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Editorial Reality must cut through the multiplying delusions about the Afghan crisis

REPORTS state that nine members of an Afghan family — six of them children, the youngest a two-year-old girl — were killed in a US air strike designed to prevent another terrorist attack on Kabul airport.

The US acknowledges that an unknown number of civilians may indeed have been killed. The incident should expose the folly of liberal pleas for a longer deployment in Afghanistan.

The real horror of the Taliban takeover should not blind us to the well-documented horror that has been inflicted on the country in two decades of war: the Wikileaks exposure of thousands of civilian killings, from individuals murdered by soldiers to death tolls in the hundreds from single “strikes” often justified as intended to “take out” a single target. 

The savagery that saw even a US-backed president, Hamid Karzai, declare in 2013 that “American forces have no respect for Afghan lives.” The war crimes that prompted the Australian military to warn 13 soldiers of impending dismissal last November following a report on the murder of 39 Afghan civilians and prisoners.

The documents released to solicitors Leigh Day last year indicating senior British officers were internally recommending “deeper investigation” of reports they considered credible, that casualties labelled “enemies killed in action” by British special forces were in fact the victims of “execution-style killings.”

Much of the debate on Afghanistan in our press and Parliament proceeds with total disregard for reality.

Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab reportedly stresses at a meeting with G7 and Nato partners that “Afghanistan must not become a haven for terrorists,” though the frequent murderous attacks on groups such as the Hazara by Islamic State show that it has been exactly that for years.

Diplomats brief that they hope Russia and China will help prevent the Taliban takeover from prompting expansion of the narcotics trade or a refugee crisis. 

Yet the UN Office on Drugs and Crime reported in 2017 that the area of Afghanistan under poppy cultivation for opium and heroin production had expanded fourfold in the 15 years since the US-led invasion.

Afghans made up one in 10 of all refugees worldwide before the US withdrawal. The crises our politicians say they fear are with us already, consequences of the war itself.

None of this is to underrate the seriousness of recent events, the looming increase in the refugee flow following the Taliban victory and the urgency of providing a safe haven for those fleeing.

But it should weigh against the efforts to maintain a foreign military presence in the country — whether via Britain and France’s talk of policing a Kabul airport “safe zone” (neither the airport nor the capital have proved safe under US military control) or by empire-nostalgic talk of equipping a new Afghan regiment analogous to the famous Gurkhas. 

Assisting people at risk to safety is a moral obligation: spiriting troops out of Afghanistan to form some kind of stateless imperial strike force is decidedly not.

Besides, socialists should note that, however just their struggle to be treated equally to other soldiers in the armed forces is, the systematic recruitment of mercenaries from a poor country to serve in the British state’s endless wars is not progressive.

The very zaniness of the flurry of suggested face-saving measures underlines how exposed the US’s allies feel by its unilateral decision to retreat, and how powerless they are in the face of it.

There are things within our government’s power to do. It can recognise the scale of the refugee crisis and commit to taking more refugees, pressing its G7 and Nato allies to do the same. It can drop its racist borders Bill. It can reverse planned increases in military spending and allocate the money to helping those displaced by war.

It is clearly not about to do any of those things — but these are the demands the left should mobilise around. 


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