Red Countries> Afghanistan

Afghanistan was the first country to be attacked in this latest round of global conflict. A group of severely conservative Islamists known as the Taleban had seized control of the nation in the latter stages of the 90’s. The Taleban movement was spawned in the madrassahs or religious schools of neighbouring Pakistan. They mainly came from among the Pashtun tribal grouping whose homeland has traditionally existed on both sides of the border in Pakistan and in Afghanistan.

After several misadventures in various other countries Usama Bin Laden led his Al Qaeda guerrilla army to Afghanistan, as he had fought in this nation in the past. Given his past ties to their country the Taleban government allowed Usama to take refuge there. It was here that he supposedly planned and launched the attacks that were to become known as 9/11. Following these attacks the United States issued an ultimatum to the Taleban’s leader, Mullah Omar. He was to immediately surrender Usama Bin Laden to the US forces and disband Al Qaeda or face a US led invasion. As with much of this World War there were some unsettling suggestions that the Neo-Cons had in fact pre-planned the invasion months before the September 11 attacks. They were intent on invading Afghanistan by October at the latest, prior to the winter snows setting in. It seems they would have launched this invasion even had the Taleban agreed with the ultimatum and delivered Usama to American hands.

In the face of this Mullah Omar refused to relent and the United States attacked. However, it was not purely a US operation. The US was able to enact Article 5 of the NATO charter. NATO is the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation. It is a defence pact that involves 26 European and North American countries. The nations who are currently members of NATO are: Belgium, Bulgaria, Canada, the Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Iceland, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Turkey, the United Kingdom and the United States. NATO was set up at the start of the cold war as a way of dealing with any potential attacks by the Soviet Union against the west. Article 5 of the defence pact states that any attack on a NATO country will be viewed as an attack on NATO as a whole and thus all the other nations must come to the aid of their ally. As the 9/11 Truth Movement didn’t even exist back then it was a no brainer for the US to prove that an outside agent had in fact attacked them.

What is more controversial though, is that they were able to tie this to the sovereign nation state of Afghanistan as a whole. At this stage no one argued that the US had in fact been attacked by the stateless Al Qaeda network. And the Taleban were harbouring this group, but whether this legally constituted an attack by Afghanistan against the US is still debatable. Regardless, NATO agreed to the invocation of Article 5 and thus a much broader conflict was building. The initial invasion was to be conducted by the US and a broader group of allies, including Australia, with logistical support from NATO. But the entire operation was to be eventually turned over to NATO completely. This was to see NATO forces setting up shop in an area of the world that was traditionally inside Russia’s sphere of influence. This was not pleasing to the conservatives inside the old cold war foe.

The war was initially swift. The Taleban lines of defence quickly collapsed in the face of the overwhelmingly superior US firepower. But it seems to have been nothing more than a tactical retreat. Mullah Omar, Usama Bin Laden and much of Al Qaeda escaped across the border into Pakistan where they continue to hide successfully. The Taleban melted away but then began to wage a guerrilla war that kept the US and NATO bogged down. This meant that the US backed Afghan government was essentially trapped inside the capital Kabul and had very little power over the rest of the country. Around the time of the Lebanon crisis in July 2006 the Taleban surged back into the southern provinces and began to recapture territory. The Afghan theatre was now in the final phases of being completely handed over to NATO. Suddenly NATO found itself faced once again with open war.

A group that called itself the Pakistani Taleban was assisting the Afghan Taleban. Both were still drawn from amongst the Pashtun peoples. The majority of the NATO forces in the south were drawn from the United Kingdoms troop commitment. They began to take horrendous casualties and were in danger of being overwhelmed at times. Units of Americans and Australians, who surprisingly are still on the ground despite not being a member of NATO, were called in to assist and a bloody battle has raged since July until now (Oct, 2006). The NATO forces are desperate for reinforcements but many of the NATO nations are now getting cold feet about partaking in this greater war that they see building. As such, only the Poles have agreed to rush more troops into the theatre.

After a few months of the British troops being essentially trapped in their bases in the south, some headway has finally been made in the past fortnight. However, this could just be through a diplomatic approach and be nothing more than a staged retreat by the NATO forces. It has seen the remotest NATO bases being closed and those areas put under the control of local tribal militias. There is a high risk though, that these militias could at any time switch allegiance and actually join with the Taleban so the entire front line of western forces in the region could in fact be collapsing.

Should Iran be bombed there will likely be a frenzy of new attacks on the ground in Afghanistan in retaliation. And given that Afghanistan shares a land border with Iran there is even a remote risk that Iranian forces could be used against NATO in this area, although they will more likely focus on Iraq where they have more historic ties. At any rate, if the US was hoping to launch its attack on Iran with the comfort of two fairly stable flanks, Afghanistan and Iraq, under its control, this is no longer the case on the ground. NATO forces will be much too busy battling the Taleban to hope to offer any help with regards to any broader Iranian conflict.

http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/south_asia/1550366.stm http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/uk_news/6060384.stm

map of Afghamistan