by Zia Sarhadi (News & Analysis, Crescent International Vol. 39, No. 5, Rajab, 1431)
Western policy-makers, especially in the US were in absolute panic for two days when tens of thousands of pages of leaked documents describing the grim situation in Afghanistan were released by WikiLeaks, a tiny but influential internet site.
Western policy-makers, especially in the US were in absolute panic for two days when tens of thousands of pages of leaked documents describing the grim situation in Afghanistan were released by WikiLeaks, a tiny but influential internet site. US officials did not dispute the documents’ accuracy, only saying they “jeopardized” American lives. Initially, various excuses were offered: this was “old” material (from January 2004 to December 2009); it only reflected field information; their release threatened US security, etc. Two days later, they had found their angle; the US was losing the war in Afghanistan because of the “duplicity” of Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), its premier spy agency. There has been a steady drumbeat rising to a crescendo about the ISI role in and help to the Taliban.
The secret documents, comprising some 92,000 reports, were given to the New York Times (but not the Washington Post), the British daily, The Guardian and the German magazine Der Spiegel several weeks ago on the condition that they not report on the material before July 25. The revelations put US President Barack Obama in a delicate quandary and may make it impossible for him to come out of Afghanistan unscathed. Obama, of course, only has himself to blame; he decided to own the Afghan war and declared it a “good war.” He must now face the consequences of that decision.
Nine years and $300 billion later, the US and its allies are not any closer to their objectives. In fact, they keep changing their stated objectives for the unpopular war as Taliban have become stronger and now control more than 80% of Afghan territory. The Afghan government is not only corrupt, the police force and the Afghan army on which the US is relying to take security responsibilities, is nowhere near ready despite the rosy picture painted in public statements.
But it is the confirmation of two other aspects — known to those familiar with the Afghan situation but hotly denied by the US until now — the very high Afghan civilian casualties, and use of secret commando units such as Task Force 373 comprising Army and Navy special operatives to kill people, that will surely further undermine America’s war in Afghanistan. These special operatives together with hired mercenaries have murdered thousands of innocent Afghan civilians stoking local resentment. They, especially the mercenaries, answer to no one. On July 24, 52 civilians, most of them women and children, were killed in a village in Sangin district of Helmand province. The village was hit by an American-fired missile and although Afghan President Hamid Karzai condemned the attack, the Americans denied any knowledge of the missile fired or any village being hit. Such denials are routine and confirm what the WikiLeaks documents have claimed: that Americans have routinely downplayed or denied civilian casualties.
The Taliban captured two Navy Special Forces operatives in Logar province, outside Kabul, on July 24. One was killed and the other is now firmly in the hands of the Taliban, confirming US deployment of such operatives. Another American soldier, Bowe Bergdahl, has been in Taliban custody for more than a year. The Taliban have even released videos of him in captivity on the internet.
Similarly, reliance on drone aircraft to strike targets in Afghanistan as well as Pakistan has led to thousands of civilian deaths. The drones’ performance is less impressive than officially claimed.
The CIA has also been involved in extra-judicial killings. It no longer operates as a spy agency; it has expanded paramilitary operations inside Afghan-istan, according to WikiLeaks documents. CIA units launch ambushes, order air strikes and conduct night raids. Between 2001 and 2008, the CIA paid the budget of Afghanistan’s notorious spy agency, the National Directorate of Security (NDS) and ran it as a virtual subsidiary. Two months ago, Karzai fired the NDS chief Amrullah Saleh, who is a well-known war criminal. He was responsible for torturing innocent Afghans rounded up in police and American sweeps. These have been well documented even by western forces but the CIA and Americans turned a blind eye to such abuses because Saleh was their man. When he was fired, together with the Afghan interior minister, the White House spokesman said Saleh was a “reliable ally” of the US. Indeed! He has now launched a campaign against Karzai, no doubt at the behest of the CIA because the Afghan president is beginning to distance himself from the US by trying to strike a deal with the Taliban.
Most of the allegations against Pakistan’s ISI that are contained in WikiLeaks documents come from the NDS. It also targets General Hamid Gul, former Director of ISI who has made no secret of his sympathies for the Taliban and is openly critical of the US war in Afghanistan. Speaking on CBC Radio’s Current Program on July 27, General Gul candidly admitted that the ISI was maintaining its contact with the Taliban. He said no intelligence agency could afford to abandon their contacts, especially in view of the fact that the Americans have lost the war and the Taliban would regain power in Afghanistan. He said that Afghanistan was of vital security and strategic interests to Pakistan and it could not possibly alienate the Afghan Talibanwho had never been hostile to Pakistan.
Speaking at the same CBC program, Delcan Walsh of the British daily, The Guardian, questioned the accuracy of reports about ISI help to the Taliban because such information had come from the NDS that has been extremely hostile to Pakistan. Further, both the Tajiks and Uzbeks in Afghanistan have been traditional enemies of Pakistan, aligning with India, Pakistan’s archenemy. Walsh also alluded to allegations contained in WikiLeaks documents that the ISI had plotted to kill Karzai. He rubbished such claims saying these were clearly innuendos passed on by the NDS to discredit Pakistan.
There are fleeting — even taunting — reminders of how the war began in the occasional references to the elusive Osama bin Laden. In some reports he is said to be attending meetings in Quetta. His moneyman is said to be flying from Iran to North Korea to buy weapons. Osama had supposedly ordered a suicide attack against Karzai, ostensibly at the behest of Pakistan’s ISI. These reports all seem secondhand at best. Besides, there is widespread belief that Osama is long dead but keeping his fiction alive serves the US and indeed western interests. A bogeyman is always helpful, especially a dead one; he can do no harm.
The reports portray a resilient, canny insurgency that has bled American forces through a thousand small cuts, the same tactics used against the Soviet bear. In their arrogance, the Americans refuse to learn from history. The Taliban, on the other hand, set the war’s pace, usually fighting on ground of their choosing and then slipping away. They use a variety of weapons in their arsenal: sabotage, deception, ambushes, small arms, mortars as well as suicide bombers. The Taliban also use intimidation of Afghan officials as a tactic — applied with appropriate pressure through threats, charm, violence, money, religious fervor and populist appeals. They know the officials’ family members and can get to them if officials refuse to comply with the Taliban’s request, or demand, as the case may be. The Taliban have a vast network of spies, double agents, collaborators and informers and are able to undercut the foreign occupations forces in an effort to force them to leave the country, according to the leaked documents.
The overall picture that emerges from these documents clearly point to the US defeat in Afghanistan, something known to informed observers long ago. Only American officials refuse to admit the imminent defeat staring them in the face.