It is now more than 15 years since the United States, with the willing complicity and assistance of Australia, invaded Afghanistan. The ostensible reason for the invasion was that the Taliban government was harbouring Osama bin Laden, the alleged mastermind of the 9/11 attacks, in the United states a few weeks earlier, and was refusing to hand him over to American justice.
In the weeks following 9/11 few questioned either the official narrative of that day, or the US government’s claim of the Afghan government’s “refusal” to hand over bin Laden.
The Afghan government had in fact denied any involvement in the 9/11 attacks. Furthermore they asked for evidence that bin Laden was in fact responsible, and if that evidence was forthcoming they would deliver bin Laden to a suitable international tribunal to be tied and judged.
No such evidence was ever forthcoming. Neither has any evidence been produced to this day, fifteen years later, that bin Laden was in fact responsible for the events of that day. The man himself denied any involvement, and the fake videos later produced by the Americans served only to reinforce the point.
The lack of any evidence was never going to be a deterrent to invasion and occupation because, as we now know, the decision to invade Afghanistan was made in July 2001, well before the events of 9/11. The actual reasons for the invasion had more to do with securing an oil and gas pipeline from the rich Caspian Sea basin and other geopolitical factors that will be returned to.
Article 51 of the UN Charter provides a very limited basis for one country to attack another. It can do so in self-defence, itself a concept very narrowly construed, or it can do so pursuant to a resolution of the UN Security Council. Neither justification existed here.
Even if either had existed, it would not have justified a 15 year occupation and almost continuous warfare during which millions of Afghanis have been killed, wounded, or forced into exile.
To assist the invasion, the US recruited the services of the Northern Alliance, a group of warlords from the north of the country whom the Taliban had never defeated. They dominated the lucrative drug traffic from that region.
There were also a group of Pashtun warlords who were active in the southeastern regions of the country. With the Taliban defeated, which happened in a very short time, a network was therefore already in place for large scale resumption of the opium and heroin trade.
According to the UN Office of Drugs and Crime, the heroin crop had been reduced by 94% to 185 tonnes following a Taliban ban in 2000. In the first year of occupation following the October 2001 invasion, heroin production rose to 3400 tonnes and in 2003 accounted for 62% of Afghanistan’s Gross domestic Production (GDP).
By 2007 the annual harvest had risen to 8200 tonnes and represented 53% of the country’s GDP. Even more startlingly, Afghanistan accounted for 93% of the world’s supply.
Again according to the UN Office on Drugs and Crime, opium production rose by 43% in 2016 over 2015. The total land area under opium cultivation rose by 10% in 2016 over 2015 to 201,000 hectares.
Conversely, eradication programs, the responsibility of the provincial governors, decreased by 91% with just 355 hectares eradicated.
Some of the revenue from taxes on opium production and the sale of opium or its refined product, heroin, go to the Taliban to finance their ongoing and increasingly successful war against the “government” in Kabul. The now control a larger land area than at any time since the invasion in 2001. Without continued foreign military support it is doubtful if the Kabul government would last more than a few weeks at best.
Even to call it a “government” is a generous interpretation. Its writ barely extends beyond the Kabul city limits and in recent months even that has been challenged.
Afghanistan’s Police force, ostensibly trained by Australian “advisers” among other foreign forces, exists largely on paper and is a byword for corruption. Its paper personnel are known as “ghost forces” and the salaries paid to the “ghosts” line the pockets of corrupt local officials.
In May 2012 the then Gillard Labor government in Australia signed a “Comprehensive Long Term Partnership” with the Afghanistan government. It is full of fine sentiments, including paragraph 12 which states:
“the Governments reaffirm their commitment to ongoing cooperation in conducting capacity development activities and other traditional areas of law enforcement, which could include countering narcotics, terrorism, people smuggling and transnational organized crime.” (emphasis added)
As the figures quoted above make abundantly clear, the “countering narcotics” component has been almost completely unsuccessful, and if there are any successes in the other areas cited, there is a dearth of evidence to support it.
The elimination of the narcotics traffic has never been an American priority, although the western media are loath to discuss it. On the contrary, as Alfred McCoy and others have documented, the distribution and sale of narcotics has served a number of American geopolitical purposes.
The CIA for example, has used the sale of narcotics as a source of “off the books” financing of its worldwide clandestine operations. This has included heroin from the Burma-Thailand ‘golden triangle’ through the 19501, 1960s 1970s and 1980s; Colombian cocaine distributed throughout Latin America and north into the United States, and Mexican marijuana. As Daniel Hopsicker has shown, Mena Arkansas during the time Bill Clinton was Governor, was an important entry point for Colombian cocaine.
Heroin was and remains the most lucrative source of revenue, and as noted, Afghanistan provides 93% of the world’s supply. From Afghanistan the heroin is transported via American military bases to be distributed in Iran, Turkey, Central Asia, Russia and China.
According to the United Nations and also the US State Department’s 2013 “International Narcotics Control Strategy” Azerbaijan, Turkey and Bulgaria (all NATO countries) are important transit points.
Other important bases used for heroin distribution are Camp Bond Steel in Kosovo (a huge US military base that rarely features in western media and certainly not its key role in heroin distribution) and Kyrgyzstan’s Manas airbase.
The proceeds of heroin sale and distribution are a key source of financing the operations known as Gladio B, that is, the use of jihadist terrorists to destabilize countries insufficiently compliant with the wishes and geopolitical goals of the United States. This is a policy begun in the 1980s when it was known as Operation Cyclone. Islamic terrorists were trained in Pakistan and then infiltrated into Afghanistan, Southwestern China, and the Muslim dominant republics of the then Soviet Union in the greater Caspian Basin area.
The names may change, but the policy remains the same. The most obvious manifestation of this is the CIA and Pentagon support for the so-called “moderate” rebels in Iraq and Syria. That terminology is a complete misnomer. A ‘moderate terrorist’ is an oxymoron. There is also overwhelming evidence that the US and its allies (including Australia) support through arms, training, hospital care and financing the ‘non-moderate’ head choppers of ISIS or Daesh. All of these jihadist groups were and are instruments of US foreign policy.
The other major reason for maintaining the occupation of Afghanistan (after the oil pipeline and heroin) is that Afghanistan forms part of the more than 400 US military bases that encircle China.
There is no legitimate defensive reason for that encirclement. It is clearly part of the policy of intended “containment” by which it is really meant the prevention by all possible means of the re-emergence of China as part of a multi-polar world order. The exact same policy drives the eastward expansion of NATO to the Russian borders.
The so-called “pivot to Asia” of which US Presidential candidate Hilary Clinton was a principal architect, is a further manifestation of the same policy. Provocative military actions by the United States and its allies have the same broad geopolitical objective of creating problems for the PRC. As recent developments in Korea, the Philippines and Japan have shown, Asian and Eurasian nations have little desire to become embroiled in American provocations when their national interest clearly points to having a closer accommodation with the PRC.
The importance of Afghanistan therefore lies far beyond western protestations of ‘security’ and improving the lives of women and children. The October 2016 media release from the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT) merely helps to perpetuate the wilful blindness to the realities of western involvement in Afghanistan.
The usual bland generalities about helping girls attend school, enhancing Afghanistan’s security and stability and building the capacity of the Afghan Police Force without acknowledging even obliquely the major issues highlighted above, only demonstrates that Australian foreign policy occupies some sort of parallel universe.
The detachment from reality is complete when the media release concludes that Australia’s support “helps to ensure that Afghanistan does not again become a safe haven for international terrorists.”
If that was truly the objective of Australian foreign policy then they need to look longer and harder at the real world, including the world their unthinking alliance with the Americans is helping to create, instead of producing policy statements that are oblivious to that reality.
In Afghanistan, 15 years of allied occupation have made the world a measurably more dangerous place. By ignoring the geopolitical realities Australia has contributed to that worsening situation.
James O’Neill, an Australian-based Barrister at Law, exclusively for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook”.