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26 November 2013
Contrary to the propaganda disseminated for years by deferential western media, the United States is not proposing to withdraw its forces from Afghanistan in 2014.
Sure, the mandate of Nato’s International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) – the coalition of troops from the US and its western satellites now occupying Afghanistan – will end then.
The primary purpose of the withdrawal is to persuade a war-weary public in the US that the troops are coming home, their “mission accomplished”.
The problem is that they will not be coming home, at least not all of them. Some of them – a number as yet not defined – look likely to be staying on indefinitely.
The occupation is scheduled to continue under a new Bilateral Security Agreement (BSA) currently being negotiated between the US and Afghanistan that will authorize a coalition of troops from the US and its western satellites to remain in the country for another ten years “and beyond”.
The purpose of the continued presence of these western troops will be to “train, advise and assist” the still useless Afghan army and to conduct counter-terrorism operations (presumably including the continued dispatch of drone bombers across the Pakistan border).
So what’s new, pussycat?
What will change, essentially, then, is the name of the operation.
Instead of being called the ISA force, it will be called the BSA force.
Big deal, you might think.
On the ground, the only significant change being considered is a proposal to cutback the strength of the western occupation force from its reported current level of 75 000 troops to perhaps 15 000, who are to be billeted in nine bases at strategic vantage points throughout the country.
But even the number of troops that will remain has not yet been fixed.
In a BBC report on 21 November 2013, White House spokesman Josh Earnest maintained that no decision had yet been taken on the presence of US troops in Afghanistan after 2014.
So what are they negotiating about?
Since, by its own account, the US has not yet decided whether to station troops in Afghanistan after 2014, the number of troops it intends to station there must also be in doubt.
Will there be a reduction in current levels?
All we can say with certainty is “perhaps”.
In any case, any western occupation force that remains in the country after 2014 will be able to call in reinforcements at the drop of a hat. So the actual figure to be agreed with the Afghan Government is irrelevant.
The US put it about last week that a deal had been cut, but this weekend Afghan president Hamid Karzai blindsided the Americans with a new set of preconditions.
Faced with US insistence that, for logistical reasons, the agreement be signed by the end of 2013, Karzai now says that it will not be signed until after the Afghan presidential election on 5 April 2014. One reason is Karzai’s apparent desire to thwart any interference by the Americans in the election process – as happened when the last presidential election was held in 2009.
Pulling another rabbit out of the hat, he also says, according to reports, that he will only sign the treaty once the US has brought peace to his country.
That could mean waiting a very long time indeed.
Karzai is also said to want an assurance that the US will not obstruct peace talks with the Taliban. This would presumably mean an end to drone attacks by the US on Taliban leaders – involving, in a recent instance, the assassination of a Taliban chief who was about to meet officials for peace talks in Pakistan.
The Afghan president is also reported to want the repatriation of Afghan prisoners being held in the US gulag at Guantánamo Bay in Cuba.
So much then is still on the table. What is more, the personal chemistry between the US and Afghan sides is not of the best.
As Karzai said at the weekend, “I don’t trust them and they don’t trust me. The last 10 years has shown this to me. I have had fights with them and they have had propaganda against me.”
A meeting of a loya jirga – an assembly of 2, 500 tribal elders – held last weekend endorsed the continued presence of western troops in Afghanistan. However, the delegates are said to have been vetted in advance to ensure that they were Karzai loyalists. A lone dissident delegate who spoke against the continued American presidence was unceremoniously turfed out of the meeting.
Free speech is a luxury that they have so far been able to dispense with in Afghanistan.
Under the slogan “Operation Enduring Freedom”, The US launched the occupation of Afghanistan on 7 October 2001 – a month after the destruction of the World Trade Center in New York by Muslim terrorists on 9 September 2001.
They have been fighting there now for more than 12 years and the result is thousands and thousands of deaths, rampaging poverty and a country lawless and in chaos.
One might have thought that enough was enough.
A cursory glance at an atlas shows how well positioned Afghanistan is strategically in the dead centre of Central Asia. Iran, Kazakhstan, southern Russia, Pakistan, northern India and western China are within easy military reach.
The US is said to have military bases in some 130 countries. No location is better placed to serve its global interests than Afghanistan. Even a small force stationed there, equipped as it will be with the latest hi-tech weaponry, could have a major impact in a military crisis.
This is why the US is determined to maintain its foothold in Afghanistan.
For the wily Karzai, too, the continued US presence is essential. He was groomed for the presidency by the US invaders and is widely seen as a US puppet, even if he sometimes kicks against the goad when the strings are pulled. In addition to US aid, he also needs physical protection from his myriad enemies.
So, in the end, he is likely to cave in to the US demand for a continuing presence in Afghanistan “up to 2024 and beyond” and let the Americans get on with their unending “war on terror”.
He has already conceded that US troops will have immunity from prosecution in local courts, whatever crime they commit.
In return, the US has agreed to that its troops will “not enter Afghan homes for the purposes of military operations, except under extraordinary circumstances involving urgent risk to life and limb of US nationals”.
“Except under extraordinary circumstances” ?
Belquis Roshan, the woman ejected from the loya jirga for bearding Karzai, complained that every situation was exceptional for the US, adding that “all those people who have been killed by American soldiers were exceptions”.
Not that this means that we have any time for the Taliban.
We do not.
However, we venture to suggest that, given the failure of 12 years of non-stop warfare, it might be an idea to start talking to them.
As British Prime Minister Winston Churchill no less said in a speech at the White House on 26 June 1954, “To jaw-jaw is always better than to war-war”.
It costs a lot less as well.
You might perhaps care to view some of our earlier posts. For instance:
1. Why? or How? That is the question (3 Jan 2012)
2. Partitocracy v. Democracy (20 July 2012)
3. The shoddiest possible goods at the highest possible prices (2 Feb 2012)
4. Capitalism in practice (4 July 2012)
5.Ladder (21 June 2012)
6. A tale of two cities (1) (6 June 2012)
7. A tale of two cities (2) (7 June 2012)
8. Where’s the beef? Ontology and tinned meat (31 Jan 2012)
Every so often we shall change this sample of previously published posts.