If the US were to wipe out the Taliban completely, capture bin Laden, destroy all terrorist camps, would the US then withdraw from Afghanistan?
"Wrong War, Wrong Place, Wrong Time", according to John Kerry in 2004. That still is the mantra of the Democratic Party politicians, and major sectors of the antiwar movement as well. On August 20th 2007 the New York Times called for escalation of the "good war". That represents the consensus of the Democratic Party. Should progressives believe the Afghanistan war is a good war and Iraq is not?
Alan Woods writes; "US imperialism is behaving, not like a bull in a china shop but like an elephant in a china shop. Afghanistan is in a complete a mess and as a result Pakistan finds itself in a major crisis, which we have covered in articles on our website. There was the lawyers' crisis, then there was the Red Mosque crisis, etc. It is clear that Musharraf is hanging by a thread and they are preparing for Bhutto's return to Pakistan. Important developments are on the order of the day and our comrades are in a good position to take advantage of them.
The war in Afghanistan drags on and Western casualties are mounting. The US plan to rely on air power in Afghanistan in order to avoid American casualties has failed. Instead the bombing has caused heavy civilian casualties Afghan aid groups estimate that foreign and Afghan forces killed 230 civilians in the first six months of 2007-as many as in the whole of last year. Since the start of 2006, some 6,000 people are believed to have died, perhaps 1,500 of them civilians.
Most are caused by America's Operation Enduring Freedom (OEF), which is separate from the NATO-led stabilization mission, known as the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF). This is the Pentagon's version of the gentle art of winning friends and influencing people.
British-led troops are fighting on the ground in Helmand province, advancing along the Sangin valley in the hope of reopening the road to the Kajaki dam, to allow the refurbishment of its hydroelectric plant. But they are taking a lot of casualties in a war they cannot win.
The Taliban avoid head-on battles and are now resorting to more suicide attacks and roadside blasts. These "asymmetrical" (i.e. guerrilla) tactics are very effective and are used even in Kabul. A suicide-bombing on June 17th killed 22 police-academy instructors and 13 bystanders. A similar attack almost killed Dick Cheney.
The former ISAF commander, the British general, David Richards, is said to have warned colleagues in London this month that NATO was making "the best of a bad job"; it was short of troops and had to compensate with heavy firepower. This means even more civilian casualties.
However, they cannot get more soldiers. If anything, allies could start to drop out. Some, such as Britain, Denmark and Poland are increasing their forces. But others are not keen to lose more lives. The Germans are present but their troops are confined to the north (where there is little or no fighting) and are forbidden to leave barracks at night. The Afghan mission is unpopular in Germany, and almost brought down the Italian government in February. The Netherlands are also shaky and will decide in August whether to extend its operation in Uruzgan after 2008. And Sarkozy has said he would also like to leave ISAF though officials say no such move is imminent.
The Taliban, by contrast, have plenty of money, men and arms, financed by the Afghan poppy crop. The opium economy and the insurgency are mutually reinforcing; drugs finance the Taliban, while the fighting encourages poppy cultivation, especially in Helmand, which is set to harvest another record crop this year, producing more opium (and from it heroin and other illegal drugs) than the rest of Afghanistan put together.
The drugs business is highly profitable, earning some $320 billion annually. The opium trade is worth about $3.1 billion (less than a quarter of this is earned by farmers), the equivalent of about a third of Afghanistan's total economy. The Afghan opium trade is worth around $60 billion at street prices in consuming countries- and is out of control. Afghanistan last year produced the equivalent of 6,100 tons of opium, about 92% of the world total. At least the Taliban exercised some control, now there is none. These days Taliban commanders and drug smugglers are one and the same.
Some of the biggest drug barons are reputedly members of the national and provincial governments, even figures close to Hamid Karzai. The Economist (28/6/07) wrote: "The whole chain of government that is supposed to impose the rule of law, from the ministry of interior to ordinary policemen, has been subverted. Poorly paid policemen are bribed to facilitate the trade. Some pay their superiors to get particularly ‘lucrative' jobs like border control."
In addition Afghanistan is another buffer against Iran, and a route to the oil rich Caspian Sea region.