[Note for TomDispatch readers: This is the third and last post in a pre-Labor-Day “best of TomDispatch” series — and a good reminder that yesterday’s story at this site may turn out to be tomorrow’s headlines. Back in February 2007, I wrote of our “forgotten war” in Afghanistan. There, civilians were dying in startling numbers, as they are today, and the Taliban was proving resurgent, as it also is today. I listed a set of grim then-recent headlines about those civilian deaths and added: “So goes the repetitive, if ever deepening, tragedy of our other war — and under such headlines lie massive tragedies that seldom make the headlines anywhere. Ann Jones, who has spent much time as a humanitarian aid worker in Afghanistan these last years and wrote a moving book, Kabul in Winter, on her experiences, turns to one of those tragedies: the fate of Afghan women.”
A year and a half later, with the U.S. reportedly planning to ship 12,000-15,000 extra troops to Afghanistan early next year, that tragedy only deepens and, far from turning into ancient history, Jones’s piece might as well have been written yesterday. Or tomorrow — for no matter who becomes president in January 2009, those extra troops are likely to be but an American downpayment on further grim headlines and more suffering for Afghan women.
As you may know, this post by Ann Jones is now in print, chapter 14 of The World According to TomDispatch, America in the New Age of Empire (Verso, 2008). It’s a book that helps explain tomorrow’s headlines. Why not buy a copy for your friends today — or tomorrow? Tom]
Surging in Afghanistan: Too Much, Too Late?
Despite George W. Bush’s claim that he’s “truly not that concerned” about Osama bin Laden, the administration is erecting 10 “Wanted” billboards in Afghanistan, offering rewards of $25 million for bin Laden, $10 million for Taliban leader Mullah Omar, and $1 million for Adam Gadahn, an American member of Al Qaeda, now listed as a “top terrorist.” That’s 10 nice, big, literal signs that the administration is waking up, only seven years after 9/11 and the American “victory” that followed, to its “forgotten war.”
When I wrote this piece for TomDispatch in February 2007, I’d been working intermittently since 2002 with women in Afghanistan — women the Bush administration claimed to have “liberated” by that victory. In all those years, despite some dramatic changes on paper, the real lives of most Afghan women didn’t change a bit, and many actually worsened thanks to the residual widespread infection of men’s minds by germs of Taliban “thought.” Today, Afghanistan is the only country in the world where women outdo men when it comes to suicide.
To transfer those changes from paper to the people, “victory” in Afghanistan should have been followed by the deployment of troops in sufficient numbers to ensure security. Securing the countryside might have enabled the Karzai government installed in the Afghan capital, Kabul, to extend its authority while international humanitarian organizations helped Afghans rebuild their country. As everyone knows, of course, that’s hardly what happened.