We are quickly approaching the 7th anniversary of the US invasion and occupation of Afghanistan. The presidential race has given some attention to Afghanistan, mostly because both McCain and Obama have pledged to send more US troops and “win the war on terrorism.” But, how much do we really know about what is going on in this country and what are the real motives for the ongoing US role in occupying this somewhat forgotten country?
These questions and many others are answered in an excellent book titled Bleeding Afghanistan: Washington, Warlords, and the Propaganda of Silence. Co-authored by James Ingalls and Sonali Kolhatkar, Bleeding Afghanistan can be a useful tool for those not only wanting to understand the country that got the US into the current war on terror, but it can provide important talking points for the anti-war movement which desperately needs to mature its criticism of US foreign policy.
The book begins by providing a detailed account of US involvement in Afghanistan since the early 1970s, when Afghanistan was seen by the State Department as a strategic country during the Cold War. When the Iranian revolution of 1979 occurred, the US had even bigger concerns with Afghanistan which shares a border with Iran. The Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan later that year, but not without provocation from US backed factions. After the Reagan administration took office in 1981 the US began funneling billions of dollars through the CIA to the Afghan resistance also known as the Mujahideen. The US support lasted until the Soviet withdrawal in 1990 and then the US abandoned Afghanistan to factional infighting. The authors note that this was a source of much anti-American sentiment, since Afghanistan endured years of fighting and brutality after both global superpowers decided to leave the country.
Eventually, the Taliban came to power in the mid-1990s with diplomatic support from the US early on. The Taliban were an outgrowth of the Mujahideen and embraced a strict Islamic code that was particularly harsh on women. Despite this, the Clinton administration supported the Taliban, in part, because of resource interests from companies like Unocal. What changed the administration’s position was the fact that Osama bin Laden was now using Afghanistan as a base for his operations. The Taliban then became somewhat of a target by the US and aid was discontinued during the end of the Clinton years.
Then 9/11 happens and the US decides that since bin Laden is using Afghanistan as a base of operation that the US would begin a military campaign against that country. The Bush administration used the Taliban’s treatment of women as a PR tool to gain public support for the aerial bombing of remote areas in Afghanistan to “fight the war on terror.” The authors devote an entire chapter on how Afghani women were used as a political tool by the US government, even though the condition of women did not significantly improve with the removal of the Taliban from power.
Another section of the book is devoted to the role that US news media played in the past 30 years in regards to Afghanistan. The authors demonstrate that when Afghanistan served a particular purpose in US foreign policy the news coverage was significant, like in the years of Soviet occupation or right after 9/11. However, once the Soviet Union left Afghanistan in 1990, very little coverage was to be found in US media, even though the country was no better off. The same has been the case in more recent years with news coverage of Afghanistan declining rapidly after the Taliban were removed from power in early 2002. Despite new leadership in the country the human rights situation has not improved, opium production is at an all time high and the US/NATO forces continue to commit significant human rights abuses that mirror the detentions, torture and murder in Iraq.
Bleeding Afghanistan concludes with an appeal for Americans to not only support real Afghan democracy movements like RAWA (Revolutionary Association of Women in Afghanistan) but to call for an end to the US occupation. An important and timely book since Afghanistan is being touted in an election year as the “true focus for winning the war on terror.”
Sonali Kolhatkar and James Ingalls, Bleeding Afghanistan: Washington, Warlords, and the Propaganda of Silence, (Seven Stories Press, 2006).