(This is a shortened version of an article that was originally published in Greek on October 21 2015. By P. Pap. for avantgarde)
This October marked the 14th anniversary of the US invasion of Afghanistan and the occupation of the country that followed, in the context of the notorious «war on terror» – that is, another series of US-led wars of aggression launched against the oppressed of the planet, with the aim of updating the global hegemony of Western imperialism through the strengthening of its position and the weakening of its main rivals (Russia, China and Iran). This October was marked by a number of notable incidents in Afghanistan, including the capture of the Kunduz city by the Taliban, the – intentional – bombing of a Doctors Without Borders hospital by the US air force and the decision of the imperialists to extend the occupation of the country.
On September 27th, a few hundreds of Taliban captured the city of Kunduz (important transport hub and fifth largest city of Afghanistan with 300,000 inhabitants) after a well-coordinated military operation. The government forces that were stationed in the city were unable to prevent this, despite their overwhelming numerical superiority (they consisted of 7,000 soldiers according to the NY Times). The fact that such a small force was able to capture the city so easily is indicative of the hatred that the Afghani people feel for their imperialist oppressors, who have brought nothing but terror and destruction for 14 years. Even US officials admit it: a document entitled “Executive Summary of Key Findings and Recommendations on Afghanistan and Pakistan” that was recently published by the WikiLeaks, hacked from the personal e-mail account of the CIA Director, John Brennan, states: “A spillover effect of inadequate troop levels is that military operations have relied heavily on airpower as a force multiplier. The collateral damage which results from continuous and increasing air strikes is wearing on the Afghan public and is causing anger among the very population coalition forces are trying to protect. The U.S. Ambassador to Afghanistan stated that the United States must reduce the number of civilian casualties. We cannot retain the support of the Afghan population if they perceive themselves as victims of our efforts.” It is also indicative of the degree of popular legitimacy that the US-installed puppet government of Ashraf Ghani enjoys, which practically has no influence outside of Kabul. This is illustrated in the clearest manner by a statement of a former member of the provincial council of a nearby town, Pul-i-Kumri: “In Pul-i-Kumri, the situation is not in the favor of the government. If any Taliban come out and shout ‘Allahu akbar,’ the city will fall. The Taliban are close to the city.”
The capture of the city was both a major blow and a humiliation for the occupation forces, since it was the first time that the Taliban had occupied a city since the US invasion of 2001. The Taliban stayed in control of the city for two weeks and then retreated, having liberated some of their fellow militants from the local prison and having expropriated weapons, ammunition, vehicles and government documents.
On October 3rd and while the government forces were fighting against the Taliban to recapture Kunduz, an AC-130 warplane bombed a hospital of the Doctors Without Borders (MSF) in the city. Survivors described horrific scenes, with patients burning on their beds and personnel covered in blood. A nurse used the word “unspeakable”. 22 people were killed at that point. The number would later rise to 30.
At the time, MSF denounced the US for changing their story four times in four days (indeed, that was the case), talked about a war crime, denied that there were armed Taliban or weapons in the hospital and noted that they had repeatedly informed the US army regarding the position of the hospital. The personnel had also stated that, despite their desperate phone calls to the offices of NATO in Kabul and Washington during the attack, the bombardment continued.
An insightful report by the AP that mentioned the following, citing a former intelligence official:
“American special operations analysts were gathering intelligence on an Afghan hospital days before it was destroyed […] they believed it was being used by a Pakistani operative to coordinate Taliban activity.
The special operations analysts had assembled a dossier that included maps with the hospital circled, along with indications that intelligence agencies were tracking the location of the Pakistani operative […] The intelligence suggested the hospital was being used as a Taliban command and control center and may have housed heavy weapons.
After the attack […] U.S. analysts assessed that the strike had been justified […] They concluded that the Pakistani, believed to have been working for his country’s Inter-Service Intelligence directorate, had been killed.
No evidence has surfaced publicly suggesting a Pakistani died in the attack, and Doctors without Borders, the international organization that ran the hospital, says none of its staff was Pakistani.”
Whether the US army targeted the hospital in order to kill the “Pakistani agent” or because the hospital took in and treated everyone in need, including the Taliban, is not absolutely clear. My opinion is that it was due to the latter. By targeting the hospital, the US sent a crystal-clear message: “You’re either with us, or against us. And if you are not with us, then you are considered as either collateral damage or a legitimate target.” The same message was sent by the US allies, the Saudis, who recently bombed an MSF hospital in Yemen, too.
In any case, what is clear is that the bombing of the hospital was deliberate. As if to stress this point, the killer returned to the scene of the crime some days after the bombing – on a tank, breaking down the door of the bombed hospital and terrifying the personnel once more. More evidence that the bombing was deliberate appeared on November 5th, when the MSF published a report on the bombing which states that the hospital had received a phone call from a US official on October 1st (two days before the bombing); the official had asked whether the hospital or any other of MSF’s locations had a large number of Taliban “holed up”. The imperialist murderers knew very well what they were doing.
Although no reader of this portal needs to be reminded of the bottomless hypocrisy of the imperialists, one cannot help but note the stance of the Western media regarding the US war crime, as opposed to their stance towards the downing of the Malaysian Airlines Boeing in the summer of 2014. Although back then they had manifested an impressive competence in “discovering” – without any evidence – the guilty party, the bombing of the hospital found them “puzzled”. It was impossible to tell who had actually pulled the trigger by reading their headlines. Let us handpick three headlines (out of the many):
- NY Times: “Airstrike Hits Doctors Without Borders Hospital in Afghanistan”
- Fox News: “US officials investigate airstrike in Afghanistan that killed at least 19 at Doctors Without Borders hospital”
- Washington Post: “Afghan official: hospital in airstrike was a Taliban base”. The story and the headline were later edited to: “Afghan response to hospital bombing is muted, even sympathetic”. However, they did not change the initial url, which remains. As a monument to “independent” and “inquisitive” journalism, perhaps.
Such heinous war crimes are by no means unusual for the US army; on the contrary, they happen on a daily basis. Few of them receive any publicity (such as the twisted story about the US soldiers who killed Afghan civilians “for sport” and took their fingers as “trophies”); the vast majority of these stories are simply buried – the murdered civilians are branded “rebels” and no further questions are asked. The leaked documents of WikiLeaks on Afghanistan sheds light on this reality. If the crime is too big to cover up (such as the bombing of a hospital of an international organization), then an internal “investigation” takes place. This is what happened this time, with Obama announcing that the Department of Defense had launched an internal investigation. The MSF are demanding an independent investigation into the Kunduz hospital bombing, but their demand is being rejected. The president of the organization, Joanne Liu, reportedly stated a few days ago that she had issued an appeal to 76 governments to support her demand; so far no government does. Judging from the above, one can get a sense of the degree of impartiality of the investigation that will be held.
From the moment the city fell to the Taliban, the hawks of war in Washington assumed battle positions, calling for the cancellation of the plans for the partial withdrawal of the US troops. An indicative example is Senator McCain, who urged the president to “abandon this dangerous and arbitrary course and adopt a plan for U.S. troop presence based on conditions on the ground”. At the same time, the Western media were screaming that there are major security issues, so the troops need to stay. Based on the above, Obama’s announcement that the US army (consisting of around 10,000 troops) will remain in Afghanistan through most of 2016 should be seen as a natural development, despite his previous statements that the presence of the US troops in Afghanistan was neither fiscally nor politically justifiable. So the US troops remain in order “to protect the American nation from al-Qaeda and terrorism”. Though tempting, I will not comment on the seriousness of the claims that the target is the combating of al-Qaeda – which the US funds in Syria.
In any case, the war crimes and the atrocities of the imperialist oppressors against the Afghan people will continue. The imperialists may talk about the “ultimate value of human life”, but for them this value is measured in GDP per capita; this “ultimate value” is more “ultimate” in New York and London than it is in Kabul or Donbass. Such are their morals. The morals of those who oppose oppression, however, are fundamentally different; and they consider as their duty to present the oppressors with the full historic reckoning for all their crimes. This applies especially to those of us who happened to be born in the imperialist West.