Why do Men Join the Taliban?

As the world prepares for a turkey shoot in Marjah village, Helmand Province in which civilian lives will matter less than body counts, we may as well look at the corruption which has hindered the jobs and reconstruction programs which might have prevented young men from joining the Taliban for the ten dollar per day wage, in country with 40 percent unemployment. As Ann Jones reported, in "The Road to Taliban Land"


Most Afghans, after the dispersal of the Taliban, were full of hope and ready to work. The tangible benefits of reconstruction -- jobs, housing, schools, health-care facilities -- could have rallied them to support the government and turn that illusory "democracy" into something like the real thing. But reconstruction didn't happen.

What might surprise folks is that it was not the warlords and corrupt ministers who stole most of the money, which was not that much to begin with. OXFAM puts the lion's share of the blame on American contractors like Louis Berger Group who scooped up 40 percent or more of the funds before any ground for a project was ever broken. In 2008 Matt Waldman of OXFAM wrote:

Just $15 billion in aid has so far been spent, of which it is estimated a staggering 40% has returned to donor countries in corporate profits and consultant salaries.

This is the report which is required reading for anyone wishing to know happened to all the money that was supposed to keep hope alive and the insurgency from rearing its head again, as it did in 2006. Before then there was relative peace in the country, and Americans were still fairly well-liked.

If we're going to have a turkey shoot, at least let's understand how we came to this point. General Karl Eikenberry told the House Armed Services Committee in 2007: "Much of the enemy force is drawn from the ranks of unemployed men looking for wages to support their families." On this there is now wide agreement, although as casualties rise and "offensive operations" get cranked up to fix what was an economic problem to begin with, hatreds will harden and it will get tougher to leave in any face-saving fashion every day.

Imagine if every time some nut took a hostage and barricaded himself inside someone's house the police just called in an F-16 to level the place. Wouldn't that win them friends!

And how much is the $15 billion total spent on jobs and reconstruction as of 2008? Going by General Barry McCaffrrey's "burn rate" of $9 billion per month for military operations in Afghanistan, that entire budget is what we throw into the fireplace of war in a mere 2 months.

Stop the madness. You are on the verge, and the world is watching Marjah.

Please go to Robert Naiman's End the War in Afghanistan Action Page and send an email to your representatives. The diarist is the co-founder of Jobs for Afghans. 



U.S. Poised to Commit War Crimes in Marjah

The United States and NATO are poised to launch a major assault in the Marjah district in southern Afghanistan. Tens of thousands of Afghan civilians are in imminent peril. Will President Obama and Congress act to protect civilians in Marjah , in compliance with the obligations of the United States under the laws of war?

Few civilians have managed to escape the Afghan town of Marjah ahead of a planned US/NATO assault, raising the risk of civilian casualties, McClatchy News reports.

Under the laws of war, the US and NATO - who have told civilians not to flee - bear an extra responsibility to control their fire and avoid tactics that endanger civilians, Human Rights Watch notes. "I suspect that they believe they have the ability to generally distinguish between combatants and civilians," said Brad Adams of Human Rights Watch. "I would call that into question, given their long history of mistakes, particularly when using air power. Whatever they do, they have an obligation to protect civilians and make adequate provision to alleviate any crisis that arises," he said. "It is very much their responsibility."

"If [NATO forces] don't avoid large scale civilian casualties, given the rhetoric about protecting the population, then no matter how many Taliban are routed, the Marjah mission should be considered a failure," said an analyst with the International Crisis Group.

A report in the Wall Street Journal cast fresh doubt on the ability - and even on the interest - of U.S. forces to distinguish combatants from civilians. "Across southern Afghanistan, including the Marjah district where coalition forces are massing for a large offensive, the line between peaceful villager and enemy fighter is often blurred," the Journal says. The commander of the U.S. unit responsible for Pashmul estimates that about 95% of the locals are Taliban or aid the militants. Among front-line troops, "frustration is boiling over" over more restrictive rules of engagement than in Iraq, the Journal says - a dangerous harbinger of potential war crimes when the U.S. is about to engage in a major assault in an area densely populated with civilians.

Today, AFP reports, military helicopters dropped leaflets over Marjah as radio broadcasts "warned residents not to shelter Taliban ahead of a massive assault." Doesn't this suggest that the invading U.S. forces may regard any civilian alleged to be "sheltering Taliban" as a legitimate target, including women and children?

If the U.S. assault in Marjah results in large scale civilian casualties, the U.S. will have committed a major war crime. If the United States cannot protect civilians in Marjah, as the U.S. is required to do under the laws of war, the assault should be called off. Under international law, every U.S. citizen is legally obligated to work to bring about the compliance of the United States with international law. Raise your voice now, before it is too late.


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