It goes on and on and on, a black Theater of the Absurd. NATO truck convoys laden with every comfort imaginable that US war contractor dollars can buy , bottled water, frozen steaks, space heaters, air conditioners, new SUVs, anything really, roll into Kabul destined for military bases, embassies, and the universe of end-delivery points which comprise a major military occupation. The "burn rate" for the occupation, the military's term for the rate of spending, is over $8 billion a month or $10 million every hour, making it the most expensive war in US history. Along the way, the convoys pass in plain view of the refugee camps where 35,000 people fight day-to-day for meager survival. These are the internally displaced persons, or "IDPs," who have fled the fighting around their homes in other parts of Afghanistan.
There is no way to miss the camps as you enter or leave Kabul. They announce the city limits in every direction. In Kabul there is no Taliban, unless gathering for an occasional strike just to show that it can. But in general security is good. Men gather by the tens of thousands in the city squares each morning hoping to be picked up for a day of work, for $5 , much like illegal workers in this country can be seen at 5am in the parking lot of a Home Depot.
And in unheated tents and mud huts adults shiver away another night of bad or non-existent sleep, attempting to merely gather strength for next days' scavenging and search for work. Seeing their condensed breath from beneath inadequate blankets their children freeze or die from immune systems weakened by poor nutrition. In the frigid temperatures, in the 10's, children may roll out from under the blankets, and, in contact with bare dirt or mud floors, quickly have the heat drawn out of them and enter the stages of hypothermia. Since January 15, at least 23 children under 5 have died frozen to death in the camps.
The New York Times reports that:
The deaths occurred at two of the largest camps, Charahi Qambar (8 cold-related deaths), and Nasaji Bagrami (14 such deaths). Both camps are populated largely with refugees who fled the fighting in areas like Helmand Province in the south.
An alarming number of Afghans are now saying, despite their dislike of them and perceiving them as cruel and crazy, they were better off under the Taliban . When the Taliban was overthrown, the vast majority of Afghans rejoiced. The Taliban were few in numbers but had had a simple formula or enforcing its rule: fear. If a ten dollar bill was laying on the sidewalk, you could walk past the next day and it would still be there. Because there was only one penalty if you were accused of theft; having your hand chopped off.
The severity of this Kabul winter is unusual, the coldest in 20 years. But the utter state of unpreparedness, and lack of institutional response, after ten years of occupation has appalled aid workers. One German aid worker told the New York Times: "The fact that every year there's winter shouldn't come as a surprise."
Of course any emergency response now will be a short-term solution. What may be even more unforgivable is that a long-term solution to the chronic misery of Afghans, who still suffer horrendous rates of malnutrition among both children and adults, is available,tested , and waiting. The World Bank reports 60% stunting among children for lack of food and one-third of all Afghan children underweight. The clear solution is continually ignored by the Obama administration, congressional committees charged with overseeing development assistance, and the American media.
It is a myth that all parts of the Afghan government are corrupt and incompetent, or that the task of helping Afghans get on their feet in a non-imperialist manner, which allows ordinary Afghans to determine their own destiny, is too daunting. Beyond this, it is a fact that the reason Afghans are in this predicament goes back long before the US invasion of 2001, to the days when Carter National Security Advisor Zbigniew Brzezinski sought to give the Russians "their own Vietnam" through CIA meddling in Afghan affairs. In a nutshell, Brzezinski armed religiously conservative, rural, Islamist warlords who were long-time enemies of the modernizing Kabul government, because they represented the anti-Russian faction in a civil war.
The Russians intervened, brutally devastated the country, and got bogged down, just as Brzezinski had hoped. In a sense, rather than leave the Afghans to fight out their civil war, the US drew it out, tempted a third power into the middle of it, and now continues to inject both arms and money into an inherently unstable situation. The Pakistan-based Taliban now looks more like an interlude in the ongoing efforts of Afghans, of all ethnicities and tribes, to come together to settle their own affairs.
Critical to this process will be the removal of the dry tinder of civil war. This is nothing more than what has always been well-understood as a preventative for civil war: reparations or other forms of dignified assistance which put tools, materials, and technical assistance into the hands of men and women eager to rebuild their own country. Instead, the US is now ,in essence, paying fighting-age men to do the opposite.
By keeping unemployment at 40% and as high as 80% in war-ravaged regions., and at the same time continuing the flow of Department of Defense funding for the Taliban through transportation contracts ( as documented by the House subcommittee report "Warlord Inc.," ) the Taliban is placed in the enviable position of the employer of last resort. They pay the excellent wage for Afghanistan of $10 per day.
General Karl Eikenberry, former Commander of US Forces in Afghanistan, acknowledged in congressional testimony in 2007:
"Much of the enemy force is drawn from the ranks of unemployed men looking for wages to support their families"
The best way to keep an insurgency going is to pay both sides to fight. Remarkably, and completely ignored by the American press, before being appointed to head the CIA by Obama, General David Petraeus quietly fired the 2-star Admiral who was appointed to head the response to the revelation of Taliban funding by the US, Admiral Kathleen Dussault.An expert auditor, Dussault was replaced with a one-star with no experience in accounting.