgets which are mismatched with the local development needs of villages and result in ineffective projects. Finally, it is alleged that project contractors pay up to 20% of project costs to the Taliban for security – “a protection racket” which funds those against whom we are waging war.
The strategic goal of U.S. military aid for development is to support war objectives and, only secondarily, the lives of Afghan people. For this reason, even this pitiful percent of the war budget is problematic for humanitarian agencies. Humanitarian non-governmental organizations (NGOs) are now targeted by militants because they are associated with the U.S. military, given that military development projects resemble NGO projects. CARE International has testified to the endangerment that military development aid embedded within war has caused their agency. CARE’s neutral status, which has allowed them safe passage to reach and rescue civilians, is gone – the collateral damage of counterinsurgency strategy as codified in the 2006 Army Counterinsurgency Manual. A dozen prominent humanitarian agencies – including Save the Children, CARE, and the Catholic Relief Services -- issued a report in spring of 2009 critiquing the “militarization of aid” as a contamination of and endangerment to the genuine humanitarian work in war. (Sources: 5)
Historic Role of the United States
What role did the United States play in the rise of the Taliban and Al-Qaeda?
The CIA initially supported Afghan fundamentalist Muslim guerrillas or mujaheddin against the pro-Soviet government in 1979 in order to provoke a Soviet invasion and fatally mire the USSR in their own Vietnam. After the Soviet invasion, USAID funded a companion strategy in the early 1980s -- the development of textbooks for Afghan schoolchildren which were filled with jihad images and text, including weapons, soldiers, landmines, and tales of heroic violent resistance to the Soviets. The books continued to be used through the 1990s and were still widely available in 2002, when the story broke. This inculcation of violence through US-funded children's textbooks was sustained in Pakistani refugee camps and madrassas filled with war-orphaned boys of the Soviet-Afghan conflict. The camp and madrass culture set the stage for the violence and misogyny of the Taliban, the next generation of mujaheddin.
The U.S. venture to build a militant base in Afghanistan also created the Al-Qaeda network. In the 1980s, tens of thousands of fundamentalist Muslims, among them Osama Bin Laden, were recruited from numerous countries to military training camps along the Afghan/Pakistan border to join in the guerrilla war against the Soviets. The U.S. and Pakistan provided military trainers, weapons and war resources. “What Washington was not prepared to admit was that the Afghan jihad, with the support of the CIA, had spawned dozens of fundamentalists movements across the Muslim world.” (Rashid) (Sources: 6)
What role did Pakistan have in the present conflict and what are the implications of the spread of war to Pakistan?
The roots of Pakistan's current crisis with the Taliban go back to to the early 1980s. CIA and Pakistan money, training and weapon support to the Afghan mujaheddin during their war against the Soviets enabled militant fundamentalists to build a base in Afghanistan, a country whose majority had belonged to a liberal Sunni sect. Pakistan then continued to support the Taliban in their takeover of Afghanistan from the mujaheddin and warlords in the 1990s as U.S. involvement waned. Pakistan's role in supporting the mujaheddin and Taliban has contributed to the war in Afghanistan burgeoning into a regional conflict. It assured that Taliban and Al-Qaeda - driven from Afghanistan during the on-going U.S.-NATO war -- could escape into Pakistani border areas, towns and cities.
Pakistan is a highly militarized country with nuclear weapons, extreme inequality and poverty, a tense relationship with their nuclear rival/neighbor India, and an unstable government - a very risky situation in which the United States is expanding the war into Pakistan through counterterrorism. Three and a half million people were rapidly displaced by violence in the Swat Valley of Pakistan shortly after the Pakistan military began a US-supported offensive against the Taliban in that region. Dr. Aasim Sajjad Akhtar predicts that the Taliban will grow with recruits from the local Pakistani population as the military offensive continues: “the longer the war continues--and it has only just begun in this region--the better the chances that the Taliban will recruit from the refugees.” (Sources: 7)
What is the impact of U.S. drone attacks to date?
The CIA has launched scores of drone attacks in the tribal regions of the Afghanistan/Pakistan border over the past 1 ½ years, aiming for “high value” Al-Qaeda and Taliban targets. The White House authorized an expansion of drone attacks in Pakistan timed to coincide with the December 2009 announcement to send 30,000 more troops to Afghanistan. Estimates of militants and civilians killed in the attacks vary wildly: One of the best approximations is that 750-1000 people have been killed since 2006, of which 32% were civilians, 20 were high-level Al Qaeda, and the remaining were lower level militants. The CIA drone success rate, as measured by its goal of assassinating top-level militants, hovers between 2 and 2.5%.
Even so, the CIA and Air Force and their military contractors rave about the antiseptic quality and surgical impact of their robot warfare. Seasoned defense analysts, however, offer more sober assessments. The drone program has had limited effect in terms of weakening Al-Qaeda and the Pakistani Taliban, who are dispersing into cities.
It is stimulating a growing militant insurgency and visceral anti-Americanism among emasculated Pakistani military. And it has infuriated the Pakistani public and turned the majority against the U.S.
Drones give the facade of being on top of the Afghan/Pakistan war; in reality, they are more a sign of weakness, desperation, and poverty of solutions than of superiority. History demonstrates that aerial warfare rarely if ever wins wars. To the contrary, it unifies the resolve of people against those terrorizing them with armed missiles and invites retaliation.
On December 30, 2009 a double agent linked with Al-Qaeda killed 7 CIA employees and wounded 6 others at a CIA base near the Afghan/Pakistan border which was collecting intelligence information and planning drone attacks. Of 44 countries with drone technology, two have used them to kill (U.S. and Israel) - a bargain with the devil which invites other countries to do so in turn.
How about an alternative counterterrorism program, like books not bombs? The cost of a weaponized drone -- $40 million - could pay 15,000 teachers for 10 years in the school programs for girls established by local and international NGOs in the Afghanistan and Pakistan region. (Sources: 8)
Public Support and Legality
Where does public support for the wars in Afghanistan and Pakistan stand?
Seven of 10 Britons recently polled support withdrawal from the war. The majority of German and French citizens oppose the war.
Two thirds of Pakistanis polled consider the U.S. a larger threat than the Taliban or India, Pakistan's arch nuclear rival. The majority of Afghans want security and justice in bringing criminals to trial, not more war.
American support has seesawed. Prior to December 2009, more than half of Americans polled opposed the war in Afghanistan. However, public opinion on the war shifted after Obama's December 3 speech at West Point, according to The Washington Post/ABC News Poll. Fifty eight percent of those polled support the increase of troops being sent; the majority polled (55%) oppose a deadline for withdrawal; most (71%) expect troops to remain for many years, and the majority of the 71% support a long war; most (56%) think that the U.S. must win the war in Afghanistan for the war on terrorism to be a success.
What accounts for this sudden shift in national opinion on the war in Afghanistan? At least 2 factors may have conspired to manufacture the consent of the majority of Americans: the persistently positive opinion pieces on the war in major U.S. newspapers and the central role of former top military officers as analysts for major television and cable networks.
A revealing assessment by Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting (FAIR) of the op-ed pages of The New York Times and The Washington Post during the first 10 months of 2009 found that pro-war columns outnumbered anti-war columns by more than 10 to 1 in the Washington Post and 5 to 1 in The New York Times. The news coverage included “the narrow range of elite, inside-Washington opinion” and largely ignored a wider range of public opinion on the war. Those who get their war analysis from television and cable networks are treated to the opinions of retired generals who are presented as civilian specialists on military policy, without disclosure of their military past or of their current business ties to military contractors. The networks have made ex-military war profiteers into poseurs as neutral civilian experts. (Sources: 9)
Are the war in Afghanistan and the drone attacks in Pakistan legal?
Both the US-led war in Afghanistan and the CIA drone attacks in Pakistan violate international and national law and policy. The UN Charter provides that member states must settle their international disputes by peaceful means and cannot use military force except in self-defense or when authorized by the Security Council. The requisite for self-defense, as defined in international law, must be “instant, overwhelming, leaving no choice of means, and no moment for deliberation.” The United States did have other choice of means to redress harm after the 9/11 attack. The 9/11 attack was not an “armed” attack by the country of Afghanistan on the United States.
It was a crime against humanity committed by individuals in an international terrorist network (fostered by the U.S. in the 1980s) who could be pursued, captured and tried in a court of justice.
The Security Council passed two resolutions after 9/11; neither authorized using military force in Afghanistan. Therefore, the resultant U.S.-led war on Afghanistan was not authorized by the Security Council nor did it meet the Charter's criteria of self-defense. Thus it violates the UN Charter and U.S. law of which the Charter is part under the Supremacy Clause of the Constitution.
The CIA drone attacks in Pakistan violate the Geneva Conventions and the UN Charter because they are targeted, political assassinations undertaken outside of any judicial framework. Further, the CIA drone program violates longstanding U.S. policy, namely, an executive order banning assassinations which was issued by President Gerald Ford and reaffirmed by all succeeding presidents except George W. Bush. (Sources: 10)
H. Patricia Hynes is
a board member of the Traprock Center for Peace and Justice and a member of the Alliance for Peace which is coordinated by the Traprock Center.
Allison Stanger. One Nation Under Contract: The Outsourcing of American Power and the Future of American Foreign Policy. (New Haven:Yale University Press). 2009.
Malalai Joya. A Woman Among Warlords: the Extraordinary Story of an Afghan Who Dared to Raise Her Voice. (New York: Scribner). 2009.
Film Re-Think Afghanistan War: (Part 5) Women of Afghanistan. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=R7jAT0FAGBc
Ann Jones. Kabul in Winter: Life Without Peace in Afghanistan. (New York: Picador. Henry Holt and Company). 2006.
Ahmed Rashid. Taliban: Militant Islam, Oil, and Fundamentalism in Central Asia. (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press Nota Bene Book). 2001.
Ahmed Rashid. Taliban: Militant Islam, Oil, and Fundamentalism in Central Asia. (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press Nota Bene Book). 2001.