Unlike corrupt government officials who use the opium trade to enrich themselves, the Taliban are using it to create jobs. Growing opium is much more profitable than growing wheat, and needs nine times more labor. New America Media – As much as President Obama would like to declare victory – or at least progress – in Afghanistan, there is little doubt in the minds of most Arab commentators that America is losing the war. The reasons for this have little to do with immediate tactics being employed by the head of NATO operations, General Stanley McChrystal, and more to do with the structural aspects of the occupation that necessarily favor the Taliban.
Here, then, are eight reasons the Taliban are winning the war:
First, the Taliban have the upper hand in the “waiting game” strategy. They can continue a war of attrition at a time when both the United States and Europe face major economic problems. The Taliban know the United States and NATO are exhausted. The war in Iraq is not going well for the United States, which limits the ability of the US military to increase troop levels in Afghanistan.
Second, the Taliban’s intensified and consistent attacks on NATO have successfully weakened the coalition’s unity. Some NATO members have been reconsidering their commitment to what they now see as an “unwinnable war”. When the Taliban mount three major attacks in six days, killing at least five American soldiers and one Canadian, it not only means NATO lives lost; it also means there is a weakened desire to continue the war. Canada, which has been playing a major role in combat operations, announced that it will withdraw by 2011.
In fact, the Taliban have been making major military achievements for months. In April 2010, they forced US soldiers to leave Korengal Valley, which has been called the Valley of Death by some commentators. Forty-two American soldiers died defending it, but eventually the United States had to abandon the area. Obama’s additional 30,000 troops will not be enough to turn the war around.
Weakness was also clear in the statements of NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen who according to Al Jazeera said during the latest NATO meeting in Brussels that the mission in Afghanistan had not been achieved and that the Taliban resistance was increasing. He added that NATO forces would face difficult times.
Third, NATO has failed to negotiate a political settlement with the Taliban. Instead, NATO members stress the importance of transferring security responsibilities to the Afghan forces, which will only leave behind a security vacuum, not a secure country. Al Jazeera reports that senior Afghan officials have already lost confidence in NATO’s ability to control the situation in Afghanistan.
Fourth, the Obama administration, which campaigned during the 2008 presidential elections on the use of force in Afghanistan, refuses to acknowledge that the Taliban enjoy broad support among the Afghan population. The US media often portray the Taliban as an extremist and unpopular organization, but this is not true. Afghan political analyst Muhammad Qasim told Al Jazeera, “The Taliban is not an isolated movement. It is rather a populous movement. The Afghan people are the ones who are resisting; the people are the ones who support the Taliban. The people are the ones who feed the Taliban.” This is why the Taliban have been able to withstand the past nine years of war against the most advanced and formidable Western armies.
In fact, resisting foreign forces makes the Taliban even more popular in a country where people take pride in expelling past foreign occupiers. Former Afghan presidential candidate Abdullah Abdullah told Al Jazeera English, “When Mr. Karzai visited Marja, he was told we prefer the Taliban to your corrupt officials.” He continued, “That is the strongest message that the people can tell us.”
Fifth, a new generation of foreign Arab fighters who once helped the US-backed Afghan Mujahideen defeat the former Soviet Union is now helping the Taliban defeat NATO. Not only are Afghan tribes joining ranks with the Taliban for economic and social reasons; Arab fighters are also moving into areas where the US forces are withdrawing. These groups are attacking NATO convoys as a way to strengthen their bonds with the Taliban.
Sixth, unlike corrupt government officials who use the opium trade to enrich themselves, the Taliban are using it to create jobs. According to an article in Alshraq Al Awsat, by Lebanese writer Huda Al Husseini, growing opium is much more profitable than growing wheat, and needs nine times more labor. Growing opium, which takes only half the amount of water needed for wheat, provides more than one million Afghans with jobs (an incredible 20 percent of the Afghan population). In addition to this unconventional economic stimulus, the Taliban provide protection for local Afghan farmers who grow opium and prevent middlemen from abusing them.
Seventh, the Obama administration has failed to provide an economic alternative to growing opium.
Between 20023 and 2007, Al Husseini reports only $237 million of the $22 billion the United States has spent in Afghanistan went to developing the Afghan agricultural sector.
Finally, the Taliban control much larger areas than the government, which they use to generate billions of dollars in the opium trade. This, in turn, is used to finance the war against NATO.
According to Al Husseini, the Afghan soil is three times more fertile than that of Burma, which competes with Afghanistan in growing opium. This may explain why it produces up to 90 percent of the world’s opium. To put things in perspective, the CIA estimates opium is being grown on 400,000 acres of land in Afghanistan.