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Afghanistan: Charlie Wilson And America's 30-Year War

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On February 13 the United States and NATO led an assault with 15,000 Western and Afghan government troops against Marjah, a town in Helmand province with a population of 75,000. One soldier for every five civilians. The NATO contingent involved in the offensive includes troops from Britain, Canada, Denmark, Estonia and the U.S.

In the opening hours of the massive attack, "the biggest air[borne] assault ever undertaken by coalition forces in the country," [1] two rockets fired from a NATO High Mobility Artillery Rocket System slammed into a house outside Marjah and killed twelve civilians. General Stanley McChrystal, commander of all U.S. and NATO Forces in the country, described the incident as "regrettable."

An account from a British newspaper described the situation in the town after the assault began: "The populous Taliban stronghold of Marjah has, say residents, become a ghost town. Shops are shuttered, streets deserted and most inhabitants are hiding inside their mud-brick houses wondering when their 'day of doom' will come." [2]

The operation is the largest staged by the U.S. and its NATO allies since the war in Afghanistan was launched in early October of 2001. It is the opening salvo in the plan for escalation of the counterinsurgency war in that nation announced by U.S. President Barack Obama at the West Point Military Academy last December 3. [3]

Obama's strategy is based on the COMISAF (Commander International Assistance Security Force) Initial Assessment of General McChrystal issued on August 30, 2009. In that document the former head of the Joint Special Operations Command, from which post he took charge of U.S. and NATO troops in Afghanistan, presented the blueprint for transitioning from what had been designated a counterterrorist strategy to a counterinsurgency one.

There is no war without an adversary, and McChrystal identified the targets of the campaign that over 150,000 U.S. and NATO troops will soon be waging: "The major insurgent groups in order of their threat to the mission are: the Quetta Shura Taliban (05T), the Haqqani Network (HQN), and the Hezb-e Islami Gulbuddin (HiG)." [4]

The last two groups are named after their founders and leaders, Jalaluddin Haqqani and Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, respectively.

Haqqani and Hekmatyar lost an old friend and colleague on February 10, former 12-term U.S. Congressman Charlie Wilson. The hero of one of the most successful American films of 2007-2008, Charlie Wilson's War, he has been eulogized in the press and by his former partner in arming and training the likes of Haqqani and Hekmatyar - and Osama bin Laden - current U.S. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, who was Deputy Director of Central Intelligence from 1986 to 1989 and who said in a 1999 speech, "CIA had important successes in covert action. Perhaps the most consequential of all was Afghanistan where CIA, with its management, funnelled billions of dollars in supplies and weapons to the mujahideen...." [5]

Gates was referring to Operation Cyclone, the largest covert operation conducted by the CIA and indeed by any agency or nation. The full title of the book by George Crile the movie Charlie Wilson's War is based on is Charlie Wilson's War: The Extraordinary Story of the Largest Covert Operation in History.

The bulk of the billions of dollars Gates boasted of supplying to arm the Pakistan-based Mujahideen was directed to Gulbuddin Hekmatyar and Jalaluddin Haqqani. Those two are now identified by the same Pentagon that Gates heads up as two of the three targets of the world's largest and longest war.

The day Charlie Wilson died, Gates celebrated him as "an extraordinary
patriot" for "liberating Afghanistan from Soviet occupation." [6] On February 23 Wilson will receive a graveside service with full military honors at Arlington National Cemetery.

As Gates praised his former colleague for playing a decisive role in arming and training the forces of Hekmatyar and Haqqani, so Wilson was effusive in his praise of both the latter.

During the first Afghan war of 1979-1992 Wilson was a guest of Jalaluddin Haqqani in eastern Afghanistan in 1987 and referred to his host as "goodness personified." When after September 11, 2001 Haqqani was named number three on the U.S. most-wanted list after Osama bin Laden and Mullah Muhammad Omar, Wilson said: "That did give me pause for thought. But Haqqani took care of me, and I'll never forget that. I'd love to see him again. I would try to persuade him that the Taleban was a force for destruction which he definitely wasn't." [7]

Old friendships are the firmest.

An editorial in The Times of London two days after Wilson's death was more measured than the uniformly laudatory obituaries and tributes in the American media - Britain has now lost more soldiers in Afghanistan than in any conflict since Korea and Malaya in the 1950s - reminding its readers that "In helping to beat the Soviet menace, Charlie Wilson unleashed a monster. The jihadi commanders who fought with the funds that he provided in Afghanistan remember the Congressman fondly. His fellow countrymen are now fighting the guerrillas that he helped to arm and the civilians who are suffering at their hands might be more reserved about his legacy." [8]

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Rick Rozoff has been involved in anti-war and anti-interventionist work in various capacities for forty years. He lives in Chicago, Illinois. Is the manager of the Stop NATO international email list at: http://groups.yahoo.com/group/stopnato/
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