This article is the third of a series on NATO by WAMM and Antiwar Committee members, first presented at a forum on NATO on April 7, 2012.
The day after the US-led invasion of Afghanistan in October 2001 (known as Operation Enduring Freedom), the Secretary General of NATO publicly stated the Alliance’s support. Two and a half months later, a UN Security Council resolution established the International Security Assistance Force as the NATO-led mission in Afghanistan. Initially, NATO was only deployed to the Kabul and surrounding areas; but in October 2003, the Security Council expanded the ISAF mission throughout Afghanistan. At the outset, the NATO and US missions in Afghanistan were separate. However, the operations merged in 2010 (under Gen. David Patraeus), and now under the joint command of US Gen. John Allen.
Today, there are about 130,000 NATO troops stationed in Afghanistan from 50 contributing nations. Of these, about 99,000 are US troops. Britain – the second largest contributor to the operation – has about 9,500 troops in Afghanistan. Although there is talk of withdrawing some US troops before the November elections, 68,000 US troops are set to remain in Afghanistan after the end of 2012.
These troops are engaged in the deadly acts of war.
According to a BBC on March 11, 2012: “British PM David Cameron said that the reason his troops were based in Afghanistan was ‘to prevent the country from being a safe haven to al-Qaeda, from where they might plan attacks on the UK or our allies.’ Most analysts agree that by that yardstick, the NATO operation has been successful. But if improving security for the average Afghan is the criterion by which success is measured, the answer is very different. Civilian deaths in the conflict have risen steadily in recent years.”
Among these deaths are some shocking cases, like the recent report of US Army Sergeant Robert Bales, who broke into the homes of sleeping civilians in Panjwai, slaughtering 17 people, nine of them children, 4 of those girls younger than my own daughter. [US paid $50,000 dollars for each person killed, and &11,000 for everyone injured.]
Before that, there were the 6 children killed by an airstrike in November in Zhare, Afghanistan. And the death squad within the 5th Stryker brigade, where US soldiers killed unarmed civilians for sport, staging fake combat scenes, and taking photos, or even body parts from the dead, as trophies. The ringleader of those premeditated murders, and will be eligible for parole in 10 years. The other guys got off with less.
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On top of these murders, we have videos of US marines urinating on dead Afghans, and the burning of the Korans at Baghram Airbase.
On March 14, 2012, the UK Guardian reported: “Last year was a record for civilian deaths in the Afghan war: 3,021 were reported killed by the UN, which blamed NATO and its Afghan allies for 410 of them – though Afghan human rights organizations insist that such tallies heavily understate the numbers killed by foreign troops, whose casualties are said routinely to be blamed on the Taliban or not reported at all. Many civilians are killed in night raids or air attacks, such as the one that incinerated eight shepherd boys aged 6 to 18 in northern Afghanistan last month. Across the border in Pakistan, … drone attacks have killed 2,300, including hundreds of civilians and 175 children – a massacre of another kind …”
Among the dead, we must also count the troop casualties. The vast majority have been from the US: 1929. 407 from the UK, and 158 from Canada, and so on, relative to how many troops various countries have contributed to the NATO operation. Two-thirds of these deaths have been since Obama’s troop surge in 2009.
This deadly reality is not popular.
Several recent polls reveal that most people agree with those of us planning to protest against NATO at the summit in Chicago: A CNN/ORC International survey released last Friday (3/30/12) said that only 25% of Americans support the war in Afghanistan, a new all time low. Even most Republicans voiced opposition, which had not previously happened at any point in this war. A New York Times/CBS News poll confirms the same thing: 69 percent oppose the war in Afghanistan, up from 53 percent just four months ago. Opposition in the other NATO countries was always higher than in the US, and has grown steadily. Similar poll results around the globe show most Canadians want to end the occupation, just like most Brits, most Germans, most French, and so on…
But as you might imagine, NATO is not a democratic institution, responsive or accountable to the people in the countries its troops are deployed from. And while the mission is carried out under NATO’s banner, it is clearly commanded, armed and funded, principally by the United States. However, support from NATO allies impacts what the US can and cannot do.
As we learned from April, NATO was established in 1949 supposedly as a defensive military alliance (aimed against the Soviet Union). However, according to the Congressional Research Service in December 2009, “…the allies have sought to create a ‘new’ NATO, capable of operating beyond the European theater to combat emerging threats such as terrorism and the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction. Afghanistan is NATO’s first ‘out-of-area’ mission beyond Europe.” And importantly, it continues, “The ultimate outcome of NATO’s effort to stabilize Afghanistan and U.S. leadership of that effort may well affect the cohesiveness of the alliance and Washington’s ability to shape NATO’s future.”
To put it another way, Afghanistan is a test for the NATO, and especially for the US. If they become the first successful foreign occupiers in the history of Afghanistan, it would be a huge blow not only to the people of Afghanistan, but to all the peace-loving peoples of the world.
There are some barriers to that success. First and foremost, the people of Afghanistan, who have refused to accept the twin evils of a brutal military occupation and the corrupt puppet government of Hamid Karzai. The Afghan people, like any occupied people, have a right to resist. And resist they have. The incidents I described earlier – the killing of civilians, the dishonoring of the bodies of the dead, the desecration of the Koran – these were each answered with acts of resistance. Afghan people have protested, and they have fought back. Their resistance is why US troops are dying in greater numbers every year.
And so, the coalition of the willing gets less and less willing every year.
Following Obama’s December 2009 speech at West Point, NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen expressed his support for the troop surge plan and his willingness to commit a significant number of U.S. troops to the effort. Rasmussen said that NATO “would provide at least 5,000 more soldiers and probably more.”
However, he had a hard time convincing member states to contribute forces. Of those who did commit forces, many imposed restrictions on tasks those forces could undertake. Almost half the forces in ISAF have some form of restrictions, for example prohibiting their troops from participating in combat except in self-defense, or disallowing their deployment to certain conflicted areas within Afghanistan.
I was not previously aware of this, but when a member state agrees to deploy troops to a NATO operation, that nation must pay the costs associated with that deployment. There is a built-in disincentive for nations to agree to commit any troops to a mission or to increase the number of troops deployed. In these times of massive economic collapse, it’s no doubt that many NATO member nations won’t contribute more to this losing proposition.
Which brings us to the NATO summit in Chicago this May. What will NATO leaders do there?
Afghanistan is at the top of their agenda. On Monday, NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen said: “In Chicago we will map out how we are going to complete the transition and how we will continue to support Afghanistan beyond 2014. We will agree what kind of mission NATO will have after 2014…”
At this meeting, they will no doubt speak in very concrete terms about the troop commitments of every member state. Which is to say, they will be talking about the size and scope of the continued war and occupation in Afghanistan, for the next two years, and beyond.
We absolutely need to be there, to be part of a global protest movement to say no to NATO, and demand the troops get out of Afghanistan now!