Afghanistan – the war imperialism can never win

The news out of Afghanistan is truly alarming”, announced the International Herald Tribune of 21 August 2008,[1] the reason being that “the number of US and NATO casualties is mounting so quickly that unless something happens soon, this could be the deadliest year of the Afghan war.  Kabul … is increasingly besieged, and Taliban and foreign Qaeda fighters are consolidating control over an expanding swath of territory sprawling across both sides of the Afghanistan-Pakistan border”.

Afghanistan is on its way to becoming as deadly for imperialist troops as is Iraq.  70,000 NATO troops in Afghanistan cannot prevent the surge of the resistance.  “There were 10 times as many armed attacks on international troops and civilian contractors in 2007 as there were in 2004.  Every other measure of violence, from roadside bombs to suicide bombers is also up dramatically”.[2] The International Herald Tribune of 7 August[3] tells us that: “June was the second deadliest month for the [US] military in Afghanistan since the war began, with 23 American deaths from hostilities, compared with 22 in Iraq.  July was less deadly [if you discount the French and Canadian soldiers killed that month], with 20 deaths, compared with six in Iraq.  On July 22, nearly seven years after the conflict began [i.e., the US invasion] on October 7, 2000, the United States lost its 500th soldier in the Afghanistan war.

In 2007, 111 American soldiers were killed, the highest annual toll so far in the war.  So far this year, 91 Americans have died, a rate faster than last year.[4]

In fact, “Multi-direction attacks, flawlessly executed ambushes and increasingly powerful roadside and suicide bombs mean the US and … NATO-led force will in all likelihood suffer its deadliest year in Afghanistan since the 2001 invasion.[5]

When we factor in the deaths of soldiers from other NATO invasion forces as well as Afghan puppet troops we can begin to see why the Atlantic Council of the United States, in a report in January[6]  that one should “make no mistake, NATO is not winning in Afghanistan”.  If 101 Americans have been killed this year in Afghanistan, the total number of NATO/US soldiers is approaching 200, with over a third of the year still to go.  It seems certain that the number of foreign invasion troops killed will surpass the 222 (of which 111 were Americans) reported last year.  As for the puppet troops killed, it is hard to find information on this since to the imperialists these ‘natives’ are expendable.  Nevertheless the 7 August article mentioned above notes that “Though Afghan security forces have suffered the vast majority of fatalities in the war, exact numbers are hard to come by.  The Defense Ministry said that nearly 600 Afghan soldiers were killed from March 2005 to March 2006, the only period for which it provided statistics.  The Afghan Interior Ministry, which began recording police deaths in March 2007, said 1119 police officers were killed from March 2007 to March 2008.”

As the number of fatalities begins to escalate from year to year, it has become apparent that the Afghan resistance (always branded ‘The Taliban’ in western bourgeois media, just as any resistance fighters lending fraternal support from other countries are branded ‘Al Qaeda’) is going from strength to strength.  “Karzai’s influence barely extends outside the capital,” says the International Herald Tribune of 25 August[7].  In fact, the Afghan resistance is succeeding in its plan to cut off the capital, much as they did in the early 1990’s as a prelude to defeating the forces of the Najibullah government, and there is not very much that the imperialist invasion forces can do to prevent this.  The resistance has been able to render impassable the main highway – built at huge imperialist expense – leading south from Kabul.  Carlotta Gall in the International Herald Tribune of 14 August[8] says that:

When it was built several years ago, the Kabul-Kandahar highway was a demonstration of the US commitment to building a democratic Afghanistan.  A critical artery, the highway quite literally holds the country together …

For the United States and the NATO-led force in Afghanistan, it is an important supply route for the war effort, linking up the two most important foreign military bases in the country, at Bagram and Kandahar, and a number of smaller bases on the way.

But today the highway is a dangerous gauntlet of mines and attacks from insurgents and criminals pockmarked with bomb craters and blown-up bridges…

The road has become the site of excessive carnage in the past 6 years, disrupting supply lines for US and NATO forces and tying down the Afghan Army forces.  One of the worst attacks occurred in Selar on June 24, when some 50 fuel tankers and food trucks carrying supplies for the US military were ambushed…

The Financial Times of 12 August[9] says that the “ten largest fuel transport groups now have to spend $2 million a month in protecting the 500 trucks they operate”.  The article also quotes the figure of $2,500 as the amount that is offered to truck drivers for EACH load that they take to NATO bases in the south of the country – but there are not many drivers prepared to risk their lives, even at that price.

And, continues the article, “The security companies are circumspect about how many tankers they lose, but … ‘multiple dozens have been lost in the south each month during the summer.

Hearts and minds

The imperialist press and petty-bourgeois toadies of US imperialism like the Pakistani author Ahmed Rashid[10]  refuse to recognise that the resistance in Afghanistan, as indeed in Iraq, represents the hearts and minds of the masses of the people, which is what make them unbeatable.  They like to claim that it is the harshness of the treatment meted out by the resistance to all those who oppose them, along with the murder of all rivals, that makes them such an effective opponent.  However, if brutality were the key to victory, it is obvious that the Afghan resistance would not stand a chance against Anglo-American imperialism.  All sane commentators on the situation in Afghanistan recognise that because the invading forces offer nothing to the Afghan masses other than repression, recruitment to the resistance is brisker by the day.  Bartle Breese Bull, the foreign editor of Prospect magazine, writing in the International Herald Tribune of 15 August[11]  makes the point that is obvious to anybody other than an imperialist lusting after superprofits that “Liberal democracies [i.e., imperialist powers] cannot win counterinsurgencies against the wills of local populations, and denying a livelihood to poor farmers of southern and eastern Afghanistan [or anywhere else!] is no way to persuade them to side with the West.”  Although Breese Bull is arguing against the destruction of poppy crops, the whole point is that this is the ONLY crop that has been producing any kind of a livelihood for the Afghan farmers.  Such is the exploitative relationship between imperialism on the one hand and Afghanistan on the other, that broad sections of ordinary people are unable to make any kind of a living.  What has led the masses of the people to support the resistance is that submission to imperialism offers them no hope for the future. 

Of course, the masses of the people are also aware of the sheer hypocrisy of imperialism which, while claiming to be fighting for their human rights, is detaining “hundreds of suspects for years without trial at the Bagram air base and Guantánamo Bay, Cuba”,[12] where, one might add, they are subjected to torture and degrading treatment.

Imperialist forces casually unleash bombing raids which kill hundreds of civilians in the hope that there might be a freedom fighter or two among them.  In recent weeks there have been raids in Herat, Laghman, Kapisa, Paktika, Kunar and Nurestan, all resulting in civilian casualties and air strikes in western Afghanistan on Friday 22 August, reported by US media as having killed 5 civilians and 25 militants, in fact killed over 90 people, mostly women and children. These “have stirred up Afghans’ strong independent streak and ancient dislike of foreigners”[13]  – as well they might!  Even the puppet Karzai has had to put on a show of protesting against such activity, probably quite sincerely since it is so effectively undermining his position in the country.

500,000 troops needed

Such are the logical difficulties of overcoming a hostile population that a former Australian Major General, Jim Molan, has estimated that it would require 500,000 troops to subdue Afghanistan (as opposed to the 70,000 foreign troops and 62,000 Afghanistan ‘National Army’ soldiers that are there at this time)!!  At one time Major General Molan was Chief of Operations for the US-led multinational force in 2004 and 2005, in command of 300,000 troops – so since that number was unable to subdue Iraq, he assumes that a larger number than this would be needed to subdue Afghanistan.  For imperialists who are already being bankrupted by the wars that they are losing in Iraq and Afghanistan, to increase forces to 500,000 (even assuming they could find that number, which seems unlikely in view of the existing strong trend for NATO members – under pressure from electorates at home – to pull out their troops from Afghanistan or confine them to barracks), to undertake the considerable cost of training them and equipping them,[14]  would be the desperate last throw of the gambler destined to lose everything.  On the one hand, to achieve those numbers the imperialist powers would need to resort to conscription, a move that would more than likely sooner or later jolt the populations of the imperialist countries concerned out of complacent toleration of their rulers’ wars and actually put bourgeois rule at risk; on the other hand, it is highly unlikely that conscripted troops would be at all effective against the battle-hardened and determined Afghan resistance that is fighting a just war.  In any event, as Thomas L Friedman quite rightly says, “The main reason we are losing in Afghanistan is not because there are too few US soldiers, but because there are not enough Afghans ready to fight and die for the kind of government we want.[15]    It really would not matter how many troops the imperialists threw at Afghanistan, the fact of the matter is that the local people do not want the kind of government that US imperialism wants.  For the resistance, guerrilla warfare is relatively cheap, and it holds up against all the technological wizardry at the disposal of the imperialist troops.  The writer John Masters served with the British army facing the Afghan resistance, and concluded that it was difficult to secure victory:  “The core of our problem was to force battle on an elusive and mobile enemy [who] tried to avoid battle, and instead fight us with pinpricking hit-and-run tactics … [When they] sniped, rushed, and ran away, we felt as if we were using a crowbar to swat wasps.”  By their guerrilla warfare, the Afghan resistance has succeeded in neutralising the technological advantages of their foes.

One region, one struggle

There may be thoughts in imperialist circles that significant strength will be added to the imperialist presence in Afghanistan if troops are withdrawn from Iraq.  However, even if imperialist troops were withdrawn from Iraq – something that US imperialism still has no intention of doing – all that this would mean is the thousands of resistance fighters currently based in that country would turn their attention to Afghanistan with a view to getting imperialist troops out of there also.  Thomas Friedman is also correct when he says: “The truth is that Iraq, Afghanistan, Saudi Arabia, Lebanon and Pakistan are just different fronts in the same war.[16]    Throughout the Middle East, the struggle is about control of oil.  The imperialists are in no position to confine their attentions to one country in the chain. It’s a case of win them all or lose them all.  And, as has been shown above, in the end the war cannot but be lost by imperialism.

If imperialism admits defeat and pulls out of the region altogether, it has nothing to show for expenditure of several hundred billions.  It will have emerged defeated, financially destabilised, all hopes of achieving world domination having met an ignominious end.  Imperialism cannot afford to lose this war.  And yet it cannot possibly win it.  All this led Laurent Joffrin, the editor of the revisionist French newspaper Libération, to utter the following banality by way of encouragement to imperialism: the challenge for NATO in Afghanistan is “how to win a militarily unwinnable war”.  All we can say is, M. Joffrin, it’s not going to happen!


1. Afghanistan on fire’ – author unnamed.

2. Bartle Breese Bull, ‘The wrong force for the “right war”,’  International Herald Tribune, 14 August 2008.

3. Keith Semple and Andrew W Lehren, ‘500: deadly US milestone in Afghan war’

4. Ibid. By 25 August, the figure for US troops killed this year had risen to 101.

5. Kathy Gannon and Rahim Faiez (AP), ‘Taliban turns lethal: 101 deaths in Afghanistan’, International Herald Tribune, 25 August 2008.

6. Quoted by Keith Semple and Andrew W Lehren, op.cit.

7. Op.cit.

8. ‘An Afghan lifeline plagued by insurgents’.

9. Jon Boone, ‘Taliban attack Nato by choking supplies’

10. Author of an informative text called Taliban (I B Tauris & Co Limited, 2000) and a more recent offering entitled Descent into chaos (Allen Lane, London, 2008) in which he takes the view that the US should have promoted western civilisation in Afghanistan by channelling vast amounts of money into the country via his friend Hamid Karzai so that the country as a whole would have been happy to go along with anything the US asked of them.  It would seem that US imperialism is currently trying to buy peace in Iraq by means of paying £165 a month to some 100,000 Sunni insurgents grouped in the so-called Awakening Councils in order to buy off the resistance in the province of Anbar (see Amit R Paley, ‘Iraqis take control of Anbar’, Financial Times, 2 September 2008). Imperialism, however, is never going to maintain handouts of this magnitude indefinitely – much less is it going to extend them to cover all the hungry and dispossessed people throughout the Middle East from among whom the resistance recruits.  There is, after all, the small question of turning a profit.  Imperialism seeks to dominate the Middle East (as indeed anywhere else) in order to enrich itself, not in order to pour the contents of its pockets into what would be for them the black hole of catering to the needs of the masses of the people!

11. ‘The wrong force for the “right war”.’

12. Carlotta Gall, ‘Afghans want a deal on foreign troops’, International Herald Tribune, 26 August 2008.

13. Ibid.

14. According to Bartle Breese Bull (op.cit.), the US government is contemplating a “surge” in Afghanistan (supported by both Barack Obama and John McCain) and Defence Secretary Robert Gates has “endorsed a $20 billion plan to increase substantially the size of Afghanistan’s army”.  This refers to a plan to increase the size of the Afghan puppet army from 63,000 to 80,000.  The $20 billion, however, is intended to finance two additional US combat brigades (totalling 6,000-10,000 soldiers).  All this profligate spending will produce only a tiny fraction of the personnel needed according to the military calculations of Major General Jim Molan.

15. ‘Drilling in Afghanistan’, International Herald Tribune, 30 July 2008

16. Ibid.