By Debra Sweet, cross-posted at On The Issues Magazine. Sweet is the Director of World Can’t Wait, based in New York City, which engages in efforts to stop occupations of Iraq and Afghanistan.
Ten years ago, when the Taliban had mostly wrested control of Afghanistan from former fundamentalist warlord allies of the United States, the U.S. government turned a cold and deaf ear to testimony about the suffering of Afghan women. Then, suddenly, after her husband announced a “war on terror” to last “generations,” Laura Bush told us in November 2011 that the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan was “a fight for the rights and dignity of women.”
U.S. activists for the global rights of women quickly differed over what has become the longest U.S. occupation. A number of us asked, where, ever, had U.S. bombs, contractors, armies and money brought liberation for women? A section of feminists, led by the Feminist Majority Foundation formed up in support of the Bush regime’s aim of removing the Taliban. While deploring violence, they lobbied for humanitarian aid programs to be part of the war, and for women to be included in the U.S. puppet government. Initially, some were, but the cynical inclusion of women in occupied governments has been meaningless, largely done to fool outsiders.
While Bush’s preemptive war on Iraq, a much more populous, developed country than the impoverished Afghanistan, destroyed that country, driving more than four million people into internal exile, and killing somewhere between 120,000 and over a million Iraqis, the world’s attention was focused on the sectarian disaster it sparked. But at least no one made a serious argument that this was saving the women of Iraq.
Dropped Bombs Kill Indiscriminately
When change came along in 2009, Iraq was suddenly the “wrong” war, and Afghanistan the one worth doubling down on. President Barack Obama sent 100,000 more U.S. troops to Afghanistan. Through changes in command, counter-insurgency plans, and surges and offensives, the U.S. has succeeded in killing additional civilians. Successive U.S. commanders refuse to stop night raids, the tactic that most enrages Afghans. Civilian deaths in Afghanistan have risen every year under Obama.
Kathy Kelly, a leader of numerous Voices for Creative Non-Violence delegations to Afghanistan told me, “The U.S. is spending two billion dollars per week to maintain the occupation while relying on aerial bombardment, drone attacks, night raids, assassinations and death squads to gain the upper hand against the Taliban. When the U.S. commits war crimes that kill and maim civilians, it could very well serve as a recruitment tool for the Taliban.”
It’s necessary to listen to the victims of Obama’s “good war” to evaluate whether the claims that women are better off, are true. Malalai Joya, an elected member of the Afghan Parliament who was suspended for criticizing the Karzai government said in early 2011, “Day by day [NATO] is bombing from the sky and killing innocent civilians — most of them are women and children — even bombing our wedding parties, what they did in Nangarhar and Nuristan. In my own province last year these occupation forces — American troops — they bombed 150 civilians in one day, even used white phosphorous. And also most of them were women and children …..”
Joya’s life has spanned the Soviet occupation, which forced her family into exile in Pakistan; the civil war in 1992-1996 between the raping warlords and Taliban; the Taliban era; and the U.S. occupation. She is from western Afghanistan, where the Karzai government does not reach. Under the U.S. occupation, says Joya, “Women are ‘free’ to beg in the streets under the cover of the burqa; they are ‘free’ to resort to prostitution to feed their families; they are ‘free’ to commit self-immolation as the only way out of the cycle of humiliation, destitution, and despair.”