More die in unwinnable Afghan war

Two UK soldiers have died within the space of twenty-four hours. God knows how many Afghans have been died in the same period due to the occupation of their country.

From this week’s Socialist Worker:

Afghanistan: a war that won’t be won by Nato’s occupation
by Simon Assaf

According to recent pronouncements by British ministers, US officials and Nato generals, the war in Afghanistan is almost over. All that is required is one final surge of troops and the Taliban will surrender, they say.

They brush aside all the bad news about the rise in the number of casualties, roadside ambushes, suicide bombings and fighting spilling over into Pakistan. These, according to them, are all signs that the insurgency is “failing”.

Yet all the indicators point in the opposite direction – towards that fact that it is the Nato-led occupation of the country that is in serious trouble.

Last year the Afghan resistance targeted Nato convoys with 1,469 roadside bombs, almost five times as many as in 2004.

They launched 8,950 attacks on troops, ten times higher than three years ago. And while there were three suicide attacks in 2004, last year this reached 130. The Afghan resistance now regularly fires rockets and mortars into US and Nato bases.

Meanwhile the United Nations (UN) has admitted that the resistance seized 40 convoys of food aid this year, while the US military regularly “loses” arms shipments on their way to their headquarters at Bagram air base. In the latest incident three helicopter engines “went missing” on route from a port in Pakistan.

According to Nato it would need over 400,000 troops to pacify Afghanistan in the “long term”. This has sent George Bush and his defence secretary Robert Gates scuttling around Europe begging for more troops and equipment.

Gordon Brown promised Bush another 230 soldiers, Germany a further 1,000, while Italy, Poland and France pledged to strengthen their presence on the ground. Each announcement was matched by promises of victory.

Conscripts

Nato currently has 60,000 troops in the country. Even if you add in the conscript army of poorly paid Afghan soldiers, the alliance still has a shortfall of a quarter of a million soldiers.

Now more soldiers are dying in Afghanistan than in Iraq. Here in Britain, the images of flag-draped coffins being unloaded from transport planes is feeding a growing popular dissatisfaction with the war.

A recent poll found that 54 percent of the British people want the troops home from Afghanistan now. Only 34 percent think that British troops should battle on.

Meanwhile Britain’s ministry of defence announced this week that 10,000 troops were not fit for frontline duty.

The problems of the occupation reaches into the heart of the puppet Afghan government. Two weeks ago the Afghan president Hamid Karzai narrowly escaped an assassination attempt as he reviewed his troops. It transpired that Afghan military commanders helped smuggle weapons for the attack.

Karzai’s writ does not extend beyond the walls of his palace in the capital Kabul. Corruption has wrecked his government, while warlords control ministries as if they were personal fiefdoms.

The country he is supposed to rule now produces 95 percent of the world’s heroin. And all these problems have led the occupation to sideline the man they once paraded as the country’s saviour.

Shrill

But the deeper Afghanistan sinks into crisis, the more shrill the statements become. One Nato general recently told German radio that the only way to pull out of the country is for Nato to send in more troops.

Then British foreign secretary David Miliband sunk to a new low when he declared that “to defend Britain we have got to be in the toughest areas of the world like Afghanistan”.

The gung-ho messages of victory gloss over an important principle of guerilla war – never confront the enemy head on.

An example of this principle was revealed by the recent deployment of British paratroopers in the south of the country.

A journalist with Germany’s Der Spiegel news magazine reported that when 500 British paratroopers marched into Hutal district the resistance fighters simply went to ground.

The soldiers marched around, peered at the desert and cursed the “invisible enemy”. Meanwhile one in four of the soldiers contracted severe stomach problems from drinking polluted water.

Their only Afghan casualties were two young boys on a motorbike gunned down by accident.

Frustrated, the paratrooper’s commander marched into nearby villages in an attempt to goad insurgents into a battle. But they did not appear.

The paratroopers declared victory instead and marched out. The Taliban then reappeared.

This pattern is repeating itself across the country. The Taliban recently launched a bold attack on Kandahar prison, freeing thousands of captives. They then took control of nearby villages.

Nato rushed in troops, bombed the area, counted the dead and declared victory. But there were no battles – the resistance simply melted away, taking the freed prisoners with them.

Kandahar was suppose to have been “pacified” a year ago, and the villages were to be used as an example of progress in a “hearts and minds” campaign by Canadian troops.

This war is now spilling over into Pakistan. In the latest incident Nato troops fired volleys of artillery shells over the border. Last week warplanes mistakenly bombed a Pakistani military outpost, killing 11 soldiers.

For Pakistanis, the Afghan war is quickly turning into the “Pakistan war” in the same way that the US war in Vietnam became a US war in neighbouring Cambodia and Laos.

Those who will pay are the thousands of young soldiers sent to kill and die for Bush and Blair’s lies – and the war’s tens of thousands of Afghan and Pakistani victims.

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Support the striking Tube cleaners!

From The News Line:

700 TUBE CLEANERS TAKE STRIKE ACTION
SOME 700 London Underground cleaners scheduled to strike for a living wage and basic working conditions from 6pm today have received a welcome boost from London MPs supporting their campaign.

An early-day motion, tabled by John McDonnell and already signed by eight others, calls on the employers to negotiate a just settlement, condemns intimidation of union members and urges the Mayor of London to ensure that the London living wage, currently £7.20 per hour, is paid to all Tube cleaners.

After voting to strike by a landslide 125-one margin, RMT cleaners working for ISS, ITS, ICS and GBM will not book on for shifts that commence during the 24 hours between 18:50 tonight and 18:49 tomorrow night, Friday June 27.

A second, 48-hour, strike is also scheduled for all shifts commencing between 18:50 on Tuesday July 1 and 18:49 on Thursday July 3.

The cleaners’ demands also include 28 days’ holiday, sick pay, decent pensions and travel facilities, and an end to the barbaric practice of ‘third-party sackings’ in which cleaners can be dismissed, with no disciplinary hearing or right of appeal, at the behest of parties other than the employer – a device used to get rid of union activists.

RMT general secretary Bob Crow said yesterday: ‘The cleaning company bosses are making huge sums at the expense of our members and it is time they were paid a living wage and given the decent basic working conditions that they should be able to take for granted.

‘The 99%-plus vote for action should tell these employers everything they need to know, and they should now get around the table with us to thrash out an honourable settlement.’

Separately, the RMT accused Stagecoach of putting its profits ahead of service and safety.

RMT said: ‘As the rail, bus and tram giant posted a leap in profits to £59.1 million, a 7.6% return, it is also aiming to slash ticket office opening times and up to 140 jobs on South West Trains.’

General secretary Crow said this ‘undermines service and safety for staff and passengers alike and it is unacceptable.’

The RMT launched a Safer Journeys campaign at its conference in Nottingham yesterday to get staff back on stations.

The RMT pointed out that just 10% of the £300 million profits made by the big six rail companies would fund the return of 1,000 staff to stations around Britain’s railways.

It said that the cost-cutting removal of staff from railway stations by profit-hungry privateers is undermining safety for passengers and rail workers and must be reversed.

New Labour’s welfare state – helping out needy US companies

From the FT:

UK seeks private bids on welfare delivery
By George Parker and Alex Barker in London

Britain’s entire welfare system is to be opened to offers from the private and voluntary sectors, in a far-reaching drive to shrink the role of the state and improve service delivery.

James Purnell, work and pensions secretary, will on Wednesday announce a “radical” initiative in which private companies will be encouraged to come up with innovative business models to deliver welfare.

The move opens up a potential multi-billion pound market for private companies and voluntary groups, which could bid to run everything from welfare-to-work schemes to projects to rehabilitate former prisoners.

Mr Purnell, regarded as one of the ruling Labour party’s leading modernisers and sometimes tipped as a potential future leader, told the Financial Times the move represented a “big step” in transforming Britain’s welfare system.

Current rules, under which Mr Purnell’s department decides which services to put out to tender, have seen the value of services run by the private and voluntary sectors rise to £1.8bn ($3.5bn, €2.3bn) from £600m in 2001.

On Wednesday he will announce “a complete reversal” of that approach, so that outside contractors will be encouraged to come up with proposals for the services they want to run under a so-called “right to bid”.

“This is us saying very clearly the only limit is the quality of service and the imagination of the provider,” Mr Purnell said. He said all services would potentially be up for grabs, with his department reserving only a few policy functions for itself.

He said Job Centre Plus, a government agency, provided “world-class” services in helping people back to work, but even that operation could be transferred to outside contractors if they had a better business model.

The test of Mr Purnell’s ambition will be the extent to which business proposals turn into contracts, but the secretary of state said every offer would be properly evaluated by a commissioning team reporting to him and his top civil servant.

He said British companies exploiting this new market would be able to expand into world markets for welfare delivery. He said only Japan operated a similar “right to bid” philosophy.

The “open invitation” to new ideas extends across welfare provision, including proposing welfare to work schemes that would pay private and voluntary sector service providers from the government savings made from finding jobs for the unemployed. “I’m not ruling anything out,” said Mr Purnell.

The measure is a further sign that Britain is willing to open up the “multi-billion pound” welfare-to-work market for private and voluntary providers envisaged in the Freud report, an independent examination of welfare reform.

Several international welfare-to-work companies – including Maximus and Rescare, two big US providers, and Igneus, the Australian owner of Work Directions, the UK-based group – have already begun targeting Britain as a potential growth market. They are joining domestic providers of existing programmes including A4e and Reed-in-Partnership.

Several big government decisions over systems of funding for welfare-to-work schemes and programmes to tackle the 2.6m people on incapacity benefit are expected in coming weeks. [Emphasis added.]