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Proletarian issue 14 (October 2006)
Iraq and Afghanistan: imperialism advances deeper into the quagmire
Efforts to 'Iraqise' and 'Afghanise' America’s failing counter-insurgency wars are just as doomed as earlier attempts to 'Vietnamise' the flagging counterrevolution in southeast Asia prior to the sudden and humiliating flight of imperialist forces from Saigon.
Iraq: Maliki gets 10 percent of nothing

At the beginning of September, the grand ceremony in which control of the 'Iraqi army' was supposedly to pass into the hands of the 'Iraq defence ministry', trumpeted by US officials as a big step forward, had to be abandoned at the last minute because the deal turned out to be too humiliating even for the puppet government to swallow, at any rate in public.

Yet the form of words which this Vichy-style 'government' accepted a week later still made them a laughing stock. The Financial Times noted that “initially Mr Maliki will control only one of the country’s ten army divisions” . Furthermore, “only a third of headquarters companies which provide transportation, communications, medical and maritime support to fighting units are fully operational” . (8 September 2006)

That means supplies don’t arrive and wages don’t get paid – a major problem with a mercenary army! And the state of morale of this 'army' in which Maliki has been promised a 10 percent share may be judged by the Pentagon’s own desertion figures, with AWOL rates on combat deployments given as between 5 and 8 percent. Needless to say, the unofficial figures are a lot higher.

The fact is that the so-called 'Iraqi army' over which the stooges are haggling with their masters amounts to nothing more than a handful of Vlasov-type Iraqi units bolted on to the US army of occupation [footnote]. The 'air force' that has now been gifted to Maliki (at least on paper) is estimated to consist of fewer than ten planes with no combat capability. And as the Wall Street Journal revealed back in June, conditions in the training camps hardly inspire confidence in the ability of US imperialism to delegate the conduct of its war of oppression to a puppet army. ('Clash between two US officers reflects tough road ahead in Iraq’ by Greg Jaffe, 19 June 2006)

Of one establishment, Camp Taji, Greg Jaffe wrote: “This sprawling military base is divided down the middle by massive concrete barriers, a snaking fence and rifle-toting guards. On one side, about 10,000 US Army soldiers live in air-conditioned trailers … On the other side are a similar number of Iraqi soldiers … [who] live in fetid barracks built by the British in the 1920s.”

When Colonel Pasquarette took over command, “he beefed up the number of guards and armoured vehicles at the gates separating the US and Iraqi sides of the base” , commenting that “Securing my [base] is my No 1 mission. I am risk averse here.” Commanders said “there are huge risks to giving the Iraqi army too big a role right now … Iraqis will leak word of impending operations to the enemy” , whilst a former adviser commented that the US troops “treat the Iraqis with utter scorn and contempt” .

By shoving a larger number of these despised and demoralised mercenaries into the front line over the summer, a slight temporary dip in the official US military death toll was engineered, duly trumpeted as the latest of many phoney 'turning points' in the war. Less well publicised was the near doubling of Iraqi military fatalities over the same period.

Worse for imperialism, the failure of mercenary forces to rise to the occasion has obliged the US military to increase the exposure of its own forces to resistance attacks. With the daily incidence of battles between occupation troops and the resistance now up from about 70 a day to about 90 a day, the US has had to increase its own troop levels by extending tours of duty, pulling troops back from leave prematurely, and dipping into reserves holed up in Kuwait. ('Seven facts you might not know about the Iraq war' by Michael Schwartz,, 22 August 2006)

By their actions, the US imperialists make it clear that they do not rely at all on the joke 'Iraqi army'. Meanwhile, notes the same commentator, “the number of resistance fighters estimated by US officials has held steady at about 20,000” – despite all those ‘turning points’!

Afghanistan: the resistance gathers strength

Were all this not trouble enough for Anglo-American imperialism, it is becoming clearer by the day that Afghanistan, too, is not prepared to buckle down under a US-appointed stooge regime and embrace the subject nation status reserved for it by Washington and London.

Indeed, so tough has proved the resistance that NATO’s top commander was forced to beg for a thousand more troops to hold the line, only to receive an instant and humiliating rebuff from Germany, Italy, Spain and Turkey.

So, like a nightmare from which the sleeper is unable to awake, Afghanistan returns to haunt Anglo-American imperialism and its flunkeys. Instead of subsiding quietly into colonial subjection, and leaving the hands of the US and British invaders free for more efficient torture of the Iraqi nation, the Afghan resistance has instead become stronger and better organised. When, at the end of July, the British end of NATO was tasked with enforcing the colonial subjection of southern Afghanistan, the story told was that the mission was all to be about peacekeeping and reconstruction. Defence secretary John Reid had declared that he would be “perfectly happy to leave in three years’ time without firing a shot because our job is to protect reconstruction”.

Instead, the Financial Times reports that “the alliance has been engaged in the toughest fighting since it was formed in 1949” , obliging the oppressors to discard the mask of humanitarian concern and reveal their true colours. (8 September 2006)

NATO top brass General James Jones admits to being “a little bit surprised by the level of intensity” of the resistance, whilst Captain Leo Docherty of the Scots Guards is more forthright, denouncing the British campaign in Helmand province as “a textbook case of how to screw up a counter-insurgency”. (Quoted in Financial Times, 12 September 2006)

Whilst the 4,500 British troops have taken the aggressive lead in trying to make the colonial writ run in the Helmand, in consequence suffering a death toll of 14 troops in recent months, Canadian troops have been sent to attempt the same in the Kandahar area, with no better results. (‘Canadians lead latest offensive into Taliban strongholds west of Kandahar’ by Les Perreaux, Canadian Press, 2 September 2006)

Canadian press coverage tells of a massive artillery and air bombardment of the villages and walled compounds of the Arghandab valley. Whilst the stated goal was to wrest control of the area from the Taliban, it was plain from the outset that this could not be achieved militarily. Already, at the beginning of the summer, a major operation dubbed the ‘Battle of Panjwaii’ was claimed to have broken the back of the insurgency. Yet, as the coalition troops withdrew, the resistance simply resumed their former positions, in classic guerrilla style. Asked if the same thing would happen this time around, the Canadian commander was candid. “Might they just fade away? If they’re smart, they will.” How “smart” they are may be judged from the relentless catalogue of bomb attacks, ambushes and pitched battles by means of which fire has been kept under the invader’s feet in the past six months, despite his great technical superiority.

Confounded by its failure to uproot this guerrilla resistance through military means, imperialism has lashed out in a blind fury against the population as a whole, hoping through the well-known fascist policy of collective reprisals to dissuade the population from giving comfort to the resistance. (The fact that the Israelis have so recently demonstrated the futility of this tactic in the Lebanon just shows that imperialism in its dotage becomes incapable of learning from its own blunders.)

The river that runs through the Arghandab valley irrigates the fields and farms upon which the local economy depends, a fact that surely did not escape the invader’s notice as he picked his targets. And, when NATO brags of killing ‘hundreds of Taliban fighters’, the world will remember how every man, woman and child slain in Vietnam was at once promoted by the Pentagon into a soldier of the NLF resistance (or ‘Vietcong’, in the contemptuous phrase of the time).

As is well known, the NATO attack on the people of the Arghandab valley went spectacularly wrong with the downing of the British-manned Nimrod surveillance plane, far from its Scottish home in RAF Kinloss. From high above the clouds, such aircraft routinely assist in coordinating ground force and helicopter attacks, helping imperialist firepower to find its target. The world learned about this particular Nimrod when it crashed, killing 12 RAF personnel, a Royal Marine and an army soldier.

The panic haste with which the capitalist media at once chorused ‘It was an accident!’ shows just how little imperialism relishes any suggestion that in the Afghan resistance, as in the Lebanese and the Iraqi, they are faced with yet another enemy that is learning to beat the technical odds and fight back. Colonel Fred Lewis, head of the Canadian contingent, scoffed that the resistance “don’t have the technical ability to shoot down an aircraft like that” (forgetting, perhaps, the expertise developed by barefoot Vietnamese fighters in bringing down B52 bombers in the course of an earlier humiliation for imperialist might).

Eyewitness accounts tell a different story, however, reporting a small fire burning at the back of the plane before it hit the ground, a detail not inconsistent with the resistance claim that the plane’s fate was sealed with the help of a (US-manufactured) Stinger missile fired from the shoulder of a guerrilla.

It should not be forgotten in this context how the downing of a Hercules on the outskirts of Baghdad in January 2005 – now admitted to have been brought down by an insurgent rocket – was initially ascribed to “mechanical failure” by an unblushing MOD official. Nor was the ‘accident’ befalling the Nimrod MR2, commended by the Telegraph’s defence correspondent for its “excellent safety record” , merely an isolated incident. Just two days before the loss of the Nimrod, a Dutch F-16 pilot lost his life when his plane crashed in southern Afghanistan (another ‘accident’, according to NATO). In point of fact, the Telegraph notes that “nine multi-national aircraft have crashed in Afghanistan since 2005, killing more than 95, most of them military” . (4 September 2006)

It seems that, sooner than recognise the strength of the resistance raised in opposition to their wars of plunder and oppression, the imperialists would rather denigrate their own forces as the most blundering, accident-prone Keystone Cops imaginable.

But, like it or not, the resistance is there to stay, in Afghanistan as in Iraq, in Palestine as in Lebanon. And the more viciously imperialism lashes out, the more indiscriminate becomes its use of collective reprisals, the stronger will that resistance become.

Victory to the resistance in Iraq and Afghanistan!



1.    Vlasov was a turncoat Soviet general who cooperated with the Nazis after being captured, helping them to recruit other fascist sympathisers from the Soviet prisoners. Although calling themselves the ‘Russian Liberation Army’, these collaborators merely formed a single division of the German army and did little actual fighting.
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