June 20, 2011
Interview with Rick Rozoff
Manager, Stop NATO, Chicago
US Defense Secretary Robert Gates has confirmed that Washington is in direct talks with the Taliban, but said the US contacts with the militants are very preliminary at this point.
The remarks come a day after Afghan President Hamid Karzai announced that the US is in talks with the Taliban, the first official confirmation of such contacts after nearly 10 years of war.
Press TV has conducted an interview with Rick Rozoff, manager of Stop NATO in Chicago, who suggests that the White House is making a fuss about its direct talks with the Taliban plus the recent killing of al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden to pave the way for Obama to be reelected in next year’s presidential elections.
Press TV: Mr. Rozoff, what exactly is going on? If the United States could talk to the Taliban, then why did it take a decade for them to talk to them? What do you see happening? On the one hand, we have the United States saying that it has the upper hand; however, on the other hand, signs on the ground show something totally different. How do you read what is going on at this point in time there?
Rozoff: Yes, you are right about the developments on the ground. Yesterday, for example, no fewer than eight NATO soldiers were killed in Afghanistan, four in combat operations in the south. And German troops were attacked in the north of the country in Kunduz province. So there is fighting on the ground and we have to remember that the annual fighting season, as it were, is just getting underway in earnest. 721 foreign troops were killed last year. I think the number now is probably in the neighborhood of 260, so the fighting is intensifying.
Look, this is not the first time we have heard about talks, secret or otherwise, between the United States and Taliban. We have to keep in mind, of course, the Taliban is a very amorphous organization. It is not certain what the precise command structure is and so forth, but I think a salient point needs to be emphasized.
In the same statement that you cited earlier by Afghan President Hamid Karzai where he intimated that the United States was talking to Taliban more or less behind his back, as I read it, he also stated quite bluntly that the 152,000 foreign troops serving under the US’s Operation Enduring Freedom but overwhelmingly – I think 140,000 of them – under NATO’s International Security Assistance Force were there, and I am quoting him, “for their own national interests and not those of Afghanistan.”
Press TV: It is said that the goal of the Taliban in Afghanistan is not necessarily power. The first goal for them is actually driving out foreign entities. So if this is the case, do we have a problem of even the United States-led forces understanding the premise as far as why the Taliban are even fighting?
Rozoff: I think a couple of points need to be made. It is the presidential election here next year in the United States, one which has already begun in fact at the beginning of this year. It is going to be another billion dollar election extravaganza, and with the recent killing of Osama bin Laden and the fact that the US and NATO war in Afghanistan will reach its tenth anniversary on October 7, there is a certain amount of mission fatigue, if you will, in the United States. If not among the military then certainly among the electorate, the general populace.
This would be an ideal time for the White House or the State Department to make noise about negotiating a deal with the Taliban for strictly domestic political reasons in the United States. I think it should be taken with a grain of salt in that context alone.
Press TV: So, you think that it is just a political ploy as far as making sure that the Democrats do not lose any more support going into the election year?
Rozoff: Yes, that is exactly what I meant. You know, your viewers may know, for example, that the upper house of the parliament in Kazakhstan last week voted against a measure to send an initial deployment of Kazakhstani troops to serve under NATO’s ISAF in Afghanistan. Robert Gates, [US] defense secretary, you must recall was second-in-command of the Central Intelligence Agency in the 1980s when he helped finance and arm two of the three groups that the United States and ISAF state they are fighting in Afghanistan.
One of them is the Quetta Shura Taliban in the Baluchistan province of Pakistan, but the other two are the so-called Hezb-e-Islami Gulbuddin of Gulbuddin Hekmatyar and the Haqqani Network of Jalaluddin Haqqani. We have to remember that Haqqani and Hekmatyar were CIA assets in the 1980s, and I think it is an irony to say the least that the head of the military right now, Robert Gates, is somebody who worked hand-in-glove with these people not too long ago.
There are a lot of byzantine and murky factors then involved in what we are talking about, but Robert Gates let out a couple of weeks ago that El Salvador has become the 49th of what NATO calls Troop Contributing Nations for the war in Afghanistan. So in addition to in the neighborhood of 150,000 foreign troops in the country, you have new national contingents being recruited by the United States.
Recently, countries like the South Pacific nation of Tonga, Malaysia and South Korea have sent troops, and also Japan has sent medics – military personnel. That does not look like retreat and that does not look like the West intends to leave Afghanistan in the immediate future.
The US just appointed a new commander for the Transit Center at Manas in Kyrgyzstan where a year ago a US military commander estimated that at least 50,000 US and NATO troops were transited in and out of that airbase every month, which is to say over two-thirds of a million troops per year.
I go back to President Karzai’s statement that Western military forces are in Afghanistan for their own purposes and not necessarily or at all for the reasons they state they are.