Biden Must Call Off the B-52s Bombing Afghan Cities

Yves here. Every cloud has a silver lining. The surge in US Covid cases is pretty much eating up the airways, with the Cuomo defenestration running a distant second. That means the US press is paying scant attention to the Taliban quickly moving in after the US left Afghanistan. The rout of our Afghan allies is making the end of our engagement in Vietnam look good by comparison. But as this post explains, the US is unable to control its impulse to shore up appearances, and is so wasting materiel and killing more civilians.

By Medea Benjamin, cofounder ofCODEPINK for Peace<, and author of several books, includingInside Iran: The Real History and Politics of the Islamic Republic of Iran and  Nicolas J. S. Davies, an independent journalist, a researcher with CODEPINK and the author of Blood On Our Hands: the American Invasion and Destruction of Iraq

American flag is lowered as U.S. soldiers leave Helmand province, southern Afghanistan, May 2, 2021. Photo: Afghan Ministry of Defense Press Office

Nine provincial capitals in Afghanistan have fallen to the Taliban in six days – Zaranj, Sheberghan, Sar-e-Pul, Kunduz, Taloqan, Aybak, Farah, Pul-e-Khumri and Faizabad – while fighting continues in four more – Lashkargah, Kandahar, Herat & Mazar-i-Sharif. U.S. military officials now believe Kabul, Afghanistan’s capital, could fall in one to three months.

It is horrific to watch the death, destruction and mass displacement of thousands of terrified Afghans and the triumph of the misogynist Taliban that ruled the nation 20 years ago. But the fall of the centralized, corrupt government propped up by the Western powers was inevitable, whether this year, next year or ten years from now.

President Biden has reacted to America’s snowballing humiliation in the graveyard of empires by once again dispatching U.S. envoy Zalmay Khalilzad to Doha to urge the government and the Taliban to seek a political solution, while at the same time dispatching B-52 bombersto attack at least two of these provincial capitals.

In Lashkargah, the capital of Helmand province, the bombing has already reportedly destroyed a high school and a health clinic. Another B-52 bombed Sheberghan, the capital of Jowzjan province and the home of the infamous warlord and accused war criminal Abdul Rashid Dostum, who is now the military commander of the U.S.-backed government’s armed forces.

Meanwhile, the New York Times reports that U.S.Reaper drones and AC-130 gunships are also still operating in Afghanistan.

The rapid disintegration of the Afghan forces that the U.S. and its Western allies have recruited, armed and trained for 20 years at a cost of about $90 billion should come as no surprise. On paper, the Afghan National Army has 180,000 troops, but in reality most are unemployed Afghans desperate to earn some money to support their families but not eager to fight their fellow Afghans. The Afghan Army is also notorious for its corruption and mismanagement.

The army and the even more beleaguered and vulnerable police forces that man isolated outposts and checkpoints around the country are plagued by high casualties, rapid turnover and desertion. Most troops feelno loyaltyto the corrupt U.S.-backed government and routinely abandon their posts, either to join the Taliban or just to go home.

When the BBC asked General Khoshal Sadat, the national police chief, about the impact of high casualties on police recruitment in February 2020, he cynically replied, “When you look at recruitment, I always think about the Afghan families and how many children they have. The good thing is there is never a shortage of fighting-age males who will be able to join the force.”

But a police recruit at a checkpoint questioned the very purpose of the war, telling the BBC’s Nanna Muus Steffensen, “We Muslims are all brothers. We don’t have a problem with each other.” In that case, she asked him, why were they fighting? He hesitated, laughed nervously and shook his head in resignation. “You know why. I know why,” he said. “It’s not really ourfight.”

Since 2007, the jewel of U.S. and Western military training missions in Afghanistan has been the AfghanCommando Corps or special operations forces, who comprise only 7% of Afghan National Army troops but reportedly do 70 to 80% of the fighting. But the Commandos have struggled to reach their target of recruiting, arming and training 30,000 troops, and poor recruitment from Pashtuns, the largest and traditionally dominant ethnic group, has been a critical weakness, especially from the Pashtun heartland in the South.

The Commandos and the professional officer corps of the Afghan National Army are dominated by ethnic Tajiks, effectively the successors to the Northern Alliance that the U.S. supported against the Taliban 20 years ago. As of 2017, the Commandos numbered only 16,000 to 21,000, and it is not clear how many of these Western-trained troops now serve as the last line of defense between the U.S.-backed puppet government and total defeat.

The Taliban’s speedy and simultaneous occupation of large amounts of territory all over the country appears to be a deliberate strategy to overwhelm and outflank the government’s small number of well-trained, well-armed troops. The Taliban have had more success winning the loyalty of minorities in the North and West than government forces have had recruiting Pashtuns from the South, and the government’s small number of well-trained troops cannot be everywhere at once.

But what of the United States? Its deployment of B-52 bombers, Reaper drones and AC-130 gunships are a brutal response by a failing, flailing imperial power to a historic, humiliating defeat.

The United States does not flinch from committing mass murder against its enemies. Just look at the U.S.-led destruction of Fallujah and Mosul in Iraq, and Raqqa in Syria. How many Americans even know about the officially-sanctioned massacre of civilians that Iraqi forces committed when the U.S.-led coalition finally took control of Mosul in 2017, after President Trump said it should “take out the families” of Islamic State fighters?

Twenty years after Bush, Cheney and Rumsfeld committed a full range of war crimes, from torture and the deliberate killing of civilians to the “supreme international crime” of aggression, Biden is clearly no more concerned than they were with criminal accountability or the judgment of history. But even from the most pragmatic and callous point of view, what can continued aerial bombardment of Afghan cities accomplish, besides a final but futile climax to the 20-year-long U.S. slaughter of Afghans by over 80,000 American bombs and missiles?

The intellectually and strategically bankrupt U.S. military and CIA bureaucracy has a history of congratulating itself for fleeting, superficial victories. It quickly declared victory in Afghanistan in 2001 and set out to duplicate its imagined conquest in Iraq. Then the short-lived success of their 2011 regime change operation in Libya encouraged the United States and its allies to turn Al Qaeda loose in Syria, spawning a decade of intractable violence and chaos and the rise of the Islamic State.

In the same manner, Biden’s unaccountable and corrupt national security advisors seem to be urging him to use the same weapons that obliterated the Islamic State’s urban bases in Iraq and Syria to attack Taliban-held cities in Afghanistan.

But Afghanistan is not Iraq or Syria. Only 26% of Afghans live in cities, compared with 71% in Iraq and 54% in Syria, and the Taliban’s base is not in the cities but in the rural areas where the other three quarters of Afghans live. Despite support from Pakistan over the years, the Taliban are not an invading force like Islamic State in Iraq but an Afghan nationalist movement that has fought for 20 years to expel foreign invasion and occupation forces from their country.

In many areas, Afghan government forces have not fled from the Taliban, as the Iraqi Army did from the Islamic State, but joined them. On August 9th, the Taliban occupied Aybak, the sixth provincial capital to fall, after a local warlord and his 250 fighters agreed to join forces with the Taliban and the governor of Samangan province handed the city over to them.

That very same day, the Afghan government’s chief negotiator, Abdullah Abdullah, returned to Doha for further peace talks with the Taliban. His American allies must make it clear to him and his government, and to the Taliban, that the United States will fully support every effort to achieve a more peaceful political transition.

But the United States must not keep bombing and killing Afghans to provide cover for the U.S.-backed puppet government to avoid difficult but necessary compromises at the negotiating table to bring peace to the incredibly long-suffering, war-weary people of Afghanistan. Bombing Taliban-occupied cities and the people who live in them is a savage and criminal policy that President Biden must renounce.

The defeat of the United States and its allies in Afghanistan now seems to be unfolding even faster than the collapse of South Vietnam between 1973 and 1975. The public takeaway from the U.S. defeat in Southeast Asia was the “Vietnam syndrome,” an aversion to overseas military interventions that lasted for decades.

As we approach the 20-year anniversary of the 9/11 attacks, we should reflect on how the Bush administration exploited the U.S. public’s thirst for revenge to unleash this bloody, tragic and utterly futile 20-year war.

The lesson of America’s experience in Afghanistan should be a new “Afghanistan syndrome,” a public aversion to war that prevents future U.S. military attacks and invasions, rejects attempts to socially engineer the governments of other nations and leads to a new and active American commitment to peace, diplomacy and disarmament.

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  1. Aristophon

    For several years I’ve been wondering how many U.S. military and “Intelligence” secrets have been “thrown over the transom” to foreign governments ,so to speak, by normal Americans horrified at what U.S. policy is.

    The mere recitation of foreign policy facts is horrifying enough. At my advanced age I’ve given up hope of ever living with feelings of being upright and just in such a squalid system.

  2. Alex

    By way of comparison, the centralised and corrupt pro-Soviet government manged to last more than three years and collapsed only after the USSR disintegrated

  3. Bill Smith

    While it looks like the government is unlikely to survive, what are the “difficult but necessary compromises at the negotiating table to bring peace to the incredibly long-suffering, war-weary people of Afghanistan”?

  4. William Hunter Duncan

    Like a liberal Dem said to me recently, when I pointed out Biden has bombed Syria at least twice since he took office, and it was one of the first things he did: “My only regret is that one of those bombs didn’t land on Assad’s head.”

    I sense a kind of fawning obeisance among the PMC and the left generally, toward the Intelligence Community and the war complex, since the rise of Trump, like the surveillance, total information awareness state and the greatest military ever are some kind of bulwark between the good people and the deplorable white nationalist hordes. NPR has been laying it on thick, what Biden must do to save Afghan girls, no mention of reaper drones or gunships.

    So grind on apparently, death dealers.

    1. LowellHighlander

      I’m a leftist (I stand outside the duopoly) and I know other such leftists. I ask that we not be lumped in with liberals, who spout nonsense like “Responsibility to Protect” or “Humanitarian intervention”.

      Unlike liberals, we understand how our country has devolved, indisputably, into an empire where Presidents can commit war crimes with impunity, and the permanent “civil servants” in the CIA and State Department keep the country locked in war footings continuously and continually. Only leftists, not liberals or conservatives (but perhaps right-wing libertarians do), take seriously the message of President Eisenhower’s farewell address.

      1. William Hunter Duncan

        I assume a leftist is someone liberals and the PMC despise even more than they do skinheads et al. Look how much they hate Bernie and he’s not even a proper leftist.

        1. Temporarily Sane

          But ask Americans to name some leftists and many will say Biden, Harris, Cuomo, the Clintons etc. The 2020 Trump campaign put up billboards warning that Biden is planning a communist takeover.

          Liberals may despise leftists but they are happy to be referred to as ‘the left’ by the media while at the same time the Bircher holdouts on the right have worked hard to paint run-of-the-mill liberal centrists as raging commie subversives.

          The ‘real left’ has a real problem here. If you’ve got to keep explaining that “no no we’re the real left, you see” a new strategy is required.

          Ironically, enlightened conservatives (e.g. Peter Hitchens in the UK, some of the American Conservative crowd) are much more willing to recognize the perils of imperial wars and runaway capitalism than liberals and many mainstream leftists, who will talk about everything except the economy and foreign policy.

          It used to be understood that being on the left means you are in favor of transcending or reining in capitalism. Most on the left were also antiwar. This is no longer the case. Today leftism is more commonly associated with human rights advocacy, antiracism and the “woke” slate of identity politics concerns.

          Hence, the ongoing identity crisis on the ‘real left’.

  5. The Rev Kev

    The US and the Coalition nations had better get their people out of Kabul, especially the Embassies. After this pointless raining of death and destruction on the Taliban and Afghans, it will leave them in no mood to tolerate their presence. And Turkey can forget their insistence on staying at Kabul airport with that battalion’s worth of troops. Not only will they have nothing to defend when the Embassies go but their intentions should be suspect in this part of the world in any case.

    The US/Coalition was in Afghanistan for twenty years and as they depart , it could be overrun in only twenty weeks. The fact of the matter is that they never spent the effort to standup a force that could fight the Taliban. The inventory of the Afghani Air Force had more to do with Pentagon contracts and US foreign policy than what the Afghans really needed. And I see that the Taliban have been assassinating Afghani pilots which is putting a crimp in operations. Today I see that the Taliban captured an attack helicopter donated by India when they overran a military air base. Nice trophy.

    Most of the US/Coalition effort seems to have been to stand up a huge Commando force but at the cost of the regular Army units who were there just to make up the numbers. The British in the 19th century would have had British officers at the battalion level with the rank & file being local troops but I think at most the US only had advisors and trainers with the regular formations. And now we are seeing how that worked out. What a waste.

    1. shinola

      I’m old enough to remember the TV news footage of the evacuation of the US embassy in Saigon – a real live sh*t show. Looks like we may be in for another one in Kabul…

      1. David

        I have a comment stuck in moderation, but I’d just urge people, once and for all, to stop comparing this moment with the fall of Saigon, even if it is the only example that the US media can think of. The Taliban are not the Viet Cong, and Saigon was taken by the NVA after a conventional battle. There isn’t going to be any of that.
        Don’t forget that Kabul “fell” to the Taliban once before.

        1. tegnost

          It doesn’t seem apt to me either…Vietnam had many more casualties and was being protested in the streets by americans who now don’t protest anything, at least not on that scale. Our afghanistan adventure is like a soda beverage left out on the counter on a hot day. Now that it’s warm and lost it’s fizz it’s to be discarded into the dustbin without further thought and won’t/can’t become a signal event like the last chopper off the embassy in saigon was,

          1. shinola

            Yeah, this time it’s different – they’ve apparently learned their lesson; can’t have a PR disaster like that happen again! According to Crappy Nooze Network, the US embassy in Kabul is moving to the airport “for the safety of embassy personnel.”

            Some US general (retired – didn’t catch name or branch) specifically mentioned that this won’t be like the Saigon evac…

        2. Jeremy Grimm

          I think any foreign nationals, but especially Americans should take Kipling’s advice to heart:
          “When you’re wounded and left on Afghanistan’s plains,
          And the women come out to cut up what remains,
          Jest roll to your rifle and blow out your brains
          An’ go to your Gawd like a soldier.”

          The US should pull out of Afghanistan post haste and in close order. I doubt stragglers will be kindly treated.

    2. Jokerstein

      If you want to see what might happen if people are got out, look up the retreat from Kabul in 1842.

    3. drumlin woodchuckles

      Since Afghanistan is not/ was not a WesterModern Industrial Civilization country, it could never support or host a WesterModern Industrial Civilization Armed Force.

      Smarter more honest people than are allowed to work in the DC FedRegime said that if the Outside World should support and supply anything, it should be tribal militias, town militias, village militias, etc. of people always trained , always armed, and able to make their very own militia-centric decisions about what to defend, and what to defend it from.

      Anyway, its Theirs now. If order needs to be kept, let China keep it.

  6. sandsgrandmother

    But we never left Afghanistan. The U.S. Citizen gets the added tax burden of supporting Afghanistan.

    1. Felix_47

      We never will get away from Afghanistan. The population has doubled since my first deployment there. It is now about 40 million despite millions of Afghans leaving the country to Iran, Turkey and Europe. The problem is polygamy. The young poor men of fighting age have no future. The better off have multiple wives and that leaves no women for the mass of poor men. That explains the assaultive behavior towards European women. Expect another massive move of millions of young Afghan men to Europe, especially Germany, Sweden and Norway driven by testosterone and quite a few will make it to Mexico and then to the US southern border.

      1. The S

        That’s funny, I remember how the US-backed mujaheddin recruited jihadists to fight the Afghan government of the 70’s: “The Afghan gov’t is teaching women to read and allowing them to go to university! They’ve made women equal citizens and let them wear mini-skirts! We must jihad!” So I’m guessing the conditions you describe are US policy objectives.

      2. Temporarily Sane

        “Expect another massive move of millions of young Afghan men to Europe, especially Germany, Sweden and Norway driven by testosterone and quite a few will make it to Mexico and then to the US southern border.”

        Driven by testosterone or the bleak prospects of life in an impoverished country torn apart by war? As for “quite a few will make it to Mexico and then to the US southern border”…got any links to back that up?

        You watch too much Fox News.

  7. Glossolalia

    If the Taliban’s Sales & Marketing department is any good they’ll time the fall of Kabul to take place on September 11, 2021.

  8. Oh

    Another B-52 bombed Sheberghan, the capital of Jowzjan province and the home of the infamous warlord and accused war criminal Abdul Rashid Dostum, who is now the military commander of the U.S.-backed government’s armed forces.

    How about our warlords and war criminals like Bush and Cheney? We need these criminals to stay in a hotel with bars for the rest of their lives.

    1. drumlin woodchuckles

      Obama immunized and impunified Bush, Cheney and all the smaller ones. It would be hard to circle back now and try to take away from them what Obama gave them.

  9. GF

    Afghan soldier at checkpoint: “We Muslims are all brothers. We don’t have a problem with each other.” Yeah, can’t wait for Iran’s elite Shia fighters to cross over the border and help liberate the Sunni country from the American Empire.

    1. KFritz

      That’s one anecdotal soldier at one checkpoint. Many Muslim men suffer from cognitive dissonance when confronted with maniacal fundamentalists like the Taliban. They’re firm believers in the tenets of male supremacy, so that can’t bring themselves to mentally confront a monstrosity like the Taliban–until after they impose their theocracy, and perpetuate absurdities like banning chess, let alone their treatment of women and Shiites.

      The main thrust of the article is spot on, but Ms. Benjamin’s description of the Taliban as “an Afghan nationalist movement that has fought for 20 years to expel foreign invasion and occupation forces from their country,” is either misinformed or dishonest. The Taliban are the product of Saudi/Gulf funded Salafist madrasas in the Pashtun areas of Pakistan. The Pashtuns are nearly equally divided between Pakistan and Afghanistan and their loyalites/adherence to governments, other than their own tribal leaders, are subtle and fluid. The Pashtun refugees from the war with the USSR were perfect targets for the madrasas, which also functioned as adjuncts of the Pakistan Interservice Intelligence services (ISI)–so the Taliban are, to some degree, a product of the ISI, not of any group or institution in Afghanistan. The Afghan Taliban were strongly supported by the ISI in their conflict with the Northern Alliance. The Taliban in Pakistan are a bane to most Pakistanis who aren’t Pashtun fundamentalists.

  10. JoeC100

    The US Embassy just told Americans to leave Afghanistan “immediately” by commercial air flights. They will provide loans for airfare, assistance for non-US national relatives, etc. I suspect we will probably see US troops flown into Kabul to cover this exodus.

  11. Bob

    Bombing only works as a combined arms operation.

    Iraq was subjected to intense precision bombing and we left.
    SE Asia was subjected to intense bombing and the war was lost.
    WW2 Germany was subjected to destruction of its cities and industrial production went up.
    WW2 Britain was subjected to heavy bombing and survived to prosper.
    WW2 Japan was subjected to intense bombing including nuclear weapons and survived to prosper.

    B-52 raids with not affect the end game in Afghanistan.

    It is foolish to suppose otherwise.

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