Post 9/11: What is NATO doing in Afghanistan?
The world is remembering the eight anniversary of the 9/11 attacks on the World Trade Center, which killed nearly 3,000 people, but tens of thousands of others now mourn the deaths of those who unvoluntarily paid the price.
The post-9/11 "war on terror" has been the cause of death of 100,000 civilians just in Iraq (documented by Iraqbodycount.org). In Afghanistan, Nato forces have fueled a never-ending war against the Taliban, in hopes of 'reestablishing democracy'. Oddly enough, instead of democracy, what Afghans have seen is the rise of opium cultivation accross the country.
Afghanistan's opiate output rose dramatically since 2001, when the United States invaded the country in response to the 9/11 attacks and overthrew the Taliban. This was a drastic turn from the Bush Administration's drug policy before the attacks, when it had, in fact, rewarded the Taliban in May, 2001 for controlling the opium crop with $43 million in aid.
And even though opium cultivation fell by 22% in 2009, Afghanistan is still the world's leading producer of opium, and it supplies 90% of the world's heroin.
Western officials talk little of the fact that when the Taliban were in power, from 1996 to 2001, opium production in Helmand was eliminated completely. Newspapers alledge repeatedly that the Taliban is financing itself with sales of heroin. The media's favourite estimate of the profit made by the Taliban is $100m a year. How do they know? Second, which Taliban make this money? There is no unified command. There are at least 14 different groups being called "Taliban". Nato officials are probably the source of most claims about the drug trade in Afghanistan. Can they be trusted?
Helmand cultivates the most opium in the country. At the same time, it witnessed a Nato-conducted set of airstrikes that killed 45 afghan civilians in 2007. In July, 2009, Operation Strike the Sword was launched in the province, the largest airlift offensive since the Vietnam War, and worsened soldiers' death toll.
Nato forces are now facing a double-war: a war against the Taliban and a war against opium. And we can add Pakistan, who is becoming more relevant in the Afghan War due to its ties to the Taliban and the US. The United Nations has already considered the war against opium a failure:
The United Nations considers efforts to eradicate the crop to be a failure. Only 5,351 hectares of opium were eradicated in 2009 and 5,480 hectares last year, less than 4 percent of the amount planted. A total of 99 people involved in eradication were killed in the past two years. Although around 90 percent of the world's opium comes from Afghanistan, only 2 percent is seized within the country.
Former UN Ambassador Richard Holbrooke tackles the thorny issue of the Bush administration’s counter-narcotics policy in Afghanistan -– calling the billion-dollar-per-year plan the “single most ineffective program in the history of American foreign policy.” According to him, in addition to wasting money, the policy only strengthens the Taliban and al-Qaeda.
Even when Gordon Brown defends Nato's involvement in the war stating that it is crucial "to prevent terrorist attacks in Britain and across the world by dealing with the terrorist threat", eight years later the threat is not gone, and in some cases it has gotten worse. Terrorist attacks are still taking place all over the world, especially in Asia, and the Afghans are poorer now than ever.
The number of civilian casualties seems to be whats really increasing the threat of terrorism. In 2009, as more troops arrive in the torn-appart country of Afghanistan, the lessons left by the 9/11 attacks remain yet to be learned.