Category Archives: Kabul

Droning Disasters: A US Strike on Kabul

No more profoundly disturbing statement was needed.  In the dying days of the official US departure from Kabul, a US drone etched its butcher’s legacy with a strike supposedly intended for the blood-lusty terrorist group ISIS-K, an abbreviation of Islamic State in Khorasan Province.  Its members had taken responsibility for blasts outside Harmid Karzai International Airport that had cost the lives of at least 175 individuals and 13 US service personnel.  Suicide bombers had intended to target “translators and collaborators with the American army”.

President Joe Biden promised swift retribution. “To those who carried out this attack, as well as anyone who wishes America harm, know this: We will not forgive.  We will not forget.  We will hunt you down and make you pay.” American “interests and our people” would be defended “with every measure at my command.”

In his sights was ISIS-K.  “I’ve also ordered my commanders to develop operational plans to strike ISIS-K assets, leadership and facilities.”  A response “with force and precision” would take place “at our time, at the place we choose and a moment of our choosing.”

On August 28, an announcement by the Pentagon was made that two “high-profile” members of the group had been killed in a drone strike in Khorasan Province.  That same day, the President warned that the group was likely to conduct another attack.  The US military was readying itself.

The following day, to demonstrate such precision and choice, a vehicle supposedly carrying an unspecified number of suicide bombers linked to ISIS-K and speeding towards Kabul airport was struck in a second drone attack.  The site of the attack, being a residential neighbourhood in the city, should have given room for pause to those precisionists in the military.

The strike was meant to leave a lasting impression upon ISIS-K fighters.  Initially, US officials were pleased to inform the Associated Press that “multiple suicide bombers” had perished in the attack.  “US military forces conducted a self-defence unmanned over-the-horizon airstrike today on a vehicle in Kabul, eliminating an imminent ISIS-K threat to Harmid Karzai International Airport,” stated US Central Command spokesperson Capt. Bill Urban.

The outcome of the strike was apparently something to be proud of.  “Significant secondary explosions from the vehicle indicated the presence of a substantial amount of explosive material.”  But this came with a rounding caveat. “We’re assessing the possibilities of civilian casualties, although we have no indications at this time.”

The story started to congeal over interviews, discussions and threads.  A dribble of information suggested loss of civilian life.  A number quickly emerged in the flood that followed: ten family members had lost their lives.  From the New York Times, there was Matthieu Aikins patching things together.  Bodies were named: Somaya, daughter of Zemari.  Farzard, Zemari’s son, also killed.  The narrative twists, inverts and disturbs more: Zemari’s nephew, Naser, was an Afghan army officer, former guard of the US military.  He had applied for an SIV (Special Immigrant Visa), hoping to flee Afghanistan for the United States.

To the BBC, Ramin Yousufi, a relative of the victims, could only tearfully despair. “It’s wrong, it’s a brutal attack, and it’s happened based on wrong information.”  Questions followed.  “Why have they killed our family?  Our children?  They are so burned out we cannot identify their bodies, their faces.”

At a press briefing on August 30, Army Maj. Gen. William “Hank” Taylor of the Joint Staff tried to make something of yet another messy bungle in the annals of the US military.  “We are aware of reports of civilian casualties. We take these reports extremely seriously.”  John F. Kirby, Pentagon press secretary, was “not going to get ahead of it.  But if we have significant – verifiable information that we did take innocent life here, then we will be transparent about that, too.  Nobody wants to see that happen.”  Urban also stated that the Pentagon was aware of civilian casualties “following our strike on a vehicle in Kabul today.”

The attack had that sheen of atrocious incompetence (Kirby preferred the term “dynamic”), but that would be a misreading.  Killing remotely is, by its nature, inaccurate, though it has a disturbing fan club deluded into thinking otherwise.  The death of civilians, subsumed under the euphemism of collateral damage, is often put down to shonky intelligence rather than the machinery itself.  As Rachel Stohl of the Stimson Centre is a case in point.  “These are precise weapons,” she erroneously observed in 2016.  “The failure is in the intelligence about who it is that we are killing”.

Drone strikes have demonstrated, time and again, to lack the mythical precision with which they are billed.  Those in proximity to the target will be slain.  Whole families have been, and will continue, to be pulverised.  “Gradually,” the New York Times observed with stunning obviousness in 2015, “it has become clear that when operators in Nevada fire missiles into remote tribal territories on the other side of the world, they often do not know who they are killing, but are making an imperfect best guess.”

In 2016, research conducted by the Bureau of Investigative journalism found that the lethal returns from the US-UAV program proved to be overwhelmingly civilian.  A mere 3.5% could be said, with any certainty, to be terrorists.

The use of drones in combat is also politically baffling, self-defeating and contradictory.  As Michael Boyle has explained, referring to the use of UAV warfare in Pakistan, Yemen and Somalia, such a counterterrorism strategy was distinctly at odds in providing, on the one hand, a flow of arms and financial resource to the very governments whose legitimacy they undermined through the use of such strikes.  By all means, we supply you, but have no trust in your competence.

A mere month after the conviction of whistleblower Daniel Hale, who did more than any other to reveal the grotesque illusion of reliability behind the US drone program, UAV warfare was again shown to be a butchering enterprise praised by the precisionists and found politically wanting.  Those attending the funerals of the slain family members, an event taking place in the shadow of US power in retreat, needed little convincing who their enemy was.

The post Droning Disasters: A US Strike on Kabul first appeared on Dissident Voice.

Abandoned and Alone: Lamenting the US-Australian Alliance

Listening to Australian pundits talk about the relationship of their country with the US – at least from a strategic perspective – can be a trying exercise.  It is filled with angst, Freudian fears of abandonment, the strident megalomania of Australian self-importance.  Critics of this complex are shouted down as Sinophiles or in the pay of some foreign power.

This unequal and distinctly unhealthy relationship has been marked by a certain outsourcing tendency.  Australian foreign policy is a model example of expectation: that other powers will carry its weight: processing refugees; aiding Australians stranded or persecuted overseas; reliance on that fiction known as the extended nuclear deterrent.  Self-reliance is discouraged in favour of what Barry Posen calls a “cheap ride”.

In recent years, the Australian security-military apparatus has been more than ingratiating regarding its alliance with Washington, despite such sombre warnings as those from the late Malcom Fraser.  In 2014, the former prime minister argued that Australia, at the end of the Cold War, was presented with an opportunity to pursue a policy of “peace, cooperation, and trust” in the region.  Instead, Canberra opted to cling on to a foreign war machine that found itself bloodied and bruised in the Middle East.  Now, Australia risked needlessly going to war against China on the side of the US.  Best to, he suggested, shut down US training bases in the Northern Territory and close the Pine Gap signals centre as soon as feasible.

During the Trump administration, a more than usually cringe worthy effort was made to be Washington’s stalking horse in the Asia-Pacific region.  Poking China on such matters as COVID-19 was seen as very sensible fare, as it might invite a more solid commitment of the United States to the region.  But the momentum for an easing of some US global commitments was impossible to reverse.  The country was looking inward (the ravages of the COVID contagion, a country riven by protest and the toxic and intoxicating drug of identity politics).  Those in Canberra were left worried.

This state of affairs has prompted the glum lament from the veteran strategist Hugh White that Australia’s politicians lack imagination in the face of the most significant change in its foreign relations since British settlement.  They refuse to accept that China is there, not to be contained but to be accommodated in some form. The Pacific pond will have to accept two hegemons rather than one, a point the Washington-hugging types in Canberra find not only impermissible but terrifying.

The fall of Kabul offered further stimulus for panic.  The Western war adventurers had been defeated and instead of asking why Australians were ever in Afghanistan, the focus shifted to the umbilical cord with Washington.  In conducting interviews with four former Australian Prime Ministers, Paul Kelly of The Australian, being more woolly-headed than usual, saw Biden’s withdrawal as “so devoid of judgment and courage that it raises a fog of doubt about Biden himself and about America’s democratic sustenance as a reliable great power.”

Of the former prime ministers interviewed, the undying pugilist Tony Abbott wondered what “fight” was left in “Biden’s America”.  There might well be some in the reserves, he speculated, but US allies had to adjust.  Australia had to show “more spine” in the alliance.

Kevin Rudd, himself an old China hand, wanted to impress upon the Australian public and body politic that “we are in the midst of a profound paradigm shift in global and regional geopolitics.”  The US continued to question itself about what strategic role it would play in the Asia-Pacific region in the face of China’s inexorable rise.  Australia had to plan for the “best” and the “worst”: the former entailing “a robust regionally and globally engaged America”; the latter, “an America that begins to retreat.”  On August 14, Rudd had urged the Biden administration to “reverse the course of its final military withdrawal”.

Malcolm Turnbull opted for the small troop thesis: “America should have retained a garrison force in Afghanistan.”  Doing so might have provided sufficient assurance for Afghan national forces and prevented a Taliban victory.  “It was not palatable to have kept forces there, but what we have seen now is even less palatable.”  The US, he noted, had retained forces across European states, Japan and South Korea “for decades”.  (Turnbull misses a beat here on such shaky comparisons, given that the Taliban would have never tolerated the presence of such a garrison.)

Trump comes in for a lecturing: “The [US-Taliban] talks should never have occurred in the absence of the Afghan government and their effect was to delegitimise that government.”  In all fairness to the Trump administration, there was little by way of legitimacy in the Afghan national government to begin with.  Negotiating with the Taliban was simply an admission as to where the bullets and bombs were actually coming from, not to mention how untenable the existence of the Kabul regime had become.

As for John Howard, the man who sent Australian forces to Afghanistan to begin with, the garrison thesis held even greater merit.  Again, the false analogy of other US imperial footprints was drawn: if Washington can station 30,000 troops in South Korea for seven decades after the end of hostilities, why not Afghanistan?  Hopefully, this “bungle” would remain confined to the handling of Afghanistan and not affect the US-Australian alliance.  “I believe if it were put to the test, the Americans would honour the ANZUS treaty.”

Such reflections, part moaning, part regret, should provide brickwork for a more independent foreign policy.  Alison Broinowski, former diplomat and Vice-President of Australians for War Powers Reform, offers some level-headed advice.  “If Australians ignore the change in the global power balance that is happening before our eyes,” she writes, “we will suffer the consequences.  If we can’t defeat the Taliban, how will we prevail in a war against China?”  Such a question, given the terrifying answer that follows, is not even worth asking.

The post Abandoned and Alone: Lamenting the US-Australian Alliance first appeared on Dissident Voice.

Terror Attacks in Kabul Suspiciously on Cue… Who Gains?

Could an atrocity have been arranged by some of Baradar’s men at the request of the CIA?

Three days before the bloody carnage at Kabul airport, CIA director William Burns held a secret meeting with a top Taliban commander in the Afghan capital. That is only one of several suspicious events this week in the countdown to the dramatic U.S. evacuation.

At least 13 U.S. troops guarding an entrance to Kabul airport were killed in an apparent suicide bomb attack. Dozens of Afghans waiting in line for evacuation by military cargo planes were also killed. A second blast hit a nearby hotel used by British officials to process immigration documents.

It was not the main ranks of the Taliban who carried out the atrocities. The militant group which swept into power on August 15 after taking over Kabul has ring-fenced the capital with checkpoints. The explosions occurred in airport districts under the control of the U.S. and British military.

A little-known terror group, Islamic State in Khorasan (IS-K), claimed responsibility for the bombings. IS-K was barely reported before until this week when the U.S. and British intelligence services issued high-profile warnings of imminent terror attacks by this group at Kabul airport. Those warnings came only hours before the actual attacks. President Joe Biden even mentioned this new terror organization earlier this week and pointedly claimed they were “sworn enemies” of the Taliban.

How is an obscure terror outfit supposed to infiltrate a highly secure area – past “sworn enemy” Taliban checkpoints – and then breach U.S. and British military cordons?

How is it that U.S. and British intelligence had such precise information on imminent threats when these same intelligence agencies were caught completely flat-footed by the historic takeover of Kabul by the Taliban on August 15? When the Taliban swept into the capital it marked the collapse of a regime that the Americans and British had propped for nearly 20 years during their military occupation of Afghanistan. Could their intelligence agencies miss foreseeing such a momentous event and yet less than two weeks later we are expected to believe these same agencies were able to pinpoint an imminent atrocity requiring complex planning?

What is the political fallout from the airport bombings? President Biden and British Prime Minister Boris Johnson are adamant that the evacuation from Kabul will be completed by the deadline on August 31. Biden said the atrocity underscores the urgency to get out of Afghanistan, although he threw in the token vow that “we will hunt down” the perpetrators.

To be sure, the president is coming under intense political fire for capitulating against the Taliban and terrorists and for betraying Afghan allies. Some Republicans are demanding his resignation due to his overseeing a disaster and national disgrace. It is estimated that up to 250,000 Afghans who worked with the U.S. military occupation will be left behind and in danger of reprisal attacks.

There seems a negligible chance that the deaths of 13 U.S. troops – the largest single-day killing of Americans in Afghanistan since a Chinook helicopter was shot down in August 2011 with 38 onboard – will provoke an extension of the Pentagon’s mission in the country. Even after the bombings this week, the Pentagon advised Biden to stick to the August 31 deadline. The Taliban have also stated that all U.S. and NATO troops must be out of the country by that date.

Polls were showing that most Americans agreed with Biden’s pullout from Afghanistan – the longest war by the U.S. was seen as futile and unwinnable. The sickening bomb attacks this week will only underscore the public sense of war-weariness. Hawkish calls for returning large-scale forces to Afghanistan have little political resonance.

This brings us back to the secret meeting earlier this week between the CIA’s William Burns and Taliban commander Abdul Ghani Baradar. The Washington Post reported that Biden sent Burns to meet with Baradar in Kabul. It was the most senior contact between the Biden administration and the Taliban since the latter’s takeover of Afghanistan on August 15. The details of the discussion were not disclosed and some reports indicated other Taliban figures were not aware of the meeting.

Baradar is one of the founding members of the Taliban. He was captured by Pakistan intelligence and the CIA in 2010. But at the request of the United States, Baradar was released from prison in 2018. Thereafter he led the Taliban in negotiations with the U.S. on finding an end to the conflict. Those talks culminated in a deal in February 2020 with the Trump administration agreeing to troop withdrawal this year. Biden has stuck to the pullout plan.

From his career path, there is good reason to believe that Baradar is the CIA’s man inside the Taliban. Let’s say at least that he has the agency’s ear.

Why else would CIA chief Burns meet Baradar at such a crucial time in the U.S. evacuation of Afghanistan? To get Taliban assurances of security measures safeguarding American troops as they exit? That obviously didn’t happen.

What else, then? Could an atrocity have been arranged by some of Baradar’s men at the request of the CIA? The objective being to shift focus from a shambolic, shameful retreat to one of necessity due to terror threats. It seems uncanny that U.S. and British intelligence services were warning of an event only hours before it happened in a way that was precisely predicted. The other consequence of benefit is that the droves of desperate Afghans queueing near Kabul airport are dispersed out of fear of more bloodshed. The beneficial optic is that U.S. and British military planes will take off on August 31 without the harrowing, pitiful scenes of Afghans running down the runway after them. Hence, the empire wraps up its bloody criminal war, with a little less shame than otherwise.

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Afghanistan was based on lies: Will Canada’s militarists apologize?

The quick collapse of the US-backed government in Afghanistan has revealed how little ordinary people should trust Canada’s military, arms industry and associated ideological supporters. Their justifications for war, their claims of progress and then victory have proven to be no more than propaganda and lies.

Canada’s biggest military deployment since World War II, more than 40,000 Canadian troops fought in Afghanistan between 2001 and 2014. Canada spent $20 billion on the military operations and related aid mission and over 200,000 Afghan civilians and combatants were killed in two decades of fighting. As I detailed yesterday, Canada engaged in significant violence and war crimes in the central Asian country. Canadian special forces participated in highly unpopular night-time assassination raids and a JTF2 member said he felt his commanders “encouraged” them to commit war crimes in Afghanistan.

The reasons presented for Canada’s war in Afghanistan were to fight fundamentalists, build democracy and support women’s rights. These rationales never added out.

Just before Canada ramped up its fighting in Kandahar in 2006 Canadian troops invaded Haiti to overthrow the elected government there. Five hundred Canadian soldiers backed violent rebels — Haiti’s Taliban, if you like — who employed rape as a means of political control. A study in the prestigious Lancet medical journal revealed there were 35,000 rapes in the Port-au-Prince area in the 22 months after the overthrow of the elected government. So much for advancing women’s rights.

The other supposed motivation for the invasion and occupation was to weaken Al Qaeda and Jihadist forces. As Canadian troops wound down their occupation of Afghanistan a half dozen Canadian fighter jets bombed Libya. With a Canadian general overseeing the war and Canadian naval vessels helping out, NATO helped rebels in the east of the country opposed to Muammar Gadhafi’s secular government. A year and a half before the war a Canadian intelligence report described eastern Libya as an “epicentre of Islamist extremism” and said “extremist cells” operated in the anti-Gadhafi stronghold. In fact, during the bombing, noted Ottawa Citizen military reporter David Pugliese, Canadian air force members privately joked they were part of “al-Qaida’s air force”. Lo and behold hardline Jihadists were the major beneficiaries of the war, taking control of significant portions of the country.

If fighting Jihadists, building democracy and defending women’s rights were not Canada’s main objectives in Afghanistan what was?

Supporting the US was the main reason Canada was fighting. “Washington’s reactions tended to be the exclusive consideration in almost all of the discussions about Afghanistan,” explains The Unexpected War: Canada In Kandahar. “The political problem, of course, was how to support Washington in its war on terror without supporting the war in Iraq. The answer to the problem was the so-called ‘Afghan solution’.” Former Foreign Affairs Minister Bill Graham explained “there was no question, every time we talked about the Afghan mission, it gave us cover for not going to Iraq.”

But there’s more to it than that. The military saw the conflict in Afghanistan as a way to increase its profile. There was a surge of martial patriotism in Canada with initiatives such as Highway of Heroes and Project Hero. In the mid-2000s every province adopted a special licence plate to signify the driver is a veteran.

The military saw Afghanistan as a way to assert its warfighting bona fides. As Chief of the Defence Staff Rick Hillier infamously proclaimed: “We are going to Afghanistan to actually take down the folks that are trying to blow up men and women … we’re not the public service of Canada, we’re not just another department. We are the Canadian Forces, and our job is to be able to kill people.”

The Canadian Forces have a predilection for war. As basically all but Canadian special forces had been withdrawn from Afghanistan, the Chief of the Defence Staff publicly demanded a new war. “We have some men and women who have had two, three and four tours and what they’re telling me is ‘Sir, we’ve got that bumper sticker. Can we go somewhere else now?’” General Walter Natynczyk told Canadian Press in 2012. “You also have the young sailors, soldiers, airmen and women who have just finished basic training and they want to go somewhere and in their minds it was going to be Afghanistan. So, if not Afghanistan, where’s it going to be? They all want to serve.”

Various think tanks and militarist organization such as the Conference of Defense Associations as well as academics writing on military issues benefited from millions of dollars in public funds. The war justified an increase in the size of the military and a major spike in military spending.

Private security firms did well in Afghanistan. Conflict in that country helped propel Montréal’s Garda’s to become the biggest privately held security firm in the world with some 80,000 employees today.

Military service contractors such as SNC Lavalin and ATCO also expanded their involvement with the Canadian Forces. During the war in Afghanistan Canadian Commercial Corporation president Marc Whittingham wrote in the Hill Times, “there is no better trade show for defence equipment than a military mission.” The crown corporation has expanded its role in the international weapons trade.

On Monday The Intercept reported that the stock price of the top five US arms firms rose 97% since US President George W. Bush signed the Authorization for Use of Military Force on September 18, 2001. In “$10,000 Invested in Defense Stocks When Afghanistan War Began Now Worth Almost $100,000” Jon Schwarz notes that these companies’ stock prices increase was 58% greater than the gains of the overall New York Stock Exchange.

Boeing, Raytheon, Lockheed Martin, Northrop Grumman and General Dynamics all have Canadian subsidiaries. The US-based firms are not simply branch plants. They do research in Canada, have offices near Parliament Hill and hire former top Canadian military officials. A number of them do international business through their Canadian divisions. General Dynamics Canada, for instance, has the largest ever Canadian export contract selling Light Armoured Vehicles to Saudi Arabia. Tracing its Canadian history to 1948, General Dynamics has ties to Canadian educational institutions, politicians and the CF. It has over 2,000 employees and does research and development work.

The stock price of the biggest Canadian-based arms firm, CAE, has also risen sharply since 2001. It trains US pilots as well as the operators of Predator and Reaper drones. The Montréal-based company openly talks about profiting from increased US military spending. “Le patron de CAE veut profiter de la hausse des budgets de l’armée américaine” (CAE boss wants to take advantage of rising US military spending), read a 2018 La Presse headline.

The war in Afghanistan was good for the arms industry. It also bolstered the Canadian military. But the quick unraveling of 20-years of war and occupation ought to sap some of the power of Canada’s military, arms companies and associated ideological institutions. The quick collapse of the US- and Canadian-backed Afghan military and government proves they should not be trusted. Their primary goal is, and always has been, to benefit the military-industrial complex, not to improve the lives of people in other countries. Or to tell the truth to Canadians.

The post Afghanistan was based on lies: Will Canada’s militarists apologize? first appeared on Dissident Voice.

The Taliban take Kabul

It unfolded as a story of fleeing.  The Afghan president Ashraf Ghani, taking flight to Tajikistan, giving little clue of his intentions to colleagues.  The fleeing of the infamous Abdul Rashid Dostum, a warlord assured to fight another day. The fleeing of tens of thousands of residents out of the city of Kabul, long seen as beyond the reach of insurgents.  The fleeing of Coalition embassy personnel, aided by freshly deployed troops from the United States and the UK sent into Afghanistan as a matter of urgency. The Taliban had taken Kabul.

In departing and leaving stranded colleagues to their fate, the bookish Ghani, preferring pen to gun, had time to leave a message on Facebook.  One could never accuse the man of having wells of courage. He reflected on either facing armed Taliban fighters or leaving his beloved country.  In order to avoid immolating Kabul, which “would have been a big human disaster”, he chose a hasty exit.

Only a few days prior, on August 11, Ghani had flown to Mazar-i-Sharif, in the company of the blood lusty Uzbek Dostum, supposedly to hold the fort against the Taliban with another warlord, the ethnic Tajik Atta Muhammad Noor.  Noor had pledged in June to mobilise the citizenry of Balkh province to fight the Taliban.  “God forbid, the fall of Balkh,” he declared at the time, “means the fall of the north and the fall of the north means the fall of Afghanistan.”

This was not a move greeted with universal joy.  Habib-ur-Rahman of the leadership council of the political and paramilitary group Hizb-e-Islami saw a bit of self-aggrandizing at work, hardly remarkable for a warlord keen to oversee his bit of real estate.  “The mobilisation of the people by politicians under the pretext of supporting security forces – with the use of public uprising forces – fuels the war from one side and from the other it affects Afghanistan’s stance in foreign policy.”

The shoring up mission led by Ghani would do little to conceal the historical differences between Noor and Dostum.  The former had done battle with Dostum’s troops during the latter’s time as a regional commander in the ailing Soviet-backed Afghan government.  Dostum’s defection from the government (one spots the common theme) in 1992 to form the Junbish-e-Milli party presented Noor with a chance to join forces.  But the Tajik left Dostum in 1993 citing irreconcilable ideological differences.  With the initial defeat of the Taliban, Noor triumphed in several military encounters with the frustrated Uzbek, seizing the Balkh province in its entirety.

The accord reached between the parties on this occasion certainly did not involve agreeing to fight the Taliban.  Both had come to the conclusion that scurrying to Uzbekistan was a sounder proposition.  Noor subsequently justified the measure by claiming enigmatically that, “They had orchestrated the plot to trap Marshal Dostum and myself too, but they didn’t succeed.”  Ghani would soon follow.

Members of Ghani’s imploding government have not taken kindly to the flight of their leader.  “Curse Ghani and his gang,” wrote acting defence minister, Bismillah Khan Mohammadi.  “They tied our hands from behind and sold the country.”

The head of the High Council for National Reconciliation Abdullah Abdullah also released a video withering in announcing that, “The former president of Afghanistan” had “left the country in this difficult situation.”  God, he suggested, “should hold him accountable.”  Abdullah, along with former President Harmid Karzai and Hizb-e-Islami leader Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, are currently in negotiations with the Taliban over the formal transfer of power.

The US and UK have deployed personnel in a hurried panic.  Over the weekend, President Joe Biden, in announcing the deployment of 5,000 troops, told the press that they would ensure “we can have an orderly and safe drawdown of US personnel and other allied personnel, and an orderly and safe evacuation of Afghans who helped our troops during our mission and those at special risk from the Taliban advance.”  Another thousand have also been added to the complement.

There was much embarrassment in all of this.  The US and its allies made the fundamental error that training, money and expertise would somehow miraculously guarantee the stability, continuity and reliability of a ramshackle regime.  Biden, in coming up with his own phraseology, had stated that a Taliban victory was “not inevitable”.  In July, we were given a nugget of Bidenese that, while he had little trust for the Taliban, he did “trust the capacity of the Afghan military, who is better trained, better equipped, and more re- – more competent in terms of conducting war.”

As the Taliban was securing the capital, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken parried evident parallels with the US withdrawal from Vietnam in 1975.  “This is manifestly not Saigon,” he said with little conviction.

Now, the scene was one of grave, turbaned and bearded men, armed to the teeth, overseeing the desk which Ghani previously occupied in the presidential palace.  They had survived and outwitted an army better armed and supposedly better trained. They had survived airstrikes launched from within the country and from bases in the Persian Gulf and Central Asia, via heavy bombers and lethal drones.  They had survived the forces of the US, NATO and rival militias.

They now find themselves in control of an entity they wish to be recognised as the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan.  History has come in its full violent circle.  A group of insurgents dismissed as fundamentalist mountain savages who would be vanquished before the modernising incentives of the West have shown up, as previous Afghan fighters have, the futility and sheer folly of meddling in their country’s affairs.

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Biden Acknowledges “Over the Horizon” Air Attacks Planned Against Taliban

“Over-the-horizon” air operations, possibly directed at the Taliban, may rely very heavily on drone assassination and drone targeting for manned aircraft.

On July 2, fleeing questions from reporters about U.S. plans in Afghanistan, President Joe Biden sought refuge behind the July 4th Independence Day holiday, yet obliquely acknowledged that the U.S. will use some level of “over the horizon” air attacks to prevent the Taliban from taking power, attacks that will include drones and manned aircraft, possibly even B-52s.

Here is a portion of President Biden’s remarkable exchange with the press, which occurred at the close of his comments on the June, 2021 jobs report:

Q    Are you worried that the Afghan government might fall?  I mean, we are hearing about how the Taliban is taking more and more districts.

The President:  Look, we were in that war for 20 years.  Twenty years.  And I think — I met with the Afghan government here in the White House, in the Oval.  I think they have the capacity to be able to sustain the government.  There are going to have to be, down the road, more negotiations, I suspect.  But I am — I am concerned that they deal with the internal issues that they have to be able to generate the kind of support they need nationwide to maintain the government.

Q    A follow on that thought on Afghanistan —

The President:  I want to talk about happy things, man.

Q    If there is evidence that Kabul is threatened, which some of the intelligence reports have suggested, it could be in six months or thereabout, do you think you’ve got the capability to help provide any kind of air support, military support to them to keep the capital safe, even if the U.S. troops are obviously fully out by that time?

The President:  We have worked out an over-the-horizon capacity that we can be value added, but the Afghans are going to have to be able to do it themselves with the Air Force they have, which we’re helping them maintain.

Q    Sir, on Afghanistan —

The President:  I’m not going to answer any more quick question on Afghanistan.

Q    Are you concerned —

The President:  Look, it’s Fourth of July.

 *****

When the President refers to “over-the-horizon capacity that we can be value added” he is referring to a plan, that appears might cost $10 billion, to fly drones and manned attack aircraft from bases as far away as Qatar, the United Arab Emirates and Kuwait to assist the current Afghan central government in defending itself against the Taliban.

His statement is the first acknowledgement that  the “over-the-horizon” air operations, that reportedly may rely very heavily on drone assassination and drone targeting for manned aircraft, will be directed at the Taliban.  In Congressional testimony in June, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said that “over-the-horizon” operations would focus on “elements that can possibly conduct attacks against our homeland”, suggesting Al Qaeda and ISIS as targets but not foreclosing attacks against the Taliban.

The President’s remarks about “over the horizon” as “value added” flowing into “but the Afghans are going to have to be able to do it themselves with the Air Force they have”, is reminiscent of former President Richard Nixon’s attempt to argue that the puppet government of Viet Nam was developing the power to defend itself, attempting to cover U.S. tracks out of the horribly disastrous U.S. colonization project in Viet Nam.

“Our air strikes have been essential in protecting our own remaining forces and in assisting the South Vietnamese in their efforts to protect their homes and their country from a Communist takeover”, Nixon said in a 1972 speech to the nation.

The apparent U.S. decision to continue to assist the Afghan central government from the air comes in company with a New York Times report saying that President Biden has placed “temporary limits on counterterrorism drone strikes and commando raids outside conventional battlefield zones like Afghanistan and Syria, and it has begun a broad review of whether to tighten Trump-era rules for such operations, according to officials.”

A similar report in Foreign Affairs, says that there has been an apparent reduction in U.S. drone attacks, and details elements of a “bigger rethink” process that the Biden Administration is said to be going through to limit civilian deaths and reevaluate how the U.S. should respond to “the overseas terrorist threat.”  A goal of the Administration, the report says, is to end the U.S. “forever” wars.

It must also be said, however, that these reports indicate that President Biden fully intends to continue the U.S. drone assassination/pre-emptive killing policy of Bush, Obama and Trump, possibly with more care for civilians casualties but in defiance of international principles of war, as outlined on BanKillerDrones.org, that would rule out the use of weaponized drones and military drone surveillance altogether whether inside or outside a recognized combat zone.

It appears that the reformist talk from Biden officials, much of it unattributed and therefore having no accountability, is intended to divert and placate those of us citizens who are revulsed by continuing drone atrocities, such as those leading 113 peace, justice and humanitarian organizations who signed a letter demanding “an end to the unlawful program of lethal strikes outside any recognized battlefield, including through the use of drones.”  Apart from the view, noted above, that drone attacks and surveillance are illegal anywhere, we have the question of the U.S. having turned the entire world into a potential “recognized battlefield.”

Even though U.S. ground forces have largely left Afghanistan, it is clear that the Biden administration considers Afghanistan a legitimate battlefield for U.S. air forces.

In President Biden’s “value added” remark, one can see a clear message: regardless of talk of a more humanitarian policy of drone killing and ending “forever” wars, the president has decided that prolonged civil war in Afghanistan is in the interest of the U.S.  Possibly this is because continued turmoil in Afghanistan will be unsettling and preoccupying to her neighbors, Iran, Pakistan, Russia and China.  Possibly it is because a civil war will make it easier for corporations and banks to exploit Afghanistan’s mineral, fossil fuel and opium wealth.

Certainly, continued U.S. air assaults in Afghanistan will generate money for U.S. military contractors.

With continuing U.S. air and commando attacks, Afghanistan can turn into a Libya, a divided, stalemated, suffering, bleeding country, where Turkey, Russia and China test their weapons and seek advantage.

Indeed, the U.S. is negotiating with Turkey, over the objection of the Taliban, to maintain “security” at the Kabul International Airport.  Undoubtedly, the Turkish political/military/corporate elite, who have their own expansionary ambitions, will use its drones, among them the semi-autonomous Kargu 2, to try to hold the airport and surrounding territory.

The Black Alliance for Peace released a statement on June 25, opposing “any effort to prolong the U.S. war on the Afghan people, including efforts to keep the United States engaged in any form in Afghanistan.”   The statement expressed concern for “the continued operation of U.S. special forces and mercenaries (or contractors) in Afghanistan, as well as U.S.-pledged support for Turkish military defense of Kabul International Airport, a site that has continued to be a major U.S. military stronghold to support its imperial presence.”

President Biden would do well to heed this statement, along with a petition to him, circulated by BanKillerDrones.org, urging no further U.S. air attacks against the Afghan people.

Now that Independence Day has passed, perhaps the President will be more willing to answer questions about the real goals of “over the horizon.”

The post Biden Acknowledges “Over the Horizon” Air Attacks Planned Against Taliban first appeared on Dissident Voice.

Like a Rocket in the Garden: The Unending War in Afghanistan

Late last week, I learned from young Afghan Peace Volunteer friends in Kabul that an insurgent group firing rockets into the city center hit the home of one volunteer’s relatives. Everyone inside was killed. Today, word arrived of two bomb blasts in the marketplace city of Bamiyan, in central Afghanistan, killing at least fourteen people and wounding forty-five.

These explosions have come on the heels of other recent attacks targeting civilians. On November 2, at least nineteen people were killed and at least twenty-two wounded by gunmen opening fire at Kabul University. On October 24, at least two dozen students died, and more than 100 were wounded in an attack on a tutoring center.

“The situation in our country is very bad and scary,” one young Afghan friend wrote to me. “We are all worried.” I imagine that’s an understatement.

A new report released by Save the Children, regarding violations against children in war zones, says Afghanistan accounts for the most killing and maiming violations, with 874 children killed and 2,275 children maimed in 2019.

Since the United Nations started collecting this data in 2005, more than 26,000 Afghan children have died.

Under President Donald Trump, the United States signed a “peace” deal with the Taliban in February 2020. It pertains to troop withdrawal and a Taliban pledge to cut ties with Al Qaeda in Afghanistan. The agreement certainly hasn’t contributed toward a more peaceful life for Afghans, and a U.N. report indicates the Taliban has continued its ties with insurgent groups.

Now, Afghans face constant battles between insurgent groups, U.S. forces, Afghan government forces, NATO forces, various powerful Afghan warlords, and paramilitaries organized by ruthless mafias which control much of the drug industry and other profitable enterprises.

Under President Biden, the United States would likely abide by Trump’s recent troop withdrawals, maintaining a troop presence of about 2,000. But Biden has indicated a preference for intensified Special Operations, surveillance and drone attacks. These strategies could cause the Taliban to nullify their agreement, prolonging the war through yet another presidency.

Mujib Mashal, a correspondent for The New York Times, was born in Kabul. When he was interviewed recently by one of his colleagues, he recalled being a little boy in the early 1990s, living through a civil war in Kabul, when rockets constantly bombarded his neighborhood.

Taliban groups were fighting various mujahideen. Mujib’s father cultivated a vegetable garden outside their home. One day, a rocket hit the garden, cutting an apple tree in half and burrowing deep into the ground.

But it didn’t explode.

Mujib remembers how his father watered the area where the rocket hit, for years, hoping the bomb would eventually rust and never explode. Now he worries that Afghanistan is headed toward an explosion of violence.

“And the fear is that in that space of war, things only get more extreme,” he told the Times. “The violence only gets more extreme. The brutality gets more extreme. That if this slips into another generational conflict, what we’ve seen over the past forty years in terms of the brutality will probably pale in comparison to what will come.”

I recently watched a video of a talk given in June of this year by Dr. Zaher Wahab, an Afghan professor in Portland, Oregon, who laments the intensifying havoc and violence war is causing in Afghanistan. He and his wife lived there for six years, until about a year ago, when they concluded that the city was unlivable.

Dr. Wahab believes there is no military solution to Afghanistan’s woes and calls for the United States to demilitarize as soon as possible. But he also offers ways forward.

He urges forming a multinational trust fund to justly assist with reconstruction in Afghanistan, including efforts to clear mines and clean up unexploded ordnance. Billions of dollars would be needed, commensurate to the sums spent on funding the war. He believes the United Nations should form a peacekeeping presence in Afghanistan relying on non-NATO countries.

The publication of the “Afghanistan papers” late last year highlighted the failure of the United States to accomplish any of its stated missions in Afghanistan. John Sopko, the Special Inspector General for Afghan Reconstruction, expressed his astonishment over the “hubris and mendacity” he had witnessed on the part of  U.S. military and civilian personnel in Afghanistan.

Despite its failures, the United States continues to bomb Afghan civilian areas. In 2019, the U.S. dropped 7,423 bombs and other munitions on Afghanistan.

For Afghan civilians, ongoing war means continued  bereavement, displacement, and despair. Bereft of income or protection, many Afghan householders join militias, pledging their support and possibly their willingness to fight or even die. Hence the rise of the Afghan Local Police, numerous militias fighting for various warlords, the Afghan governments’ fighting forces, including “ghost soldiers” who appear in name only, CIA-trained paramilitaries, and military contractors working for NATO contingents.

Afghanistan is a cauldron waiting to explode.

U.S. Army Major Danny Sjursen, retired, notes that in the 2020 election, neither presidential candidate questioned status quo norms about U.S. foreign policy being based on threat, force, and killing. Sjursen assures that pressure to change must, necessarily, flow from the grass roots.

The United States has landed in Afghanistan like a rocket in a garden. It refuses to rust, it poisons the Earth, and even U.S. voters can’t budge it. Normal life can’t continue with us there.

Meanwhile, an inevitably arriving Taliban-led government—one already in control of most of the country—is growing more fanatic and deadly.

Many U.S. voters, and too many Afghans, weren’t yet born when the current war was begun by the United States in 2001. Much of the U.S. public regards the Afghan people with deadly indifference.

Year after year, President after President, Americans continue to pretend the despair and futility we’ve caused in Afghanistan isn’t our fault. We don’t hold ourselves accountable.

But the forever wars, illegal and immoral, bankrupt our economy and our society as well. The military contractors become a sort of mafia. They are like a bomb in our garden, liable to explode.

And, unlike our Afghan counterparts, it’s not a bomb we can complain about. After all, we put it there.

An Elderly Man on a Kabul street

A child labourer studying on a Kabul street

 

• Photo credit: Abdulhai Darya

• This article first appeared in The Progressive

The post Like a Rocket in the Garden: The Unending War in Afghanistan first appeared on Dissident Voice.

Listening to our Anger and Angst

The family of a killed protester demand fair distribution of bread (Credit: Tolo News)

COVID-19 is clarifying a significant source of global anger and angst: inequality.

At the start of the COVID-19 crisis, Afghanistan had 300 ventilators, only one ventilator for every 110,000 Afghans.

As a medical physician, I gasped, my heart racing at the dilemma of who gets the ventilator. What if I was near death with serious COVID-19?

The head of a global vaccine alliance advised that “nobody is safe unless everybody is safe”, saying, “This is a global problem that needs a global solution and we have to all work together.”

But in many countries, the pandemic has stripped naked our systems, revealing how our economic and political elite value profit and power over human lives.

Though the Afghan government has been reporting higher GDPs over the past years, COVID-19 has exposed how GDPs don’t reflect the sort of economy all citizens need to survive with dignity.

GDPs say nothing about how governments and corporations treat their people and workers. COVID-19 has.

During Afghanistan’s lockdown, angry and hungry folk in Ghor province protested that corrupt government officials had redirected foreign food aid to themselves. They clashed with the police. Seven persons were killed.

During Minneapolis’ lockdown, George Floyd was stopped, and under the forceful knee of a policeman, he was suffocated and killed. Like the people of Ghor, the people of the U.S. are braving the virus to protest.

These incidents shock us into grieving at our outrageously meaningless systems. Yes, Hans Anderson, even the children can see that the emperors have no clothes! We all wish to echo Floyd’s “I can’t breathe!”

Our inter-connected human spirit responds. Some of us sigh heavily. Some cry. Some scream. Others slow down to take deep breaths. All of us wish for close friends who understand.

It helps to be present with one another, listening until our rage begins to transform into systemic change.

Rising Inequality, Anger and Angst Everywhere

Likewise, in people protests across the world over recent years, citizens have shouted, “Enough!” People have had enough of their political elite taking their money, then giving excuses, lying, berating the people, threatening them and imprisoning them.

People are demanding an end to the outdated premise that the “kings and rulers” are superior and all-knowing. They no longer wish to submit to the obsolete narrative that governments are always good, and the people are always bad.

We’ve seen through the illogical math of one President or Prime Minister behaving as if he or she is more intelligent or more moral than 34 or 340 million or 7.7 billion other human beings.

I think this unequal disparity is one reason why in 2018, Afghans reported the lowest positive experiences in the world, and why that year, anger seemed ‘contagious’, with more than one fifth of adults across the planet admitting to feeling angry, the highest percentage recorded by the Gallup Emotions Report since 2005.

And now, COVID-19 has given us the unique opportunity to share this anger as a human family.

Afghan Peace Volunteers distributing COVID food relief in May 2020 to 96 of the APVs’ “Borderfree Street Kids School” students (Credit: Dr. Hakim)

We Can Heal Together By Insisting On Equal Treatment For All

Primatologist and conservationist Jane Goodall said, “One of the lessons learnt from this crisis is that we must change our ways. If we do not do things differently, we are finished. We can’t go on very much longer like this.” She was referring to how we treat the environment and animals with absolute disrespect.

So, learning from COVID-19, we can each resolutely insist on equal policies for all members of our human family, whether in our personal lives, through protests, writing, art, music or other creative ways.

When the late Stephane Hessel was 93 years old, he called us to “Indignez-vous! Cry Out! Time for Outrage!”

To help Afghans, Americans and every human at the wrong end of the police or militaries, global citizens can insist on de-militarization, disarmament and the diversion of annual war trillions to take care of the climate, food, water, shelter, healthcare and education.

When a recent UN report showed that the Taliban and the U.S.-backed Afghan government forces had killed Afghan civilians in record numbers, we can respond by insisting on the same for Afghans as for George Floyd: arrest the Taliban and the U.S.-backed Afghan government, rather than allowing them to negotiate “peace deals” for power.

A banner in an alley as a memorial to the APVs’ Sajaad and two other youth killed in the explosion (Credit:  Dr. Hakim)

On the evening of 27th of February in a residential area where I live in Kabul, explosive devices attached to two bicycles exploded in a small alley, killing Sajad, one of our street kid students who was selling vegetables. Ironically, Sajaad’s death was just two days before the U.S. and Taliban signed their touted “peace deal”, not in Afghanistan, but in Qatar, with no Afghans involved, not even their acquiescent President Ghani.

I heard waves of wailing from my neighborhood, which were cries from the relatives and family members of Sajaad and other children who were killed.

That night, COVID-19 was already moving rapidly across the world, as I journaled my feelings below:

Death is my neighbour in Afghanistan,

a living hell for mourners nearby,
screaming,
unable to separate themselves away from love.
They raged with torrents of regret
over words said and unsaid,
deeds done and not done,
struck by unacceptable grief.
On this life-draining evening,
I was heating up leftovers for dinner
when I heard two blasts.
They were ‘small’ compared to others I’ve heard before,
so I dismissed them
as “gas cylinder incidents”??
This is the 5th night
of a 7-day ‘reduction in violence’ agreed upon
by the Orwellian1 US/Taliban ‘peace-makers’.
But, such deals have never created a people’s economy
where teenagers like 16-year-old Sajaad,
one of our Borderfree street kid students,
needn’t sell vegetables
along the alley where he was killed tonight.
The Mother of All Bombs2 and her bomblets
are provoking revenge,
everywhere.
In furious retaliation,
across deforested and climate-changed swathes of dust,
multi-national opponents buy, improvise, plant and trigger
all warps of explosive devices.
No ‘bomb’ is small,
because every weapon is manufactured
and paid for by us the human species,
Every munition is a pre-designed coffin
sold at a handsome, psychotic3 price,
fuelling wails.
While we heal from our grief,
we can daily dismantle
our ‘normal’ ways of making money,
protecting ourselves,
and obeying our status quo or symbols.
In our being and feeling,
thinking and doing,
studying and working,
quietly or out in the streets,
we can decisively choose
to recover meaning.

  1. Stars and Stripes had reported, “Talks between the two sides continued for most of 2019 as American bombs (a record 7423) were dropped.”
  2. In 2017, Trump threw the “Mother of All Bombs” over some caves and tunnels of Achin, a bomb that experts said would “vaporize anyone within 300 meters, while those in a one kilometer radius would be left deaf.”
  3. When Trump met Pakistan’s Prime Minister, he thought he sounded merciful when he taunted, “I could win that (Afghan) war in a week. I just don’t want to kill 10 million people.”

An Eyewitness to  the Horrors of the US “Forever Wars” speaks out

Kathy Kelly and Maya Evans walk with children at the Chamin-E-Babrak refugee camp in Kabul, Afghanistan, January 2014. (Abdulhai Darya)

The 2003 “shock and awe” bombing of Iraq had finally stopped. From the balcony of my room in Baghdad’s Al Fanar Hotel, I watched U.S. Marines moving between their jeeps, armored personnel carriers, and Humvees. They had occupied the street immediately in front of the small, family-owned hotel where our Iraq Peace Team had been living for the past six months. Looking upward, a U.S. Marine could see enlarged vinyl photos of beautiful Iraqi children strung across balconies of our fifth-floor rooms. We silently stood on those balconies when the U.S. Marines arrived in Baghdad, holding signs that said “War = Terror” and “Courage for Peace, Not for War.” When she first saw the Marine’s faces, Cynthia Banas commented on how young and tired they seemed. Wearing her “War Is Not the Answer” T-shirt, she headed down the stairs to offer them bottled water.

From my balcony, I saw Cathy Breen, also a member of the Iraq Peace Team, kneeling on a large canvas artwork entrusted to us by friends from South Korea. It depicts people suffering from war. Above the people, like a sinister cloud, is a massive heap of weapons. We unrolled it the day the Marines arrived and began to “occupy” this space. Marines carefully avoided driving vehicles over it. Sometimes they would converse with us. Below, Cathy read from a small booklet of daily Scripture passages. A U.S. Marine approached her, knelt down, and apparently asked to pray with her. He placed his hands in hers.

April Hurley, of our team, is a doctor. She was greatly needed in the emergency room of a nearby hospital during the bombing. Drivers would only take her there if she was accompanied by someone they had known for a long time, and so I generally accompanied her. I’d often sit on a bench outside the emergency room while traumatized civilians rushed in with wounded and maimed survivors of the terrifying U.S. aerial bombings. When possible, Cathy Breen and I would take notes at the bedsides of patients, including children, whose bodies had been ripped apart by U.S. bombs.

The ER scenes were gruesome, bloody and utterly tragic. Yet no less unbearable and incomprehensible were the eerily quiet wards we had visited during trips to Iraq from 1996 to 2003, when Voices in the Wilderness had organized 70 delegations to defy the economic sanctions by bringing medicines and medical relief supplies to hospitals in Iraq. Across the country, Iraqi doctors told us the economic war was far worse than even the 1991 Desert Storm bombing.

In pediatrics wards, we saw infants and toddlers whose bodies were wasted from gastrointestinal diseases, cancers, respiratory infections and starvation. Limp, miserable, sometimes gasping for breath, they lay in the arms of their sorrowful mothers, and seemingly no one could stop the U.S. from punishing them to death. “Why?” mothers murmured. Sanctions forbade Iraq to sell its oil. Without oil revenues, how could they purchase desperately needed goods? Iraq’s infrastructure continued to crumble; hospitals became surreal symbols of cruelty where doctors and nurses, bereft of medicines and supplies, couldn’t heal their patients or ease their agonies.

In 1995, UN officials estimated that economic sanctions had directly contributed to the deaths of at least a half-million Iraqi children, under age 5.

Kathy Kelly with children in Kabul, Afghanistan, May 2016 (Provided photo)

The economic war continued for nearly 13 harsh and horrible years.

Shortly after the Marines arrived outside of our hotel, we began hearing ominous reports of potential humanitarian crises developing in Baghdad and other major Iraqi cities. A woman who had been in charge of food distribution for her neighborhood, under the “Oil for Food” program, showed us her carefully maintained ledger books and angrily asked how all who had depended on the monthly food basket would now feed their families. Along with food shortages, we heard alarming reports about contaminated water and a possible outbreak of cholera in Basra and Hilla. For weeks, there had been no trash removal. Bombed electrical plants and sanitation facilities had yet to be restored. Iraqis who could help restore the broken infrastructure couldn’t make it through multiple check points to reach their offices; with communication centers bombed, they couldn’t contact colleagues. If the U.S. military hadn’t yet devised a plan for emergency relief, why not temporarily entrust projects to U.N. agencies with long experience of organizing food distribution and health care delivery?

Cathy, who is a nurse, Dr. April Hurley, and Ramzi Kysia, also a member of our group, arranged a meeting with the civil and military operations center, located in the Palestine Hotel, across the street from us. An official there dismissed them as people who didn’t belong there. Before telling them to leave, he did accept a list of our concerns, written on Voices in the Wilderness stationery.

The logo for our stationery reappeared a few hours later, at the entrance to the Palestine Hotel. It was taped to the flap of a cardboard box. Surrounding the logo were seven silver bullets. Written in ball-point pen on the cardboard was a message: “Keep Out.”

In response, Ramzi Kysia wrote a press release headlined: “Heavy-handed & Hopeless, The U.S. Military Doesn’t Know What It’s Doing In Iraq.”

Kathy Kelly holds Shoba at the Chamin-E-Babrak refugee camp in Kabul, Afghanistan, in January 2014, a few days after the child had been saved from a burning tent, during a fire that destroyed much of the camp. (Abdulhai Darya)

In 2008, our group, renamed Voices for Creative Nonviolence, was beginning a walk from Chicago to the Republican National Convention in Minneapolis. We asked Imam Abdul Malik Mujahid to speak at a “send-off” event. He encouraged and blessed our “Witness Against War” walk  but then surprised us by saying he had never heard us mention the war in Afghanistan, even though people there suffered terribly from aerial bombings, drone attacks, targeted assassinations, night raids and imprisonments. Returning from our walk, we began researching drone warfare, and then created an “Afghan Atrocities List,” on our website, carefully updating it each week with verifiable reports of U.S. attacks against Afghan civilians.

The following year, Joshua Brollier and I headed to Pakistan and then Afghanistan. In Kabul, Afghanistan, we were guests of a deeply respected non-governmental organization Emergency, which has a Surgical Centre for War Victims there.

Filippo, a sturdy young nurse from Italy who was close to completing three terms of service with Emergency, welcomed us. As he filled a huge backpack with medicines and supplies, he described how the hospital personnel managed to reach people in remote villages who have no access to clinics or hospitals. The trip was relatively safe since no one had ever attacked a vehicle marked with the Emergency logo. A driver would take him to one of Emergency’s 41 remote first aid clinics. From there, he would hike further up a mountainside and meet villagers awaiting him and the precious medicines he carried. In a previous visit, after he had completed a term in Afghanistan, he said people had walked four hours in the snow to come and say goodbye to him. “Yes,” he said, “I fell in love.”

How different Filippo’s report was from those compiled in our Afghan Atrocities List. The latter tells about U.S. special operations forces, some of the most highly trained warriors in the world, traveling to remote areas, bursting into homes in the middle of the night, and proceeding to lock the women in one room, handcuff or sometimes hogtie the men, rip apart closets, mattresses and furniture, and then take the men to prisons for interrogation. Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch filed chilling reports about torture of Afghan prisoners held by the U.S.

In 2010, two U.S. Veterans for Peace, Ann Wright and Mike Ferner, joined me in Kabul. We visited one of the city’s largest refugee camps. People faced appalling conditions. Over a dozen, including infants, had frozen to death, their families unable to purchase fuel or adequate blankets. When the rain, sleet and snow came, the tents and huts become mired in mud. Earlier, I had met with a young girl there whose arm had been cut off, her uncle told me, by a U.S. drone attack. Her brother, whose spine was injured, huddled under a blanket, inside their tent, visibly shaking.

Opposite the sprawling refugee camp is a huge U.S. military base. Ann and Mike felt outraged over the terrible contrast between the Afghan refugee camp with a soaring population of people displaced by war, and the U.S. base housing military personnel who had ample supplies of food, water, and fuel.

Most of the funds earmarked by the U.S. for reconstruction in Afghanistan have been used to train and equip Afghan Defense and Security forces. My young friends in the Afghan Peace Volunteers (APV) were weary of war and didn’t want military training. Each of them had lost friends and family members because of the war.

In December 2015, I again visited Emergency’s Surgical Centre for War Victims in Kabul, joined by several Afghan Peace Volunteers. We donated blood and then visited with hospital personnel. “Are you still treating any victims of the U.S. bombing in Kunduz?” I asked Luca Radaelli, who coordinates Emergency’s Afghan facilities. He explained how their Kabul hospital was already full when 91 survivors of the U.S. attack on the Kunduz hospital operated by Médecins Sans Frontières were transported for five hours over rough roads to the closest place they could be treated, this surgical center. The Oct. 15 attack had killed at least 42 people, 14 of whom were hospital staff.

Kathy Kelly and Voices in the Wilderness delegation with Afghan Peace Volunteer friends in Bamyan, Afghanistan, in 2010 (Hakim Young)

Even though Kunduz hospital staff had immediately notified the U.S. military, the U.N., and the Afghan government that the U.S. was bombing their hospital, the warplane continued bombing the hospital’s ER and intensive care unit, in 15-minute intervals, for an hour and a half.

Luca introduced our small team to Khalid Ahmed, a former pharmacy student at the Kunduz hospital, who was still recovering. Khalid described the terrible night, his attempt to literally run for his life by sprinting toward the front gate, his agony when he was hit by shrapnel in his spine, and his efforts to reassemble his cell phone — guards had cautioned him to remove the batteries so that he wouldn’t be detected by aerial surveillance — so that he could give a last message to his family, as he began to lose consciousness. Fortunately, his call got through. His father’s relatives raced to the hospital’s front gate and found Khalid in a nearby ditch, unconscious but alive.

Telling his story, Khalid asked the Afghan Peace Volunteers about me. Learning I’m from the U.S., his eyes widened. “Why would your people want to do this to us?” he asks. “We were only trying to help people.”

Images of battered and destroyed hospitals in Iraq and Afghanistan, and of hospital personnel trying nevertheless to heal people and save lives, help me retain a basic truth about U.S. wars of choice: We don’t have to be this way.

Admittedly, it’s difficult to uproot entrenched systems, like the military-industrial-congressional-media-Washington, D.C., complex, which involves corporate profits and government jobs. Mainstream media seldom help us recognize ourselves as a menacing, warrior nation. Yet we must look in the mirror held up by historical circumstances if we’re ever to accomplish credible change.

The recently released “Afghanistan Papers” criticize U.S. military and elected officials for misleading the U.S. public by covering up disgraceful military failures in Afghanistan. Pentagon officials were quick to dismiss the critiques, assuring an easily distracted U.S. public that the documents won’t impact U.S. military and foreign policy. Two days later, UNICEF reported that more than 600 Afghan children had died in 2019, because of direct attacks in the war. From 2009 through 2018, almost 6,500 children lost their lives in this war.

Addressing the U.S. Senate and Congress during a visit to Washington, D.C., Pope Francis voiced a simple, conscientious question. “Why are deadly weapons being sold to those who plan to inflict untold suffering on individuals and society?” Answering his own question, he said: “the answer, as we all know, is simply for money: money that is drenched in blood, often innocent blood.”

What are the lessons learned from the rampage, destruction and cruelty of U.S. wars? I believe the most important lessons are summed up in the quote on Cynthia Banas’s T-shirt as she delivered water to Marines in Baghdad, in April, 2003: “War Is Not the Answer”; and in an updated version of the headline Ramzi Kysia wrote that same month: “Heavy-handed & Hopeless, The US. Military Doesn’t Know What It’s Doing” -in Iraq, Afghanistan or any of its “forever wars.”

• Originally published by National Catholic Reporter

Work of Necessity, Work of Choice

At age 11, Saabir Gulmadin began chopping wood to support his family. Now 18, he earns about $1.50 US (120 Afghanis) for every 56 kg of wood he splits. It takes him 2 to 3 hours.

“Is the work hard on your body?” I ask.

“Ohhh, yes,” he says, without hesitation.

“Where does it hurt?”

Saabir raises his right hand to give his thin upper arm a couple of squeezes.

Saabir supports the 8 Pashtun family members in their home in Kabul, Afghanistan. His father died from an illness when Saabir was 6, and by age 8, Saabir was working in the streets, transporting items in a wheelbarrow.

A few days ago, the House of the Afghan Parliament approved a law on the protection of children, but it only addresses, in principle, children age 5 and younger. At least a quarter of Afghan children ages 5 to 14 work. With no social safety net, few avenues exist for families to meet basic needs. Given the decades of war, extreme poverty, and the highest number of drug addicts in the world, families in Afghanistan who have lost their breadwinner are often left with two choices: send a child out to work or join the 219 million forcibly displaced migrants, seeking food and physical safety.

A group of Afghan high school and university students, the Afghan Peace Volunteers (APVs), is taking a step to increase families’ financial security with a program that teaches Afghan teenagers a trade. Instead of calling for a blanket ban on child labor, they believe that if a youth is taught a trade to earn money for food and other necessities, this training may in fact enable that youth to stay in school.

Having studied at the APVs’ Street Kids School for almost two years, Saabir recently joined a course to learn how to repair cell phones. In past years, students at the Street Kids School would receive a monthly food ration of rice, lentils, oil, and other basic food items if they regularly attended the school’s nonviolence and literacy classes, but the APV youth coordinators have decided to shift from running the food distribution program to offering training in livelihood skills.

Twenty-one self-selected students from the Street Kids School age 13 and older, and 3 family members of younger students, are taking the repair course at the private Gharejestan University in Kabul.

During a recent class, some students brought their own cell phones to class, and as in the US, could not resist checking messages as the instructor talked about “factory reset” and “safe mode.” Mohammad Haidary, age 16, sat in the front of the classroom, listening attentively and asking questions. During the first two weeks, Mohammad has learned the parts of a cell phone, the problems that arise when a SIM card is faulty, and how improper language settings can turn recognizable speech in SMS messages to a series of squares and question marks.

Like Saabir, Mohammad started working young, at about age 9 or 10, joining Hazara family members in weaving carpets at home. He is taking the cell phone repair course because he wants to be able to repair his own phone if something goes wrong, or the phones of his friends. The repair shops charge high prices for a simple problem, he says. He also believes he’ll be able to find a better job and be able to keep attending school. “It takes me a month, together with my family members, to weave a carpet,” Mohammad says, often working all day and therefore unable to attend school. “But with the repair of mobile phones, I don’t have to use the whole day, and the income is higher.”

Mohammad values having his own phone to review school lessons shared digitally by his teachers and to listen to downloaded English audio lessons. He agrees with the transition from providing food gifts to teaching a trade: “I may be able to find a job in the future, and that will, in fact, enable me to have an income. . . . With that income, I can also, then, meet my food needs.”

Saabir Gulmadin, left, works with a fellow Street Kids School student during a cell phone repair course at Gharejestan University.

Among the youngest in the repair course is Gul Mohammad Jamshadi, 14, from the Uzbek ethnic group. The cut off is age 13, in part because Afghans would be unlikely to trust in him for a repair if he were much younger.

Gul Mohammad started selling bread in a bakery when he was 8. Now he works in a provisions shop, earning 200 Afghanis per week, about $2.50 US. This weekly pay is just double the cost of what a Kabul repair shop charges to replace a phone charger.

Gul Mohammad Jamshadi, left, solders parts to a motherboard. Mohammad Haidary, wearing a hat, works to his left.

Gul Mohammad works to support his mother, his unmarried sister, and himself. His elder brother was killed, and his father has passed away. He says he doesn’t have the tools or phone parts to practice at home what he learns in class, but he studies his course book.

If children like himself had a choice, Gul Mohammad thinks it better that they be able to study instead of having to work, better if the government would ensure that the needs of children were met. He values an education and doesn’t want to join the estimated 1.6 million addicts in the country. When the course ends, Gul Mohammad plans to work part time repairing phones while continuing in school. “If I don’t study, I could become like some people who stop studying and become addicts and who can’t find any job to support their families.”