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Afghanistan: The Promise and the Reality

Reckless Soldiers, Slappers and Smack

By Yvonne Ridley in Afghanistan

November 09, 2008 "Information Clearinghouse" -- The day after US war planes bombed an Afghan wedding party killing more than 30 women and children, I drove from Pakistan’s troubled tribal areas to the border crossing.

Feeling rather sensitive towards my own security as a white westerner who could easily be mistaken for an American, I decided to throw on an all-enveloping burka and make my way across in the anonymity this garment gives women travelers.

As I walked across the border at Torkham towards the Afghan passport control office I heard someone barking in a loud, aggressive American accent at one of the drivers held up at the US-controlled checkpoint.

I looked up and watched as a heavily armoured, helmeted soldier pointed his gun and continued screaming in a rude manner for the driver to get in line.

It obviously did not occur to him that most of the people in earshot could only understand Pashto.

I really despaired and felt sorry for those Afghans who were being greeted by this obnoxious alien in uniform as they entered their own country.

Now I know most Americans don’t do humility, but a little sensitivity should have been called for on that day … it was the day after nearly 90 wedding guests had been wiped out in yet another US airstrike.

I have now spent several days in Afghanistan as an unembedded journalist, travelling around freely without an armed or military escort.

Yes, it’s risky and at times nerve-wracking but if I want to find out what is really happening on the ground I’m not going to get it hiding in some hotel compound or army barracks being briefed by an army spokesman who knows even less than me.

So far I’ve spoken to men and women from all backgrounds, cultures and Islamic ideologies and without exception they’re hacked off with the American presence.

All the goodwill I saw after the fall of the Taliban has been squandered by the military presence of the US as well as the British (no one really distinguishes between the two) and it is crystal clear they have overstayed their welcome.

The Taliban are in control of large swathes of the country and are now bordering on Kabul having already carried out several raids on the capital where Afghan leader Hamid Karzai is under virtual siege.

Since his installation as president he has often been accused of being a US puppet, but even he is attempting to break free from those in Washington pulling the strings.

Without a doubt, the continued presence of US and British forces has swung violently from being regarded as the solution to becoming the cause of most of the problems. And promises by various army chiefs to bring in more troops to enforce a Baghdad-style surge causes one of two reactions depending your political stance.

Peacemakers view the arrival of more troops with spiralling despair while the Taliban and their supporters rub their hands with glee reckoning a larger enemy presence will make an easier target.

Of course moronic comments by the likes of Commander Jeff Bender, a US forces spokesman, don’t help. After the Kandahar wedding attack he said: "The coalition and Afghan authorities are investigating reports of non-combatant casualties in the village of Wech Baghtu.

"If innocent people were killed in this operation, we apologise and express our condolences to the families and the people of Afghanistan."

What does he mean “if innocent people were killed”. It seems this US insensitivity isn’t just confined to the uniformed grunts at the Torkham border.

Does Commander Jeff Bender think that the 33 dead women and children his warplanes wiped out were enemy combatants?

Scores of Afghans have been killed in American air strikes this year, fuelling the resentment against the presence of foreign troops and widening the rift between President Karzai and his western puppet masters.

The only winners emerging from Afghanistan these days are the drug barons who preside over the world’s largest heroin trade and the pimps who control the Chinese prostitutes operating from the scores of bordellos and brothels which have emerged since the US military occupation.

So there you have it – the story of Afghanistan ... a country in the grip of reckless soldiers, slappers and smack.

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