By Mike Jennings
Just days after NATO leaders met in Chicago to discuss a troop withdrawal from Afghanistan by the end of 2014, Commander of US and NATO forces in Afghanistan John Allen hints that the US will intensify its deadly assaults in the war-torn country.
“We’re going to need combat power. I don’t think anyone questions that,” Marine General John Allen said on Wednesday. “Some significant dynamics will be occurring this summer. Ramadan will be occurring in the very middle of the high-op tempo period that’s often called the fighting season.”
While Allen said that “our intent” is to withdraw 23,000 American troops by the end of summer, he was quick to add that “there’s no number out there right now.”
However, Allen’s comments are in sharp contrast with US President Barack Obama’s closing statement at the NATO meet. “We are now unified behind a plan to responsibly wind down the war in Afghanistan,” Obama had said two days earlier.
The United States’ plan to increase its firepower and assaults in Afghanistan does not bode well for Afghan civilians, who have paid the highest price for the presence of foreign forces in the country.
Last year alone, more Afghan civilians died than the total number of NATO troops killed in Afghanistan since the 2001 US-led invasion of the country.
According to figures released by the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan, 3,021 civilians were killed in Afghanistan in 2011. This is while, as of May 24, the total number of the US-led NATO troops killed in Afghanistan stands at 3,008, according to icasualties.org.
Last year also marked the fifth year in a row that civilian casualties increased in Afghanistan. UNAMA had recorded 2,790 civilian deaths in 2010 and 2,412 in 2009 with a total of 11,864 civilian lives lost since 2007. Moreover 185,632 Afghans were internally displaced in 2011, a 45-percent increase from a year earlier.
By far, 2011 has been the worst year for Afghan civilians in terms of casualties and displacement. Ironically, 2011 also marked the beginning of President Obama’s Afghan “withdrawal” plan.
President Obama had vowed to withdraw 10,000 troops from Afghanistan by the end of 2011. However, to accomplish his goal, he authorized excessive use of force and firepower resulting in an unprecedented number of civilian deaths.
This year, Obama is promising more withdrawals, yet his General in Afghanistan is talking about more firepower.
In a meeting with Afghan President Hamid Karzai on Sunday, Obama acknowledged that the casualties will continue to rise.
“Both of us recognize that we still have a lot of work to do, and there will be great challenges ahead. The loss of life continues in Afghanistan; there will be hard days ahead,” he said.
With the November presidential elections just around the corner, Obama is once again attempting to appease the American electorate, who has grown weary of more than a decade of war, by promising to bring more troops home.
While withdrawing troops from Afghanistan appears to be a step in the right direction after ten years of sending troops into the war-torn country, Obama’s intentions do not seem noble.
As early as the 1862 elections, when President Abraham Lincoln’s Republican Party suffered heavy losses due to public discontent with the government’s failure to end the Civil War, ruling parties in the United States have been electorally suffering from the consequences of fallen soldiers and war casualties.
This means that, to increase his poll numbers, Obama needs to bring the American troops home and end the war in Afghanistan – or at least a semblance of that.
Authorization to use heavy weaponry and remote firepower, allows Obama to keep his men safe and withdraw more troops, albeit with caveats. Imprecise and indiscriminate fire increases civilian casualties, but Obama seems to be willing to take that “risk.”
Obama has two objectives: Win the hearts and minds of anti-war voters in the short-term, and ensure an extended US presence in Afghanistan in the long-term.
The withdrawal plan is part of Obama’s re-election campaign. Intensified “combat power” is part of his plan to ensure that the US maintains its dominance in Afghanistan until after his potential re-election.
On May 1, Obama and Karzai signed the Strategic Partnership Agreement that extends the US presence in Afghanistan. The pact will govern US military operations in the country from the start of 2015 through the end of 2024.
The pact allows US Special Operations Forces (SOF) to continue to carry out the controversial night raids on private homes. It also allows Washington to continue its assassination drone attacks into Pakistan.
These provisions also support the assumption that the United States is not concerned with rising civilian casualties in Afghanistan.
While NATO leader expressed concerns for their troops in Afghanistan during the Chicago summit, the issue of Afghan civilians was ignored altogether. With every step that President Obama takes towards his political gains, innocent Afghan civilians pay the price.