Afghanistan: NATO on course to certain defeat

The following article is from Lalkar:


US imperialism has decided to go for a ‘surge’ in Afghanistan, increasing its troops there by over 20,000 over the next few months.  The first batch, about 3,500 to 4,000 troops from the Third Brigade of the 10th Mountain Division from Fort Drum, New York, are scheduled to arrive next month, with the remainder arriving over the following 18 months. This is nothing more nor less than Barack Obama promised to do when elected President – i.e., to withdraw (partially) from Iraq in order to focus on Afghanistan, and on Pakistan as well.

The war in Afghanistan has been going badly for the imperialist forces, and Anthony Cordesman commented bitterly in the International Herald Tribune of 25 November:1 “Leaks of a new National Intelligence Estimate have shown that we are now losing the war for several reasons: a lack of Afghan competence; a halfhearted Pakistani commitment to the fight; a shortage of American, NATO and International Security Assistance Force troops; too few aid workers; and nation-building programs that were designed for peacetime and are rife with inefficiency and fraud. This is why General David McKiernan, the top commander in Afghanistan, and other military leaders have called for 20,000 to 25,000 more troops and warned that even those reinforcements may not be adequate.”

The current situation for imperialism in Afghanistan is very far from good: “In an illustration of the growing challenge for the U.S. in Afghanistan, an international think tank estimated in a report released Monday that the Taliban has a ‘permanent presence’ in nearly three-quarters of the country. The International Council on Security and Development said the Taliban presence has grown from 54 percent of Afghanistan a year ago to 72 percent today.”2

The additional troops will bring the total number of imperialist troops in Afghanistan to 73,000, there being currently some 53,000 NATO-led troops from 27 countries serving in Afghanistan, including 32,000 U.S. troops.  On the part of the other 26 countries, however, enthusiasm for the war in Afghanistan has been steadily waning and it is more than likely that their numbers will decrease.  This month (December 2008) for instance, Canada – which has 2,500 troops under British command in Helmand Province – lost its 100th soldier.  The unpopularity of the war among the Canadian electorate has caused the Canadian government to announce that it will be pulling out of Afghanistan in 2011.  Other NATO countries, such as Germany, refuse to allow their troops to be sent into the more dangerous areas.  The result is that this ‘surge’ is likely to be a rather damp squib.  Quite apart from that, all countries are hit by the economic crisis and it only makes sense to reduce expenditure on a war effort that is clearly getting nowhere.3

Furthermore, it should be remembered that the Soviet Union was unable to pacify Afghanistan, even though it had 120,000 troops in the country, the support of a relatively strong Afghan government, and a great deal more popular support than US imperialism and its cohorts have today.  In only one thing is US imperialism ahead of its Soviet predecessors, and that is in firepower and sheer brutality.  But that ‘superiority’ is in fact a weakness as it drives the Afghan masses unfailingly into the hands of the Afghan resistance, helping them to overcome their distaste for religious fundamentalism where necessary, in their determination not to bow down to foreign domination.

Bolstering the Afghan army and police

The Soviet experience has proved that it is impossible for US imperialism to win in Afghanistan with the number of troops it has available.  Even to try would be highly unpopular in the imperialist home countries, where surging death rates among troops could lead to popular backlash among the masses who are already for the most part opposed to these imperialist wars.  Hence the need to try to get local troops to fight America’s war.  Unfortunately for US imperialism, the numbers don’t crunch.  According to Ahmed Rashid and Barnett R Rubin,4 U.S. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates has announced a plan to increase the size of the Afghan National Army from 70,000 to 122,000, as well as adding 82,000 police, for a total of 204,000 in the Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF). “Such increases, however, would require additional international trainers and mentors – which are, quite simply, not available in the foreseeable future – and maintaining such a force would far exceed the means of such a destitute country. Current estimates of the annual cost are around $2.5 billion for the army and $1 billion for the police. Last year, the Afghan government collected about 7 percent of a licit GDP estimated at $9.6 billion in revenue – about $670 million. Thus, even if Afghanistan’s economy experienced uninterrupted real growth of 9 percent per year, and if revenue extraction nearly doubled, to 12 percent (both unrealistic forecasts), in ten years the total domestic revenue of the Afghan government would be about $2.5 billion a year. Projected pipelines and mines might add $500 million toward the end of this period. In short, the army and the police alone would cost significantly more than Afghanistan’s total revenue.

It follows that to keep Afghans dying for America it will be necessary for America, and whatever NATO countries could be pressured into doing so, to provide to Afghanistan “aid” amounting to some $5 billion a year, on top of what is being spent otherwise on the war, a commitment that Rashid and Rubin consider to be quite unsustainable.

There is also some speculation that the US is trying to draw India into the war.  India could certainly supply a vast amount of soldiery to the imperialist effort if it were so inclined.  To do so, however, would be utter madness to which even the inept and corrupt Indian ruling class is unlikely to descend.  India has a very large Muslim population.  To commit its troops to fight Muslims in Afghanistan (and probably also Pakistan) would give rise to an almighty backlash among significant sections of its home population that would greatly weaken it and threaten its territorial integrity.

Taliban success

In the meantime, the Taliban in the 72% of the country that it controls, is winning hearts and minds.  It says it has learnt from mistakes made in the past.  Ghaith Abdul Ahad writing in the Observer of 14 December5 recounts what he has learnt from spending times behind the Taliban lines in Afghanistan:

“Taliban commanders I met explained the Taliban’s sophisticated network of military and civilian leadership. Each province has its own Taliban governor, military leader and shura [consultation] council. Below them are district commanders like Hemmet, who in turn divides his force into smaller units. Many say the civilian apparatus of the Taliban-run districts operates a more effective justice system than the government’s, which is corrupt and inefficient…

Mullah Muhamadi … arrived later wearing a long leather jacket and a turban bigger than all the others. ‘This is not just a guerrilla war, and it’s not an organised war with fronts’, he said. ‘It’’ both’. He went on to explain the importance the Taliban attached to creating a strong administration in the areas it held: ‘When we control a province we need to provide service to the people. We want to show the people that we can rule, and that we are ready for the day when we take over Kabul, that we have learned from our mistakes.’”

What these lessons are can be gleaned from an article by Anand Gopal:6

“The insurgents are also fighting to install a version of Sharia law in the country. Nonetheless, the famously puritanical guerrillas have moderated some of their most extreme doctrines, at least in principle. Last year, for instance, Mullah Omar issued an edict declaring music and parties – banned in the Taliban’s previous incarnation – permissible. Some Taliban commanders have even started accepting the idea of girls’ education…

“Even at the local level, some provincial Taliban officials are tempering older-style Taliban policies in order to win local hearts and minds. Three months ago in a  district in Ghazni province, for instance, the insurgents ordered all schools closed. When tribal elders appealed to the Taliban’s ruling religious council in the area, the religious judges reversed the decision and reopened the schools.”

The result is that in the areas they control the Taliban are able to do what the Karzai government cannot: bring incorruptible justice to the issues of crime and land disputes.

Taliban military action

However, besides hearts and minds, the Taliban are also achieving remarkable military successes.  This month they have succeeded in a spectacular attack on an army convoy in Peshawar, Pakistan. According to the International Herald Tribune,7 “More than 100 trucks loaded with supplies for American and allied forces in Afghanistan were destroyed Sunday by militants in Peshawar, a Pakistani city that serves as an important transit point for the Afghan war effort.

“It was the third major attack by Taliban militants on NATO supplies in Pakistan in less than a month, and served to expose the vulnerability of the route from the port of Karachi through Peshawar and over the border into Afghanistan. The United States relies on the route for an overwhelming proportion of its supplies for the war in Afghanistan.”  That “overwhelming majority” in fact amounts to 80-90%.  It is not impossible for imperialism to get supplies through via Pakistan, but the operation is becoming more and more dangerous, with the Taliban in de facto control of the famous Khyber Pass through which all supplies have to travel.

Imperialism is endeavouring to develop an alternative, which is to bring supplies through from the north, but even this is fraught with difficulties: “In recent months, NATO has tried to develop other supply routes into Afghanistan. One of the possibilities is a northern overland route that would carry supplies by rail through Russia and the Central Asian nations to northern Afghanistan. Although Moscow has given its consent, NATO is still negotiating with Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Turkmenistan8 – countries that are not proving to be very co-operative.

The US is also hoping to be able to make gains on the hearts-and-minds front by new elections to be held supposedly in 2009, intended to plant illusions that somehow the weak, corrupt and ineffective Karzai government can be replaced by something altogether more dynamic and efficient.  As a means of inspiring the masses, it is hard to imagine that such elections could have any effect whatsoever in conditions such as prevail in Afghanistan.  In any event, the elections – if they are held at all – will not run in the areas controlled by the Taliban.  A senior UN official who has been in Afghanistan for decades told Nir Rosen of Abu Dhabi’s The National,9 The Americans are gung-ho about elections. If you have enough money, you can have elections, but what is the meaning? They got away with flawed elections in 2004 and 2005, but now a deeply flawed election will only make things worse. The 2004 elections were good enough, remarkably successful, but politically flawed. What will be the impact of a deeply flawed election? Karzai only won 56 per cent of the vote in 2004. I can’t imagine he would do better this time, so the elections would need a second round. It will further exacerbate ethnic tensions and divisions.”  The main problem is that in a country where the Pashtuns form the majority of the population, the only acceptable president at the best of times has to be a Pashtun – but it is precisely the Pashtun areas that are most loyal to the Taliban and where the elections will not be able effectively to be held.  However, if elections are not held, then the puppet government of Afghanistan will continue to be one that has been thoroughly discredited in the eyes of the masses.  Whatever US imperialism does it cannot win.


US imperialism imagines that because things appear to have quietened down in Iraq, it can simply remove troops from that country and redeploy them in Afghanistan.  The information that is available to us is equally available to the US administration, which should realise that the war in Afghanistan cannot be won.  On the contrary, moving troops from Iraq will ease the pressure on the Iraqi resistance enabling it to win even more successes against the occupying forces.  It is very clear that the gods are out to destroy the various western imperialist powers, and are proceeding in the task by first making them mad!



1. ‘Afghanistan heats up’.

2. Robert Burns, ‘Marines will shift to Afghanistan’, The Associated Press, 8 December 2008.

3. The US, however, notwithstanding its economic woes, still has a bottomless purse as far as military expenditure is concerned.  As Robert Gates (seamlessly transferred as Defense Secretary from Bush to Obama) explained: “I may be whistling past the graveyard here but I think that we’re not likely to see significant cuts,” he said, adding to applause that “the defense budget at the end of the day is a pretty impressive stimulus for the economy” Elisabeth Bumiller, ‘Gates arrives in Afghanistan’, International Herald Tribune, 11 December 2008

4. Writing in Foreign Affairs, November-December 2008, ‘Ending chaos in Afghanistan and Pakistan’.

5. ‘Face to face with the Taliban’.

6. ‘Who Are the Taliban? The Afghan War Deciphered’ Posted 9 December, 2008.

7. Jane Perlez, ‘Militants in Pakistan destroy NATO trucks’, 8 December  2008

8. The Associated Press, ‘NATO: attacks will not disrupt Afghan supplies’, 9 December 2008.

9. ‘The broken state’, 28 November 2008

12 responses to “Afghanistan: NATO on course to certain defeat

  1. This appearing on a marxist-leninist blog is strange. Underneath it all, this article is an attempt to lash out at imperialism whilst totally ignoring the real nature of the Taliban. The Taliban have gone soft on their fundamentalism? Hogwash!

    Even if one earnestly wishes for imperialism to get its ugly claws out of Afghanistan, singing praise about the good ways of some sort of new and reformed ‘neo-Talibanism’ is highly problematic and infantile.

    Taliban are a threat for the people of Afghanistan and should be treated as such. Their guerilla warfare comes from the ISI and should not be treated as some sort of a liberation struggle.

    There is no short-term or medium-term solution to Afghanistan, period.

  2. This article comes from a British Marxist-Leninist journal, Lalkar. I don’t agree with every word in the article, but nonetheless I’m posting it here as an U.S. American Marxist-Leninist activist seeking the defeat of “my own” government in this criminal war against the people of Afghanistan. That said, the force on the ground that is leading the charge in the defeat of the U.S. imperialist-led NATO forces is presently the Taliban. Period.

    It would seem to me that the struggle against imperialist occupation, that is, the resolution through armed struggle of the contradiction between imperialism and the Afghan people, would be seen as the main thing and that this contradiction would be understood to be the principal contradiction by all patriotic Afghans, with the contradiction between the progressive and revolutionary forces and the feudal Islamists as a (major) secondary contradiction.

    Hassan, have you seen this article by the Communist (Maoist) Party of Afghanistan, “On the military situation of the Taleban and other Islamic anti-government forces“?

  3. Comradezero,

    And when Hassan Rizvi is antiimperialist but against religieus fundamentalism?

    Then is your message to him:

    ‘ We have to support the Taliban because “to our knowledge are they the leading force in the united front, that we judge that has to exist, supported by the majority of the Afghans” and they are doing the job in what we “antiimperialists in the USA” not yet succeeded: “the defeat of the USA-imperialists”. ’

    The best solidarity with the Afghan antiimperialist resistance (and it is to the Afghans to build and support their “united fronts” as they think is best) is, in the HOMELAND of the imperialist interventionists mobilise and organise there the people, for “defeat of imperialism”.
    When Hassan Rizvi is living in Afghanistan he will surely try to stimulate the real antiimperialist force and to minimalise the influence of religeus fundamentalism inside the resistance.
    And when Hassan Rizvi is living in the USA, I am sure that he will be on your antiimperialist side.

  4. Nico, if I understand you correctly, then I agree with you.

  5. I’m sorry for replying a tad late.

    comradezero, there is no doubt that the principal contradiction in Afghanistan is between the interests of the Afghan people and imperialism, but since when is so blatantly ignoring the secondary or other contradictions in line with Marxism-Leninism? We have an example in Iran of a progressive movement falling flat on its face because the secondary contradictions were ignored by the communists and the nationalists!

    Secondly, thank you for bringing to my attention the article by CP of Afghanistan. I am embarrassed because I did not even know it existed. However, nowhere do they mention that Taliban deserve support from revolutionaries anywhere in the world or that a progressive liberation struggle, if there ever is one in Afghanistan, merits the support of or from the Taliban.

    Afghanistan is no Palestine where a democratically accepted Islamist Hamas is doing a wonderful job fighting imperialst interests. I would definitely refrain from criticizing the Taliban if they really did represent the wishes of the people of Afghanistan and Afghanistan alone. But that is not the case!

  6. Nico, no matter where in the world I am, I will try to present the Taliban and US imperialism as two sides of the same coin. Siding with the Taliban just because they are instrumental in defeating one’s own government is opportunism. Whatever became of internationalist solidarity comrades?

  7. Dear Hassan Rizvi,

    I think that where you are formulating:
    “there is no doubt that the principal contradiction in Afghanistan is between the interests of the Afghan people and imperialism, but since when is so blatantly ignoring the secondary or other contradictions in line with Marxism-Leninism? We have an example in Iran of a progressive movement falling flat on its face because the secondary contradictions were ignored by the communists and the nationalists!”….you are CORRECTLY formulating the essence of the socalled “united front” policy.

    And that “Siding with the Taliban just because they are instrumental in defeating one’s own government is”….INDEED “opportunism.”, when you (being in a “united front” with that same Taliban in Afganistan itself) NEGLECT developing and propagating indepently your communist line and organisation and masswork)

    That is what I learned in the history of the Chinese revolution. And there was a right opportunist line in the Communist Party (in the twenties-thirties), AGAINST which Mao Zedong opposed, to build the first united front with the Kwo Mintang and making of the communist party a quasi part of the Kwo Mintang…. He opposed at the same time a “left” opportunist line of totally negating the possibility of a united front.

    So I think I have to agree with you completely.

  8. I think there is some evidence that actually the real target of the imperialists in Afghanistan is Russia, not the Taliban. The imperialists set up the pro-Russian forces in Afghanistan for failure. They tricked them into disarming and got them slaughtered. The Northern Alliance has been destroyed in Afghanistan. I think the US would much rather have the Taliban in power in Afghanistan than a Moscow friendly government. Especially when Russia has lot of leverage over western imperialist energy resources. Russia has for years opposed the Taliban regime, at a time when the Bush administration was giving it large amounts of aid. Chechen fighters, whom the imperialists support (in particular Britain, who harbors a number of Chechen terrorists), have been found fighting in Afghanistan. I’m really confused about the situation in Afghanistan, and want to make sense of it.

  9. It’s not all that hard to understand if you look at the obvious. If the Salayffists, ie, bin Laden and crew, were out of business, I’d bet the US would leave Afghanistan pretty much to its own affairs. The chances of the Russians returning, after the drubbing they took, is rather remote. No one really wants to occupy it for any length of time, because it’s impossible to do so, and everyone knows it. At most they want a government with some stability so a secure natural gas pipeline can be leased, and again everyone knows the only secure pipeline is one secured by the Afghans themselves. The imperialists act in their own interests, for sure, but they’re not nitwits.

  10. I think we have to recognize that objectively, the anti-imperialist force in Afghanistan that, by many sources (both scholarly and in the bourgeois media), is the Taliban. Whether they represent the “will of the people” can be understood by seeing that resistance forces, headed by the Taliban, are controlling around 75% of the country.

    So, the question then becomes whether they are objectively progressive or reactionary. I would say that the revolutionary nature of the Taliban leads me to believe that they are, in fact, objectively progressive for their success in bringing US imperialism to its knees. The leftist forces in that area, such as Comrade Zero cited earlier, have self-criticized for not playing a bigger role in the resistance movement.

    Would I rather have a more progressive force leading the anti-imperialist resistance? Yes, of course. But this is not about having the privilege of picking and choosing an ideal (or “idealist”) situation from afar. There is a reactionary puppet regime in Afghanistan that the people hate. In the spirit of self-determination, the Afghani people ought to choose how best to run their affairs without US imperialism choking their nation and sovereignty.

  11. Look a little deeper.

    Afghanistan is a tribal society, ruled mainly by local chiefs, called ‘warlords’ in some cases. They shift their allegiances all the time, this day Taliban, next day someone else. And they don’t do it all at once. Think of the section of the crowd in a football stadium with flip cards, spelling out one thing now, something else later.

    So when you say the Taliban runs 75 percent of the country, it’s in this context. Moreover, most of the Taliban are Pashtun, dominant in the South, but thought of quite differently among the Tajik to the North.

    There’s also considerable antipathy between Afghans and al-Quada Arabs, with the Arabs often taking an overbearing ‘Master Race’ attitude toward all Afghans.

    My point is that it’s both wrong and foolish for anyone from outside to try to occupy and rule Afghanistan. But working in other ways to put al-Quaeda out of business is another matter.

  12. The Taliban was eager to make a pipeline deal with the American government and US oil companies prior to late 2001. Only US sanctions prevented the building of a pipeline in Afghanistan because US support for the Taliban finally became untenable. I don’t think this war has much at all to do with a pipeline. Prior to that time Bush was also sending them millions of dollars in aid. The US supported the Taliban throughout the 1990s. In fact I’d say the US and their allies Pakistan and Saudi Arabia were instrumental in bringing the Taliban to power. I think this explains why there was little real commitment in defeating the Taliban for good in Afghanistan. It’d be helpful for the US if Afghanistan was run by a “moderate” Taliban-style government that could ensure some kind of stability and be beholden to Pakistan and Saudi Arabia rather than Russia, Uzbekistan and Tajikistan.

    The real prize here is encircling Russia and China and using Afghanistan as a means to de-stabilize other Central Asian republics which have strong ties to Russia and China. US imperialists want nothing more than a weak Russia and control over its vast resources. The Taliban has very close ties with Chechen fighters and Afghanistan was used as a base to train Chechen terrorists when it was under control of the Taliban.

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