US dissident Noam Chomsky’s assertion that the 2003 invasion of Iraq was "undertaken with the general recognition that it might well lead to proliferation of weapons of mass destruction and terror" may jar uneasily with the dominant narrative spun by western propaganda, but it is undoubtedly true. Tony Blair, after all, was warned by the UK’s top intelligence committee before the invasion that "Al-Qaeda and associated groups continue to represent by far the greatest terrorist threat to Western interests, and that threat is heightened by military action against Iraq."
Less than 100 days in to his presidency and all indications suggest Barack Obama is as unconcerned as his predecessor about the effect his foreign policy will have on the threat of terrorism. For example, Obama’s continuation of the Bush-instituted US drone attacks inside Pakistan have led to entirely predictable reactions, not least the recent terrorist attack on the police academy in Lahore, which the Pakistani Taliban said was in revenge for the remotely-controlled air strikes.
That the drone attacks - which cause scores of civilian deaths and seem to have no basis within international law - increase the terror threat is, of course, well understood by the US military. "The current approach is having a severely de-stabilizing effect on Pakistan and risks spreading the conflict further, or even prompting the collapse of the Pakistani state", David Kilcullen, former Special Advisor for Counterinsurgency to the US Secretary of State, told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee recently.
The same applies to Obama’s much heralded Afghan ‘surge’, which Major General John McDonald, the deputy commander of US forces in Afghanistan, argues will lead to more violence this summer. "We’re just about to kick a beehive", he candidly explained. This analysis is supported by the courageous anti-Taliban, anti-NATO occupation organization the Revolutionary Association of the Women of Afghanistan, who told me "the very first outcome of the ‘surge’ on Afghan people will be an increase in the number of civilian casualties" which will "push more people towards the Taliban and other terrorist groups". According to Nir Rosen, an investigative journalist who spent time with the Taliban last year, Obama "needs to prove, as a Democrat, that he too can kill brown people... that we’re not weak; we can kill foreigners, too."
Unwaveringly supporting all of these war-mongering, counterproductive policies is, as ever, Gordon Brown, who will, if press reports are to be believed, soon be sending an additional 2,000 British soldiers to Afghanistan. However, with a continuous trickle of body bags returning home from Helmand, British public opinion has turned against the occupation, with 68 percent of respondents in a November 2008 BBC/ICM poll favouring a withdrawal of all British forces within a year.
No doubt this figure would be even higher if more people knew British forces are using White Phosphorus in Afghanistan "almost daily", according to a former British soldier writing in the Spectator. Colonel Richard Kemp, Commander of British forces in Afghanistan in 2003, gave even more away on BBC Radio 4’s The World Tonight in February, pointing out British forces use White Phosphorus in Afghanistan and Iraq "even in areas that do have a certain amount of civilian population". Burning at over 800C and burning down to the bone when it touches human skin, Israel was rightly condemned for committing war crimes when they deployed White Phosphorus in built up areas during its January assault on Gaza. So where, one might justifiably ask, is the righteous anger, column inches and attendant investigations regarding the British army’s use of White Phosphorous in Afghanistan?
And the Israel-Palestine comparisons don’t end there. Embedded with British soldiers in Helmand, BBC journalist Ian Pannell recently reported in passing how, after being spotted by the Taliban, British soldiers "waded through a stream before finally taking cover in a small village about 650ft (200m) from Taleban positions." The lack of moral indignation is telling: when Hamas choose to fight among civilians it is an illegal act that merits worldwide condemnation, but when British soldiers take cover in a village this is simply normal war-fighting. Bravo our brave boys.
Understandably, the Government is extremely concerned about the low level of public support for Britain‘s open-ended mission in Afghanistan. And so it should be, because as Brigadier Ed Butler, the British commander in Afghanistan in 2006, notes in James Fergusson‘s book A Million Bullets, "the Taliban know that domestic Western support for this war could well go the same way as Iraq... That‘s what will lose us this campaign".
No doubt it is this fear of public opinion that has driven recent public relations campaigns to increase support for the Helmand mission. Take the sickening Pravda-style media coverage of Prince Harry trying to kill ‘Terry Taliban’, the voluntary news blackout betraying a shocking level of intellectual uniformity and subservience to power among the top executives of our national media. "If we got him in there for just a day and then had to bring him home it would have been worth it", explained a high-level official from the Ministry of Defence (MoD) at the time.
Similarly, Ross Kemp’s technically impressive Sky One documentary series Return to Afghanistan was MoD-endorsed, with Kemp undertaking military-style training on Salisbury Plain and even learning how to use the British army’s weapons systems - in case he and his cameraman were "the last men standing". Kemp told the Times newspaper he didn‘t want to become "a government propagandist", but the MoD surely knew they got the right man for the job when the Eastenders regular actually pointed out the Taliban positions to the British soldiers during one fire-fight he was filming. Back in the UK, Kemp continues to lend his support to the forth Anglo-Afghan war, labelling those protesting in Luton against parading Royal Anglican soldiers as "deluded". Showing a profound ignorance of the long and successful history of popular protest for democratic change in his own country, Kemp misguidedly argued the protestors "wouldn’t have the right to demonstrate if it wasn’t for the sacrifice of soldiers like the Anglicans. Instead their banners should have been saying ’thank you’."
With the number of troops in Iraq being slowly reduced and more boots on the ground for the ‘good war’ in Afghanistan, the latter is likely to become the central focus of US and UK foreign policy for years to come. To counter this projection of overwhelming military power and the predictable consequences it will have for the civilian population, it is important the global anti-war movement also switches its energy and focus to Afghanistan. The Stop the War demonstration at G20 and the anti-NATO protests in Strasbourg were a positive start. Look out too for a series of actions organised by the activist group Voices UK, including public meetings, countrywide naming the dead ceremonies and an act of non-violent civil disobedience at Britain’s military nerve centre Northwood on 27 May 2009 to commemorate the 47 civilians who were killed when a US war plane bombed a wedding party two years ago.
*An edited version of this article recently appeared in the Morning Star. firstname.lastname@example.org