The Great Escape

The Great Escape — Taliban Style

by Eric Margolis

Recently by Eric Margolis: Why bin Laden's Ghost Is Smiling

Sequels are rarely as good as the original, but last week’s Great Escape from Kandahar Prison II was almost as exciting as the 2008 original in which 800 Taliban prisoners were busted out of Afghanistan’s Sorpoza Prison.

This time around, 541 prisoners, including 106 Taliban commanders, tunneled their way out of the notorious maximum security prison. Great Escape II was a humiliating blow to American occupation forces garrisoning Kandahar, and to Canada, which spent over $4 million two years ago further fortifying the prison. There were red faces and finger-pointing all around. The US claimed Afghan prison official were incompetent, corrupt, and in cahoots with Taliban. Of course the escape was an inside job. Afghan resistance forces that we collectively call Taliban know just about everything that goes on in the US-installed Afghan government, military and police. As I saw during the 1980’s anti-Soviet struggle, every military offensive by the Soviets and their puppet Afghan regime was telegraphed to the mujahidin resistance days in advance. The Afghan Communist forces were filled with mujahidin informers and sympathizers. Since many Afghans knew the Soviets were losing, regime supporters began hedging their bets by informing and making side deals with the resistance. The same process is afoot today in Afghanistan. The 150,000 western troops occupying that nation have lost the military, political and psychological initiative.

Each US soldier in Afghanistan costs a minimum of $1 million annually. Western forces are on the defensive, in spite of all the ludicrously cheery war bulletins – shades of Good Morning Vietnam – from NATO public relations officers. No less an authority than Afghan president Hamid Karzai recently called the ten-year US-led war, “ineffective, apart from causing civilian casualties.” Ouch! Washington seems to be concluding it cannot defeat the national resistance militarily. Its Tajik, Uzbek and Communist allies lack the power to combat Taliban outside of their ethnic territories. The US is spending $6 billion annually training Afghan government troops and police. Even so, Afghan government forces are unreliable and incompetent. They are mostly Tajik and Uzbek, who are hated by the Pashtun majority. The feared, Communist-dominated Afghan intelligence service NDI – son of the old Soviet-run KHAD – is efficient. It continues to brutally torture, abuse, and execute suspects. The US and Canada have routinely turned over Taliban suspects to NDI for torture; Britain and Holland refused to do so. The International Criminal Court just announced it may investigate Canada for war crimes for handing Afghan prisoners NDI for torture. This is a disgrace for Canada, formerly admired around the globe for its legal rectitude and adherence to international law. Canada may be investigated, said the Court, because its government had blocked and stonewalled all efforts to investigate these crimes. George W. Bush did the same thing. The admiring Harper government apparently followed Bush’s lead. The latest American plan for Afghanistan is to hold key urban areas using a somewhat reduced US garrison backed by a new army of mercenaries run by the US Embassy in Kabul which is being expanded to 1,000 personal – the world’s largest. CIA paramilitary forces will play an ever larger role in Afghanistan. Canadian forces will stay on in reduced numbers by trying to avoid danger. In line with Washington’s new policy, the current US commander in Afghanistan, the politically savvy Gen. David Petraeus, was just named CIA director. He is detested by Pakistan’s leadership and military.

CIA boss Leon Panetta, a wily Washington insider and budget expert, will become Defense Secretary. Petraeus’ new role confirms CIA is fast becoming militarized as an active combat arm of the US government. CIA is slated to deploy more paramilitary units, mercenary forces and drones in Iraq, Pakistan and Afghanistan. The Pentagon is also fast expanding its intelligence role. The Pentagon’s shadowy special forces HQ, the Joint Special Operations Command, has just been given the green light to conduct top secret “intelligence gathering” and “anti-terrorism” missions across the Muslim world from Morocco to Pakistan, Bangladesh, and Indonesia, with a special focus on the Mideast. These forces will answer only to the Pentagon. Veteran intelligence professionals lament CIA’s “going cowboy.” They say the agency’s primary goal is providing the White House with facts and balanced analysis, not indulging in gunplay. Getting involved in fighting overseas will inevitably corrupt CIA, they warn, and bias its judgment. We have already seen this happen in Afghanistan and Pakistan. Washington just named a new ambassador to Afghanistan, Ryan Crocker, an ardent Bush neocon who was ambassador to Iraq, where he was widely mocked for his absurd rosy pronouncements. Crocker replaces the gruff, able ex-general, Karl Eikenberry who kept telling Washington what it did not want to hear. Yes-man Crocker can be counted on to issue politically positive reports on how well the war is going as the US heads into an election year. But the war is not going well. Worse, by waging war in Afghanistan, the US is relentlessly undermining and destabilizing Pakistan, an infinitely more important nation.

US-Pakistani relations have hit a new low as Washington keeps arm-twisting the Islamabad government it finances to follow policies contrary to Pakistan’s interests and public opinion and to attack its own citizens. WikiLeaks just published documents showing the US deems Pakistan’s crack intelligence service ISI a “terrorist group.” Washington has clearly gone terrorism bonkers. What next? Terrorist camels, terrorist dogs, terrorist babies, terrorist UFOs? I call this new form of dementia, AfPak brain fever.