by Eric Margolis
On the frigid night of 24 December, 1979, Soviet airborne forces seized Kabul airport. Elite Alpha Group commandos sped to the presidential palace, burst into the bedroom of Afghan President Hafizullah Amin, and gunned him down. Columns of Soviet armor crossed the border and raced south towards Kabul.
It took Soviet forces only a few days to occupy Afghanistan. They installed a puppet ruler, Babrak Karmal. Moscow proclaimed it had invaded Afghanistan to `liberate' it from `feudalism and Islamic extremism,' and `nests of terrorists and bandits.'
Soviet propaganda churned out films of Red Army soldiers playing with children, building schools, dispensing medical care. Afghan women were to be liberated from the veil and other backwards Islamic customs. The Soviet Union and its local communist allies would bring Afghanistan into the 20th Century.
Two years later, Afghans had risen against their Soviet `liberators' and were waging a low-intensity guerilla war. Unable to control the countryside, Moscow poured more troops into Afghanistan. The Soviet-run Afghan Army had poor morale and less fighting zeal. The KGB-run Afghan secret police, KhAD, jailed and savagely tortured tens of thousands of `Islamic terrorists,' then called `freedom fighters' in the west.
Fast forward to December, 2002 and a disturbing sense of deja vu. A new foreign army has easily occupied Afghanistan, overthrown `feudal' Taliban and installed a puppet regime in Kabul. Western media churns out the same rosy, agitprop stories the Soviets did about liberating Afghanistan, freeing women, educating children. The only real difference is that kids in today's TV clips are waving American instead of Soviet flags. Invaders have changed; the propaganda remains the same.
America's invasion of Afghanistan in October, 2001, was billed as an epic military victory and the model of future imperial expeditions to pacify third world malefactors. Since then, news about this war-ravaged land has grown scarce. America's limited attention has turned elsewhere.
In fact, America's Afghan adventure has gotten off to as poor a start as that of the Soviet Union. The US-installed ruler of Kabul, veteran CIA `asset' Hamid Karzai, must be protected from his own people by up to 200 US bodyguards. Much of Afghanistan is in chaos, fought over by feuding warlords and drug barons.
There are almost daily attacks on US occupation forces. My old mujihadin sources say US casualties and equipment losses in Afghanistan are far higher than Washington is reporting - and rising.
American troops are operating from the old Soviet bases at Bagram and Shindand, retaliating, like the Soviets, against mujihadin attacks on US forces by heavily bombing nearby villages. CIA is trying to assassinate Afghan nationalist leaders opposed to the Karzai regime in Kabul, in particular my old acquaintance Gulbadin Hekmatyar.
Captured `terrorists' are routinely tortured by Afghan security forces under America supervision. Last fall, US troops presided over the murder by Northern Alliance forces of some 3,000 captured Taliban soldiers, a major war crime at a time when the UN is trying Serb soldiers for similar grave offenses.
North of the Hindu Kush mountains, America's Afghan ally, the Tajik-Uzbek Northern Alliance, has long been a proxy of the Russians. The Chief of the Russian General Staff and head of intelligence directed the Alliance in its final attack on Taliban last fall. Russia then supplied Alliance forces with $100 million of arms, and is currently providing $85 milion of helicopters, tanks, artillery, spare parts, as well as military advisors and technicians. Russia now dominates much of northern Afghanistan.
Taliban, according to the United Nations drug agency, had almost shut down opium-morphine-heroin production. America's ally, the Northern Alliance has revived the illicit trade. Since the US overthrew Taliban, opium cultivation has soared from 185 tons a year to 2,700. The Northern Alliance, which dominates the Kabul regime, finances its arms buying and operations with drug money. President Bush's war on drugs collided with his war on terrorism - and lost. The US is now colluding in the heroin trade.
Anti-American Afghan forces - Taliban, al-Qaida, and others - have regrouped and are mounting ever larger attacks on US troops and, reports the UN, even re-opening training camps. Taliban mujihadin are using the same sophisticated early alert system they developed to monitor Soviet forces in the 1980's to warn of American search and destroy missions before they leave base. As a result, US troops keep chasing shadows. Canadians fared no better. In the sole major battle since Taliban's overthrow, Operation Anaconda, US forces were bested by veteran Afghan mujihadin, losing dozens of casualties and two helicopters.
The ongoing cost of Afghan operations is a closely guarded secret. Earlier this year, the cost of stationing 8,000 US troops, backed by warplanes and naval units, was estimated at US $5 billion monthly!
CIA spends millions every month to bribe Pushtun warlords. Costs will rise as the US expands bases in Afghanistan and neighboring Pakistan, Tajikistan, Kyrgystan and Uzbekistan - all placed along the planned US owned pipeline that will bring Central Asian oil south through Afghanistan.
The UN reports Taliban and al-Qaida on the offensive, Afghan women remain veiled, and the country in a dangerous mess. Declaring victory in Afghanistan may have been premature.
[Eric Margolis is a syndicated foreign affairs columnist and broadcaster, and author
at the Top of the World - The Struggle for Afghanistan, Kashmir, and Tibet
which was reviewed in The Economist, May 13, 2000]
Eric Margolis, "Making Afghanistan Safe for Heroin Dearlers," August 17, 2003
[Afghanistan produces three quarters of the world's illicit opium - the raw material
for heroin - and two thirds of all opiate users take drugs of Afghan origin,
according to a report by the UN Office on Drugs and Crime.--Jason Bennetto, "Huge Afghan
opium harvest brings fears of new terrorism," Independent, October 30, 2003]
Nick Jackson, "Record poppy
crop makes mockery of Afghanistan's 'jihad' on opium," Independent, April 18,
"UN warns of
Afghan 'drug state'," BBC, November 18, 2004
Copyright © 2002 Eric Margolis - All Rights