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Thursday, August 23, 2012

The Battle for Do Abe

Coal miners in Bamiyan
Since the start of August five New Zealand soldiers have died in and around a small coal mining village in central Afghanistan whose name will enter the history books of this country, Do Abe.

Do Abe, is a town on the old Silk Road that led silk traders from China to the Middle East and back since 100BC. It is a town in the central Afghan province of Bamiyan.

Do Abe has a population of some 2000 or so residents, mostly ethnic Pashtuns in a province which is largely made up of the Afghan ethnic minority group Hazara. Its a place that has been fought over for centuries by Alexander the Great, Genghis Khan, The British Empire of the nineteenth century and Stalin’s Red Army in the 1980s. Now its the blood of New Zealanders staining the desert sands of these Afghan mountains.

When Dominion Post journalist Vernon Small visited the town in 2011 he noticed ‘centuries-old forts dot honeycombed sandstone hills like disused human termite nests. Each has a chilling reminder of the more recent 1979-89 invasions by the Russians; stones painted white to show the safe route and red where the mine fields have not been cleared. One, the Infidel Fort, overlooks the New Zealand forward base at the frontier coal town of Do Abe, one of the most important strategic links in the north-east.’

Small, visiting the NZ troops at the base noted that the Pashtun population ‘makes it one of the tensest towns under the Kiwis’ watch’. Afghan police overlook the base, ‘increasingly wealthy’ town it lies next to and the Chinese investments coming into the coal mines from the summits of mountains ringing the area.

Describing the town Small said, ‘Take away the cars and the satellite dishes and Do Abe's bazaar looks like Europe in the middle ages; grimy faces from the coalmining, a pot-holed dusty street, sack-covered roadside stalls and a wagon loaded with huge watermelons. The two-storey secret police headquarters sports a very modern crater from a rocket-propelled grenade.

On patrol with the troops, Small noted ‘the adult faces here (all men) are set somewhere between indifference and hostility. A couple of men spit on the ground as we pass...’

This is in sharp contrast to the rest of the Bamiyan province with its mostly Hazara population which sprawls over a rugged, mountainous and sparsely populated 17000 square kilometres.

It was in the roads near Do Abe where Lieutenant Timothy O’ Donnell was killed in his humvee and three others injured in August 2010 by a roadside bomb which weighed more than 20kg.

It was just south of Do Abe at the beginning of this month where NZ soldiers were ambushed in a village by Taliban and two soldiers killed Pralli Durrer and Rory Malone. Malone is the great, grandson of Lieutenant Colonel William Malone who commanded the Wellington Battalion on the Gallipoli Peninsula and who died on Chunuk Blair. Malone is remembered as an excellent soldier who detested the British officers who had sent the ANZACs to be massacred. He wrote in his diary of the ANZACs, ‘They were being sent to chaos and slaughter, nay murder.’

Two days after Mallone and Durrer were killed, at New Zealand’s forward operating base in Do Abe around 10 insurgents got within 50 to 100 metres of the base in the middle of the night and opened up with rifles and rockets for about an hour. Defence Force chief Lieutenant-General Rhys Jones said, "We estimate this attack was to show that despite the injuries and casualties we caused on their first insurgent group, this - a second insurgent group - launched this attack to show that they were still around in the area.

It was on the road to NZ’s Romero base north west of Do Abe where three soldiers Luke Tamatea, Jacinda Baker and Richard Harris (just 21) were annihilated in their humvee by a roadside bomb earlier this week on an Afghan summer morning.

These six deaths from ambushes, attacks and roadside bombs and the reporting of Vernon Small should be enough to convince us of two things. Firstly our Provincial Reconstruction Team, deployed ostensibly to rebuild Bamiyan, is now involved in a hostile imperialist occupation of the town of Do Abe, secondly the Taliban control the area around where our soldiers are located at night and are able to attack at will. It is only a matter of time before more soldiers are killed as the Taliban steps up its attacks in a bid to wrest control of the coal mines and strategic road of Do Abe from the occupying forces. It may be the Taliban merely wishes to control the coal from the town. In which case all we are doing is sending our soldiers to die to protect the economic interests of China.

The Taliban are also contesting for control of the road from Bamiyan to Kabul on which they set up checkpoints and behead Government workers and extort bribes. Some experts say the Taliban are approaching the town of Do Abe from the bordering province of Baghlan where Hungarian soldiers are based and now Key wants NZ soldiers to begin patrolling there as well. This makes little sense in operational terms, the bombmaker that Durrer and Malone were killed trying to arrest was living in a Bamiyan village. And in Baghlan there is little that NZ could do in a province which in 2010 was described by the New York Times as slipping into Taliban control as a result of local disillusionment with the corrupt and inefficient central government.

The SAS may be able to hunt down groups of Taliban who attack New Zealanders but this is just a tiny finger in the dam of a quickly growing anti-American, anti-government insurgency which already controls most of the country outside Kabul. The army hopes they can disrupt with more patrols insurgents travelling into the area around Do Abe with further roadside bombs. The fact that the insurgents can sneak to within 50 metres of a NZ army base during the night would indicate the NZers will not be able to prevent further insurgent attacks between now and Decembers winter snows which will end insurgent action until April, when NZ soldiers are due home as the deployment in Bamiyan ends.

The battle for Do Abe is as unwinnable as the broader occupation of Afghanistan which began in 2001 after George W. Bush launched an invasion as a response to the September 11 terrorist attacks. Of course the invasion had little to do with al Qaeda whose hijackers were predominantly Saudi Arabian and the mastermind of the whole thing, Osama Bin Laden, was hiding in a Pakistani town. The occupation has everything to do with US control of central Asia and strategic oil pipelines to countries like Turkmenistan that bypass Iran, weaken Russian, and ensure US energy resource dominance over the world. The occupation is of course very bloody..
Tens of thousands of Afghan civilians have died—we’ll never know exactly how many because the occupiers refuse to count. Some 200,000 people are internally displaced and three million have become refugees.
American unmanned drones piloted by bored Americans in front of computer screens in the Las Vegas desert have killed thousands of civilians in Afghanistan and Pakistan.

On 6 June 2012 18 people in a tiny Afghan village were blown to pieces while celebrating a wedding. The violence isn’t just by the Americans of course.

Just days ago Taliban suicide bombers in south west Afghanistan murdered 40 people in a packed bazaar where hospital workers heading home were buying food for dinner and the Eid celebrations that mark the end of Ramadan.

And atrocities are common, a British soldier drunk on vodka for no reason at all bayoneted a 10 year old Afghan boy who was collecting yogurt for his father in March 2010. NZ’s role in this war is just as shameful.

In 2011 journalist Jon Stephenson revealed that in May 2002 a New Zealand SAS raid on the village called Band-e-Timur left a six year old girl dead after she fled from the New Zealanders, fell into a well and drowned. The leader of the village was shot and many villagers were handed over to the Americans who abused and tortured them. No reason for their arrest and torture was needed.

On Christmas Eve, 2010 two Kabul security guards were murdered by NZ SAS soldiers during a botched raid. But what are we killing and being killed for in the dust under the Afghan sun?

As acclaimed Middle East correspondent Robert Fisk says, ‘This is not the democratic, peaceful, resurgent, "gender-sensitive" Afghanistan that the world promised to create after the overthrow of the Taliban in 2001. Outside the capital and the far north of the country, almost every woman wears the all-enshrouding burkha, while fighters are now joining the Taliban's ranks from Kashmir, Uzbekistan, Chechnya and even Turkey. More than 300 Turkish fighters are now believed to be in Afghanistan, many of them holding European passports.’

The Americans plan to bring home all combat troops in 2014 but will leave as many as 20,000 behind until 2024 – making this a 23 year long war. Even though 2/3rd of Americans and most Afghans want an immediate US troop withdrawal. NZ polls show similar results even though we remain highly dependent on heavily biased military sources for our news of what is happening in Afghanistan.

For example of 25 news stories on Afghanistan carried in early 2008 by Radio NZ, three of the stories relied on information from US officials, three stories relied on US government, two on the Afghan government, four on the Australian government, seven on the New Zealand Defence Force, and one on a non-governmental organisation that provides security to aid workers in Afghanistan. None carried the perspective or an interview of an ordinary Afghani.

 When Tim O’Donnell died back in 2010 Global Peace and Justice Auckland released a statement,
The death of a New Zealand soldier killed in Afghanistan today should be the catalyst for a withdrawal of all our troops from the country where they are part of a hated foreign occupation. The government must bear responsibility for this death because our soldiers should not be there and never should have joined the invasion in the first place. 
Nothing has changed since then. Gordon Cambell wrote at the time,
For some time, our presence there has been wasted effort, and an unnecessary risk that has now been manifested in the death of the New Zealand soldier. 
Nothing has changed. Wellington based peace group also issued a statement,
‘When the PRTs were first deployed, their stated mission was to extend the rule of the central government in Kabul – run by the corrupt US puppet Hamid Karzai. The NZDF is not conducting a mission of mercy for the people of Afghanistan but simply lending legitimacy and material support to an occupying army. It is the US government and its co-conspirators who are the real terrorists there.’ 
Nothing has changed. Afghan anti-war, feminist MP Malalai Joya sums up the situation in Afghanistan very clearly,
"What we have experienced in Afghanistan, Pakistan and Iraq is that you cannot bring peace with war. The US is responsible for the Taliban, and created them before they became enemies after 9/11.My people do not support Karzai’s government, and there is no reason for these troops in Afghanistan. If all the aid had gone to the people we could have rebuilt the country twice. It will be the people who will defeat the warlords and terrorists. This is the only alternative for the bright future of Afghanistan." 
Veterans for Peace, an organisation of returned American soldiers against the occupation said when Wikileaks revealed the extent of civilian casualties,
Now that the rotten truth of the war has been dug out of government vaults and brought to light - the murder of civilians, the inexcusable deaths and injuries of our troops, the knife to the heart of every soldier's family member, the fact that "winning" in Afghanistan is meaningless, the outrage of our jobless and homeless as trillions are spent on war and bank bailouts - the most important question is, "what will we do about it?" 
In the wake of the deaths of five more NZ soldiers the answer is clear. Mobilise to stop the war, end the occupation and get the troops out now. NZ’s role in the imperialist war in Afghanistan is a continuation of our support and aid of imperialism around the world from our blood sacrifice of young men in Gallipoli for the British Empire, to the deployment of NZ troops to Vietnam and the current intelligence alliance we have with America which means intercepted communications from the Waihopai spybase are used to aid the US wars of terror. We are told we are doing to save the people of Afghanistan from Taleban just as we were told the Vietnam War was to the Vietnamese from being conquered by the Viet Cong.

But this war is not about fighting terror or humanitarianism, it is about US power in the world. Joe Glenton is a British soldier who served five months in prison for refusing to fight in Afghanistan. Glenton said, “Times change but the lies are still the same. I consider it a badge of honor to have resisted and to continue to resist. We can bring the politicians to heel—the wheels have fallen off the pro-war bandwagon.If you want to support the soldiers, then bring them back. If you want to help Afghanistan, then liberate it from Britain and the US.”

The Afghanistan war has been largely forgotten by the media, ignored by politicians except MANA and the Greens who oppose this war and most of the New Zealand public, although opposed to the war, find it a difficult thing to comprehend except when body bags containing young men and women are landing at Whenuapai airbase.

As John Minto said yesterday of the National Party’s refusal to withdraw, “John Key prefers to risk young New Zealanders lives rather than risk personal embarrassment to himself if our troops come home earlier than the US wants.”

And as James K Baxter might have written had he still been around,

 'And what I found in Bamiyan
Was mud and blood and fire,
With the Yanks and the Taliban taking turns
At murdering the poor.

 'And I saw the reason for it
 In an Afghan's blazing eyes
– We fought for the crops of kumara
And they are fighting for the poppies.

 'And go and tell John Key
 Sitting in Wellington,
However long he scrubs
 his hands He'll never get them clean.'

No more Afghans or New Zealanders should spill their blood on the old Silk Road, no more men and women should die in the chaos and slaughter of the battle for Do Abe. These troops are paid for by our taxes, deployed in our name, killing in our name and being killed in our name. In this sense the battle for Do Abe is our war. It is the part of the atrocious Afghan war we must take responsibility for. It is the war we must end.

- Omar , SA

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