by Eric Margolis
NEW YORK -- The United States and Russia may soon launch a joint military
assault against Islamic militant, Osama Bin Laden, and against the
leadership of Taliban, Afghanistan's de facto ruling movement.
Such an attack would probably include US Delta Force and Navy Seals, who
would join up with Russia's elite Spetsnaz and Alpha commandos in
Tajikistan, the Central Asian state where Russia has military bases and
25,000 troops. The combined forces would be lifted by helicopters, and
backed by air support, deep into neighboring Afghanistan to attack Bin
Laden's fortified base in the Hindu Kush mountains.
How well such a raid would succeed remains in question: US special forces
have had a dismal record of fiascos over the past quarter century.
Russia's special forces, though more capable than similar American units,
experienced some success but also many failures in the Afghan War.
Assassinating irksome Third Worlders is the specialty of Britain's very
able and very deadly SAS (Special Air Service) commandos.
In such an attack, the US would also launch cruise missile attacks, and
Russia air strikes, would pound Afghan government installations and
communications to punish Taliban.
The United States blames Bin Laden for the 1998 bombing of US embassies in
East Africa, and the October bombing of destroyer `USS Cole' in Yemen.
Washington accuses the shadowy Saudi, who fought the Soviets in
Afghanistan, of masterminding world anti-American terrorism. Bin Laden
tops the FBI's `Ten Most Wanted' list with a US $5 million price on his
Russia accuses Bin Laden and Taliban of aiding resistance forces in
Chechnya, whose forgotten people continue to battle Russian colonial rule.
Moscow also fears Taliban threatens the Russian - backed communist
dictators - or `Red Sultans' - of Central Asia. Russia is determined to
avenge its defeat in Afghanistan, and regain control of this vast,
Washington recently joined the `Shanghai Five,' an unofficial pact between
Russia, China, and three Central Asian states to combat `Islamic terrorism'
- meaning the region's anti-communist Islamic independence movements. The
US agreed to share intelligence with them and provide some funding for the
crusade against Islamic insurgents.
The Clinton Administration's anti-Muslim alliance with Russia is
strategically wrong and morally disgraceful. Leading human rights groups
are condemning Russia for war crimes and mass murder in Chechnya,
widespread torture, rape, looting, collective punishment, and operating
concentration camps. Russia has killed some 140,000 Chechen civilians to
date and covered that nation with millions of anti-personnel mines.
America has no business colluding with the perpetrator of these crimes, nor
with China's brutal repression of Sinkiang Muslims, nor aiding pro-Moscow
police states in Central Asia. All of Washington's new `friends' in the
anti-Islamic crusade are major violators of human rights.
America has a better case against Bin Laden, who proclaimed jihad, or holy
struggle, to `liberate Arabia and Palestine from American rule.' He may
have been behind the terrorist bombings in East Africa; perhaps, too, of
the `USS Cole.' But Washington has to date shown no real proof, only leaks
and claims by dubious `anti-terrorism experts.'
Old comrades from the war against the Soviets in Afghanistan who know Bin
Laden, tell me the US has blown him out of all proportion into a mythical
caricature, the latest of long list of Muslim bogeymen beginning with the
19th-Cerntury `Mad Mullah.' Bin Laden's alleged attacks may have actually
been done by other Saudi extremists of the Wahabi sect.
Afghanistan's Taliban refuses Washington's demands to hand over Bin Laden, a
hero to many Muslims, until the US shows proof of his crimes , which it has
not. When Bin Laden and other mujihadin battled heroically against the
Russians in Afghanistan, the US hailed them as `freedom fighters.' But
when these `jihadis' called for liberation of Saudi Arabia and the Gulf
from US domination, they were branded `Islamic terrorists.' In 1998, the
Clinton Administration showered cruise missiles on guerilla camps in
Afghanistan and an innocuous drug plant in Sudan, killing over 100
civilians and fighters.
The US engineered a punishing Iraq-style embargo of war-ravaged Afghanistan
at a time when many of its 18 million people are starving and homeless.
Though Taliban controls 95% of the country, the US refuses to recognize or
aid the Islamic regime. Washington and the US media have launched a fierce
propaganda campaign against Taliban, accusing it of encouraging the opium
trade, harboring `terrorists,' and abusing women. The woman's issue has
resonated loudly in the west, particularly on college campuses.
All the women's groups now shrilly lamenting that Afghan women must go
veiled were silent when the Soviets slaughtered close to 2 million Afghans
- half women --from 1979-1989; silent about 500,000 Afghans maimed by
Soviet mines since then; silent about thousands of women raped during the
post-war anarchy before Taliban restored internal order.
Taliban is battling the opposition Northern Alliance in the northeast
corner of Afghanistan bordering Tajikistan. The Alliance commander, Ahmad
Massoud, is a long-time collaborator with the Russians. His cornered forces
are being increasingly aided by Russian arms, pilots, artillery, air
support, as well as covert help from Iran, India and, likely, the US - all
of them fueling the decade-old Afghan civil war.
The Clinton Administration, which shamefully financed Russia's massacre of
the Muslim Chechen, is now actually helping Russia re-enter Afghanistan, an
act of dazzling geopolitical folly that will endanger Pakistan and further
convince the Muslim world that the United States is its sworn enemy.
American money now pays for the killing of Palestinians in the Mideast,
the slaughter of the Chechen, the death of 500,000 Iraqi children (UN
figures, not mine), and now the punishment of ravaged Afghanistan - all this
under the banner of a war against terrorism.
Instead of trying to overthrow Taliban, which will surely pave the way for
a second Russian occupation of Afghanistan, the US and its allies should
recognize Taliban as the legitimate Afghan government, and work with Kabul
to curtail the opium trade, which is currently beyond anyone's control in a
nation that is starving and desperate.
The west may not like the fierce Taliban, but it is the legitimate
government of Afghanistan and the only power holding that nation together.
Taliban is also the only force blocking Russia's plans to restore its former
rule in Central Asia, and to reoccupy strategic Afghanistan.
[Eric Margolis is a syndicated foreign affairs columnist and broadcaster, and
author of the just released War at the Top of
the World - The Struggle for Afghanistan, Kashmir, and Tibet which was reviewed in
The Economist, May 13, 2000]
Copyright © 2000 Eric Margolis - All Rights