Let’s start from the news: a 465-page dossier—after an investigation by the Inspector-General of the Australian Defense Force—that revealed that the Australian armed forces killed at least 39 Afghan civilians “outside of battle” between 2005 and 2016 (when Canberra withdrew from the conflict): there are 25 Australian Special Forces soldiers who must now answer for these crimes.
As a result, the Chief of Staff of the Australian Army made an official apology in Kabul—“I sincerely and unreservedly apologize”—for the torture, summary executions and the use of the practice of “blooding,” a sort of initiation into killing.
What does such news mean in the time of COVID-19? The truth is this is much like an Afghan Abu Ghraib, in a country that has known even worse massacres, such as that in Mazar-i-Sharif, about which our own Giuliana Sgrena has written since 2002, along with a litany of other massacres of civilians, “collateral damage” caused by NATO’s “humanitarian” raids.
Furthermore, according to Brown University, the number of civilian deaths in this conflict was 43,500 as of October 2019, and these were due to the joint responsibility of NATO, the government and the Taliban (the UN reported almost identical data). This new massacre is an opportunity to reflect on how we are spending our meagre finances in this pandemic era. We are talking about Italy’s military presence in Afghanistan, which is now 19 years old, the same age as that of the United States.
Not even the war in Vietnam lasted as long, and, just like that one, this represents a U.S. defeat. It was a military adventure started as revenge for the blowing up of the Twin Towers on September 11, 2001. The Taliban, until just two months before, were considered privileged interlocutors because of oil and gas interests, after having been brought to power by Western interests against “our” previous Mujahideen allies and with the decisive role of Pakistan. But they suddenly became enemies because they were harboring Bin Laden.
This overlooked the fact that the United States was also keen on such “hospitality,” having welcomed on American soil the blind Sheikh Omar Abdel Rahman, the moral author of the first attack on the Twin Towers in February 1993, who had been authorized to live in the United States since 1990 despite being on a blacklist of suspected terrorists. Using the same criteria, the U.S. might as well have bombed itself.
The US-NATO war in Afghanistan, together with the mirage of a resumption of civilian life—where women are marching on the frontlines in the defense of the few spaces they have conquered, undermined by the stigma of restrictive norms that have oppressed them and will continue to do so—has not led to any real pacifying of the country. Quite the opposite: the Taliban have actually strengthened their presence, and have remained actively in control of significant parts of the country.
This is yet another stalemate and disaster—as in other crisis areas where the West has imposed its supposed civilized character with the force of arms, and then closed its eyes to the rubble and the human beings who can do nothing but flee from those ruins. According to Brown University, 37 million people have fled from wars caused by U.S. and Western interventions; not to mention the bloody and asymmetric wake of the return of more or less “foreign fighters.”
So obvious is the tragedy that it has lent itself to the parasitic intervention of someone who certainly hasn’t chosen the “path of peace” to resolve international conflicts, but who instead was enticed even when real attempts at peace were underway—as for Iran and Cuba. We are talking about Trump, a living paradox whom we could call a warmongering isolationist.
Committed to “America First,” he is playing the card of troop withdrawal in the face of popular and social disappointment at the negative results of the many wars, Republican and/or Democratic, which have been started, notably, since 1991, since the end of the “Soviet front.”
It should not be forgotten (now that we have in mind the blackmail being practiced by Budapest and Warsaw) that the new societies that developed in the East have participated militarily, as colonized proxies, in the new war alliances.
And until now, the wars have been bipartisan. Not right-wing or left-wing—while the latter should reject war, at least in Italy, where this is inscribed in the Constitution, no less—but “Western,” of the new reunified West, from the European East to the Pacific.
It’s a giant bait-and-switch that is handing over the theatrical part of the peacemaker to Donald Trump on a silver platter. Who, right on the edge of the downfall of having to leave the White House because Joe Biden’s victory is now clear and proven, is beginning the withdrawal of the remaining American troops from the Afghan and Iraqi fronts—where the destruction has been massive and the civilian casualties have been in the hundreds of thousands, countries towards which there haven’t been any public apologies forthcoming.
This immediately aroused a patriotic pro-American reaction, both among the Republican and Democratic ranks: the Senate Majority Leader, the Republican Mitch McConnell—who is otherwise supporting Trump’s cant about alleged election fraud to the bitter end—has said that these withdrawals echo “the humiliating American departure from Saigon in 1975.” How much that defeat by the Viet Cong must still sting him, whose symbolic image was that of a Marine hanging from the rope of a helicopter leaving the roof of the U.S. embassy in a hurry. A new version of that image was used in November 2001 by CNN, but with the roles reversed: again a Marine hanging from a rope, but coming down from a helicopter, being dropped into recently bombed Afghan buildings.
So, what to do with the heavy burden of this rubble from war? And with the military expenses, which, after a careful spending review, are the following: Italy’s military expenditure for the mission in Afghanistan credibly amounts so far to almost €8.5 billion (in January 2019, Milex, the Observatory for Military Expenses, quantified the expenditure for the Italian military mission in Afghanistan alone at €7.7 billion); while the United States have spent more than $2 trillion so far for that particular war, according to an estimate by the New York Times as of December 2019.
NATO has the answer. Secretary Stoltenberg (whose name seems fitting, suggesting the Italian “stolto,” foolish) immediately made the announcement: even if Trump withdraws, the Alliance will continue the war. Is there still a need to expunge “Western dishonor”? So as not to end up like the Americans in Vietnam, we’ll end up getting involved in that Vietnam ourselves. And, of course, aligned and Atlantic-oriented Italy is silent and continues to take part in the Afghan war. What for? To take part in the killing of civilians? And all this in the context of the expenses for COVID and the social emergency, starting with health care.
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