Afghanistan - The US bogged down in its longest war

Oct/Dec 2012

In October, the war in Afghanistan entered its 12th year. On that day, a Guardian editorial entitled "Afghanistan, beating the retreat", predicted that the western withdrawal was likely to come earlier than expected. A few days later, the Daily Telegraph claimed that Chancellor George Osborne was pushing for more troops to be brought back in the course of 2013, well ahead of the December 2014 deadline, and that officials were drafting plans accordingly.

Whatever may be the case, this war has now become the longest waged by the imperialist powers since WWII and there is no end to it in sight - certainly not in terms of its alleged aims. Western governments claimed they would bring back some sort of "normality" to a country which had been devastated by civil war for over two decades. Instead, their occupation has only succeeded in kickstarting another civil war, and every attempt they made to clamp down on the insurgents has only managed to produce more of them.

While a whole number of imperialist powers got involved in this war, especially Britain which still has the second largest armed contingent in the country, the mastermind behind the invasion and the leading force in the occupation has been, by very far, US imperialism. The article below, which is an updated version of a text published by the American Trotskyist group "The Spark" (Class Struggle #75 - 29 July 2012), contains a discussion of the policies of US imperialism in Afghanistan.

At the May 20th NATO summit in Chicago, President Barack Obama proclaimed that "we're now unified behind a plan to responsibly wind down the war in Afghanistan", promising that, by the end of 2014, all US combat troops would be out of the country. He conceded that the US had not met all of its goals. "But think about it. We've been there now 10 years", said Obama, who insisted that the plans to withdraw are "irreversible."

Obviously, the US wants out of Afghanistan. The war has already lasted almost 11 years, the longest in US history. When the US government launched this war, it was supposed to be quick - a demonstration of just how powerful the US military machine is. Instead, the US got caught up in a war that became a demonstration of its vulnerabilities.

Obama's announcement was obviously timed for the November presidential election, so that he can take credit for "winding down the war". But the fact that the deadline has been put off until the end of 2014 is a good indication that, despite all their assurances, US officials are still not sure how they are going to accomplish that. Just as telling is the fact that Pentagon officials already say they plan to keep several thousand "non-combat troops" in Afghanistan as "trainers and advisers" for 10 years after 2014. The Congressional Research Service (CRS) quotes anonymous US officials who say that the US military is planning on keeping 10 to 30,000 troops there, in other words, an entire army. And the CRS report adds that many of these troops will include Special Forces in "a counter-terrorism focused mission", which can only mean that combat will carry on after the 2014 deadline.

In short, the mighty US superpower is still groping in the dark, unsure of how or when it will be able to extricate itself from its longest war.

A "historic victory"?

The US went to war in Afghanistan because the 9/11 terrorist attacks in New York and Washington had struck at the heart of the US financial and military establishment, showing that the world's most powerful imperialist power also had its weak points. A major show of military might was called for, in retaliation.

So Afghanistan was targeted. The Bush administration had to pretend that the terrorist attacks had come from there, while accusing the then Taliban regime of harbouring Osama bin Laden. That was all sheer nonsense, since the Taliban had nothing to do with 9/11. As for bin Laden, Taliban officials made an offer to hand him over - which the Bush administration sneeringly turned down.

The real reasons for going to war against Afghanistan had to do with military and political expediency. The US wanted to be seen flexing its muscles and Afghanistan was seen as a pushover. One of the poorest countries on earth, it had already been devastated by two decades of war. Moreover, the ruling Taliban didn't even control the whole country. Armed Afghan factions were already fighting the Taliban regime - the main one being the Northern Alliance, a loose coalition of warlords with long standing ties to the CIA. The Bush administration calculated that it could make quick work of Afghanistan, providing the world with a demonstration of the might of US imperialism at a minimal cost.

Although UN Security Council resolution 1373 endorsing Bush's "war on terror' was immediately secured on 28 September, it did not include retaliation against Afghanistan. Nevertheless the invasion followed, conducted in a way which was designed to be spectacular - broadcast for all the world to see on every television.

On 7 October 2001, a US, British and Australian navy task force which had assembled off the coast of Pakistan launched the first long-range missiles. Over the next week, all but one of the Taliban-controlled military airfields were wiped off the map, together with all anti-aircraft defences. Then and only then did systematic bombing by the US-British air forces start, basically bombing the regime into the ground over several weeks of air strikes. Officially, only military facilities were being targeted. But the floods of internal refugees fleeing the main urban areas indicated that these areas were also being bombed into the ground - which was confirmed later when the first pictures of Kabul were released after its occupation by the US army, showing how entire residential districts had been turned into rubble.

There was not much fighting on the ground - partly because the Taliban regime itself did not offer much resistance, and partly because the local strong men on whose support it had relied were quick to realise which was going to be the winning side - sometimes with the help of substantial bribes. From the areas it had already controlled before the war, the Northern Alliance expanded its control to the rest of the country without having to do much fighting, occupying the main centres as it went. Only when it was about to overrun strategic positions, such as the Palang tunnel, which controls one of the northern routes out of Kabul, or the capital's Bagram airport, did western command send special forces to take formal control of these positions so as to prevent the Northern Alliance from being able to use them later as bargaining chips.

All in all, this meant that no more than a thousand or so western troops were used on the ground during this stage of the war. By the time the Taliban's last stronghold - Kandahar - fell without a fight, on 7 December, western forces had suffered just 12 casualties compared to the thousands of Afghans who had been killed.

This was celebrated by the imperialist world as a great victory. In November, the UN Security Council had already endorsed the choice of the Taliban regime as a legitimate target in the "war on terror". Even before the Taliban regime had completely collapsed, a UN-sponsored conference was summoned in Germany to shape Afghanistan's future institutions. And two weeks later, another UN resolution sponsored the setting up of a special international force - the International Security Assistance Force or ISAF - designed, initially at least, to protect the capital and its new western-sponsored institutions.

These institutions - a government and an army - were mostly drawn from the Northern Alliance. This caused a number of problems. One problem was that while the militias in the Northern Alliance all had some sort of ethnic base, none of them had any link with the Pashtuns, Afghanistan's largest ethnic minority. This was accordingly addressed by the CIA. They pulled out of their cupboard an exile hailing from a wealthy, royalist, Pashtun family - Hamid Karzai - who had been a former minister in the warlords' government of 1992-93, and had been close to the Taliban in the early years of their regime. He was appointed head of the new government.

But there was another problem linked to the very nature of the Northern Alliance, which was an uneasy coalition of militias whose rivalries had come to the fore as soon as the Taliban regime was out of the way - going as far, at least in the early days, as shooting dead successful rivals in the race for government positions. To guarantee some stability to the new regime, a host of warlords had to be co-opted into top positions in its political and military institutions, in order to satisfy their personal ambitions and to ensure that, since they now had a stake in the regime, they would refrain from rocking the boat.

The war comes back

The Karzai family and the warlords quickly moved to consolidate their power. They carried out ethnic cleansing and reprisals against thousands of Pashtuns in villages in the north and west, killing some, while forcing the rest to flee south, landless, homeless and jobless. In the southern provinces, which had been the Taliban's power base in the past, they handed power to regional strong men who had lost out to the Taliban. In Kandahar, Karzai handed power over to his half-brother, Ahmed Wali Karzai.

The warlords used their positions to smuggle, plunder, rob and rape, cloaking themselves in brutal religious fundamentalism. Most of all, the Karzai family and the warlords got their hands on all that occupation money, which they began to salt away in bank accounts in such places as Switzerland, Dubai and the US.

The warlords revived opium poppy production, which the Taliban had almost completely eradicated. In May 2001, barely five months before the invasion, Secretary of State Colin Powell had even announced a $43m grant to the Taliban government for their anti-opium efforts. Once the warlords took over, opium production skyrocketed from 190 metric tons in 2001 to an estimated 3,000 metric tons in 2003, or 60% of the world's supply. By 2007, production had reached an estimated 8,200 metric tons, spreading to most Afghan provinces.

However, fighting in southern Afghanistan never died out completely. Western outposts in south-eastern Afghanistan regularly came under fire by rockets and mortars. In March 2002, the US launched a major offensive to try to finish off the Taliban. The operation was considered a success. But several months later, Afghan border posts in southern Afghanistan started coming under frequent attack. By the spring of 2003, the US military reported seeing fighting groups as large as 50 attacking Afghan police posts in the south. "Soft targets", that is, foreign civilians working for the UN and various aid groups and NGOs, also came under attack.

The US slowly boosted its forces. In 2002, the number of US troops were doubled, to 9,000 by the end of the year, and increased by another 4,000 in 2003. Certainly it was a relatively small number of troops, especially compared to the size of the country, which is about 50% larger than Iraq. But obviously, with the US preparing for its war for oil in Iraq, it had few troops to spare. So NATO "allies" were strong-armed into increasing their military contribution and ISAF's mission was extended to include the whole of Afghanistan.

The Bush administration pretended that things were going well in Afghanistan. On May 1, 2003, the very day that Bush declared "mission accomplished" in Iraq from the deck of the aircraft carrier Abraham Lincoln, Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld pronounced that "major combat operations are over" in Afghanistan. Rumsfeld added, "...we clearly have moved from major combat activity to a period of stability and stabilisation and reconstruction activities. The bulk of this country today is permissive, it's secure".

At the time, western governments claimed that they had an exit strategy for getting out of Afghanistan. But they didn't. Less than a month after Rumsfeld's bombastic statement, a suicide bomber drove into a bus outside Kabul, killing four German soldiers and one Afghan bystander. Insurgent activities were spreading beyond the Pashtun heartland into much of the rest of the country. Between 2005 and 2006, the US military reported that the number of insurgent armed attacks nearly tripled, and then they increased again the following year.

US power games

Thus the US military found itself bogged down in a burgeoning civil war and insurgency. While the previous Taliban regime had, at least, managed to impose some form of order throughout much of the country, the Afghan government and state apparatus put in place by the imperialist forces wasn't keeping order. Instead it was sowing disorder - with the warlords using their positions to enrich themselves. They provided no services, no security, running roughshod over the population.

In fact, by and large, these were the same warlords whose rivalries and greed had produced the devastating civil war from 1992 to 1996. The US state had a long-standing relationship with these warlords, dating back to the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, in 1979. Between that year and the Soviet troops' withdrawal in 1989, the US state used the good services of the Pakistani secret services, which had close ties with the CIA, to finance and arm these mostly Islamic fundamentalist warlords - with the aim of giving the Soviet Union its own Viet Nam. When the Soviet Union finally left Afghanistan, the US continued to support the warlords' efforts to overthrow the existing Afghan government, which the Soviet Union had continued to support with munitions, fuel and supplies. With the collapse of the Soviet Union, all its support to the Afghan government ended on January 1, 1992 and four months later, the Afghan regime fell. The rivalries between the US-backed warlords then came to the fore, paving the way for a new period of civil war, which killed tens of thousands and destroyed much of what was still intact in the country, including Kabul.

To restore order, the Pakistani intelligence created the Taliban in 1993-94, with the help of the Pakistani JUI (the "Assembly of Islamic Clergy"), a right-wing party whose virulent religious fundamentalism was inspired ideologically (and financially) by Saudi Arabia's Wahhabi version of Sunni Islam. Veteran Afghan commanders from the war against the Soviet occupation recruited young fighters in the religious schools run by the JUI among the mostly Pashtun Afghan refugees in Pakistan. In November 1994, this new Taliban militia took control of the southern city of Kandahar in its march to power.

The Taliban held out the hope of ousting the much-hated warlords and providing a sense of order and security, thus gaining popular support. By September 1996, they had taken over Kabul. But while many Afghan warlords chose to submit to the Taliban in return for retaining some influence over their own fiefdoms, some stuck it out, either in isolation or by forming coalitions with others - like those who formed the Northern Alliance.

In Washington, the Taliban regime was rather seen as a stabilising factor. Apart from having been originally sponsored by Pakistani intelligence, it was inward-looking and did not seem to have any interest in expanding its influence beyond its borders. Although the US government did not go so far as to grant the Taliban diplomatic recognition, it did award them odd amounts of financial aid, as already mentioned above, while projects such as, for instance, Unocal's trans-Afghan pipeline were revived. At the same time, however, all options were being kept open, and funds were also channelled to the Northern Alliance.

Then, of course, for the sake of its demonstration of imperialist might, the US suddenly turned against the Taliban, and brought its warlord rivals into power.

And now, after three decades of US imperialism using Afghanistan and its population as mere pawns in its power games, the war and chaos it fomented and fed in Afghanistan has backfired. Just as the Soviet Union was once caught in a quagmire of its own making, so today is the US and its allies.

The escalation of the war

By 2006, Democrats were castigating the Bush administration for being distracted from the war in Afghanistan by the war in Iraq. Typical was a speech by then Senator Barack Obama. "(President Bush's) decision to go to war in Iraq has had disastrous consequences for Afghanistan... instead of consolidating the gains made by the Karzai government, we are backsliding toward chaos".

Yet, the US had already escalated the war: from 2003 to 2006, the number of US troops increased from 13,000 to about 20,000, while British forces increased to just under 8,000. In 2006, US air strikes increased by a factor of 10 over the previous year, while doubling again the following year. At the same time, US and NATO forces stepped up large-scale house-to-house searches and raids. Entire villages were destroyed by "surgical" strikes. When a village was suspected of helping the insurgents, it was bombed. Teams of special forces with "hit lists" carried out night raids, assassinations and mass arrests, filling prisons and detention centres, such as the massive one at the US Bagram Air Base outside Kabul.

With the economy in a shambles, with agricultural production of most fruit, vegetables and grains destroyed and with so many people having lost their land and often their families, many were left with no prospect other than to join local insurgent groups. And the terrorist methods used by the occupation forces to put down the insurgency, only managed to feed and spread it further.

By 2008, the fighting which had been, so far, mostly confined to the south, had spread to most parts of the country, including to the power base of the former Northern Alliance, now an integral part of Karzai's puppet regime.

By the time Obama took office, US and NATO allies had already boosted troop levels significantly. From 2006 to 2008, the US had gone from 20,000 to 33,000 troops, and other NATO countries had increased their combined troop levels from 20,000 to 37,000. In the first 10 months of Obama's term, US troop levels doubled, from 34,000 to 68,000, much of this already prepared under the Bush administration.

In his long-awaited speech of December 2009, which Obama delivered at West Point, he finally laid out the strategy for his "surge". He announced that he would raise troop levels to close to 100,000, and carry out a "civilian surge" as well, which included a contingent from the CIA and other agencies. But he promised that his surge was "temporary", and that he would begin drawing down troop levels in 18 months, that is, by July 2011, with the goal of eventually getting out of Afghanistan completely.

At the heart of the surge was the much advertised counter-insurgency program, the brainchild of General David Petraeus, which was supposed to "win the hearts and minds of the population" by protecting them from insurgents and providing them with security. In fact, this was nothing more than a textbook "pacification" program - the same kind that colonial and imperialist forces have used for centuries, including during such bloody wars or "emergencies" as those in Malaysia, Algeria, Kenya and Viet Nam.

US forces were concentrated in Kandahar and Helmand provinces in the south and east of the country, which were considered the heartland of the insurgency. The US initiated the first big battle in February 2010 in a district called Marja, which was really just a series of impoverished hamlets. It became the biggest joint operation since the war began. More than 15,000 US, Afghan, Canadian, and British troops swept through Marja within a few days and supposedly chased out the insurgent Taliban and set up an instant local government, flown in by the US Air Force. General Stanley McChrystal called it "government in a box, ready to roll in", a complete absurdity, over which the population exhibited deep suspicion and distrust. Insurgent operations picked up as soon as most of the troops were withdrawn, thus forcing the US and its allies to come back and fight the same battle over and over again during the next months. "By day there is a government", a village elder told a reporter, "by night it's the Taliban."

Marja was supposed to serve as the rehearsal for the big battle of the surge, aimed at Kandahar, the second biggest city in the country, and its surrounding farming villages. But after the Marja fiasco, the US delayed the Kandahar offensive by three months. Finally, it began with a series of operations in Kandahar City and its surrounds, throughout the late summer and fall in 2010. Villages were bombed and thousands were arrested in night raids. The US military declared some vague success. But a year later, insurgent forces launched their own offensive in Kandahar. They hit the governor's office, police buildings and local offices in a string of high-profile attacks. This led Hajji Atta Mohammed, a former police general who heads the Kandahar council of former mujahedin commanders, to say in an interview to the Wall Street Journal that the insurgents were "more active in the city than at any time since 2001".

This year, the US has met reversals to its offensive in districts surrounding Kandahar. A report published in May by the Wall Street Journal, entitled "Attacks by Taliban Rise in Surge Areas", quoted US General James Huggins, the commander of coalition forces in southern Afghanistan as saying that "enemy activity" in three farming areas outside Kandahar had increased by 31% over the previous year. His explanation was that in these areas, most of the insurgents "are locals, operating within three miles of their homes - and often enjoying support within their communities..."

Escalation backfires

At the same time, the US was trying to bolster the Afghan regime. For example, in 2010, US Special Forces were used to set up or expand local militias by turning them into an Afghan Local Police (ALP), ostensibly to fight the insurgents. In fact, it was just an excuse to hand over bundles of money to the same old warlords. In July this year, reporter Dexter Filkins described in the The New Yorker how the district of Kunduz is divided into nine fiefdoms, each controlled by a new militia. They are given carte blanche to tax residents. And a blind eye has been turned on them as they carried out armed robberies, rapes and assaults against the population. "We created these groups, and now they are out of control", Nizamuddin Nashir, the governor of Khanabad, told Filkins. "The government does not collect taxes, but these groups do, because they are the men with the guns".

In fact, the US occupation has fed into more corruption... which eventually backfires. For example, there are the multi-billion-dollar trucking contracts that the US grants to private companies to transport US military supplies. One of the main trucking contracts was given to Hamed Wardak, the son of the Afghan Defence Minister, Abdul Rahim Wardak, whose company is based in northern Virginia. A 2010 Congressional report called "Warlords, Inc." explained how his and other companies pay protection money to private security subcontractors "that are warlords, strongmen, commanders and militia leaders" to prevent attacks on convoys. Often, these subcontractors have paid off the Taliban and other insurgent forces as well. "It may be a significant source of funding for insurgents", the report concluded. In other words, the US military provides a lot of the financing to the very insurgencies it is fighting.

The year 2012 was said to be the big turnaround year, when the surge was supposed to deliver. But everything the US has done has pushed the Afghan population to express yet more anger against the occupation. In February, big demonstrations throughout the country broke out after reports that western bombs slaughtered eight shepherd boys, aged six to 18, in Kapsia Province in northern Afghanistan. Those were followed by more protests after American troops burned copies of the Koran. Angry protesters, armed with nothing more than rocks, pistols and wooden sticks, took to the streets and fought US and Afghan security forces, which killed 30 protesters and wounded hundreds more.

Attacks on US troops come from within the Afghan state apparatus itself. On February 25, a US Air Force lieutenant colonel and a major in Kabul were shot in the back of the head while working in the command and control centre of the Afghan Interior Ministry, an area of restricted access for only an elite group of Afghan officers using a special code. Immediately afterwards, the US and NATO responded by pulling all advisers out of Afghan ministries. When Afghan Defence Minister General Abdul Rahim Wardak called US Defence Secretary Leon Panetta to offer his condolences, "Secretary Panetta ... urged the Afghan government to take decisive action to protect coalition forces and curtail the violence". The irony couldn't be more obvious: the most powerful military in the world was asking the rag-tag Afghan military to protect US forces!

The futility of such a plea was illustrated on March 1. At a joint Afghan-NATO base in Kandahar province, an Afghan platoon leader and a literacy instructor at the base killed a tower guard and attacked a barracks with gunfire and a rocket, killing two US soldiers and wounding four others in a battle that lasted almost one hour.

Such assaults have become so common, they are widely referred to in shorthand as "green on blue" attacks. A classified study for the US military, which was reported in the New York Times, said that these "fatal altercations" are "of a magnitude which may be unprecedented between 'allies' in modern military history". The report said that official NATO pronouncements downplaying their significance were "disingenuous, if not profoundly intellectually dishonest". The report made it clear that these were not isolated incidents nor due to supposed insurgent infiltration, which is the usual official explanation for the killings. Instead, the report drew attention to the deep-seated animosity and mistrust between the supposedly allied forces in the unending and brutal occupation.

In 2012, the frequency of these attacks increased. As of early July, Afghan police officers or soldiers had killed 26 coalition service members this year, compared with 35 in all of 2011. One third of all occupation forces' fatalities have been at the hands of their Afghan allies.

Claiming to leave no stone unturned in their quest to leave Afghanistan "responsibly", western officials have, for a long time, announced attempts at negotiating with the Taliban or other insurgent leaders. But, so far, nothing has come out of these attempts.

One of the difficulties for the western powers is that it may be hard to know who to talk to or even who they are talking to. In November 2010, for example, British intelligence claimed a major breakthrough when they produced an alleged senior Taliban leader, Mullah Akthar Mohammad Mansour, willing to engage in high-level talks. They paid a lot of money to the man and flew him to Kabul to meet with President Karzai and NATO officials - only to discover that the man was a Pakistani shopkeeper from Quetta, who took the money and ran.

But even leaving aside such hilarious incidents, there is still the problem of finding negotiating partners who have enough influence among the insurgents to make negotiations meaningful. And the fact that, contrary to the commonly-peddled myth of a "Taliban insurgency", the insurgents do not form a single block, but are split in many different, often rival, factions, makes this rather complicated.

Neither did the much hyped assassination of Osama bin Laden in Pakistan in May 2011 by US Navy Seals change the course of the Afghan war. But the assassination did create a public uproar in Pakistan against the US, which has been assassinating people there with impunity for years and against the Pakistani government which appears as an accomplice to these murders. Not only has the war that the US government entered into so blithely - to flex US military might - turned Afghanistan into a bloody quagmire, it has also spread to neighbouring Pakistan.

The cost of the war

This war has had horrifying human consequences in Afghanistan. The very conditions that made Afghanistan such an attractive target for the US military - the fact that it is one of the poorest and most backward countries on earth and that it had already undergone two decades of war before the US invaded - are what made the human catastrophe of the US war so much greater. The US military laid waste to what little had been left more or less intact by the previous decades of war.

The UN says that slightly less than 13,000 Afghans were killed from 2006 to 2011. Of course, this has to be a whitewash, limited to the number of those who have actually been counted. In a country at war, with almost no infrastructure, there have been no attempts to make a serious estimate.

About one fifth of the population has taken refuge in either Iran or Pakistan, with more than half considered "illegal", which makes their existence even more precarious. Even when the war seems to have subsided in their home area, many Afghans have chosen not to return because of the sheer scale of destruction and lack of services. The Afghan government admits it is not able to re-integrate many returning refugees. Added to that, there are half-a-million internal refugees, who lost their homes or land and have no place to go. According to the UN, "there is neither a legal framework nor appropriate mechanisms to respond to their protection and assistance needs".

Afghanistan is now one of the poorest countries on the planet. It takes its place among the most desperate, destitute nations like Burkina Faso and Somalia whenever any international organisation bothers to measure. There are practically no jobs, except those provided by the occupation authorities or the warlords. And much of the population lives on the brink of starvation. An estimated 45% of the population is now unable to buy enough food to guarantee minimum health levels, according to the Brookings Institution.

And despite claims by the US government that it has spent $90bn since 2001 on "reconstruction", the infrastructure in Afghanistan remains practically non-existent. Afghans' access to electricity is among the lowest in the world, according to the World Bank. Only 13% of Afghans have access to safe drinking water and only 12% to adequate sanitation.

Is it any surprise, therefore, that life expectancy in Afghanistan is only 44 years, at least 20 years lower than in neighbouring countries and among the lowest in the world?

When the US invaded in 2001, the invasion was accompanied by relentless propaganda from both Democrats and Republicans condemning the Taliban for its treatment of women. But the pro-western puppet regime has carried out the same policy. According to Human Rights Watch, more than half the Afghan women in prison today are there for "moral crimes", including trying to escape from forced marriages, fleeing abusers and having premarital sex. Oxfam reports that 87% of Afghan women have experienced intimate violence, whether in the form of forced marriage, or physical, sexual or psychological abuse. And public executions of women continue, as a recent video of a woman being executed for adultery shows. The execution took place not in some out of the way area under Taliban control, but in Parwan province, where Bagram, the largest US base in the country is located, just next to door to Kabul!

There has been a cost too for western soldiers - although, of course, tiny in comparison to Afghan losses. The latest estimate show 3,206 casualties among the occupation forces, with the US army being most affected (2,140 casualties) and the British army coming a distant second (433 casualties).

Still, the number of US soldiers killed is relatively low considering how long the war has been going on. However, the number of suicides among former soldiers is larger than the number killed in the war, and it is skyrocketing. Currently, the US Department of Veterans Affairs says that 18 veterans kill themselves each day, or one suicide every 80 minutes!

This represents the invisible toll of a war in which soldiers are pushed into impossible situations, in which death and brutality are constant companions, in which many are involved, actively or not, in atrocities - inevitable outcomes of war. And what is worse, these soldiers are serving in combat longer than almost any US soldiers in the past. The cycles of combat have been so long and so frequent that tens of thousands of soldiers now have spent a total of 3 to 4 years at war in Iraq or Afghanistan, according to Army records. The invisible scars and wounds incurred in such circumstances can sometimes turn ex-soldiers into terrible monsters or walking time bombs. As a result, domestic violence against military spouses and children are on the rise in the US. Also rising are rates of mental illness and prescription drug abuse. Given the number of wounded soldiers, painkillers are now the most abused drug in the Army.

Such is the cost of three decades of imperialist power games, for the populations of Afghanistan and its neighbouring countries, but also for those of the imperialist strongholds. And Afghanistan is just one of the many areas of the planet where this decrepit capitalist system is claiming its toll, in terms of lives, destruction, chaos and inhumanity - and will carry on doing so, as long as it is allowed to survive and rot even further.