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U.S. involvement in Afghanistan all about oil

by Gary Olson

September 13, 2009
Originally appearing in The Express-Times

Gen. Stanley McChrystal's recent upbeat assessment that the war in Afghanistan "can still be won" is eerily reminiscent of Gen. William Westmoreland's "light at the end of the tunnel" comments from Vietnam and the early rosy reports from Iraq.

Currently there are 68,000 U.S. soldiers and Marines in Afghanistan. There have been 128 American fatalities this year, the highest total in nearly eight years, while this year's Pentagon budget for Afghanistan is $65 billion. Total costs now exceed $177.5 billion.

Just as the U.S. war on Iraq had nothing to do with the stated reasons, so is it the case with U.S. involvement in Afghanistan. This was sold to the American people on multiple fabrications, including defeating al-Qaida, building democracy, stopping heroin, fighting terrorism and liberating Afghan women. Not one of these reasons is remotely close to the truth.

The 2001 U.S. invasion and occupation of Afghanistan has never been the "good and necessary war" defended by President Obama. Although you never read it in the mainstream media, Washington's motive is control of oil. In this case it's not Afghan reserves but Central Asian oil and gas. A planned $7.6 billion, 1,050-mile oil pipeline running from Turkmenistan to India is called TAPI for Turkmenistan, Afghanistan, Pakistan and India. Turkmenistan has the third-largest natural gas reserves in the world and Afghanistan is the crucial transit corridor.

According to Asia Times journalist Pepe Escobar, TAPI's origins go back to the mid-1990s, "(W)hen the Taliban were wined and dined by California-based Unocal -- and the Clinton machine." According to insider accounts, negotiations broke down because the Taliban were demanding too much in transfer fees. (Recall that the Taliban, al-Qaida and Osama bin Laden were created by the CIA.)

This pipeline would bisect Afghanistan's volatile Kandahar province. It also would permit bypassing Iran, one of Washington's key geopolitical objectives. For this to occur, a reliable client regime needs to be established in Kabul, hence the U.S. invasion, occupation, likely escalation. It's the primary reason why U.S. soldiers are dying there. But I suppose the more honest slogan "Enduring Coffins for Profits and Pipeline" doesn't have quite the same pseudo-patriotic call to national sacrifice touted in "Operation Enduring Freedom."

Adding 14,000 additional U.S. troops will at best produce a stalemate and a steeply escalating casualty rate. It's my sense that Afghanistan, not health care, will be the make-or-break issue for the Obama presidency. The outcome hinges on whether the American public will exert enough pressure to force a U.S. withdrawal from this looming foreign policy disaster.

Gary Olson, Ph.D., is chairman of the Political Science Department at Moravian College in Bethlehem. Contact: olson@moravian.edu