The invasion and occupation of Afghanistan, now into its ninth year and irrevocably spread into Pakistan, is a war that cannot be won by imperialism.
In their bones, the warmongers all know this, as can easily be deduced from any number of wavering and contradictory statements emanating from the top brass on both sides of the Atlantic. But sooner than accept the humiliating truth, they continue to heap war crime upon war crime – whilst declaring war on their own soldiers when they dare to speak out.
The gloom only deepens when McChrystal promises that the new troops would be kept “out of harm’s way”, concentrating instead on training up Afghan mercenaries to do the dirty work themselves. In the wake of the killing of five US and British instructors by a police trainee, it is being openly admitted that demoralisation and infiltration are rife in the training schools.
The Telegraph recently reported that “British officers say that among low-ranking Afghan police, and particularly in more rural areas away from central control, there is widespread corruption and disloyalty,” and quoted a former army officer as affirming, “It is absolutely right to say that the Afghan police are infiltrated by the Taliban at every level, from the very lowest to the very highest.” (‘Afghan National Police penetrated by Taliban at “every level”’, 4 November 2009)
General Dannatt blamed his failure to crush the Afghan resistance upon lack of helicopters and protective clothing. Yet the truth is that, however many helicopters and bullet-proof vests are provided, a close-quarters ground war that matches a demoralised imperialist army against well-motivated patriotic forces resisting occupation is never going to end well for the forces of national oppression.
And Dannatt’s incoming successor, General Richards, unconsciously offered the most defeatist appraisal of all of the warmongers’ hopes of success, confiding to the Times: “I believe that the UK will be committed to Afghanistan in some manner — development, governance, security sector reform — for the next 30 to 40 years.” (8 August 2009)
All this gloom from both sides of the Atlantic is of little comfort to Obama as he sits in seclusion with his pocket calculator, counting the bodies coming back from Afghanistan and calculating how many more to send to a war zone that has become a graveyard for imperialist armies and is now expanding into Pakistan.
The question is no longer how to win the war, but how to extricate imperialism from the morass with minimum political embarrassment. Soldiers in the US and British armies are now being expected to lay down their lives, no longer to secure some sort of ‘victory’, but simply to save face for the capitalist ruling class – the same class whose crisis of overproduction is currently robbing the livelihoods of workers back at home.
Under these circumstances, the growing prominence of military families within the broad front of the anti-war movement takes on an ever greater significance, carrying echoes of the role played by Vietnam war veterans in the US peace movement of the 1970s.
Whilst the top brass squabble over what line to take over the disastrous failure of their adventure in Afghanistan, ordinary soldiers and their families are finding sympathetic allies in the anti-war movement. Military Families Against the War (MFAW) has long been an important component of the Stop the War Coalition. Now this simmering disaffection within the army has hit boiling point with the political decision to prosecute Lance Corporal Joe Glenton.
Glenton began by voting with his feet, simply absenting himself rather than returning to fight a war he had come to understand was immoral and without justification. When he turned himself in after two years, he found himself up on court-martial charges that threatened him with two years’ imprisonment.
Where lesser men might have opted for a low profile in the hope of mitigating his sentence, Glenton took the harder road and decided to speak out publicly against the war. He wrote to Gordon Brown in the following terms: “I believe that when British military personnel submit themselves to the service of the nation and put their bodies into harm’s way, the government that sends them into battle is obliged to ensure that the cause is just and right, ie, for the protection of life and liberty. The war in Afghanistan is not reducing the terrorist risk, far from improving Afghan lives it is bringing death and devastation to their country. Britain has no business there. I do not believe that our cause in Afghanistan is just or right.”
And then Glenton made history by becoming the first serving member of the British armed forces to march at the head of a mass demonstration against a war still being waged. For this courageous moral stand against an illegal war of aggression, Glenton has now been arrested again. In addition to the two or three years’ imprisonment he could face for the original desertion, he faces a further possible 10 years in jail for five other ‘offences’.
What heinous crimes has he committed to justify such a punishment? Having the guts to defy orders, stand at the head of the mass anti-war demonstration in London, and tell the media what he thought about the war.
It was established long ago at Nuremberg that ‘just following orders’ is no defence against the charge of war crimes. Yet right now, the Labour cabinet provides safe haven for war criminals like Gordon Brown, whilst men who refuse their illegal orders to behave like storm troopers and torturers are consigned to a prison cell.
Glenton’s mother asked, “What’s so scary about a Lance Corporal having his say? My son is only speaking out for what he thinks is right.”
The truth is, that is exactly what scares imperialism. Such soldiers as Glenton have more courage in their little fingers than have the entire top brass of the military and their political masters combined. Their actions are creating a focus for the overwhelming majority of public opinion, which now declares itself against the war.
It will be a deputation of soldiers, ex-soldiers and military families that delivers Stop the War’s Bring the Troops Home Now petition to 10 Downing Street this Christmas.
What has effected this remarkable transformation in the attitude of many ordinary soldiers trapped in this criminal war? Nothing but the reality of the Afghan people’s own spirited defence of their homeland from foreign occupation. To drive home this very welcome defeat for this imperialist war for oil and gas, it is more than ever necessary to supplement the Stop the War slogan, Bring the Troops Home, with the slogan of international solidarity, Victory to the Afghan Resistance!