Workers Vanguard No. 937

22 May 2009


Pakistan: Hundreds Killed by U.S. Air Attacks

U.S./NATO Imperialists Out of Afghanistan!

On the evening of May 4 in western Afghanistan, after Taliban forces had attacked local police in the village of Granai and then largely withdrawn from the town, U.S. bombers inflicted ruthless collective punishment on the helpless villagers. As many as 147 people—including approximately 95 children—perished in the airstrikes. It was the deadliest massacre of civilians by U.S./NATO forces in a long succession of indiscriminate bombings and military assaults since the imperialist occupation of Afghanistan began in 2001. One resident of Granai interviewed by the New York Times (7 May) described body parts littering the landscape. “It would scare a man if he saw it in a dream,” he declared.

This latest slaughter of civilians by U.S. forces, which will surely stiffen the growing opposition among the Afghan population to the U.S./NATO occupation forces, comes as President Barack Obama is escalating the U.S. intervention by sending 21,000 more troops to Afghanistan. One consequence can be predicted with certainty: ever greater butchery of the Afghan population by U.S. military forces. The United Nations estimated that last year alone more than 2,000 Afghans were killed.

A single U.S. airstrike last August on the village of Azizabad in western Afghanistan killed at least 90 civilians. Following that massacre, the conservative London Economist (30 August 2008) wrote: “If America fails in Afghanistan, as it might, it will be remembered there for killing children.” Naturally, the haughty mouthpiece of British finance capital did not add: “ the British imperialists are remembered by their victims from Northern Ireland to Kenya and the Indian subcontinent.”

What the U.S. rulers and their media mouthpieces genteelly term “counterinsurgency” consists of an endless succession of terror bombings, death squad assassinations and unrelenting slaughter of entire populations. This is inherent in the nature of imperialism, the stage of capitalism in which a handful of advanced capitalist powers compete globally for control of markets, raw materials and access to cheap labor. Today, after eight years of the demented regime of George Bush, which reveled in its barbarity, Obama is well suited to help refurbish U.S. imperialism’s tarnished image around the world. Yet whether the Commander-in-Chief is a Democrat or Republican, war crimes and atrocities against civilians are always integral to U.S. imperialism’s wars of conquest and occupation, from the Philippines at the dawn of the 20th century to Vietnam to Iraq and Afghanistan today.

In Pakistan, Obama has stepped up missile attacks by unmanned drone airplanes—with the tacit approval of Islamabad—in Pakistan’s northwestern tribal areas. Citing Pakistani press reports, Los Angeles Times columnist Doyle McManus reported (3 May) that these missile strikes have killed about 160 people since Obama’s inauguration. According to the Karachi daily The Nation (14 April), U.S. drone attacks in Pakistan between 16 January 2006 and 8 April 2009 killed a total of 701 people. Of these attacks, “only 10 were able to hit their actual targets, killing 14 wanted Al-Qaeda leaders, besides perishing 687 innocent Pakistani civilians.”

The drone missile attacks have contributed to the growing instability of nuclear-armed Pakistan. The New York Times (14 April) reported: “As American drone attacks disrupt strongholds of the Taliban and Al Qaeda in the tribal areas, the insurgents are striking deeper into Pakistan—both in retaliation and in search of new havens.” A former “counterinsurgency” adviser to the U.S. command in Iraq warned Congress that the “highly unpopular” drone strikes are “leading us to loss of Pakistani government control over its own population” (Los Angeles Times, 3 May). Besides, he said, “there are other ways to do it.” This was a veiled reference to the widespread use in Iraq and Afghanistan of “counterinsurgency” commando teams acting as covert death squads to assassinate suspected insurgents.

The U.S. imperialists are intervening militarily in Pakistan to support their client regime against fundamentalists seeking its removal and to head off cross-border attacks on U.S./NATO forces in Afghanistan. The client itself—faced with a situation that threatens to spiral out of its control—alternates between repression and conciliation in dealing with the forces to whose destruction the American government is so committed. Meanwhile, the bulk of the Pakistani army remains in the eastern part of the country, arrayed against Pakistan’s perennial main enemy (and fellow nuclear-armed state) India, locked together in intractable conflict over Kashmir.

Islamabad agreed early this year to grant fundamentalist militants free rein to impose sharia (Islamic law) in the Swat Valley, a lush (former) tourist site northwest of Islamabad. The truce broke down last month as fundamentalist forces moved out of Swat, routing government officials in the neighboring Buner district and coming to within 60 miles of the capital. Under intense pressure from the Obama administration, the Pakistani government announced on May 7 a military counteroffensive. Reportedly consisting largely of aerial bombardment from attack helicopters and fighter jets, the offensive has driven more than one million people from their homes, adding to the half million others who were displaced earlier by Pakistani “counterinsurgency” operations in the northwestern tribal areas.

Our standpoint is one of proletarian class opposition to the U.S. capitalist rulers and to the imperialist system as a whole. Thus, we forthrightly called for the military defense of Afghanistan and Iraq against imperialist attack in the 2001 and 2003 invasions, without giving any political support to the reactionary, woman-hating Taliban cutthroats or the bloody capitalist dictatorship of Saddam Hussein. We underlined that every victory for the imperialists in their military adventures encourages more predatory wars; every setback serves to assist the struggles of working people and the oppressed the world over. We call for the immediate and unconditional withdrawal of all U.S. troops and bases from Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan and Central Asia!

Obama: Refurbishing U.S. Imperialism’s Image

In an article posted (22 April) on the Web site of the reformist International Socialist Organization (ISO), Eamonn McCann, a prominent supporter of the Socialist Workers Party in Ireland, snidely remarked that the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Afghanistan is “what many Americans, naively perhaps, trusted would happen when they swarmed to give Obama their votes” (see article, page 10). Of course, the ISO was among those that “swarmed” (not at all naively) to support Obama. The day after Obama’s inauguration, the ISO published an editorial titled, “Looking Forward to Change,” and declared that Obama’s election showed that “some of the cruel sins of America’s past were finally being overcome” (Socialist Worker online, 21 January).

Obama has merely sought to clean up some of the most blatant excesses of Bush-Cheney’s “war on terror”—for example, by promising to close the U.S. prison in Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, within a year. At the same time, he is continuing the Bush regime’s underlying policies. Most significant is Obama’s endorsement of indefinite detention, a hallmark of police-state dictatorships and the centerpiece of Bush’s war on democratic rights. While moving to greatly expand the prison at the Bagram Air Base in Afghanistan, the Obama administration has argued in U.S. court the Bush line that prisoners at Bagram have no legal right to challenge their detention.

Many of the Guantánamo detainees will in fact not be released—they will be transferred to detention centers in Bagram and elsewhere. Last week, Obama announced that some of those held in detention centers would be tried in kangaroo-court military commissions based on those set up by the Bush administration. While Obama promised during the electoral campaign to “reject” these tribunals, he is now arguing that they are “the best way to protect our country” (New York Times, 16 May). Military defense lawyer Major David Frakt, in an interview with Rachel Maddow (MSNBC, 15 May), declared that Obama was proposing only “minor tweaks” to the military commissions and that hearsay and “coerced evidence” would still be “broadly admissible.”

A staunch supporter of the “war on terror,” Obama voted as a Senator for an earlier version of the military commissions law, as well as for warrantless wiretapping and the renewal of the USA Patriot Act. Last week, he moved to block the release of photos documenting abuse of prisoners in Afghanistan and Iraq. He also sought to have the British High Court suppress evidence of the hideous tortures inflicted on Binyam Mohamed, who was imprisoned in Pakistan, Morocco, Afghanistan and Guantánamo, before being released earlier this year. Renewing a threat made previously by the Bush administration, Obama warned that if details of Mohamed’s treatment were revealed, Washington would curb the exchange of intelligence information with Britain. Earlier, the Obama administration unsuccessfully tried to get a U.S. federal appeals court to throw out a civil suit brought by Mohamed and four other men against a Boeing subsidiary for flying them to secret prisons where they could be tortured, as part of the CIA’s policy of “extraordinary rendition.” We say: Immediate freedom for all detainees! U.S. out of Guantánamo!

Obama Intensifies Afghan Occupation

The U.S. military intervention in Afghanistan in 2001 was embraced by liberals and Democrats as a “just” response to the September 11 terror attacks. In reality, the invasion of Afghanistan represented the launching of U.S. imperialism’s “war on terror,” an all-purpose pretext for imperialist war and plunder internationally and a war on immigrants, black people and labor at home. Contrary to what the ISO and other reformists claimed in promoting Obama’s “antiwar” credentials in Iraq, the purpose of reducing U.S. occupation troops in that country—as Obama himself has repeatedly made clear—is to intensify the occupation of Afghanistan.

Thus, to reportedly provide a “fresh approach” in Afghanistan, Obama last week named Lt. Gen. Stanley McChrystal, a “counterinsurgency” specialist, to head U.S. forces there (New York Times, 15 May). From 2003 to 2008, McChrystal led the Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC), which heads the military’s “special missions” units. A United Nations report in February specifically pointed to clandestine operations by commando units in accounting for the growing number of civilian deaths in Afghanistan, either directly by carrying out commando raids or by calling in airstrikes in support of those raids.

McChrystal’s JSOC oversaw a squad of U.S. special forces in Iraq that ran a torture center named Camp Nama near the Baghdad airport. Witnesses have described beatings of detainees there frequently resulting in broken bones, as well as burn marks on prisoners and electric shocks with stun guns. (An investigation into Camp Nama stalled after a “computer malfunction” destroyed 70 percent of its records.)

As head of JSOC, McChrystal was a key advocate of a plan, approved by President Bush last summer, to use American commandos to strike at fundamentalist forces inside Pakistan. That resulted in a raid by JSOC forces last September in Pakistan’s South Waziristan tribal area, which, unlike several previous cross-border commando raids carried out during the rule of former Pakistani president Pervez Musharraf, provoked a furious response from Islamabad. One U.S. government official, calling it a “strategic miscalculation,” declared (, 29 September 2008):

“Once the Pakistanis started talking about closing down our supply routes, and actually demonstrated they could do it, once they started talking about shooting American helicopters, we obviously had to take seriously that maybe this [approach] was not going to be good enough.”

JSOC under McChrystal was also responsible for covert operations against Iran carried out by U.S. commandos operating from Iraq. According to investigative journalist Seymour Hersh, these included “seizing members of Al Quds, the commando arm of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard, and taking them to Iraq for interrogation, and the pursuit of ‘high-value targets’ in the President’s war on terror, who may be captured or killed” (New Yorker, 7 July 2008). In summary, as the New York Times (13 May) noted, McChrystal “is ideally suited to carry out a White House strategy that regards Afghanistan and Pakistan as part of a single, urgent problem.”

ISO Opposed Social Progress in Afghanistan

Largely the creation of the Pakistani military and Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) as well as the American CIA, the Taliban and Al Qaeda are Frankenstein’s monsters turned on their former masters. The U.S., Pakistan and Saudi Arabia, among others, armed, funded and trained reactionary mujahedin (holy warriors) to kill Soviet soldiers following the entry of the Red Army into Afghanistan in 1979 at the request of the modernizing nationalist PDPA regime. The Soviet military intervention in Afghanistan was one of the few genuinely progressive acts carried out by the Stalinist bureaucracy, opening the vista of social liberation to the downtrodden Afghan peoples.

Despite its degeneration under a Stalinist bureaucratic caste, the Soviet Union remained a workers state embodying historic gains of the October Revolution of 1917, centrally the planned economy and collectivized property. These represented enormous gains, not least for women and the historically Muslim peoples of Soviet Central Asia, where conditions before the 1917 Bolshevik Revolution had been as backward and benighted as in Afghanistan. As Trotskyists, we stood for the unconditional military defense of the Soviet degenerated workers state against imperialist attack and capitalist counterrevolution. A key expression of our defense was our call for workers political revolution to oust the ruling Stalinist bureaucracy and replace it with a regime based on workers democracy and revolutionary internationalism.

In dreadfully backward Afghanistan, lacking even a working class, the Red Army represented the only real basis for social progress. A Red Army victory and a prolonged Soviet presence in the country posed the extension of the social gains of the October Revolution to Afghanistan, transforming it along the lines of Soviet Central Asia. The international Spartacist tendency, now the International Communist League, said: “Hail Red Army in Afghanistan!” and called to extend the gains of the October Revolution to the Afghan peoples.

The U.S. imperialists seized on the Red Army intervention to intensify their revived anti-Soviet crusade (“Cold War II”). As the CIA undertook its biggest covert operation ever in support of the “holy warrior” mujahedin (including one Osama bin Laden), Afghanistan became the front line of the imperialists’ drive to destroy the Soviet Union. Like the bulk of the left internationally, the anti-Communist ISO and its then-parent group in Britain, Tony Cliff’s Socialist Workers Party (SWP), criminally stood foursquare with the imperialists. The 12 January 1980 issue of the SWP’s Socialist Worker blared against the Red Army: “Troops Out of Afghanistan!”

By the mid 1980s, the Red Army—which had the support of sections of the population, especially in the cities—had the reactionary mujahedin militarily on the run. When then-Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev, in a vain attempt to appease the imperialists, withdrew from Afghanistan in 1989, we denounced this crime against the Afghan and Soviet peoples. The betrayal by the Kremlin bureaucracy opened the road to mujahedin rule in Afghanistan and prepared the ground for the counterrevolutionary destruction of the Soviet degenerated workers state itself in 1991-92. This was celebrated by the ISO and its international cothinkers, who crowed, “Communism has collapsed.... It is a fact that should have every socialist rejoicing” (Socialist Worker [Britain], 31 August 1991).

As Bolshevik leader Leon Trotsky taught, you can’t win new gains without defending those already won. The capitalist counterrevolution welcomed by the imperialists and their social-democratic lackeys like the ISO was a world-historic defeat for the international proletariat, creating a “one superpower” world and paving the way for the brutal wars against Iraq and Afghanistan. We seek to win the multiracial U.S. working class to the understanding that its interests are counterposed to those of its “own” ruling class and its state and political parties. Thus we fight to break the proletariat’s allegiance to the Democratic Party, which has long been promoted by the pro-capitalist trade-union tops and the reformist left. This is key to our purpose: the forging of a revolutionary workers party that fights for the defeat of U.S. imperialism through socialist revolution.