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Eric Margolis Headshot

Lies Drive the Afghan War

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President Barack Obama has been under tremendous political pressure to further expand the war in Afghanistan that he inherited from his predecessor.

Republicans, who have become the party of war, and the military industrial complex are urging Obama to send tens of thousands of more US troops to South Asia at a time when the annual deficit will hit a staggering $1.2 trillion.

After eight years of indecisive military operations costing US $236 billion of borrowed money, the new US commander in Afghanistan, Gen. Stanley McChrystal, just warned of the threat of `failure,' aka defeat, if he did not receive 40,000-80,000 more troops. Shades of Gen. William Westmoreland in Vietnam.

Pressure on Obama to send more troops is being accompanied by the mantra "we've got to fight terrorists over there so we don't have to fight them at home." Politicians and generals keep using this canard to justify the war in Afghanistan that they can't otherwise explain or justify. Truth is indeed the first casualty of war.

Many Americans still buy this lie because they believe the 9/11 attacks came directly from the Afghanistan-based al-Qaida and Taliban movements. Just as they were misled into supporting the Iraq invasion by lies and insinuations that Saddam Hussein was behind 9/11.

In fact, the 9/11 attacks were planned in Germany and Spain, and conducted mainly by US-based Saudis to punish America for supporting Israel's repression of the Palestinians.

Taliban, a militant religious, anti-Communist movement of Pashtun tribesmen, was totally surprised by 9/11. Osama bin Laden, on whom 9/11 is blamed, was in Afghanistan as their guest because he was a lauded national hero for fighting the Soviets in the 1980's. In 2001 he was aiding Taliban's struggle against the Afghan Communist-dominated Northern Alliance, backed by Iran, India and Russia.

Taliban received US aid until May, 2001. Pakistani intelligence sources told me CIA was planning to use Osama bin Laden's al-Qaida to stir up Muslim Uighurs against Chinese rule, and to employ Taliban against Russia's Central Asian allies. Most of the so-called "terrorist training camps" in Afghanistan were being run by Pakistani intelligence to prepare mujahidin fighters for combat in Indian-held Kashmir.

In 2001, Al-Qaida only numbered 300 members. Most have since been killed. A handful escaped to Pakistan. Only a few remain in Afghanistan. Yet President Obama insists at least 68,000 or more US troops, and more than 40,000 NATO troops, must stay in Afghanistan to fight al-Qaida and prevent extremists from re-acquiring `terrorist training camps.'

Every anti-American group in Africa and Asia that sticks its head up is routinely branded `al-Qaida' even though it has no organic links to Osama bin Laden's tiny organization. This ensures that al-Qaida is everywhere, and has justified sending US troops to West and East Africa, Central Asia, and the Philippines.

The claim that al-Qaida will reuse Afghanistan as a giant base camp, like Saddam's non-existent weapons of mass destruction, is a handy slogan to market the war to the public.

Today, half of Afghanistan is under Taliban control. Even so, anti-American militants could more easily use Somalia, Indonesia, Bangladesh, North and West Africa, or Sudan. They don't need remote Afghanistan.

The 9/11 attacks were planned in apartments, not camps in Afghanistan.

However backwards and oafish Taliban's Pashtun tribesmen, they have no desire or interest in attacking America. Taliban and its nationalist allies are the sons of the US-backed mujahidin who defeated the Soviets in the 1980's. Taliban never was America's enemy.

Instead of invading Afghanistan in 2001, the US should have paid Taliban to uproot al-Qaida - as I wrote in the Los Angeles Times in 2001. But the Bush administration needed an immediate enemy upon whom to exact the revenge for 9/11 that Americans were clamoring for.

The Pashtun tribes want to end foreign occupation and drive out the Afghan Communists and drug lords, who now dominate the US-installed Kabul regime and, embarrassingly, are Washington's closest Afghan allies. The US has blundered into a full-scale war not just with Taliban, but with most of Afghanistan's fierce Pashtun tribes, who comprise over half the population.

This conflict is now fast spreading into Pashtun regions of Pakistan. Last week, the US Ambassador in Islamabad actually called for US air and missile attacks on the Pakistan's city of Quetta, where some senior Taliban figures are said to be located.

The US is sinking ever deeper into the South Asian morass. Washington is trying to arm-twist Pakistan into being more obedient and widening the war against its own fiercely independent Pashtun tribes - wrongly called `Taliban.'

Washington's incredibly ham-handed efforts to use US $7.5 billion to bribe Pakistan's feeble, corrupt government and army, take control of military promotions, and get some sort of control over Pakistan's nuclear arsenal, sparked a firestorm of anger. Pakistan's soldiers are on the verge of revolt.

So, too, Washington's plans to build a 1,000-person fortress embassy in Islamabad, a new consulate in Peshawar that will clearly serve as an intelligence base, and the deployment of growing numbers of US mercenaries in Pakistan.

It's all a neat circle. Washington says it will need more personnel and a bigger embassy to supervise the distribution of the increased aid to Pakistan, and more mercenaries (aka "contractors") to protect them and assure "stability" - a code word for the Pax Americana.

Having just won the highly politicized Nobel Peace Prize, President Obama is under ever more intense pressure to expand the war from flag-waving Republicans, much of the media, and the hawkish national security establishment. Israel's supporters, including many Congressional Democrats, want to see the US seize Pakistan's nuclear arms and expand the Afghan war into Iran.

Israel's hawkish foreign minister, Avigdor Lieberman, recently identified Afghanistan, Pakistan and Iran as the main threats to Israel. So now Israel and its American supporters are involved in Afghanistan.

President Obama should admit Taliban is not and never was a threat to the west; that the wildly exaggerated al-Qaida has been mostly eradicated; and that the US-led war in Afghanistan is causing more damage to US interests in the Muslim world - now 25% of all humanity - than Bin Laden and his few rag-tag allies.

The train bombing in Madrid, subway attacks in London, and recent conspiracy in Toronto, were all horribly wrongheaded protests by young Muslims against the Afghan War - not plots originated by the shadowy al-Qaida.

We are not going to change the way Afghans treat their women by waging war on them, or bring democracy through rigged elections. We are not going to win hearts and minds by imposing a Communist-dominated Kabul regime on pious Muslims, bombing their villages and sending Marines to kick down their doors and violate their homes.

Even the 40,000-80,000 more troops demanded by Gen. McChrystal will not win the war in which Washington cannot even define the terms of victory. The only way out of this morass is through a negotiated settlement that enfranchises and includes the Pashtun and their fighting arm, Taliban.

If the Afghan resistance ever gets modern anti-aircraft and anti-tank missiles, the western occupation forces will be cut off and doomed. Today, they can barely hold on against the lightly-armed Taliban.

I wish President Obama would just declare victory in Afghanistan, withdraw western forces, and hand over security to a multi-national stabilization force from Muslim nations. Good presidents, like good generals, know when to retreat.