THE ROVING EYE
Enduring Freedom until 2050
By Pepe Escobar
And it's one, two, three
what are we fighting for?
Don't ask me, I don't give a damn
next stop is Vietnam
- Country Joe and the Fish, 1969
After eight long years, now more than ever, the United States invasion and (partial) occupation of Afghanistan is on a roll, courtesy of US President Barack Obama's "new strategy".
This - which Pentagon supremo Robert Gates insists is "working" - includes US and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) staging mini-Guernicas, al la the bombing of Guernica, Spain, by German and Italian warplanes in 1937, as painted by Pablo Picasso.
It also includes General Stanley McChrystal - the former number one hit man for General David Petraeus in Iraq - assaulting Washington to demand (what else is new?) an extra 45,000 US boots on the ground.
Add 52,000 US troops and no less than a staggering 68,000 US contractors as of late March - don't even count NATO - and soon there will be more Americans wallowing in the Afghan mire than Soviets at their occupation peak during the 1980s. In only 450 days, Enduring Freedom plus NATO boots swelled up from 67,000 to 118,000.
Does it matter that, according to a McClatchy/Ipsos survey, almost eight years after the "war on terror" bombing of the Taliban, 54% of Americans think the US is "losing" the war while 56% are against sending more troops? Of course not.
We want our cut
The latest mini-Guernica is the air strike on two fuel trucks hijacked by the Taliban and stuck in a riverbed near a market in the Ali Abad district in Kunduz province. The strike was ordered by a helpless, intelligence-impaired German colonel under the NATO banner, and has now degenerated into a caustic war of words between Washington and Berlin.
NATO's "mission" in Afghanistan is extremely unpopular in Germany. According to Kunduz locals, the NATO air strike killed more than 100 villagers; NATO says no more than 25; all this while insisting it made sure no civilians were in the area before the hit. It's the same mini-Guernica scenario of Herat in August 2008 and Farah in May 2009.
None of this slows down the relentless Gates/Mullen/McChrystal gravy train - the Pentagon superstar trio obsessed with milking a Vietnam-style escalation of Obama's self-described "necessary war" whose final objective, according to super-envoy Richard Holbrooke, is of the "we'll-know-it-when-we-see-it" kind.
As for the United States Agency for International Development, it has just "discovered" that the Taliban - as a protection racket - take a cut from the international development aid pouring into Afghanistan. But the cut pales in comparison to what the Hamid Karzai government and his warlord compadres divert from the European Union coffers under United Nations supervision - via one "Afghan reconstruction" bash after another (Tokyo 2002, Berlin 2004, London 2006, Paris 2008).
Maybe not as much as Americans, European taxpayers are also being fleeced. In a devastating post at the Italian byebyeunclesam blog, Giancarlo Chetoni explains how Afghanistan is costing Italian taxpayers 1,000 euros (US$1,433) a minute, or 525.6 million euros a year, to "free the country from terrorism and drugs". Surrealism is the norm. Italy famously gave 52 million euros to "reform Afghanistan's judicial system" when, Chetoni notes, "3.5 million penal cases and 5.4 million civil lawsuits are currently pending" in Italy. During the next four years, Italy will practically double its contingent, from 3,250 troops to more than 6,000.
New NATO head, former president George W Bush-friendly Anders Rasmussen from Denmark, has been trying to explain the new "strategy" in pyrotechnic NATOese to skeptical Europeans. But the real plot of the non-stop tragicomedy is never spelled out. The US and its NATO allies will do - and spend - whatever it takes to implant military bases on the doorstep of both Russia and China and - Allah only knows - get their Trans-Afghan Pakistan gas pipeline on track.
From November 2001 to December 2008, the Bush administration burned $179 billion in Afghanistan, while NATO burned $102 billion. Former NATO head Jaap de Hoop Scheffer said the West would keep troops in Central Asia for 25 years. He was corrected by the British army's chief of general staff, General David Richards: it will be 40 years. Expect the "evil", fit Taliban - immune to global warming - to be fighting Enduring Freedom by 2050.
Pepe Escobar is the author of Globalistan: How the Globalized World is Dissolving into Liquid War (Nimble Books, 2007) and Red Zone Blues: a snapshot of Baghdad during the surge. His new book, just out, is Obama does Globalistan (Nimble Books, 2009).
He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.