May 6, 2010

What I Learned in Afghanistan - About the United States

by Dana Visalli

. . . I had read that the United States had spent $300 billion dollars in Afghanistan since the invasion and occupation of that country ten years ago, so I naturally became curious where this tremendous quantity of money and resources had gone. Many Americans had said to me that we were in Afghanistan "to help Afghan women," and yet we were told by the director of the Afghan Human Rights Commission, and we read in the recent UN report titled "Silence is Violence," that the situation for women there was growing more violent and oppressive each year. So I decide to do some research.

95% of the $300 billion that the U.S. has spent on its Afghanistan operation since we invaded the country in 2001 has gone to our military operations there. Several reports indicate that it costs one million dollars to keep one American soldier in that country for one year. We will soon have 100,000 troops in Afghanistan, which will cost a neat $100 billion a year.

US soldiers in Afghanistan spend almost all of their time on one of our 300 bases in that country, so there is nothing they can do to help the Afghan people, whose physical infrastructure has been destroyed by the "30-year war" there, and who are themselves mostly jobless in a society in which there is almost no economy and no work.

Some effort is made to see that the remaining 5% of the $300 billion spent to date in Afghanistan does help Afghan society, but there is so much corruption and general lawlessness that the endeavor is largely futile. We were told by a female member of the Afghan parliament of one symbolic incident in which a container of medical equipment that was purchased in the US with US government funds for a clinic in Ghawr province, west of Kabul. It was shipped from the US, but by the time it arrived in Ghawr it was just an empty shell; all the equipment had been pilfered along the way.

Violence against women is increasing in Afghanistan at the present time, not decreasing. The Director of the Afghan Human Rights Commission told us of a recent case in which a ten-year-old girl was picked up by an Afghan Army commander in his military vehicle, taken to the nearby base and raped. He brought her back to her home semiconscious and bleeding, after conveying to her that if she told what had happened he would kill her entire family. The human rights commissioner ended the tale by saying to us the he could tell us "a thousand stories like this." There has been a rapid rise in the number of self-immolations - women burning themselves to death - in Afghanistan in the past three years, to escape the violence that pervades many women's lives - under the nine-year US occupation.

Armed conflict and insecurity, along with criminality and lawlessness, are on the rise in Afghanistan. In this respect, the country mirrors experience elsewhere which indicates a near universal co-relation between heightened conflict, insecurity, and violence against women. . . .


Dana Visalli is an ecologist, botanist and organic farmer living in Twisp, Washington.

Richard Esposito, Matthew Cole, and Brian Ross, "President Obama's Secret: Only 100 al Qaeda Now in Afghanistan," ABC News, December 2, 2009

[To what extent the U.S. and the U.K. are acting in concert with Pakistan to sabotage Mr. Karzai's initiative is difficult to judge but all three protagonists seem to be on the same side of the fence. Their concerns appear to converge on a single point - a successful jirga would take the wind out of their sails and put the Afghans in the driving seat and, in the process, Mr. Karzai might succeed in unifying the national opinion behind him.--M K Bhadrakumar, "Hamid Karzai's Reconciliation Strategy," The Hindu, April 14, 2010]

[The U.S. military is funding a massive protection racket in Afghanistan, indirectly paying tens of millions of dollars to warlords, corrupt public officials and the Taliban to ensure safe passage of its supply convoys throughout the country, according to congressional investigators.

The security arrangements, part of a $2.16 billion transport contract, violate laws on the use of private contractors, as well as Defense Department regulations, and "dramatically undermine" larger U.S. objectives of curtailing corruption and strengthening effective governance in Afghanistan, a report released late Monday said.--Karen DeYoung, "U.S. indirectly paying Afghan warlords as part of security contract," Washington Post, June 22, 2010]

[What is intriguing is no longer the catastrophe itself but rather how it came to pass. How did two democracies, operating in a climate of open debate, find themselves trapped in a decade of bloodshed, extravagance and mendacity? How did they accept the deaths of hundreds of their young men and thousands of non-combatant foreigners in a cause they could articulate only in irrelevant cliches about democracy, security and female emancipation?--Simon Jenkins, "Afghanistan is a catastrophe," Guardian, July 8, 2010]

[But an analysis by the IoS reveals that the true strength of the Afghan security forces - those that have been trained and judged to be able to operate independently - is barely 34,000. This is almost a seventh of the 236,000 claimed by Nato/Isaf.--Jonathan Owen and Brian Brady, "Revealed: How strategy to train Afghan forces is in deep trouble," Independent, July 11, 2010]

[And here is the oddest thing of all, though no one even bothers to mention it in this context: the Taliban haven't had tens of billions of dollars in foreign training funds; they haven't had years of advice from the best U.S. and NATO advisers that money can buy; they haven't had private contractors like DynCorp teaching them how to fight and police, and strangely enough, they seem to have no problem fighting. They are not undermanned, infiltrated by followers of Hamid Karzai, or particularly corrupt. They may be illiterate and may not be fluent in English, but they are ready, in up-to platoon-sized units, to attack heavily fortified U.S. military bases, Afghan prisons, a police headquarters, and the like with hardly a foreign mentor in sight.

Consider it, then, a modern miracle in reverse that the U.S. has proven incapable of training a competent Afghan force in a country where arms are the norm, fighting has for decades seldom stopped, and the locals are known for their war-fighting traditions--Tom Engelhardt, " All the Strangeness of Our American World in One Article,", July 27, 2010]

[The United States, while still in the top 20 percent of the world index, fell from 19th in 2009 to 22nd this year, again failing to score in the top 20. That put it behind Canada, Barbados and Chile in the Americas.--William Fisher, "U.S. Slides on Corruption Index,", October 29, 2010]

Owen Bowcott, "Afghanistan worst place in the world for women, but India in top five," Guardian, June 15, 2011

back button