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Spendthrift Italy: The Case of the Afghan Adventure

Italy’s mission in Afghanistan costs € 1.3 million per day.  Starting October 7, 2001, to date there have been few positive results. And the Taliban control half the country.

By Enrico Piovesana

Seven billion and a half euros over sixteen years, or nearly half a billion a year, one million three hundred thousand euros a day. This – compared to 260 million euros spent for international civilian cooperation – is the cost of Italy’s participation in the Afghan military campaign, the longest in our history, according to “Afghanistan, sedici anni dopo”, published by the Osservatorio Milex on Italian military spending, which makes an assessment of this war, which began on October 7, 2001.

The overall financial burden of the Italian mission is heavier in terms of its indirect costs, which are difficult to quantify: the ad hoc purchase of weapons, ammunition, combat equipment, and their continuous upgrading to meet operational needs and to maintain stocks, personnel training, and, last but not least, health care costs for hundreds of wounded and mutilated casualities.

In sixteen years, the war in Afghanistan totalled 900 billion dollar: 28,000 dollars for every Afghan citizen (with an average income of 600 dollars a year).

In terms of human costs, the lives of 3,500 Western soldiers (53 Italians) and 140,000 Afghan soldiers and civilians (35,000, on an upward trend in recent years, recorded by the UN: this is a great underestimate as it does not take into account the many civilian casualties not reported). Without considering Afghan civilians killed because of the humanitarian emergency caused by the conflict: 360,000, according to American researchers at Brown University.

Those who advocate the need to pursue this war invoke the defence of progress made to date.

Which? Apart from a slight decrease in the rate of illiteracy (from 68% in 2001 to 62% today) and a modest improvement in conditions for women and girls (limited to urban areas and attributable to the work of international organizations and NGOs, certainly not to NATO), ‘Afghanistan still has the highest infant mortality rate in the world (113 deaths per 1,000 births), one of the lowest life expectancies on the planet (51 years, third, after Chad and Guinea Bissau) and is still one of poorest people in the world (207 ° out of 230 for per capita wealth.

Politically, the Afghan Islamic fundamentalist regime (founded on sharia and led by former members of the warlords from the Tajik minority) is among the most inefficient and corrupt in the world and in no way a democratic state operating according to the rule of law: censorship, repression of dissent and torture is the norm. Not to mention the drug problem.

The progress achieved by Western intervention can be measured by the growing number of Afghans seeking refuge abroad: among the asylum seekers in Europe in recent years, Afghans are the most numerous, after the Syrians.

Even from the military point of view, the results are disappointing. After sixteen years of war, the Taliban control or are battling for control of nearly half of the country. An embarrassing situation that pushed US President Donald Trump to resume air raids and return combat troops to the front, and NATO to move military advisers from the back to the front line to better manage operations and intervene if needed.

Fighting the Taliban on the western front you find, under Italian command, our soldiers (one thousand men, the second largest contingent after the US: Alpine troops of the Taurinense brigade and special forces of the 4th Alpine paratrooper regiment) have come back to the frontline to plan and coordinate the offensive of Afghan troops.

Military experts doubt the success of this strategy: why would a few thousand troops fighting alongside the unreliable local army succeed when in past years 150,000 western soldiers armed to their teeth have failed? According to experts and diplomats, the only way out is dialogue with the Taliban and their inclusion in a federal and multi-ethnic government, the withdrawal of US and NATO troops, and the conversion of military spending into reconstruction and cooperation.

It should be remembered that the Taliban, strongly supported by the Pashtun majority of Afghans, does not pose a threat to the West because their agenda is national liberation, not international jihad: they fight the foreign jihadists of the Islamic Khorasan who infiltrate Afghanistan and they have never organized attacks in the West (nor have they played any role in the September 11 attacks, which they had openly condemned).

The alternative is the indefinite extension of a bloody war that no one has the strength to win and that will plunge Afghanistan into chaos and growing instability, making it an ideal refuge for international terrorist formations such as ISIS-Khorasan.

This is a dangerous prospect but useful from a geostrategic point of view. For a state of permanent war would justify an equally permanent Western military presence that, albeit minimal, would suffice to discourage interference by competing regional powers (Russia, China, Iran, Pakistan) who wish to extend their strategic influence, cut off drug Afghan drug trafficking which is hurting them, and last but not least, grab the Afghan mineral wealth (in particular the “rare earths’ indispensable for the hi-tech industry), estimated to be worth between 1-3 trillion dollars.

Micromega / il Fatto

Afghanistan – the opium protectorate

Heroine has returned to kill in our cities: 266 died from overdoses last year, mostly among the young. The alarm was all over the TV and newspapers, which reported on Nigerian drugs. Not a hint at the source of this new epidemic: Afghanistan under Western occupation, a source of 80% of global heroin, which reaches Europe not only through the Balkan route, but above all through Africa, with the Nigeria as the main hub. Afghan opium production, started in the 1980s in the area controlled by the Mujahideen supported by CIA and expanded in the 1990s during the civil war, had been banned by the Taliban in 2000. Under allied occupation, with the return of the power of the mujaheddin, production took off again and within a few years it has hit new records: today in Afghanistan there are 200,000 hectares of poppy plantations against 80-90 thousand under the Taliban, with an annual production of 5,600 tonnes compared to 3,000 at the end of the 1990s. A production boom that, the UN says, is happening in the northern regions of the country (+ 324% in 2016) controlled by the government, while in the south under Taleban control production is stable.

It’s not the Islamic guerrillas who are managing the Afghan drug business but the drug lords tied to the Western-backed government. “Afghan insurgents pocket no more than 2.5% -5% of the export value of Afghan heroin on average”, the UN and World Bank noted in 2006 and then again in 2009 with the UN pointing out that “the 25-30 largest Afghan drug traffickers control the major transactions and shipments working closely with co-perpetrators in high government office. ”

Sometimes they are part of the government, as in the case of the late Ahmend Wali Karzai, Kandahar boss and brother of the then president, or Sher Mohammed Akhundzada, former governor of Helmand province, or Mohammed Fahim, vice president of the Afghan republic and defence minister, or General Abdul Rashid Dostum, vice-president and chief of staff of the Armed Forces, or Mohammed Daud Daud, deputy prime minister of the Interior, with responsibility for fighting drugs.

The drug trafficking bosses are untouchable, because of their political-military role or because they are CIA informants or NATO allies. Afghanistan, the United States and NATO have decided to sacrifice the fight against drugs in the name of terrorism. The same choice has been made in Europe, Asia and Latin America in the name of the struggle against communism.

To keep control, Americans allied themselves with powerful criminals and local war lords, closing an eye on the entire Afghan drug industry that rose after 2001. A strategy that secured not only the US / NATO protectorate in Afghanistan, but also that of the major Wall Street banks after the 2008 crisis thanks to the huge mass of recycled narco-dollars that have entered the financial system:  they represented vital liquidity at the time, according to the former general director of the UN Anti-Fraud and Anti-Crime Department, Antonio Maria Costa.

About revoltingeurope

Writer on Europe's Left, trade union and social movements @tomgilltweets or @revoltingeurope

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