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Opinion and Editorial

The US plan to widen the war in Afghanistan

Eric S. Margolis
Filed on June 16, 2008

THE killing of 11 Pakistani soldiers by US air and artillery strikes this last week shows just how quickly the American-led war in Afghanistan is spreading into neighbouring Pakistan. It also shows Washington's growing readiness to attack old ally Pakistan.

Pakistan's military branded the air attack ‘unprovoked and cowardly.' There was outrage across Pakistan. However, the unstable government in Islamabad, which depends on large infusions of the US aid, later softened its protests. The US, which used a B-1 heavy bomber and F-15 strike aircraft in the attacks, called its action, ‘self-defence.'

This latest US attack on Pakistan came just before Pakistani lawyers were staging a ‘long march' to continue protests over the ouster of Supreme Court justices by the Musharraf dictatorship. These national demonstrations underscored the illegality of Musharraf's continuing presidency and the Western power's unseemly efforts to sustain his undemocratic regime.

Asif Ali Zardari, head of the ruling Pakistan People's Party, has shamefully joined Musharraf and Washington in opposing restoration of the justice system out of fear the reinstated judges would reopen long -festering corruption charges against him.

This is unfortunate. Zardari's claims of innocence can never be validated until his case is heard in a fair court free of political influence. By blocking the return of the first honest high court Pakistan has had in memory, the serious corruption charges that have dogged Zardari will continue, undermining his personal and political credibility.

Meanwhile, attacks by US aircraft, Predator hunter-killer drones, US Special Forces and CIA teams have been rising steadily inside Pakistan's autonomous Pashtun tribal. But instead of intimidating the pro-Taleban Pakistani Pashtun, US air and artillery strikes have ignited a firestorm of anti-Western fury among FATA's warlike tribesmen and increased their support for Taleban.

The US is emulating Britain's colonial divide and rule tactics by offering up to $500,000 to local Pashtun tribal leaders to get them to fight pro-Taleban elements, causing more chaos in the already turbulent region, and stoking tribal rivalries. The US is using this same tactic in Iraq and Afghanistan.

This week's deadly US attacks again illustrate the fact that the 60,000 US and NATO ground troops in Afghanistan are incapable of even holding off Taleban and its allies, even though the Afghan resistance has nothing but small arms to battle the West's high-tech arsenal. US air power is almost always called in when there are clashes. In fact, the US and Nato infantry's main function is to draw Taleban into battle so the Afghan ‘mujahideen' can be bombed from the air.

Without the round the clock overhead presence of US airpower, which can respond in minutes, Western forces in Afghanistan would be quickly isolated, cut off from supplies, and defeated. But these air strikes, as we have seen in recent weeks, are blunt instruments in spite of all the remarkable skill of the US Air Force and Navy pilots.

They kill more civilians than Taleban fighters. Mighty US B-1 bombers are not going to win the hearts and minds of Afghans. Each bombed village and massacred caravan wins new recruits to Taleban and its allies.

Now, the US and its Nato-allies are edging ever closer to open warfare against Pakistan at a time when they are unable to defeat Taleban fighters due to lack of combat troops. The outgoing commander of US and Nato forces in Afghanistan, US Gen. Dan McNeill, recently admitted he would need 400,000 soldiers to pacify that nation. "We just need to occupy Pakistan's tribal territory," insists the Pentagon, ‘to stop its Pashtun tribes from supporting and sheltering Taleban.' But a US-led invasion of FATA will simply push pro-Taleban Pashtun militants further into Pakistan's Northwest Frontier province, drawing Western troops ever deeper into Pakistan. Already overextended Western forces will be stretched even thinner, and clashes with Pakistan's tough regular army may be inevitable.

Widening the Afghan War into Pakistan is military stupidity on a grand scale and political madness. But Washington and its obedient allies seem hell-bent on charging into a wider regional war that no number of heavy bombers will win.

Eric S. Margolis is a veteran American journalist and contributing foreign editor of The Toronto Sun.

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