Eric S. Margolis
The last British soldiers were airlifted out of Afghanistan last week, marking the sorry end of Britain’s fourth failed invasion of Afghanistan. With them went the last detachment of US Marines in Helmand.
Well has Afghanistan earned its title, “Graveyard of Empires.”
To be more precise, this honor belongs to Afghanistan’s Pashtun (or Pathan) mountain tribes, who bend their knees for no man and take pride in war.
In my book, “War at the Top of the World,” I called Pashtun “the bravest men on earth.” Later, I would add the fierce Chechen to that illustrious fraternity.
The old imperialists are gone, but the occupation of Afghanistan continues. The new regime in Kabul just installed by Washington to replace uncooperative former ally Hamid Karzai, rushed to sign an “agreement” allowing the United States to keep some 10,000 soldiers in Afghanistan for years. This garrison will be exempt from all Afghan laws.
However, there’s much more to this arrangement. The US combat troops, tactfully labeled “trainers” or “counter-terrorist forces,” are too few in number to dominate all Afghanistan. Their task is to defend Kabul’s sock puppet government from its own people and to defend the all-important US Bagram airbase.
Washington clearly plans to continue ruling Afghanistan and Iraq the same way that the British Empire did. Small numbers of British troops garrisoned the capital; white officers led the native mercenary army. But Britain’s real power was exercised by RAF units based in Iraq and Northwest Frontier Province.
Any native “disturbance” would be bombed and strafed by the RAF. In the 1920’s, Winston Churchill authorized RAF to use poison gas bombs against restive Pashtun and Kurdish tribesmen. Ironically, seven decades later I discovered British scientists who had been sent by HM government to Iraq to build germ weapons for Saddam Hussein to use against Iran.
Similarly, the “Pax Americana” will be enforced by US airpower based at Bagram. US warplanes flying from Bagram, Qatar, and aircraft carriers on 24 hour call have been the only force keeping the Pashtun movement Taliban at bay. Without intense employment of US air power, western occupation forces, like the Imperial British armies before them, would have been driven from Afghanistan.
Without US air power, garrison troops and large numbers of “civilian contractors” and old-fashioned mercenaries the Kabul puppet regime would soon be swept away. Afghanistan’s government army is likely to collapse as quickly as Iraq’s did before ISIS. Most of southern Afghanistan would declare for Taliban which, however harsh, is the nation’s only authentic political movement apart from the Tajik and Uzbek Communists in the north.
The US garrison in Kabul will continue to make Afghanistan safe for opium, which is the base for heroin. Americans have simply turned a blind eye to their ownership if the world’s top producer of heroin.
As Washington orates about the so-called War on Drugs, Afghan opium production rose in 2013 from $2 billion to $3 billion. The UN says over 500,000 acres of land in Afghanistan are now devoted to the opium poppy – right under the eyes of the US garrison.
While US-installed rulers in Kabul pay lip service to opium eradication, the rural warlords who support them, and receive stipends from CIA, continue to grow rich on the opium trade. Trying to blame Taliban for the scourge of opium is dishonest: when Taliban was in power it eradicated almost all of the nation’s opium production, reported he UN Drug Agency, except in the region controlled by the Communist Northern Alliance – which today shares power in Kabul.
When the full history of the Afghan war is finally written, CIA’s involvement in that nation’s drug trade will become a notorious episode. French intelligence became deeply involved in the Laotian opium trade to pay its Lao mercenaries. The US was up to its ears with its Contra allies in the Central American cocaine trade.
Now, US intelligence has besmirched its name once again aiding and abetting Afghan drug lords so as to supposedly wage war on “terrorists.” In dirt-poor Afghanistan, there are only two sources of income: money from Washington, and from narcotics. The collusion of senior members of government, military and police is necessary to export tons of opium to either Pakistan, Central Asia or Russia – where morphine addiction is now a major epidemic.
Adding to this shameful record, the US Congressional auditor for Special Reconstruction of Afghanistan just reported that much of the $104 billion appropriated for Afghan “reconstruction” has to no surprise been wasted or stolen. Some of it has been used to irrigate opium poppy fields. Spare parts are unavailable for Russian helicopters bought by the US for use in battling Taliban and supposed opium fighting. Why? Because the US-imposed trade sanctions on Russia bars the US from buying the spare part. Catch-22.
By now, the longest war in US history has cost some $1 trillion, maybe more. No one can properly account for the billions and billions of US dollars flown into Afghanistan and Iraq and dished out to the natives – or the numbers of Afghans killed.
For Washington’s allies, like Canada and Britain, the war has been a total waste of lives and treasure. For Canada, 158 dead for nothing; for Britain 453. Forget all the phony claims about “mission” and “nation building.” This has been yet another dirty little colonial war that is better forgotten – and never repeated. So this war will simmer on, at least until Washington finds some face-saving way out of the mess in the Hindu Kush.
If the US was wise, it would simply quit Afghanistan. But power, like opium, is highly addictive. So America’s longest war will drag on and on.
Copyright Eric S. Margolis 2014