Endless War in Afghanistan
Institute for Policy Studies’ Phyllis Bennis and Paul Jay discuss Trump’s war without end in Afghanistan
PAUL JAY: Welcome to The Real News Network. I’m Paul Jay, and we’re live. We’re live on Facebook, we’re live on YouTube, we’re live on TheRealNews.com. We are going to take a look at Donald Trump’s speech on Afghanistan. He called it a dramatic new strategy for Afghanistan and South Asia; a dramatic new strategy for the U.S. military policy in the region.
Now joining us to help us dissect the speech is Phyllis Bennis. She joins us from Washington, D.C. Phyllis is the director of New Internationalism Project at The Institute for Policy Studies in Washington. She’s the author of many books, most recently “Understanding ISIS and the New Global War on Terror,” and before that, “Ending the U.S. War in Afghanistan: A Primer.” Thanks very much for joining us, Phyllis.
PHYLLIS BENNIS: Good to be with you, Paul.
PAUL JAY: So, before we start working our way through the speech, let’s remind ourselves why we are here, meaning why are we talking about this, and why are American troops still in Afghanistan? And to a large extent, this begins back with Jimmy Carter and Brzezinski, and a plan to draw the Soviet Union into its own Vietnam. So give us a quick primer on how we got here.
PHYLLIS BENNIS: Well you know, we hear a lot about Afghanistan being the longest U.S. war, and generally people talk about it being in 16 years, making it our longest war. But in fact, as you say, this goes back a generation before that, so the 1980s, when the question of Soviet support for a progressive government in Afghanistan was used as the basis for a long-standing effort by the CIA to undermine that government that led, of course, to a war between the U.S. and the Soviet Union in Afghanistan; a proxy war of the Cold War. And it was in that context that we set the stage for today’s war.
That was the period of the so-called mujahideen being on the rise to fight against the Soviet Union, supported by the United States, funded, armed by the United States, including one Osama bin Laden, who was at that time supported by the United States as an anti-Soviet hero, if you will. And that was what set the stage for the post-9/11 war where the U.S. saw the opportunity to go to war in Afghanistan, not because anyone was all that interested in Afghanistan at the time, but because it was a way of justifying war as a supposedly legitimate response to 9/11. This horrific crime that had happened instead would be answered as if it were an act of war.
And the announcement was the U.S. is going to take the world to war. That, of course, had everything to do with setting the stage for the later war in Iraq. And yet, we have been at war in Afghanistan now for 16 years. Afghans are dying; Afghan civilians are dying in higher numbers every single year in that war since the United Nations began keeping track. That includes last year. We now have more Afghan civilians that have died already this year before even the war is … before the year is over. So, this question of the consequences of the war are being felt most primarily by the people of Afghanistan who are seeing their country occupied by a foreign military force, and are dying in enormous numbers.
And one final thing on this, Paul, that I think is important, because one of the things that we heard over and over in the first years of the war in Afghanistan, “This is to help the women of Afghanistan. This is because the women of Afghanistan are being terribly oppressed.” Well, that part was true. They are and were being terribly oppressed by every faction that fought over Afghanistan.
But the difference is that after 16 years of U.S. military occupation, Afghanistan remains the country in which a child born today has the worst chance in the world, of any country in the world, to survive to her first birthday. That is what 16 years of military occupation have left the people of Afghanistan.
PAUL JAY: Okay. We’re going to start working our way through the speech, and that will give us a chance to talk about other parts of the story.
So first of all, Trump, after saying he had considered withdrawing from Afghanistan, in fact had more or less campaigned on that, changed his mind. He said being in the Oval Office makes you look at these things differently. And thus, after a review, has come up with this new strategy. So let’s work our way through what is supposedly a new strategy. Let’s look at the first clip from his speech.
DONALD TRUMP: A core pillar of our new strategy is a shift from a time-based approach to one based on conditions. I’ve said it many times how counterproductive it is for the United States to announce in advance the dates we intend to begin or end military options. We will not talk about numbers of troops or our plans for further military activities. Conditions on the ground, not arbitrary timetables, will guide our strategy from now on. American’s enemies must never know our plans or believe they can wait us out. I will not say when we are going to attack, but attack we will.
PAUL JAY: Well, I guess the main story there, point there, is that this is a continuing, endless war, and there’s not really any change in that.
PHYLLIS BENNIS: Well, I think that’s absolutely right. Announcing that we’re not going to announce troop numbers or withdrawal dates is not a strategy. It certainly isn’t a strategy to end the war. It is a strategy for justifying continuous, permanent war. Because in saying that will be based on conditions on the ground, conditions on the ground are going to continue to be terrible as long as there’s military fighting going on. That means it’s a self-perpetuating war. And as long as he has also turned over authority for things like troop numbers and withdrawal dates not to any of the political strategists in and around the White House or the National Security Council, but directly to the generals on the ground. Trump seems to love his generals. That means that they are the ones who are going to be deciding this, so it’s a recipe for permanent war.
PAUL JAY: Okay, he does give some … when he says conditionality, it seems to have something to do with negotiation. Here’s clip number two:
DONALD TRUMP: Someday after an effective military effort, perhaps it will be possible to have a political settlement that includes elements of the Taliban in Afghanistan, but nobody knows if or when that will ever happen.
PAUL JAY: Another definition for ‘endless’, really. After this many years, we kind of know the Taliban is not lying down.
PHYLLIS BENNIS: Well, this was quite an extraordinary thing because the preface to that particular clip was when he said, “The big difference now is we will use all instruments of our power: economic, diplomatic, and military.” But then went on to say that “We don’t know when or if we’ll ever have any diplomatic solution here. We don’t know if we’ll ever be able to negotiate with the Taliban.” Despite the fact that every analyst looking at this war has acknowledged that, number one, there is no military solution. Number two, it will be ended with a political solution that’s going to involve parts or all of the Taliban, as well as parts or all of the U.S. installed, U.S. armed and U.S. backed government in Kabul. But that’s what’s going to end this war, whenever that happens.
So when Trump goes on to say ‘maybe, whenever, if we think so, possibly, perhaps, there might be some kind of diplomacy’, that’s not a commitment to using diplomacy, and it certainly is not a commitment to working to end this horrifying war.
PAUL JAY: Okay, we’re going to take clip number four. We’re going to jump, guys in the studio. This is probably one of the most interesting parts of the speech, where he talks about the new attitude towards Pakistan. We ready with clip four there?
Trump: The next pillar of our new strategy is to change the approach and how to deal with Pakistan. We can no longer be silent about Pakistan’s safe havens for terrorist organizations, the Taliban, and other groups that pose a threat to the region and beyond. Pakistan has much to gain from partnering with our effort in Afghanistan. It has much to lose by continuing to harbor criminals and terrorists.
In the past, Pakistan has been a valued partner. Our militaries have worked together against common enemies. The Pakistani people have suffered greatly from terrorism and extremism. We recognize those contributions and those sacrifices.
PAUL JAY: Okay, there’s actually a little more to that clip. I’m just going to read it. “But Pakistan has also sheltered the same organizations that try to kill, every single day, to kill our people. We’ve been paying Pakistan billions and billions of dollars, at the same time they’ve been housing various terrorists we are fighting.” He says, “But that will have to change, and will change immediately. It’s a direct threat to the billions of dollars of funding to the Pakistani military.”
PHYLLIS BENNIS: Well, this is a real question, whether it is in fact a threat to the billions of dollars to the Pakistani military that the U.S. has continued to give despite the role of Pakistan in supporting and housing, as he says, the Afghan Taliban while fighting inside Pakistan against the Pakistani Taliban.
You know, this is a very tricky business because no military in the U.S., no military officials have wanted to end or even cut back the military support to Pakistan because it’s seen as an important ally in the region, it allows the U.S. transit for all the supplies that are needed for this massive war industry that we have operating in Afghanistan that go through Pakistan. So there’s a lot of reasons that this may well be a fake threat to Pakistan.
The embrace of India, right now led by an incredibly right-wing populist government very close to Trump in many ways, the government of India, Modi is the Indian leader who is leading this very right wing, populist approach right now. And what, that was in some ways the most different approach here. Because in the past, we’ve seen both from President Obama and from Bush before him, claims that we’re going to stop the Pakistanis from supporting the Afghan Taliban. And yet, we’ve never seen any real pressure; we’ve never seen an end to the military support. Claiming that now we’re going to build up the relationship with India, which has been a longstanding supporter of the Afghan government, and before the Afghan government, before 2001, India was the main supporter in the region of what was then known as the Northern Alliance, the group of warlords who were transformed into a government, and still to this day are really warlords claiming to be a government but now, of course, backed by the United States as well.
So it’s a long history of Afghanistan being a venue for this long-standing competition between India and Pakistan. So the idea that Pakistan is going to simply back off and allow India to emerge as the major regional power inside Afghanistan is pretty unlikely.
PAUL JAY: It’s also, but it’s a real threat. This is at the very least raising the bar of rhetoric in terms of U.S., Pakistani, and Indian relations. I know, I was making a film in the spring of 2002 in Afghanistan, and we were going to fly through Pakistan to get to Afghanistan. It was right at the time there was enormous pressure on the Pakistani government to help in Afghanistan against the Taliban, who had been their child; the Taliban was born from the Pakistani ISI to a large extent.
And at that time, India was actually threatening a nuclear strike on Pakistan if Pakistan didn’t cooperate in the post-9/11 plan of the United States. And we actually changed our flight plan to go through Dubai instead of Pakistan. I don’t know what good it would have done. If there had been a nuclear bomb, I don’t think it would have helped us very much changing our travel route, but we did.
At any rate, let’s play the clip of Trump talking about India. This is a real significant tilt, at least if they follow through, threatening Pakistan and inviting India to have even greater positioning in Afghanistan. So this is clip number five:
DONALD TRUMP: We appreciate India’s important contributions to stability in Afghanistan, but India makes billions of dollars in trade with the United States and we want them to help us more with Afghanistan, especially in the area of economic assistance and development. We are committed to pursuing our shared objectives for peace and security in south Asia and the broader Indo-Pacific region.
PAUL JAY: So, India needs to help with economic development. In Afghanistan, other than poppies – which I don’t think he’s suggesting India get involved with; Americans, I think, already have their allies on that front – the only real economic development is minerals, and the big mineral in Afghanistan is lithium. There are some serious lithium deposits; Afghanistan’s been called the Saudi Arabia of lithium.
PHYLLIS BENNIS: You know, that may be what Trump is referencing, is the question of minerals in Afghanistan, and essentially offering to India the ability to take the lead in exploiting those mining possibilities. But one other possibility he may be thinking about – although it’s unlikely that he’s thought this through any further than this – is the possibility there is now an educated, young population in Afghanistan who have no access to jobs, no access to earning a living other than through poppy cultivation is, of course, one of the biggest money makers in Afghanistan. But if you look at the possibility of overseas Indian labor, if there were to be, for example, new call centers developed in Kabul rather than in Mumbai, for instance, under Indian control, one could imagine that kind of Indian engagement in economic development in Afghanistan.
That doesn’t, of course, deal with the vast majority of the population of Afghanistan who don’t live in Kabul, but live in tiny, isolated villages strewn across an enormous country, very isolated in mountains that are very hard to reach. This is part of the reason that there’s such terrible conditions in terms of infant mortality, for instance; the lack of access to healthcare in these tiny villages where the majority of Afghans live.
So what they’re proposing India should provide to Afghanistan is not at all clear. It doesn’t mean that it’s necessarily something about minerals or something about call centers or anything else.
PAUL JAY: It may mean almost nothing. Just the rhetoric itself of tilting, a kind of cooperating with India and threaten Pakistan.
PHYLLIS BENNIS: And it’s a reminder to the government in Pakistan that it was and is India that is the biggest regional sponsor, if you will, of the warlords who are now in power in Kabul. The government put in power by the United States came out of this Northern Alliance that was very much a child of the Indian government, very much as the Taliban was a child of the Pakistani secret intelligence agencies.
PAUL JAY: The other piece of this has been, in terms of on the ground strategy, two issues. One, according to Trump and some voices from the military and Neocons and others, there’s been too much care taken to prevent civilian deaths in Afghanistan, tying the hands of U.S. military in fighting the Taliban. And then there’s also the issue of hot pursuit, safe havens in Pakistan for the Afghan Taliban as opposed to the Pakistani Taliban, that when the fighting takes place between U.S. troops and the Taliban, Taliban are able to cross the Pakistani border and get a certain amount of refuge.
PHYLLIS BENNIS: There was nothing directly in the speech [crosstalk 00:17:26].
PAUL JAY: Let me play a clip of the speech, because I think given that this directly follows discussions about Pakistan, I think this does connect it. So let’s play clip six.
DONALD TRUMP: I’ve already lifted restrictions the previous administration placed on our war fighters that prevented the Secretary of Defense and our commanders in the field from fully and swiftly waging battle against the enemy.
PAUL JAY: Okay, the rest of that clip goes, “That’s why we will also expand authority for American armed forces to target the terrorists and criminal networks that sow violence and chaos throughout Afghanistan. These killers need to know they have nowhere to hide, that no place is beyond the reach of American might and American arms. Retribution will be fast and powerful.”
PHYLLIS BENNIS: I think there’s two aspects.
PAUL JAY: I think that suggests two things. One, lifting restrictions on civilian death, but it also means safe havens in Pakistan, which he refers to twice during the speech.
PHYLLIS BENNIS: It may mean that, but what we do know, what we don’t have to imagine ‘does it or doesn’t it’ is the question of killing civilians being irrelevant to U.S. strategy. And the reason we know that is because that’s already been in place since the day Trump took office in January. Since that time, there has been a 67 percent rise, according to the United Nations, in civilian casualties in Afghanistan relative to the equivalent position of, say, last year or the year before.
So we know that he has turned loose the generals to make their own decisions, disregarding essentially the consequences for Afghan civilians, and the result has been this monumental escalation in civilian casualties. We know that that is going to continue. This is not new; this is not something new in the speech. It may be that it’s also going to lift the restrictions on hot pursuit, but I think what’s more significant about is the question of one, civilian casualties, and two, the direct engagement with U.S. troops in direct killing.
Officially under Obama and officially under the first months of the Trump administration, the U.S. mission in Afghanistan has been primarily that of training and organizing the special forces of Afghanistan, teaching them how to, for example, call in air strikes; less engaged in direct fighting. What we’re now talking about, if we’re talking about sending three or four or five thousand new troops, is embedding those troops in at a much lower level, at the level of ground forces, with the Afghan army so that U.S. troops will be directly involved as they were in the first 10 years or so of the war in the fighting, in kicking down doors, in killing people on the streets, in blowing up houses, attacking villages, in a much more direct way than officially they have been involved with in the last several years. That could be a significant change.
PAUL JAY: If this is hot pursuit – and it sure looks like it to me – what does that mean in terms of Pakistani politics? And anti-American sentiment in Pakistan is, it’s hard to believe it could be any more than it … but it certainly would be if Pakistan can’t defend its own sovereignty.
PHYLLIS BENNIS: Pakistan already has among the highest level of anti-U.S. sentiment among its population of any country in the world. That will get higher. The question of what it would mean militarily for U.S. troops, for example, in Afghanistan working near the Pakistani border, would they become targets of Pakistani attacks? There’s no evidence of that so far, but it certainly could lead to that.
This certainly escalates the tensions between Pakistan and India at the regional level, something that’s already very dangerous because these are two nuclear powers that are not accountable to the non-proliferation treaty or not accountable to any of the treaty limitations on the so-called “official” nuclear states, the five. They are among the four unofficial states, the others being North Korea and, of course, Israel. But we are looking at a potentially very dangerous escalation in Pakistani-Indian relations as a result of this if the U.S. decides to actually use that claimed right of hot pursuit across the Pakistani border.
PAUL JAY: Now, we’re going to get to some questions. We have a few minutes left, so if you’re watching live on Facebook, YouTube, or The Real News and have some questions, just put them in the comments section there.
Let me ask you one more question, Phyllis, before we see if there’s some viewer questions. Breitbart News, some of the quote-unquote “alt-right” – Laura Ingraham, Ann Coulter, a lot of the far right voices – have been attacking this policy, saying that Trump had promised to get out and now he’s not. They’re saying he’s essentially continuing an Obama policy in Afghanistan. Bannon, who now runs Breitbart News, Breitbart News was really attacking. But it seems the height of hypocrisy given … it’s been widely reported that Bannon supported, along with Jared Kushner, turning this into a mercenary war. Sending as many as 5,000 mercenaries to Afghanistan under Eric Prince’s new company, Frontier something. And that this would …
Here, we’re showing a picture of Eric Prince here. Apparently, he recommended in a briefing that they follow the model of the East India Company and set up an actual Viceroy – who maybe that Viceroy would be Eric Prince, I don’t know – and Afghanistan essentially be run by a mercenary army, and that was apparently something Bannon was supporting.
PHYLLIS BENNIS: That’s right. And we find out now that Bannon’s firing … just hours before this last strategy meeting on Afghanistan that was held at Camp David last Friday, when once Bannon was out, the issue of Prince’s proposal was taken off the agenda and Prince was no longer allowed to attend that meeting. So he was clearly leading the force on privatizing this war. It’s not about, as you say, it’s not about ending the war, it’s about privatizing it. It’s about maximizing the profit.
And at the same time we can see this in the context of what the Trump administration domestically looks like. It takes away the long standing policies in the U.S. of having corporate interests represented by people in power in Washington. They took away the middle guy; the middleman, the middlewoman if you will, and instead just put the corporate people right in power. So there’s no gap between corporate interests and political interests.
The same proposal was underway here with Eric Prince, having no gap, no distinction between who runs the military actions and how those decisions get made in Washington. It becomes a corporate war. The corporations play the role of colonial control as they did with the East India Company and other examples of it in the United States, as well as around the world, where you have corporations serving as the representatives of the crown, of the government, of whatever. “I plant my flag here of my corporation in the name of the King of Portugal or the Queen of England,” or whatever it was. It’s a very similar thing that’s not now being put forward as a policy, but-
PAUL JAY: But we don’t know that. I’m not sure we know from the speech last night whether or not they’re going to use mercenaries or not.
PHYLLIS BENNIS: Well, what we don’t know is whether there’s going to be an end to the current use of mercenaries. We shouldn’t imagine that there are no mercenaries in Afghanistan now.
PAUL JAY: There’s thousands, isn’t there?
PHYLLIS BENNIS: There are tens of thousands of mercenaries that have been working in Afghanistan, in Iraq, other places as well, paid by either the U.S. Pentagon or by the State Department. In the case, for example, of Iraq when the U.S. pulled out all its troops and pulled out all Pentagon-paid mercenaries – that was how the agreement with the Iraqi government was written – what they did was rewrite the contracts so that the State Department under Hillary Clinton was paying those same mercenaries to do the same thing in Iraq, but they were now not in violation of the agreement with the Iraqi government.
The Afghanistan government has also allowed U.S. paid mercenaries in the thousands, and many of them are still there. What we do know is that there was no discussion in Camp David about replacing U.S. troops with paid mercenaries as orchestrated by Eric Prince, the former Director, the former CEO of Blackwater, and who, of course, was responsible for the slaughter of Iraqi civilians.
The problem, of course, with mercenaries is they are not accountable either to U.S. law or to international law. They are unaccountable actors, accountable only to the profit margin of their company. A very, very dangerous shift. They are already there, but if there were to be a replacement of all U.S. troops in Afghanistan with U.S. paid mercenaries, it would be a far more devastating reality for the civilians of that beleaguered country.
PAUL JAY: All right, we have a question from Facebook, from Celeste. It ties into what you’re saying. She says, “Is this increased military activity anything other than an excuse to give more U.S. taxpayer dollars to the military industrial complex?”
A similar question on YouTube, Old Strayon is the name. He says, “Has anyone measured the percentage of GDP of the military industrial complex versus consumer goods manufacturing, the change in those percentages since 2008?”
PHYLLIS BENNIS: I don’t know about the percentage change, but I will say that one of the statistics that has not changed is that 54 cents out of every accessible Federal dollar – 54 cents – goes to the military. 54 cents. So when we hear things about why we don’t have enough money for jobs and for healthcare and for education and for infrastructure, that’s reason number one, because it’s going to military interests.
And those military interests, of course, they get billions from the Pentagon who order their guns and their bullets and their bombs and their bombers, and all of the drones, and all of the equipment that carries out these wars. And then in return, those same companies spend millions of dollars – $30 million just last year – in lobbying Congress to make sure that they pay for a continuation of these wars. So that is certainly a major part of it.
I think it would be a mistake to say it’s the only reason. There are certainly geopolitical reasons why the U.S. is very reluctant to give up its positioning in Afghanistan as much as it is across the Middle East, for example, where you have the “Empire of Bases” as some have called it; the hundreds of U.S. military bases that allow interventions, attacks around the world from those regions. Everything has to do with geography.
It also has to do with where are as and oil pipeline’s going to be built in the future. Where are these newly discovered things like … I’m blocking the name now … the mineral that is so important, whether it’s coal tan or others for building cell phones and computer chips.
PAUL JAY: Yeah, lithium.
PHYLLIS BENNIS: Lithium. If lithium is, indeed, centered more in Afghanistan than anywhere else, the U.S. certainly is going to want to maintain a military presence in Afghanistan in order to provide protection for mining companies from the U.S. that might try to gain that control over that lithium, over that lithium mining process. So all of these are combined with it.
What is not at stake in U.S. strategic thinking is the fate of the people of Afghanistan. The fact that children in Afghanistan are still dying more than anywhere else in the world before their first birthday. That’s not on the agenda for how the U.S. figures out its targeting.
PAUL JAY: This isn’t a question from social media, but let me ask it because I know you don’t have too much more time. What should he have said? In other words, if the stated objectives were the actual objectives, meaning the well-being … I guess now they’re not even stating, they care that much about the well-being of the Afghan people. They kind of use to say things like that. Now he says, “No more nation building,” which means we don’t even pretend that we’re going to care about any reconstruction in Afghanistan, which is part of his speech.
But at any rate, if the objective was the well-being of the Afghan people, the people of the region, American people, what would a policy look like?
PHYLLIS BENNIS: Well, I think that just one point on what you just said, Paul, is that not only has that not been the policy right now, but that has never really been the policy. There has been a shift between what they used to call counter insurgency, which was designed to win over hearts and minds, provide support for people by rebuilding villages, reconstruction of various sorts in order to gain their support for a counter terrorism operation. That was abandoned many years ago. And instead, President Obama chose, and now we’re hearing this again from Trump, that the goal is counter terrorism. No more nation building; we’re just going to kill bad guys. Which means we’re going to kill the people we want to kill, not people who are necessarily threatening us, just people that we want to kill. So in that context, I think that we have to be very clear this was not for many years on the agenda.
If it were, or if the real goal was to figure out a way to end this war, end this slaughter that is underway in Afghanistan, I think what we would say is, number one, what we’ve heard so many times before: there is no military solution, and therefore we’re going to pull out the military assets. The people that are fighting for the U.S. military, the weapons, the bases that are making everything worse and not better. That’s step one. That’s not the end of the game; that’s only step one.
Then we look at what are our obligations to this country that we have decimated over now decades. We owe an enormous debt to the people of Afghanistan. We don’t owe military occupation. But we owe money, we owe support, and we owe an investment in diplomacy. If we acknowledge that it’s true, that there is no military answer here, we have to stop acting as if the military is the only answer and instead say “What’s it going to take for real diplomacy? What’s it going to take to have local and regional forces lead that diplomacy?” So we don’t get to decide whether everybody in the Taliban gets to be part of it or only some in the Taliban. Everybody in the government or not everybody in the government.
PAUL JAY: But the reality is, if there isn’t an Iraqi army at this point with strong support from the U.S. and arms and money and all the rest, the Taliban will take over most of the country.
PHYLLIS BENNIS: The Taliban would probably take over the majority of the country outside the major cities. The big question is how much worse would that be for the people of Afghanistan? The Taliban are an extremist, terrible organization, but I would assert that they are only marginally worse than the warlords disguised as a government who are, in fact, being paid and armed by the United States.
You know, the guy who invented the horrific targeting of young women by throwing acid in their face, this was not somebody from al Qaeda, this was not somebody who we always called a terrorist. This was a guy named Gulbudddin Hekmatyar who was welcomed by President Ronald Reagan as one of the new leaders of the new Afghanistan. He said, “He is part of,” when they were welcomed to the White House, “We are welcoming them as the founding fathers of the new Afghanistan of today.”
He then, for a while, was fighting against the Soviet Union on the part of the U.S. Then he fought against the U.S. Then he came back into the U.S. fold. This is somebody who is now, he’s running for the Parliament in Afghanistan, he has a militia, military forces of his own. This is the same guy. He hasn’t changed.
PAUL JAY: I don’t think there’s any question you’re right about that. But why are you so sure the Taliban wouldn’t also take over the big cities? They certainly did last time they had the opportunity.
PHYLLIS BENNIS: They did in a very particular context of a four year-long civil war that they had been one of many forces within that civil war. The reason they won in 1996, they won with the vast support of the majority of the people of Afghanistan because they promised to end the fighting, not because they were the most extreme. Despite the fact that they were the most extreme, if they even were the most extreme at that war between extremist forces that was underway, but they were the ones who said we will stop the fighting, and for several years they did, until 9/11.
So I think that we have to be very clear that, number one, there is an Afghan army that has some capacity on its own. It’s not only a tool of the U.S. Its weapons have come from the U.S., it now has those weapons. But I think that we have to be very clear that there is no military solution here. There may be fighting that will continue for a while as part of what exists now as a civil war. But when you don’t have the outside forces, the civil war is going to be over much sooner. We don’t know which side will win that civil war. It’s not impossible it would be the Taliban for some period of time. And Afghans themselves are going to have to figure out how to take control of their own country.
Unlike in, say, Syria, when you look at ISIS, the Taliban are overwhelmingly Afghans. They’re not foreigners that are coming in. These are people from these communities.
PAUL JAY: Well, yes and no. The Taliban were very much the product and supported by the Pakistani secret service and Pakistani army. [crosstalk 00:35:48] Hang on. And continue to be. And Taliban leadership- Hang on a second.
Taliban leadership to a large extent merged with al Qaeda, and a lot of the tribal leaders were assassinated. People that didn’t want the Taliban and didn’t want al Qaeda were killed off. So it’s not like they’re such an indigenous product.
PHYLLIS BENNIS: I’m not saying that they were not paid and armed and trained by the ISI in Pakistan. Of course they were, but that’s an old story. But I’m saying who the people are. The people who are fighting with the Taliban overwhelmingly … not every single one, Paul. Of course, I’m not saying that. But they are overwhelmingly Afghans. They are a domestic organization in a way that ISIS in Iraq, for instance … sorry, ISIS in Syria is not. ISIS in Iraq mostly is. It now has a huge percentage of foreigners within it who have come in the context of the so-called caliphate.
But the Taliban is an Afghan organization. Its goals have been to control Afghanistan, not to wage global war against the infidels, whether in other countries in the region or against the United States. That’s not their goal. Their goal has been to win control of Afghanistan, very much like the other warlord groups, the Northern Alliance and others who fought against the Taliban in that horrific civil war during the 1990s.
PAUL JAY: Okay, one final question from Facebook. “We’ve seen the movement against racism, white supremacy, emerge and march by the` tens of thousands across the country since Charlottesville. Where’s the anti-war movement?”
PHYLLIS BENNIS: Well, this is a bigger question that we should take up at much more, much more activity. But I think one of the things we should be looking at here is the timing of this speech; very much focused on changing the discourse, getting the conversation away from Charlottesville. I hope that the anti-war movement – which has been moving very actively in the last 36 hours around this escalation in Afghanistan – but I hope that the anti-war movement are, and I know that they are, among those tens of thousands of demonstrators who have been out in the streets protesting war and racism. That was the sign that I held in a tiny town in Michigan at their last vigil, last Sunday night. I had a sign saying, “No to war. No to racism.” Because these things are linked.
If we look at the rise in Islamophobia, part of the racism that’s on the rise in this country under Trump, that doesn’t just happen for no reason. It happens because Islamophobia at home is necessary to build support against Muslim majority countries at home. War against – whether it’s in Afghanistan or Iraq – requires a way of demonizing people who look like that; people who might be that.
So the war against immigrants, the war against Muslims in the U.S. is inextricably tied to the rising wars in the Middle East or in south Asia. The wars against black communities in this country are being militarized because we see tanks being brought home from Afghanistan, and the Pentagon says, “Hey, we’ve got some extra tanks. You want them?” And the police force in Ferguson says, “Hey, yeah, we’ll take a tank.”
That’s why we saw a tank on the streets of Ferguson after Mike Brown was killed. Not because the police in Ferguson needed a tank, for God’s sakes, but because the Pentagon offered them for free because they were changing tactics in Afghanistan while continuing that war. So we can’t separate out opposing war and opposing racism. We have to build movements that cross those silos, that make those connections, and that fight against war and racism, along with climate and poverty as the three triplets that Dr. King taught us about. Along with climate, we have to fight all of them together.
PAUL JAY: All right. Thanks very much, Phyllis. I’ve kept you here longer than you thought you could, but thanks very much. Thank you for watching on The Real News Live. I hope we’ll be able to get Phyllis back again soon, and we’ll spend more time on questions from viewers in the next section. So thanks again, Phyllis.
PHYLLIS BENNIS: Thank you.
PAUL JAY: And thank you for watching The Real News Network.