Failure to Withdraw: The CIA, the Taliban, and the Strategy of Tension in Afghanistan

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by James Corbett
September 17, 2013

By any reasonable standard, the US-led NATO-powered invasion and occupation of Afghanistan, now entering its 13th year, has been an unmitigated failure.

The economic costs of the war are easy enough to calculate, although difficult for the average person to comprehend. Even the most conservative estimate of the cost of the Afghanistan war shows that the US government alone has spent $659 billion dollars in the past 13 years of its occupation of the country. The UK government has spent a further 37 billion pounds on the war.

How much more difficult is it, then, to calculate or comprehend the cost of the war in human lives? The 3,600 Afghans who were killed in the initial bombing and special forces raids of the perversely named Operation Enduring Freedom. The tens of thousands more that have died in the carnage that has resulted from the occupation. The complete disintegration of the country into fiefdoms ruled by warlords fueled by drug money. The resurgence of religious extremism, the introduction of suicide bombings and terror attacks to the country, the raids and abuses of NATO forces on Afghan civilians and the inevitable civilian deaths in NATO-led bombings, the atrocities that have been committed by the NATO-trained and supported Afghan “security” forces. For the people of Afghanistan, the last 13 years have unfolded like a nightmare from which they are trying to awake.

Of course, NATO does not measure the outcome of its mission by reasonable standards. They have their own entirely different yardstick by which they gauge their operations, and by that standard, the Afghan war has been an unqualified success.

The Afghan war has provided NATO with access to control the opium trade, something that was out of its grasp during the pre-war period. The Afghan poppy crop brings in about $1 billion for the opium farmers themselves, or about $5000 per family annually. $3 billion go to Afghan government officials, insurgents, warlords and traffickers. The street value of the drugs produced from the opium, however, is estimated to be as much as $200 billion a year, with the vast majority of that being laundered through the U.S. banking system. That a key part of NATO's mission in the country is defending the poppy crop was long discussed by the troops themselves, but openly admitted in 2010.

The war has also given NATO a key toe-hold in a geostrategic region, bordering perennial US target Iran as well as providing access to the key Central Asian nations of Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, and Tajikistan, a vital area in NATO's ongoing quest to encircle China and Russia. Earlier this year, Afghan President Karzai revealed that the US will be allowed to retain nine of their bases across the country after the supposed 2014 “pullout” of NATO troops.

The occupation also affords the ISAF forces direct access to Afghanistan's mineral resources, and the compliant Kabul regime is only too happy to allow multinational corporations access to those resources. Just last month Turkmenistan and Afghanistan signed a 30 year deal to proceed with the long-proposed TAPI pipeline Turkmen gas through Afghanistan, Pakistan and India. In 2010 it was “revealed” that the US government estimated that the country contained up to $1 trillion worth of previously unknown mineral wealth, with one internal Pentagon memo referring to the country as a potential “Saudi Arabia of lithium.”

Given that this mission has been such a success for NATO, one wonders how they can possibly live up to their promise to pull their forces out of the country by 2014. Unsurprisingly, it seems, there is now a propaganda campaign taking place in Afghanistan and around the world to prepare the public for the breaking of that promise.

In order for NATO to justify the maintenance of its forces, or some portion thereof, in the country after 2014, some plausible pretext for that presence is needed. The Taliban, of course, is that pretext, and the ever-present menace of Taliban forces present that boogeyman that will justify the ongoing occupation of the country until such time as they are eradicated or local Afghan security forces are deemed capable of holding their own against these terrorist forces.

This, then, presents a simple equation for those who wish to maintain NATO forces in the region past the 2014 cutoff date: support the Taliban and their campaign to wreak havoc in Afghanistan. Rather than outlandish conspiracy theory, this is an on-the-ground reality that has been confirmed by multiple investigations over the years and even by the Afghan President himself.

The most straightforward sense in which this is true comes from long-established Pentagon policies to provoke terror attacks in order to “expose” them to counterattack by US forces. A 2002 study by the Defense Science Board recommended the creation of a Proactive, Preemptive Operations Group, or “P2OG”, for the purpose of “prodding terrorist cells into action.” It has long been acknowledged that drone strikes on largely civilian populations, killing just one suspected “terrorist” for every 50 civilians, in fact creates more potential combatants than it kills, with one Pew Research poll revealing that Pakistani public opinion now overwhelmingly believes the United States an enemy, despite the fact that the nations are diplomatically allied.

On a deeper level, though, there have been many investigations that show that the Taliban has been fostered, funded and sustained throughout much of its history through the active cooperation of the CIA and other US agencies.

Earlier this year, even President Karzai himself accused the US of actively collaborating with the Taliban in order to justify postponing the NATO pullout from the country.

Indeed, as geopolitical commentator and contributor Christoph Germann points out in a recent interview with The Corbett Report, Afghanistan is far too strategic a country for NATO to simply withdraw as planned. In our recent conversation he gave a thorough overview of the security situation on the ground in the country and the inevitable conclusion that US/NATO forces are in fact aiding the Taliban in order to justify their own occupation.

That the NATO forces are going to stay in Afghanistan after 2014 is not in dispute. It has been confirmed multiple times, most recently by the commander of the NATO ground forces in the country, Lt. General Mark Milley, in an interview with Stars and Stripes earlier this month.

“We have no indication whatsoever of a withdrawal completely from Afghanistan,” he told the publication. “We are going to change our mission, and we are going to reduce in size and scope.”

In order to sell this to the public, of course, the Big Lie is required. That is where the ongoing strategy of tension rears its head. Just as terrorist forces throughout Central Asia and the Caucasus are being funded, supported and protected by the NATO powers to destabilize the region, so too is this happening in Afghanistan. Until the Big Lie is exposed, the Afghan war will never be brought to an end.

Now it is a question of whether the American public, and the citizens of all of the ISAF member nations, will have the fortitude to press the issue. Lost as the Afghan war has become in the seemingly never-ending flow of dismal economic data, political wrangling, and threats of further wars in the Middle East, is it at all surprising that this war, already the longest military operation in the history of the United States republic, threatens to drag on well into its second decade?

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