The American Occupation of Afghanistan and the Birth of a National Liberation Movement
Edited Transcript of a Public lecture by professor Marc Herold, Massachussetts Institute of Technology M.I.T.,
I shall discuss ten points:
· The Taliban entering
· Arrival of” the guest” (Osama bin Laden) in May 1996 and Al Qaeda’s agenda (very different from that of the Taliban);
· 9/11 and the implementing of the neo-conservatives’ Project for a New American Century (PNAC);
· Crucial battles in the northern plains of
· Begin of slow reconstitution of the Taliban, 2002-4. US anti-guerrilla operations alienate increasing numbers of common Afghans. By early 2004, I could write about the “Taliban’s Second Coming”:
· Key point: the way the Americans (and later NATO) fought the Afghan resistance built a national liberation movement. People who fight a foreign occupation are a resistance, not terrorists. Provide lots of concrete examples of this;
· Analysis of what I mean by the three words in the Afghan “national liberation movement.” Differences exist with other national liberation movements as in
· The primary struggle now is to oust the foreign occupiers;
· End with three stark photos depicting maiming, abduction and fear.
Let me, in the words of Richard Nixon, “be perfectly clear” about some matters which I do not wish to speak about. I am not defending the Taliban and/or the Afghan resistance, but keep in mind that as far as retrograde social practices, the Taliban hold no monopoly on that in
The great African revolutionary leader Amilcar Cabral connected culture to national resistance,
Whenever Goebbels, the brain behind Nazi propaganda, heard anyone speak of culture, he pulled out his pistol. That goes to show that the Nazis who were and are the most tragic expression of imperialism and its thirst for domination even if they were, all of them sick like Hitler, had a clear idea of the value of culture as a factor in the resistance to foreign domination.
The Taliban marched into
The reach of the Pashtun Taliban was never national with areas in the north (Tajik, Uzbek), center (Hazaras) and the west resisting. During October 1996-October 2001, bloody fighting continued across northern and central
The brunt of the Taliban’s conservative, patriarchal social policies was felt in
Former mujahideen, disillusioned with the chaos that had followed their victory in1989, became the nucleus of a movement that grouped around Mullah Mohammad Omar, a former minor mujahid from
The Taliban inherited a devastated country, torn apart during six years of warlord in-fighting. Few state structures or institutions existed. Moreover, the background of the Taliban hardly prepared them for national governance. Close to a half of
A woman and her son walk along
merchants, the avenue was destroyed by four years of fighting. 1996 © Didier Lefevre (Source: http://www.lensculture.com/webloglc/mt_files/archives/2004/12/ )
During 1994-96, no relations existed between the Taliban and Osama Bin Laden. But a new element had been introduced in 1996: bin Laden arrived in
Osama bin Laden arrived in Jalalabad with 180 Arab followers on a chartered Ariana Boeing 727 cargo jet from the
As bin Laden established a new safe base and political ties, he spoke about attacks on Western military targets in the
The launching of the neoconservatives’ PNAC plan (or grand design) meant that no compromise with the Taliban would be accepted. Once the U.S bombing had begun, Mullah Omar made a couple serious attempts at compromise. All were immediately rejected by the Bush gang. Details may be found in my manuscript, Blown Away.
Aerial attacks such as the one in October 2001 by an AC-130 upon entire Afghan villages contributed to a growing sense amongst common Afghans that the foreigner was terrorizing the nation. By the way, this was nine years before WikiLeaks in 2010 released the video, “Collateral Murder” of the U.S Apache helicopter assault upon innocent Iraqis.
During October – December 2001, some 3,000 innocent Afghan civilians - about the same number as died on 9/11 - were killed upon impact by U.S bombs (to which many others need be added – injured who later died, refugees in camps who froze to death or starved, etc.). The Taliban quickly lost territory faced by an unreachable onslaught of U.S air power, purchased mercenaries/thugs of the
The following chart plots the civilian victims in each tragedy. As the body count of the World Trade Center [WTC] was revised downward from the initial high of 6,700 to the 2,819 in 2002, that in Afghanistan rose from 20-37 on October 8th to 3,215. The twin lines of ignominy cross around January 15, 2002. But in truth, the Afghan civilian casualties far exceeded the WTC deaths already during the second week of the
The Twin Tragedies: Cumulative Civilian Deaths
Arundhati Roy added an important point:
The bombing of
Afghanistanis not revenge for New Yorkand . It is yet another act of terror against the people of the world. Each innocent person that is killed must be added to, not set off against, the grisly toll of civilians who died in Washington New Yorkand . Washington
Conventional-style ground battles raged across the northern plains of
Mullah Omar and the Taliban leadership “did the right tactical thing” to abandon
What had been the Taliban government quickly disintegrated. Slowly three groups reconstituted themselves – one led by the veteran anti-Soviet fighter and brilliant tactician, former Minister of Border Affairs in the Taliban government, Jalaluddin Haqqani, and the other a loose grouping based in
I want to now make and document a critical point: the way the U.S carried out its occupation of
But other factors played as well: (1) violation of the sanctity of Afghan homes by marauding U.S ground forces; (2) widely publicized desecration of the Koran; (3) mistreatment of Afghan female family members by occupation forces; (4) the abducting and/or beating of Afghan family members; (5) the old U.S. practice going back to Indochina of secretive night-time assassination raids carried out by U.S special operations forces; and (6) systematically labeling civilians killed by US/NATO occupation forces as “insurgents” or Taliban
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Whenever these tall people with blue eyes come to our village, we become very scared," said eight-year-old Saira Bibi as she fetched water from a well in Loi Karez. "They take away people and ask us about the Taliban. I haven't seen the Taliban. I don't know who these Taliban are.
A similar perspective is offered in Qalat, Zabul province, in January 2004:
... For many people a much more visible aspect of American intervention is the steady stream of civilian casualties. And in Qalat, there is hostility to patrols by American Special Forces. From a Humvee a man gets out wearing a Stetson and sheriff’s badge, and proceeds to have a loud argument with a colleague carrying a sawn-off shotgun. As they move away, the locals stare after them. "We are so unhappy when we see them," says Rahmatullah, a bearded 29-year-old shopkeeper watching from across the road. "When the Russians came here we fought to save our liberty and independence. So also Americans came... and so we will be fighting them.
During a search of the
Scared Afghans in the southern
provinceof Kandaharhid holy Quran and other religious items before troops searched their village, afraid the Americans would kill them for being Muslims. United States
U.S occupation forces of the 82nd Airborne raided homes in the
Afghan woman waits as U.S. Marines attached to the 2nd Battalion 2nd Marines from
I am proud to have helped publicize the following rare photo. A collection of 1,000 photos of
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Photo 128. Member of 82nd Airborne, Stacey White, body searches Afghan women in a village in the Baghran valley, Helmand province, as U.S. forces moved northward village by village, house by house carrying out searches, confiscating items, going through houses and personal belongings, February 24, 2003 [A.P. photo, Aaron Favila].
A female American soldier frisks Afghan women at a village during Operation Deliberate Strike, some 40 miles north of
The following shots by German photo journalist Perry Kretz were published in the German weekly, Der Stern:
These photos by German war photographer, Perry Kretz, were taken in the fall of 2004 during a raid by
A French journalist visiting
One quiet afternoon in
Kandahar, a convoy of military vehicles passed by. In the pharmacy where I was making a purchase, men who had been chatting animatedly stopped and watched the personnel carriers drive slowly by carrying young American soldiers chewing gum and pointing their rifles defensively at the locals. After the last armored vehicle passed, one of the Afghans spat in their tire tracks, and mumbled, "Inshallah, they will leave soon. U.S.
An apocryphal story tells of a Taliban leader in the mountains where
By 2004, the Taliban were showing signs of a second coming as I wrote about in February 2004:
“The Taliban's Second Coming”
The specter of
Vietnambegan taking shape in 2002 with raids upon compounds, villages, and neighborhoods of cities. The forced entries, frisking and abuse of persons (including women and children), the ransacking of homes, and the abductions merely served to heighten Afghan animosity towards the foreign occupier. John Pilger saw evidence of new U.S. Vietnamsin: U.S.servicemen saying that once they leave their secured base, they are in a combat zone; renewed "search and destroy" missions carried out in villages across ; and in the targeting of civilians (for arrest or execution). Daniel Bergner who accompanied a Afghanistan U.S.force into the countryside south of Kandahar, reports the enemy is everywhere and nowhere, and Liz Sly wrote about the same thing in eastern . Nick Meo provided a superb first-hand account of the sheer unknown, the dangers and frustrations experienced by young American soldiers on a nine-month tour of duty in Afghanistan . Others noted the resurgence of the Taliban and its allies - Al Qaeda and Gulbuddin Hekmatyar's Hezb-i-Islami group - by mid-2003. In June 2003, the Taliban publicly named a new 10-man leadership council, including such veterans as former Defense Minister Mullah Obaidullah, Minister and Commander Jalaluddin Haqqani, and Commanders Mullah Dadullah Kakar and Mullah Akhtar Usmani. Mullah Usmani led Taliban forces in the south in late 2001 and was named in 2001 as successor to Mullah Omar should he perish. Dadullah harks from Uruzgan and Usmani from Afghanistan Helmand. (Source: Marc W. Herold, “The Taliban’s Second Coming, Cursor.org (February 29, 2004) at http://cursor.org/stories/secondcoming.html)
Both Usmani and Dadullah were later killed in U.S air strikes. The rest is history: soaring Afghan civilian, escalating violence, local military and US/NATO occupation forces deaths.
The following systems’ chart highlights the essential feedback elements at work in the
The essential link is that
A recent video of how the U.S/NATO military actions contribute to the building of a movement of national liberation to oust the foreign occupiers was released by the Brave New American Foundation which confirms what NATO forces repeatedly denied: U.S. and allied forces in Afghanistan killed dozens of people in the Sangin district of Helmand Province on July 23, 2010. Mohamed Ahmadzai, a resident of Sangin where this U.S attack took place, explained clearly what happened. He told independent reporters how he was forced to bury two daughters, his sister and wife after a rocket fired by coalition forces hit a soft target: a house full of woman and children who had fled to the nearby
"We gather(ed) all of the body parts, some were missing legs or heads, we placed them in a bag and buried them," Ahmadzai said. "We were able to identify them through the clothes they were wearing and by their shoes. The body parts we couldn't identify we put into a piece of cloth and then buried them. Those chunks of flesh, blood and bone were from so many people not just one, but we couldn't identify them so we put those body parts into an individual grave and buried them as though they belonged to one person..."
On July 1, 2002, I reported on the U.S aerial attack less than one hundred miles away from Regai upon a wedding party in Kakarak, Uruzgan province in which 63 civilians were massacred. Nothing changes. But where were The Nation magazine, the Brave New Foundation, the Tom Engelhardts, etc. nine years ago when I was documenting at Cursor.org the human carnage resulting from U.S military actions in Afghanistan? Answer: all cozily housed inside the humanitarian imperialist tent alongside the likes of Laura Bush, Samantha Power, and Michael Ignatieff. Rare voices of dissent in
As I wrote two years ago,
The perceived poison of a foreign occupation, the rampant corruption, the all-too-frequent desecration of Islam by the occupiers, the sheer folly of the US/NATO seeking to extend the writ of a central government to the Pashtun tribal regions , the spiraling count of civilian deaths has shifted the Afghan struggle towards a war of national liberation. Anatol Lieven of King’s College (
I realize that my use of the phrase “national liberation movement” may not sit well with some people. How can a national liberation movement exist in a largely pre-modern, rural society? Isn’t a national liberation movement or front part of the anti-colonial struggle? The West had no qualms labeling Afghan resistance to Soviet occupation as a “war of national liberation.” For example, the legal scholar W. Michael Reisman cited the 1949 Geneva Conventions which argued that peoples engaged in resisting the suppression of their right of self-determination are fighting what has come to be known as a “war of national liberation.” The phrase illustrates the contest over assigned meaning.
Let me briefly discuss the three terms – national, liberation and movement. The current Afghan resistance movement comprises various factions: the Quetta Shura led by Mullah Omar; the Haqqani group based in eastern
The resistance differs greatly from other national liberation movements like those in
We saw the fragile unity at the national level in the Taliban movement in its tenuous relationship with the Al Qaeda group. The latter had clear national and international political agendas, whereas the Taliban’s focus was upon strengthening the Islamic emirate of
What the U.S-led occupation did was to provide the glue during 2003-6 to bring together disparate groups united in a fight against the foreign occupier (and his obvious corrupt, puppet regime in
An optimistic vision of
As my dear friends from RAWA put it, first get rid of the foreign oppressors, then we’ll focus upon the remaining home-bred ones. Is that not better than continued…..maiming……abductions……and fear?
Burned victims of a U.S. “precision” bombing in the Kajaki region arrived in October 2006 at the Emergency (Italia) Surgical Hospital in Lashkar Gah, Helmand Province (source: Maso Notarianni, “Burnt Children after a NATO Bomb Attack,” RAWA News (October 31, 2006) at http://www.rawa.org/temp/runews/2006/10/31/afghanistan-presumed-taliban.phtml ). Maso Notarianni is the editor of PeaceReporter, an online news magazine and news agency set up by the Missionary International Service News Agency and the humanitarian organisation Emergency. Emergency is an independent and neutral Italian organization founded in order to provide free, high quality medical and surgical treatment to the civilian victims of war, landmines and poverty. Its work around the world is possible thanks to the help of thousands of volunteers and supporters. Maso is married to Cecilia Strada, daughter of Gino Strada and Teresa Sarti, the founders of Emergency.
in November 2007 (photo by Reuters reproduced in
taken by Seamus Murphy shows a young “Girl in Ghulam Ali,” a village in the Shomali Plains where the
 See for example Katherine Viner, “Feminism as Imperialism. George Bush is not the First Empire-Builder to Wage War in the Name of Women,” The Guardian (September 21, 2002) at
 Feminist politics of clothing is discussed in Sarah Seltzer, “From Bikinis to Burqas, the Feminist Politics of Clothing,” RHRealityCheck.org (July 10, 2010) at
 The conclusion is inescapable. When using delivery-adjusted cost data as a proxy for accuracy, U.S./NATO "precision" bombing slaughters many more innocent Afghan civilians than does a Taliban suicide car bomber (from my “Suicide Car Bombs vs ‘Precision’ Bombs,” Frontline.
 From his “National Liberation and Culture,” Transition No. 45 (1974): 12-17
 Omar fought as a guerilla with the Harakat-i Inqilab-i Islami faction of the anti-Soviet Mujahideen under the command of Nek Mohammad. After the experience in the Soviet conflict, Mohammed Omar shifted his attention to his religious studies. He reportedly taught at a madrasah (Islamic religious school) near the
 Kathy Gannon, “Qadir Key Pashtun Leader for Karzai,” Associated Press (July 6, 2002)
 See Marc W. Herold, "Tratando de comprender los veinte años de guerra en Afganistán (1989-2009) y el 'momento unipolar' de Estados Unidos" ,in Enric Prat Carvajal (ed.), Las raíces históricas de los conflictos armados actuals (
1] Go to a 7-minute video of an attack by an AC-130U Specter gunship upon an Afghan village in October 2001. The video depicts U.S gunners firing directly upon people leaving the mosque, view at:
 From her “Brutality Smeared in Peanut Butter. Why
 Martin Bentham, "Omar Flees by Motorcycle to Escape Troops," Telegraph (January 6, 2002)
 Described by Philip Alston in 2008 in Joe Kay, “CIA Death Squads Killing with “Impunity” in Afghanistan,”
WSWS.org (May 19, 2008) at
and in Pratap Chatterjee, “The Secret Killers: Assassinations in Afghanistan and Task Force 373,” The Huffington Post (August 19, 2010)
 H.D.S. Greenway, “In Mideast, Time is not on
 As beautifully expressed in “The American public is conditionally tolerant of [military] casualties and consistently indifferent to collateral damage,” Dr. Karl P. Mueller,
 See my “Obama’s Unspoken Trade-Off: Dead US/NATO Occupation Troops versus Dead Afghan Civilians?”
 view 2 ½ minute video at http://seminal.firedoglake.com/diary/63771
 see my “Crashing the Wedding Party: Arrogance, Pentagon Speak and Spooky’s Carnage,” Cursor.org (July 8, 2002) at http://cursor.org/stories/kakarak.htm
 My original dossier was released on December 10, 2001 at the Cursor.org website. A slightly revised version can be found as “”A Dossier on Civilian Victims of United States’ Aerial Bombing of Afghanistan: A Comprehensive Accounting [revised],” Cursor.org (March 2002) at http://cursor.org/stories/civilian_deaths.htm
 Marc W. Herold, “More of the Same Packaged as Change. Barack Obama and
http://www.counterpunch.org/herold08062008.html. I have added the “…” in Lieven’s quotes
 the concept is explored in amongst many others, Nigel Harris, National Liberation (London and New York: I.B. Tauris & Co. Ltd, 1990)
 see amongst many others the editorial comment by the legal scholar, W. Michael Reisman, “The Resistance in
 Reisman, op. cit.: 908
 As falsely argued by David Whitehouse, “Afghanistan Sinking Deeper,” International Socialist Review No. 69 (Jan-Feb 2010: 12 at
 Details on Nigeria in Pade Badra, Imperialism and Ethnic Politics in Nigeria, 1960-1996 (Trenton, N.J.: Africa World Press, 1998): 72
 Samir Amin, “The Battlefields Chosen by Contemporary Imperialism: Conditions for an Effective Response from the South,” MRZINE.Monthly Review.org (20101) at
 “Interview: Taliban is Part of Will of Afghan People – WikiLeaks Chief,” The Voice of Russia (2010) at