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Ten Years After U.S. Invasion, Afghan War Rages On with No End in Sight

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It was 10 years ago today when former President George W. Bush announced the beginning of the war on Afghanistan. It has now become the longest-running war in U.S. history, and there is no end in sight. The Taliban remains in control of major parts of the nation. Peace talks have collapsed. Civilian and troop casualties continue to mount. There have been a number of major setbacks in just the past few weeks. On Sept. 13, militants attacked the U.S. embassy and the NATO headquarters in Kabul. A week later, the Taliban claimed responsibility for assassinating former Afghan president Burhanuddin Rabbani, who headed the Afghan Peace Council. Just this week, the Wall Street Journal reported Afghan President Hamid Karzai has given up on negotiating with the Taliban. To discuss what the future has in store for a nation long-ravaged by war, we speak with “Reena,” a 19-year-old member of the Revolutionary Association of the Women of Afghanistan, who joins us by video Skype in Afghanistan. “Reena” is a pseudonym, and her face is concealed since all RAWA members maintain anonymity for security reasons. We’re also joined by independent journalist Anand Gopal, who has reported extensively from Afghanistan and is completing a book on the war. [includes rush transcript]

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: We turn to Afghanistan. It was 10 years ago today when then-President George W. Bush announced the beginning of the war.

PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH: On my orders, the United States military has begun strikes against al-Qaeda terrorist training camps and military installations of the Taliban regime in Afghanistan. These carefully targeted actions are designed to disrupt the use of Afghanistan as a terrorist base of operations and to attack the military capability of the Taliban regime.

AMY GOODMAN: Ten years later, the Afghan war rages on. It’s become the longest-running war in U.S. history. There’s no end in sight. The Taliban remains in control of major parts of the nation. Peace talks have collapsed. Civilian and troop casualties continue to mount.

There have been a number of major setbacks in just the past few weeks. On September 13th, militants attacked the U.S. embassy and the NATO headquarters in Kabul. A week later, the Taliban claimed responsibility for assassinating former Afghan president Burhanuddin Rabbani, who headed the Afghan Peace Council. Just this week, the Wall Street Journal reported Afghan President Hamid Karzai has given up on negotiating with the Taliban. In a recent interview, retired General Stanley McChrystal said the U.S. and NATO are only 50 percent of the way towards achieving their goals in Afghanistan.

Brian Katulis is a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress.

BRIAN KATULIS: If you look at the main metric, the measure for success in the counterinsurgency strategy, it is, how safe is the local population? And 2011, this year, will be the deadliest year for Afghan civilians. More than 80 percent of those deaths are caused by the Taliban insurgency. But the key metric of whether we’re succeeding on a counterinsurgency strategy is, are we keeping the local population safe? The answer is no. The numbers have gone up.

AMY GOODMAN: To talk more about Afghanistan, we’re joined by two guests. First, we go to Afghanistan to “Reena.” She’s 19 years old. She’s a member of RAWA, the Revolutionary Association of the Women of Afghanistan. Reena is a pseudonym, her face concealed, since all RAWA members maintain anonymity for security reasons.

Welcome to Democracy Now!, Reena. Describe what is happening now, 10 years after the U.S. invaded Afghanistan.

REENA: Thank you so much, Amy. It’s a pleasure to be on your show. Ten years ago, when the U.S. invaded Afghanistan, they made promises of democracy, women’s rights and a general improvement in the lives of people. But 10 years later, today, the situation is clearly getting worse for our people. The everyday life has not improved. Women’s situation has gotten worse. There is no sign of democracy or freedom or peace anywhere. In fact, civilian deaths have reached 10,000 on this anniversary. And it’s going to continue to rise, because with the surge of troops and a increase in assaults, this will obviously be continuing.

AMY GOODMAN: You know, here in the United States, we’ve just passed the 10th anniversary of the September 11th attacks, and there was a great deal of attention to the young people who grew up in the shadow of the World Trade Center, both specifically and also just in this age, metaphorically. You, Reena, are 19 years old. You were nine when the U.S. attacked Afghanistan. Where were you born? And what are your thoughts, growing up in the Afghan War?

REENA: At that time, I was in Pakistan in a refugee camp, but I do remember a lot of people who were there at that time, and—like our close relatives. And we lost some people that we knew, some friends, in the bombings of the U.S. So, it’s true I did not exactly witness the deadlier civil war of '92 to ’96, and I have vague images of the Taliban regime of ’96 to 2001. But this 10-year war has definitely had a very deep impact on this generation. The civilian casualties, the fear that the people live with these days, the terror that there is in the streets, everywhere, for the IED attacks or other kinds of threats, it's increasing day by day. And it’s just made everywhere extremely insecure and bad for our people.

AMY GOODMAN: We’re also joined here in New York by Anand Gopal. He reported for the Christian Science Monitor in Afghanistan, then for the Wall Street Journal. Now he is writing a book on the war in Afghanistan. Your thoughts, 10 years later, the longest U.S. war in U.S. history?

ANAND GOPAL: Well, by any metric we look at, the war has gotten worse. Security has gotten precipitously worse every single year. 2011 has seen the most civilians being killed of any year since the war started. We’ve seen the most number of attacks—suicide bombings, roadside bombings, etc.—since the war started, for any year. The amount of territory the Taliban controls has been undiminished, despite the fact that we’ve seeing a major troop surge in the last year or two years. We’ve seen a fragmentation within Afghanistan, where the people that we are aligned with are starting to arm themselves and thinking about a post-American scenario, where they want to all fight against each other. So, really, we’re at a nadir in Afghanistan in the last 10 years.

AMY GOODMAN: Listening to the talk shows on the cable networks, it’s quite remarkable to see how things are turned on their heads—the Republicans talking about Obama presiding over the longest war, and then the issue of what it means if the U.S. pulls out, and the mantra often repeated that the Taliban will take over. I want to get both of your thoughts on that, beginning with Anand.

ANAND GOPAL: Well, the Taliban already have de facto control of almost half of the country, in the countryside. And beyond that, what we’re doing right now in Afghanistan is we are arming militiamen, warlords, strongmen. We’re actually going into the countryside and giving them weapons, giving weapons to all sorts of human rights violators and abusers. These are people, in many cases, who have been disarmed after 2001. We’re rearming them now, because we need help in fighting the Taliban. And so, what that’s actually doing is creating the conditions in which a civil war is more and more likely. In fact, I think the longer we stay and continue this policy, a civil war becomes more likely.

AMY GOODMAN: Reena, your thoughts on this issue, the Taliban?

REENA: Yes, I absolutely agree with him. The U.S. has armed the most dangerous warlords, and is continuing to arm and support them. And if they were drawn out, yes, a civil war may be inevitable. But again, we have to remember that, as we always say, that this war is part of the problem. It’s not going to solve anything for us. And if the troops withdraw and if they give Afghanistan a chance to decide its own fate, I think things will work out. If they don’t support these warlords, as he said, and the U.S. and its allies pressurize the other countries not to support the Taliban, then I think maybe a civil war won’t take place, and it might not be as bloody as it will be if they continue supporting or if this war goes on.

AMY GOODMAN: Reena, a reason often given for staying in Afghanistan—it was one that Laura Bush put forward. It was one that was picked up—again, things all turned around—a kind of feminist reason, and particularly put forward by the Republicans, but many Democrats also supported this, and Democratic women, that it’s about saving the women of Afghanistan. Your response?

REENA: Yes, these claims were all extremely false. If they have brought to power the misogynists, the brothers in creed of the Taliban to power, who are the exact copies of Taliban mentally, and have just been physically changed, then I don’t think the feminist situation can improve. Today, there are slight improvements in women’s lives in urban areas, but again, if we look at statistics, Afghanistan remains the most dangerous place for women. Self-immolation, suicide rates, are extremely high. It has never been this high before. Domestic violence is widespread. Women are poor. They don’t have healthcare. It has the highest maternal mortality rate in the world. And there are, as I said, some improvements, and in some aspects, it might have gotten a little better for a handful of people, of women, but it has definitely gotten worse for others. There is insecurity. There is threat. They always say that there are six million girls in schools, or the schools have opened, but nobody looks at the dropout rates. Nobody looks at the attacks or the threats that the Taliban make to the girls, and they don’t dare to go out again. Nobody looks at the quality of the schools. All these things—I mean, there have been slight changes. And it has been very widely used, and they just highlight a few positive things. But overall, the situation of women has gotten worse in the past 10 years.

AMY GOODMAN: I want to play a clip from Admiral Mike Mullen, the chair of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, speaking earlier this week about the Haqqani network threat, blaming the ISI for orchestrating attacks on U.S. targets inside Afghanistan.

ADM. MIKE MULLEN: A second, but no less worrisome, challenge we face is the impunity with which certain extremist groups are allowed to operate from Pakistani soil. The Haqqani network, for one, acts as a veritable arm of Pakistan’s Internal Services Intelligence agency. With ISI support, Haqqani operatives planned and conducted that truck bomb attack, as well as the assault on our embassy.

AMY GOODMAN: Chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Admiral Mike Mullen. Anand Gopal, your response?

ANAND GOPAL: Well, it’s absolutely the case that Pakistan is, in some way, supporting the Haqqani network and the rest of the Afghan insurgency. But I think it’s important to have some historical context in all of this. We once, the U.S. once, supported the Haqqani network, back in the '80s, when they were fighting against the Russians. And we poured millions, in fact billions, of dollars into Afghanistan to fundamentalists, to Islamic radicals. And we're getting the blowback of that now. And also, that fundamentally changed the dynamic within Pakistan, as well, where we helped to create, in a sense, the way that the ISI, the Pakistani security agency, acts today. And they’ve been pretty much consistent in the last 30 years in their position. We just changed our position 10 years ago.

AMY GOODMAN: And the role that Pakistan, if you could talk further, plays in Afghanistan, and the fact that Pakistan has been supporting—well, in the past supported the very forces that they’re fighting against, that the U.S. is fighting against in Afghanistan, and helped to establish the ISI, which it now is critiquing?

ANAND GOPAL: Well, there’s no doubt that the insurgent leadership—this is the Haqqani network, the Taliban and other groups—they have a safe haven in Pakistan. And there’s no doubt that elements of the ISI, the security apparatus, is giving advice and support to the insurgent leadership. And so, Pakistan is playing a double game. On the one hand, they’re allying with the U.S. and getting millions of dollars in aid for military, and on the other hand, they are supporting the insurgency.

AMY GOODMAN: Reena, you’re 19 years old. You’re a young woman who goes back and forth between Pakistan and Afghanistan. How do you function? Reena is not really your name. You’re not saying where you are in Afghanistan. You’re with the organization RAWA. Explain what your group does and how you get around.

REENA: RAWA, the Revolutionary Association of the Women of Afghanistan, was established in 1977 by our leader, martyred leader, Meena, and a group of other young women. And it’s an anti-fundamentalist group, women’s group, that fights for freedom, democracy, secularism and women’s rights. And because we are the only women’s group that speaks against fundamentalists, the warlords in power today, we have many security issues, and we cannot be open in our activities. So we are underground and semi-underground. And we function mostly in Afghanistan, but a small part of our activities are also based in Pakistan.

AMY GOODMAN: Malalai Joya make a statement this week, where she said—let’s see if I can find it — “We’re at a point today when Afghanistan is at its most violent since war started, and the government at its weakest. Civilian casualties higher this year than any previous year, the territory Taliban controls more or less the same as it was last year, there’s been no progress towards making a political solution.” Anand Gopal, what if the U.S. pulled out tomorrow?

ANAND GOPAL: I think if the U.S. pulled out tomorrow, it would be very likely it would see a civil war. But, you know, when you talk to Afghans, and particularly in the countryside where the war is being fought, what a lot of them say is, “We want the U.S. troops to pull out, and we want there to be some sort of peace settlement,” from all the sides. And this never really happened, even from day one in 2001. The Afghan state wasn’t constituted on a broad-based system. It was a deal between a certain set of warlords and the United States. You know, you want to include civil society, groups like RAWA, other groups, and try to come together to tell all Afghans to configure their state in some way, which they’ve never had the chance to do until now. So I think a peace settlement of some sort, together with the troops pulling out, would be the only way we can forestall a civil war.

AMY GOODMAN: Would you say, Reena, that each day of this war increases hostility towards the United States?

REENA: Absolutely, absolutely. It does, as it has increased from 2001 'til now, because in the start, the people were very hopeful. They had some hope that the U.S. would actually help them, that their situation would improve, but in the last 10 years. But the U.S., unfortunately, supported the warlords, like Sayaff, Abdullah Abdullah, Ismail Khan, Khalili. And they recently killed Burhanuddin Rabbani. So, all this has increased the people's hostility. In addition, in the countryside and in provinces other than Kabul and some other urban cities, the U.S. air strikes and night raids are increasing day by day. This itself is drawing a lot of hostility from the people towards the U.S., and they want them to leave our country as soon as possible.

AMY GOODMAN: Final comments, Anand Gopal, for people to understand, as you both lived in Afghanistan for years covering the war, and you come back to the United States and you see how generally it is covered, as you write your book?

ANAND GOPAL: It’s covered very poorly. I think a lot of what—the discourse about the war in Afghanistan is that it’s a series of mistakes. And it is a mistake. But I think at the core, underneath those mistakes, was a fundamental wrong policy, which was the war on terror, going into Afghanistan, and thinking that an occupation of a country can solve the problem of terrorism. And I think that everything that we’re seeing in Afghanistan today is, you can relate it back to that fundamental core issue.

AMY GOODMAN: And Reena, I don’t know if you heard. The Nobel Peace Prize was just announced, and it’s going to three women from the Arab world and from Africa, two from Liberia, including the current president of Liberia, and one brave Yemeni activist, the youngest ever to receive the Nobel Peace Prize. Had you heard about that? And does this matter to you at all in Afghanistan?

REENA: Yes, I did read about this. And I would like to say that the Nobel Peace Prize is—I don’t think it’s a very big prize, in opinion of our people, because every time there is usually a political motive behind giving it to somebody. And the actual real people who struggle for something or who are trying to get something are never prized or are never considered for this. For example, last year, a warlord woman from our country, Sima Samar, was on the list of these people. She almost won the Nobel Peace Prize. That woman is in a warlord party and is—if not directly, but is an agent of other countries. So if you can give the prize—if you could consider giving this prize to such a woman, then it doesn’t mean anything for our people, because then anybody else can win it for political reasons or whatever is behind it.

AMY GOODMAN: And finally, your thoughts, Anand Gopal?

ANAND GOPAL: I think also, more importantly, from the point of view of Afghans, Barack Obama is a Nobel Peace Prize winner, and he’s a person who increased the number of troops in Afghanistan and increased the violence, in effect, in Afghanistan. So, a lot of my Afghan friends question what the value of a Nobel Peace Prize is, if it leads to more war in Afghanistan.

AMY GOODMAN: I want to thank you both for being with us on the 10th anniversary of the U.S. bombing of Afghanistan, now the U.S. engaged in the longest war it has ever been involved with in U.S. history. Anand Gopal, independent journalist, writing a book on Afghanistan, previously with the Christian Science Monitor and then the Wall Street Journal. And Reena, not her real name, speaking to us from Afghanistan, her face covered. She is anonymous for her own protection.

Tonight, KPFK’s Uprising host, Sonali Kolhatkar—KPFK is the Pacifica station in Los Angeles—will be leading a conversation with Reena via live video stream and taking questions from the viewing audience. You can see it at afghanwomensmission.org. We’ll put a link there on our website at democracynow.org.

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