(Originally published in the L.A. Times on June 27, 2006)

Intensifying combat and mounting casualties in Afghanistan are growing evidence that what was a sporadic, low-intensity conflict is fast turning into a national uprising against foreign occupation.

After the US invasion in 2001, Taliban’s leaders ordered their outgunned fighters to exchange white for black turbans and return to their villages until called back to arms.

Taliban has now resumed major guerilla operations against the US troops and NATO forces in Afghanistan, often employing deadly new tactics, like roadside explosives and suicide bombers, learned from Iraq’s insurgent groups.

But the recent upsurge in violence is not just due to Taliban fighters. Other Afghan groups are joining to form a loosely linked national resistance.

Among them are the Hizbi-Islami party of former CIA protégé Gulbadin Hikmatyar, the most effective guerilla leader during the 1980’s struggle against Soviet occupation. The renowned mujahidin leader, Jullaludin Haqqani, has taken the field against US forces. Increasing numbers of Pushtun tribesmen have also joined the war, along with small numbers of veteran foreign jihadis.

Afghan history offers two truisms: Afghanistan is always easy to invade. The longer foreign occupiers remain, the more resistance they will meet.

When the Soviets invaded Afghanistan in 1979, they met only scattered resistance. It took 3-4 years for serious anti-Soviet armed opposition to develop. The same process is now happening in Afghanistan, as massive bribes paid by the US to local warlords, tribal chiefs, and drug barons are proving decreasingly effective in repressing Afghan’s natural xenophobia and love of independence.

It is also worth recalling the pattern of Soviet occupation. After invading, Moscow installed a puppet regime made up of KGB ‘assets’. A national army was cobbled together, and murderous secret police unleashed against real and imagined foes. Two national elections were held in 1986 and 1987 to validate the Soviet-installed regime.

If this sounds disturbingly familiar, it should. The US occupation of Afghanistan has come to closely follow the Soviet pattern. The major difference is that today, Afghanistan has become a narco-state.

At least 70% of its GDP comes from exporting opium-morphine. America’s local allies in Afghanistan, notably the Northern Alliance, dominate the drug trade. The Alliance, rump of the old Afghan Communist Party, also numbers some of the worst war criminals from the 1980’s conflict and remains under Moscow’s influence.

Blaming ‘terrorists’ for the growing fighting in Afghanistan merely obscures the natural evolution of national resistance to foreign occupation. The awkward fact that the US-installed leader, the amiable Hamid Karzai, must be constantly surrounded by at least 100-200 US bodyguards is telling commentary on the popularity and durability of his regime, whose writ does not extend beyond Kabul.

The objective of war is not to win battles but to achieve favorable political goals. Today, the US has no political solution in sight in Afghanistan and finds itself bogged down in a $1.5-2 billion monthly conflict tying up 23,000 American troops. Without these troops, the feeble Karzai regime would quickly collapse. Without the steady flow of payoffs from CIA, ‘friendly’ Afghan warlords would turn hostile.

Americans who are told they are making political progress in Afghanistan are being misinformed. It is the nature of Afghans to appear to cooperate and pocket bribes, only to stab their paymasters in the back. Tribal and clan loyalties trump all other links. Almost every Afghan working for the American occupation is secretly in touch with the resistance and telegraphing every impending US offensive to Taliban. Afghans know one day Americans will go home, just as did the Russians, British and Alexander’s Greeks.

Having demonized Taliban, the US now cannot openly deal with what remains southern Afghanistan’s leading tribal-based movement and most popular political force. So, US soldiers will continue to chase shadows in the Hindu Kush while their alien presence generates new enemies daily.

If the dolorous Soviet experience is any guide, once could say that America’s Afghan War is just beginning, not ending.

Copyright Eric S. Margolis 2006

This post is in: Afghanistan


  1. “America’s Afghan War is just beginning, not ending.”
    So prescient… nothing else to say, it’s all in hindsight, now.

  2. It would be great if Eric wrote a column on the depletion of Russia’s forces. We hear lots of reports but what is close to the truth??
    How many shells can Russia continues to fire daily?
    Are they running short of rockets? What can they produce?
    How long can they continue to wear down the barrels of their howitzers before they refurbish them?
    How many Russian men have they lost?
    How many conscripts from Donbas/Luhansk have been lost and are the Russians using them as cannon fodder?
    Many questions and it would be great to get some sober commentary from Eric.

  3. Alister says:

    In less than six months after the US withdrawal from Afghanistan and Iraq, America has started a new proxy war in Ukraine; that’s just the beginning of a new bloody conflict with no end in sight.

    The US wars in Afghanistan and Iraq have cost about US$ 1 Billion per day over 20 years; that’s over 7 trillion dollars that “the Military Industrial Complex” has charged the US and its allies until 2021, only to be replaced by the new US’s proxy war in Ukraine, which incidentally costs about the same to the US and its allies; US$1 Billion per day thus far.

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