The withdrawal of combat troops from Afghanistan is a welcome development. But it doesn’t mean that the warmongers in Canberra and Washington have been defeated.
The United States has been spending tens of billions of dollars each year on the war on Afghanistan — US$45 billion in 2018 according to a senior Pentagon official or US$1 trillion over the past nearly 20 years.
However, while US President Joe Biden claims to be ending the war, he is also calling for a massive increase in military spending — even more than his predecessor Donald Trump!
This shows that the US empire’s war plans have not diminished. Biden said as much in his speech announcing the troops would be withdrawn.
“We’ll not take our eye off the terrorist threat,” he said. “We’ll reorganise our counterterrorism capabilities and the substantial assets in the region to prevent re-emergence of terrorists.”
Further, he referred to a “national strategy to monitor and disrupt significant terrorist threats not only in Afghanistan, but anywhere they may arise — and they’re in Africa, Europe, the Middle East and elsewhere”.
The New York Times spelled out what this would mean: military bases in nearby countries; bombers flown from aircraft carriers; and ongoing drone attacks.
Biden’s order to withdraw does not necessarily apply to the 1000 extra troops that the US has not officially acknowledged are in Afghanistan. These include special forces and CIA operatives. There is a strong likelihood that at least some of these “off the books” forces will remain.
Thus, the US empire will be seeking to impose its will by means of what the NYT described as a “less visible but still potent force in the region”.
It is clear that the US is planning to cut its losses in Afghanistan: there should be no mistaking the fact: the US did not win the war.
Significantly, the Council on Foreign Relations reported that, today, the Taliban is stronger than at any point since 2001. It is widely expected that the Taliban will quickly regain more power once US forces “leave”.
The reason for this imperial retreat is because the warmongers are positioning themselves for aggression against China. As Biden hinted: “We have to shore up American competitiveness to meet the stiff competition we’re facing from an increasingly assertive China”.
Biden again: “We’ll be much more formidable to our adversaries and competitors over the long term if we fight the battles for the next 20 years, not the last 20.”
Australia is also withdrawing its troops. It too is joining the US in an increasingly aggressive posture against China.
The government and its corporate media mouthpieces like to present Australia’s military operations as humanitarian gestures carried out with a spirit of “mateship”. The truth is that the war crimes committed by Australian soldiers in Afghanistan better represent its imperialist role. The government’s hawkishness towards China is another reflection of this.
Australia, like the US, is increasing offensive military expenditure.
There is no justification for this.
Military funding should be dramatically reduced and redirected towards addressing the biggest actual threat to our security — climate change.
Military activities themselves are major emitters of greenhouse gases. Reducing military expenditure is climate action.
Australia must break its alliance with the US. Whether led by unhinged Republicans or supposedly moderate Democrats, the US is a failed state for its own people and a dangerous rogue state for the rest of the world.
We didn’t manage to stop the imperialist warmongers in Canberra and Washington from invading and occupying Afghanistan, spreading the war to Pakistan, and directly killing up to 241,000 people.
But, as freedom fighter Malalai Joya has repeatedly said, the war has prevented ordinary Afghans from being able to defeat the reactionary and brutal Taliban and war lords politically.
We need to continue to stand against militarism and the human rights abuses that go along with it. One opportunity to do just that is the protest against the Land Forces military exhibition in Brisbane June 1–3.
[Alex Bainbridge is a national co-convenor of Socialist Alliance.]