On 19 September, a hospital of Doctors Without Borders in Kunduz (1), a province in northern Afghanistan, was bombed by air forces of the United States. The result was 22 dead, 12 of which doctors and 10 patients, among them 3 children, and nearly 40 wounded.
In addition to the justifiable sorrow for the victims and indignation against the bombing – an increasingly common fact in the country – one wonders what were the underlying reasons for the attack, which, in the words of the very NGO’s General Director in Spain, Joan Tubau, “was very precise and against a clear target.”
The thousand and one versions…
Along the course of the month following the attack, the USA have changed many times their explanation of the event. Initially, they said it was a “collateral damage” in the context of the clashes with Taliban forces (2). But the air strikes generated a great deal of international attention, among other reasons because all of the dead and wounded were civilians. The point turned out to be of little use, since it only confirmed that the USA held the attacks consciously and, furthermore, attempted to legitimize them and justify them, which is very consistent with imperialism’s cynicism, which loves to talk a lot of democracy at the same time it bombs hospitals and kills doctors and children.
According to humanitarian law, attacks on health centers are expressly forbidden by international organizations. The US saw themselves being forced to justify their action, at the risk of being seen as a wolf in sheep’s clothing, attempting to evade responsibilities. John Campbell, top US military commander in Afghanistan, said the shelling came in response to a request from Afghan troops “facing a Taliban attack,” which reported on the presence of Taliban members hidden in the hospital at that time.
However, the NGO Doctors Without Borders (MSF) publicly refuted this version, stating that there had been no fighting on the outskirts of the institution and that in the hospital there were only doctors and patients. It also confirmed the hospital’s coordinates had been provided to the US-Ghani (3) alliance four days earlier, exactly to prevent accidental bombing.
As if that were not enough, after the first strike (there were five in all, lasting 70 minutes), the MSF reported the matter to Kabul and Washington, without receiving any answer. And after that, the bombardment went on for another half hour.
Faced with this situation, with no way to exempt themselves, the United States changed for a third time their argument and Campbell admitted the attacks, explaining that “a hospital was mistakenly struck,” and the “U.S. military was squarely responsible for the attack,” exempting the US government. Meanwhile, Obama called Joanne Liu, president of MSF International, to apologize for what happened and ensure that he would carry out “transparent, thorough and objective investigations.”
That is: the wolf has already been spotted; now they try to convince us it is a benign wolf.
…and the actual underlying reasons
The underlying reasons can be understood only by analyzing the general policy of imperialism in the region and the current situation of the Middle East as a whole.
The US invaded Afghanistan and Iraq, in 2001 and 2003 respectively, in order to submit this strategic region (both for their geographical location and for their oil reserves) to their designs. They spoke of “combating terrorism”, taking advantage of 9/11.
But, contrary to what they had expected and told the American people, that is, that it would be “a quick, easy war,” they met an impressive resistance of the masses which extended the war for over a decade and, eventually, imposed on the “owner of the world” a very heavy military defeat, known as “Iraq Syndrome.”
The budget allocated for the war was not justified with noticeable positive results. Quite the opposite: the casualties of US soldiers on duty grew considerably and progressively. (4)
This worn out the US masses, which not only withdrew their support for the wars but also began to speak out against them. This is one of the major reasons why the US were forced to shift their policy and, along with that, the government which would implement it. Bush, a white president with a clear right-wing warmongering line, has been replaced by Obama, a black, popular president, with a democratic speech, and whose campaign included, as one of its key points, the end of the wars.
Without getting into the debate about the characterization of the current dynamics of US politics, there is something about which there is no doubt: the initial plan of the United States, carried out by the Bush administration, could not be implemented due to the resistance of the masses.
It is true that Obama intervenes militarily in different countries (Libya, Syria, Iraq etc.). That’s because imperialism is still imperialism and its strategic objectives are still the same. But unlike Bush, whose war policy was offensive, Obama follows the upheavals in the region, attempting to smother the revolutionary processes that opened with the so-called “Arab Spring.” He takes different approaches for that: limited military intervention in some places and at some times, limited troops on the ground, attempting to negotiate, or calling for elections, or the cooptation of the leaderships of the processes.
The USA would love to withdraw from Afghanistan, because for years it has been more of a headache than anything else. (5) However, that is not so easy, because reality is filled with contradictory elements. In the current Middle East situation, to withdraw from an “easy” war, after 14 years without having been able to control or at least stabilize the region, would be to acknowledge a political defeat which would bring huge consequences both for Obama’s administration within the US as well as to the strategic plan of imperialism in the Middle East.
Hence, despite the contradictions and the wear it brings, on October 15, almost a month after the attack, Obama publicly confirmed that he will not reduce the quantity of troops in Afghanistan (there was a time in which he considered reducing the effective to 5,500, with the prospect of a total withdrawal by 2017), but rather keep the 9,800 troops that presently occupy the country (6).
Once again, the rationale is the “cooperation” with the Afghan regime against terrorism. The truth, however, is that imperialism knows no limits or scruples when it comes to defending with tooth and nail (or bombs) its interests. This brings up thousands of discussions, which are not the aim of this article, but that we can’t overlook as elements for the underlying thread in its dynamics. How does failure to comply with Obama’s campaign concerning the Afghanistan war affects the US masses? How will this be expressed in the 2016 elections? How is the policy for this country related to the US broader policy and strategy in the region? To what extent the discussion on Democracy vs Terrorism can be sustained, with a global situation which more and more makes evident the US war crimes, including before imperialism’s own international organizations – UN, NATO, the Geneva Summit, etc.?
A deeper study of these elements might help us understand the dynamics of the global political situation and respond to it.
The situation of the Afghan masses
In addition to all these extremely important discussions, which require a serious and detailed analysis, reality today asks for an urgent reaction. Because, while imperialism strikes with impunity on all fronts, the workers and peoples of the world see their possibilities collapsing. For the peoples invaded by imperialism this is not an argument, but a concrete battle of life and death.
In spite of the strength of the resistance of the masses, the degree of poverty and violence in a country militarily occupied for nearly 15 years hits really frightening numbers. The living conditions are unbearable (and this, of course, if one survives).
This hospital, for example, was the only center dedicated to traumatology in all the northeast region of the country. We’re talking about millions of people who have just lost their primary health center.
Speaking of education, for example, millions of children are unable to go to school. And these numbers, which show the magnitude of the situation of which we are speaking, are nonetheless seen in the context of our parameters of “normal” life: work, health, education. The parameter of the Afghan masses, for the overwhelming majority, boils down to survival. It is no coincidence that Afghans make up the second largest refugee population in the world, behind Syria, a situation that exceeds the figures of World War II. (7)
Distress and indignation are mild terms for this reality. What we are saying is that those refugees who manage to survive the journey out, and achieve a roof under which to sleep and slavish jobs devoid of the minimum humane conditions, are the “lucky ones” who managed to leave.
This is the reality of imperialist capitalism and its “democracy”.
The only possible way out
We must not hesitate to say that we are categorically against the military invasion of Afghanistan and the Middle East by the USA.
We condemn the bomb shelling of the Kunduz Hospital and repudiate Obama’s policy of keeping his military personnel in the country. No more military bases for imperialism! We demand the immediate withdrawal of imperialist troops from Afghanistan and all the Middle East!
Faced with the attacks, we adhere to the request for an independent inquiry of the American government and the Pentagon, as well as of the Afghan government. Yet, that alone is not enough. Because it will not be the international bodies, led by imperialism itself, which will come to the bottom of the matter, least of all the ones that will solve the real issues of the exploited and oppressed peoples, because this system to which they belong is the fundamental problem. Only the auto-organized working masses may lead the true battle, the struggle against imperialism, so it does not get off scot-free from this type of attack and to stop the destruction it is carrying out worldwide.
1 – The city of Kunduz lies in the commercial corridor that links Kabul, the Afghan capital, with Tadjikistan.
2- On the Monday before the attack, the Taliban occupied Kunduz. Since then, the US conducted twelve air strikes, this being the second in the central region of the province, where the hospital is located.
3 – Ashraf Ghani Ahmadzai, president of Afghanistan.
4 – Between 2003 and 2015, the number of US soldiers killed in Afghanistan alone exceeds 2,000, that is, just over 20% of the number of current troops. http://www.statista.com
5 – The war in Afghanistan is the longest in US history and its budget exceeds US$ 65 billion. In: Afganistán, la guerra incomoda, http://internacional.elpais.com, 2015/07/10
6 – Obama anuncia adiamento da retirada de tropas americanas no Afeganistão, Folha Online, 15/10/2015.
7 – O número de refugiados no mundo alcança uma cifra recorde desde a II Guerra Mundial, www.20minutos.es
Translation: Gabriel Tolstoy