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A socialist newsweekly published in the interests of working people
Vol. 65/No.44November 19, 2001

 
lead article
U.S. gains foothold in
Central Asia, Berlin sends troops
Photo - see caption below
Crowds of Afghans surround foreign journalists in a Kandahar market to voice their hatred for the U.S.-led war. Some yelled "Stop the bombing!" and "Death to America!"
 
BY PATRICK O'NEILL  
Washington has secured use of military bases in Tajikistan, widening its military foothold in Central Asia, another step in asserting the domination of U.S. imperialism in the region. Use of the bases will aid Washington's war in Afghanistan and its drive to establish a protectorate there.

In a steady escalation of the conflict, U.S. B-52 pilots carpet-bombed the country as part of a relentless assault that has now lasted more than 30 days. Larger numbers of U.S. military forces are operating in the country, pushing Northern Alliance opposition forces into battle and preparing a ground war.

Miamians organize nationwide fight against political firing of candidate for mayor
Photo - see caption below
Photo - see caption below
Militant/Eric Simpson
Above, Mike Italie, second from right, outside Goodwill Industries at November 6 press conference called to protest his political firing. Below, supporter campaigns among Italie's co-workers at the garment factory. Go to article

German chancellor Gerhard Schröder announced November 6 that Berlin will send a 3,900-strong force of "elite" combat troops, medical units, military vehicles, transport planes, and ships to the region. The German government, which has not deployed its forces outside of Europe since World War II, is now in command of NATO forces in Macedonia. Schröder ruled out involvement of the German air force in the bombing of Afghanistan at this time.

The Turkish government, a member of NATO, has declared its support for the overthrow of the Taliban government, and has agreed to send a 90-man unit to northern Afghanistan. The Turkish armed forces have gained experience in guerrilla warfare through their repression of rebels fighting for Kurdish nationhood in mountainous southeast Turkey.

The decision on the bases followed meetings between U.S. defense secretary Donald Rumsfeld and Tajik government officials at the beginning of November in which Washington promised the regime millions of dollars in aid. Rumsfeld also visited Russia, Central Asia, Pakistan, and India. The agreement would allow the U.S. armed forces use of three former Soviet military bases in Tajikistan for bombing raids and helicopter-borne incursions into Afghanistan. A U.S.-led inspection team dispatched to the area to evaluate the bases will also examine military facilities in Kyrgyzstan and Kazakhstan. U.S. forces are already stationed in neighboring Uzbekistan.

The bases, one of which is only 30 miles from the Tajik-Afghan border, would significantly strengthen the position of U.S. air power against Afghanistan, as well as Washington's military weight in the strategic and resource-rich Silk Road region. Up to now, U.S. and British planes have mainly flown from aircraft carriers in the Arabian Sea more than 1,000 miles from Afghanistan. B-52s are based in the British colony of Diego Garcia in the Indian Ocean.

Rumsfeld gained the Russian defense minister's go-ahead to use the bases before he arrived in Tajikistan. Moscow is also helping identify targets for U.S. and British bombs.

Washington and London's intensifying air assault includes carpet bombing by the B-52s, flying beyond the range of Afghan fire. Air Force cargo planes have begun targeting government troop positions with 15,000-pound "Daisy Cutters," the most powerful non-nuclear bomb in the U.S. arsenal. Designed to explode above the ground, this bomb sprays burning shrapnel for hundreds of feet, sucks oxygen out of the air, and opens a crater the size of five football fields. Anyone within 200 feet of the blast is obliterated. "They make a heck of a bang when they go off, and the intent is to kill people," said Marine Gen. Peter Pace, vice chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff.  
 
'We wanted the villagers dead'
The Afghan government stated on November 2 that 1,500 people, most of them civilians, have died in the attacks. Among the victims were residents of the village of Chowkar-Karez, about 50 miles north of Kandahar. After AC-130 gunships bombed and strafed the village on October 22, reporters described finding huge craters, pulverized houses, bomb fragments, and 18 unmarked graves.

Responding to questions about targeting the village, an unidentified Pentagon official told the press that the village was "a fully legitimate target" since Taliban troops had been present. "The people there are dead because we wanted them dead," he said.

Survivors revealed the slaughter to members of Human Rights Watch. "There were no Taliban in the village," said Ahmed, a 20-year-old mechanic. "There were no tanks or Taliban cars. They just killed innocent people.... The plane saw us, and they opened fire."

In a rare report from inside Afghanistan, the November 5 New York Times described a visit by 26 foreign journalists to Kandahar, which has been pounded by U.S. bombings for the past month. Crowds in the central bazaar gathered around the reporters' vehicles, "cursing, shouting," reported the paper. "Stop the bombing!" some people yelled. The reporter said, "Others demanded an answer. 'Why are you doing this to us?'" Electrical power to Kandahar and neighboring Helmand province had earlier been cut when U.S. planes damaged a hydroelectric dam at Lashkargah.

At a press conference November 7 Rumsfeld expressed satisfaction with the course of the war. "There is no question that the effectiveness of the bombing is vastly improved as you have people on the ground in communication with aircraft overhead," he said, referring to the role played by U.S. Special Operations forces inside the country. Their numbers, now at least in the hundreds, are being steadily increased by the U.S. command. "We have a number of teams cocked and ready to go" into Afghanistan, Rumsfeld has stated.  
 
Preparations for ground war
"After four weeks of fighting, the military is girding itself for the second and most complex phase of the campaign," reported the November 5 New York Times. "The first phase relied exclusively on air strikes. This second stage is supposed to involve raids by American, and eventually British, Special Operations forces."

While U.S. operatives have been deployed in the south of Afghanistan to supposedly link up with opponents of the Taliban government, the majority of imperialist forces are in the north, where the opposition Northern Alliance controls about 5 percent of Afghan territory. The U.S. is supplying them with food, weapons, and winter gear.

U.S. secretary of state Colin Powell made clear that the bombing will not be halted for Ramadan, whatever the expressions of concern of governments in the Middle East. "Nothing about this coalition is constraining. The president can do anything he wants," he said.

A glimpse of the stiff Taliban resistance that can be expected in the face of any ground offensive was provided by an October 20 raid on Taliban buildings outside Kandahar. The Pentagon, which has sought to tightly control the flow of war news, has reacted sharply as the facts have come to light.

New Yorker journalist Seymour Hersh reported November 2 that the 100 Delta Force soldiers who, backed up by gunships and 200 Army Rangers, attacked the compound of Mullah Omar, were forced to stage a hurried retreat in the face of heavy fire by Taliban forces. One had his foot blown off, two others also received serious wounds, and nine were injured less seriously. The Taliban "scared the crap out of everyone," a senior military officer told Hersh.

Gen. Richard Myers, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, who had earlier claimed that this raid "accomplished our objectives," denied Hersh's story and said that no commandos had been wounded in the raid.

"The after-action arguments in the military command over how best to wage a ground war continued last week," wrote Hersh. "We'll get there, but it's going to get ugly," one officer told the journalist. Hersh reiterated his story November 6, saying that the Delta Force was "throwing a message over the fence, to the leadership, really, through me."

"British commandos are there now and they're trying to work out a different way of operating," Hersh said. "The British want to go in big. Set up a firebase in the middle of Taliban territory and say, hey, we're here, come and get us."  
 
Bases in Tajikistan
The team inspecting the bases in Tajikistan includes officers from the armed forces in Britain and Canada--both of which have already promised to send special forces into Afghanistan--the Netherlands, and Turkey. The Turkish police have cracked down on demonstrations against the war, detaining 50 people at one protest in Istanbul on November 1. Public opinion polls in the officially Muslim country have been running at 80 percent against the deployment.

In contrast to its response to the Turkish commitment, Washington has been "hardly thrilled" by offers of military support from other European allies and rivals, according to the November 7 New York Times. Until now, "Washington has for the most part ignored offers of help.... The feeling is that more players mean more back-seat drivers," reported the paper, obliquely referring to the tensions and conflicts among the imperialist powers.

After initial reluctance Washington formally accepted the Italian government's plans to contribute attack helicopters, fighter jets, and an armored regiment. Rome is also considering a further commitment of four warships. Some 1,000 servicemen could be involved, said Italian defense minister Antonio Martino. The French government plans to send a smaller force comprising intelligence agents and ships performing "logistical and surveillance" tasks.

In South Asia, the Pakistani regime has declared stronger support for the brutal and protracted imperialist assault that is now unfolding, in spite of the protests that continue to shake the country (see "Thousands in Pakistan protest Musharraf's support for U.S.war"). As the carpet-bombing began in earnest at the end of October, military ruler Gen. Pervez Musharraf withdrew his stated reservations about the open-ended character of the war. "One has to achieve the objective of a military operation," he said.

In late October the Pakistani secret police took their cooperation with Washington to a new stage when they seized a Yemeni microbiology student and handed him over to U.S. authorities. Twenty-seven-year-old Jamil Qasim Saeed Mohammed was wanted by U.S. authorities as a suspect in the October 2000 explosion of the U.S. naval destroyer the USS Cole.  
 
U.S. rulers set new demands on Iraq
Meanwhile, the U.S. rulers continue floating reasons to target Iraq. With claims of Iraq's ties to the anthrax scare receding as an excuse, U.S. officials are now preparing to renew demands on Baghdad to allow United Nations weapons inspectors into the country, on the grounds of Iraq's alleged programs to develop biological weapons. "There have been a lot of contacts between Iraq and al-Qaeda," claimed one U.S. defense official.

The Bush administration has also assumed broad new powers to choke off funds to 22 foreign organizations that it deems to be "terrorist." The U.S. Department of State can now take "wider action against those who back the groups and...deny access to U.S. financial markets to foreign banks that do not cooperate in the crackdown," reported the November 3 Washington Post.

The groups include Hamas, Hezbollah, Islamic Jihad, and the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, all identified with the fight against the Israeli occupation of Palestine; the Basque nationalist group ETA; and the Real Irish Republican Army.

As of November 5, U.S. authorities had arrested and detained 1,182 people in a roundup carried out under the rubric of investigating the September 11 attacks. The November 5 New York Times noted "how little information is publicly known" about the detainees, nearly 200 of whom have been held by the Immigration and Naturalization Service solely on immigration charges. The November 6 Washington Post reported that "of 235 detainees identified by the newspaper at least 75 had been released."

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