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King Canutes of war can't stem the tide of inevitable failure in Afghanistan

Lindsey German
Stop the War Coalition
9 August 2011

Last week was one of the worst for foreign troops in Afghanistan. Nearly 50 of them died, including 30 US soldiers from the same Navy Seals Special Forces unit that assassinated Osama bin Laden, who were shot down in their Chinook helicopter on Friday.

Barack Obama's response was to use the deaths of the Navy Seals to try and dum up support for the war among an American public which wants all the troops to come home: "We will press on and we will succeed," he said, adding that the dead had "put their lives on the line for the values that bind us together as a nation." Values, it would seem, that include the right to wage war against any other country in the world.

But there is no disguising the reality of the war in Afghanistan. The deaths in the first week of August -- including the latest British soldier this weekend -- bring the total so far in 2011 to 383 foreign troops dead. After just one week, August looks like being one of the most viiolent months since the invasion ten years ago. Few of the deaths excite much comment in the media or among politicians, as the upsurge in casualties is an unwelcome reminder that the war is not ‘on course’ and that its continuation is exacting an extremely human price.

Three days after the Chinook was shot down, another helicopter ‘crash-landed’ in Paktia province. While a Nato spokesman denied any casualties, a Taliban spokesman texted Reuter’s news agency to say that it had shot down the helicopter with a loss of another 33 American soldiers. It is impossible to say at the time of writing whether the report is true. But the Taliban has certainly been claiming that it has a new more powerful weapon that is capable of bringing down helicopters.

Such a development is very serious for the Nato forces, and for the US especially, because this is how it transports its troops around. If it cannot do so, this raises further questions about a war which already has failure written all over it. The ‘Afghanisation’ strategy of training Afghan troops and police to take over from occupying forces is in tatters. President Karzai’s closest relatives and advisers are being assassinated on a regular basis. The Taliban is amassing new support and weaponry.

Popular opinion is increasingly against the war. There are growing protests in Afghanistan against the many civilian deaths caused by air strikes and nightime raids on people's homes. No wonder that there is much discussion in the US and Britain about what the purpose of the war is, and whether the deadline for withdrawal is too distant.

Perhaps the biggest change has come with the recent worsening of the world economic situation. It has suddenly dawned on many people that the banking industry is not the only seemingly bottomless pit into which public money is being poured. As London burns amid rising inequality and unemployment -- in riots on a scale which hasn't been seen for 30 years -- there are big questions to be asked about the priorities of privileging the cost of war and nuclear weapons over housing and jobs.

Governments treat the arms industry and military with kid gloves. But growing numbers of people in Britain are refusing to put up with increasingly costly wars, in which young working class men are sent to kill and be killed for no reason, and thousands of Afghans face record casualties.

Our politicians and generals are the King Canutes of war, trying to stem the tide of inevitable failure in Afghanistan. They must be forced to face reality by the anti-war majority in this country demanding the troops come home, in protests which are impossible to ignore. 

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