By Saul Landau
Like all ghosts, Osama bin Laden remains illusive. After eight years of failure by CIA and military seekers, the tall, skinny bearded one’s image still glows evil. The U.S. media has given this wily plotter the unofficial title of “Father of All Terrorism.” Didn’t George W. Bush invade Afghanistan to get him?
After all, this phantom gleefully admitted to financing the dirty 9/11 deeds. As a result, we have had to accustom ourselves to terror speak and terror aura. Robotic airport voices announce: “The Department of Homeland Security has declared an orange alert.” Who understands such a statement? What does a literate person think when hearing: “All baggage must be supervised! Unsupervised baggage will be removed!” I told my unemployed daughter to apply for a job as a baggage supervisor. Unlike unruly children, baggage will not talk back.
For Bush, the search for Osama required an invasion of Afghanistan, but he forgot that mission when he invaded Iraq. Now, Obama’s extension of Bush’s capricious occupation of Afghanistan threatens to endure for decades. Why?
On July 21, President Obama called Afghanistan “the central front, on our battle against terrorism.” (CBS, “Face the Nation”) U.S. security required “finishing the job we started.” Bush wanted to “get Osama bin Laden,” not wage endless war and occasional nation building efforts against a primitive and ill-defined enemy. On March 27, Obama declared the war was “to disrupt, dismantle and defeat Al-Qaeda in Pakistan and Afghanistan.” He expanded Bush’s war by one country and put the bin Laden hit in remote second place.
Over eight years, U.S. bombs, some launched from planes, others from drones, have indeed killed thousands of Taliban fighters and countless civilians. On September 5, the New York Times reported that a NATO air attack (Germans) had killed some 90 people, “mostly militants,” that wonderful vague word the media invented to describe U.S. opponents. Villagers, including children, also died. The planes bombed two stolen fuel tankers. NATO intelligence assumed only Taliban combatants were near these vehicles.
Oops! Wrong again! After denying civilian casualties, top U.S. and NATO commander General Stanley McChrystal told reporters “there were some civilians that were harmed at the site.” Without saying civilians had died, McChrystal continued: “I think it’s a serious event that is going to be a test of whether we are willing to be transparent and whether we are willing to show that we are here to protect the Afghan people.”
Sixty-eight thousand U.S. troops, plus 40,000 more NATO soldiers, try to protect by killing some of them? For more protection the Pentagon has hired some 80,000 “contractors,” the highest ratio of contractors to military personnel in any U.S. war. These armed private security contractors and interrogators committed abuses and crimes against local nationals, concluded a Congressional Research Service report.
The mission for “the stabilization and reconstruction of Afghanistan,” the report stated, “has proven difficult because it must take place while combat operations against Taliban insurgents continue.” Due to increased Taliban military operations overall violence has increased. The NATO-led International Security Assistance Force faces formidable obstacles: shoring up a weak government in Kabul; using military capabilities in a distant country with rugged terrain; and rebuilding a country devastated by war and troubled by a resilient narcotics trade,” the report concluded. (CRS RL33627, “NATO in Afghanistan: A Test of the Transatlantic Alliance,” July 2, 2009)
So, President “Yes We Can,” are we protecting the Afghan people, bringing democracy or still trying to find and kill bin Laden? Liberate the area from Taliban “militants” and build a democratic government in a land that has historically defied such a concept? Compared to your Afghan agenda, health care’s a piece of cake!
Recall how in the early 1990s, after the Soviet Union withdrew -- tail between legs -- U.S.-backed Afghan warlords who had helped drive the commies out fought each other over the spoils. The Taliban, young men orphaned by war and trained in Saudi-financed madrasas in Pakistan and responsive to, but not identical with, al-Qaeda, entered Afghanistan with Saudi-bought pickup trucks and arms, restored “order” and imposed Sharia law.
After 9/11, Bush, with NATO support, invaded and ousted the Taliban. The CIA recruited war lords from the so-called Northern Alliance to join the anti-Taliban jihad. But U.S. attention turned to Iraq; the Taliban returned. McChrystal admits the persistent Taliban have regained territory and local support. The corrupt puppet President Hamid Karzai called for talks with the Taliban. U.S./NATO strategy wants to destroy them. President Obama’s Afghan and Pakistan goals for U.S. security remain obscure. Obama should replace the U.S. military with a squad of ghost-busters and get bin Laden. His presidency might thus endure for two terms.
Saul Landau is an institute for Policy Studies Fellow and filmmaker (DVDs can be obtained through roundworldproductions.com).