Why we are in Afghanistan

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- While Congress debates who is going to pay the spiraling costs of health, the U.S. government spent $30 billion to send 30,000 additional troops to Afghanistan. According to Linda Bilmes, a public-finance expert at Harvard's Kennedy School of Government: "The total cost of [the escalation in] Afghanistan will be at least twice the direct cost and perhaps three times the cost of the estimate." She cites equipment replacement, medical and disability payments to veterans and interest accrued on money we are borrowing to finance the war. And how does one put a monetary value on the lives that will be lost?

Reading press accounts closely, one is left befuddled as to who we are really fighting and why - al-Qaida, the Taliban or the "bad" Taliban vs. the "good" Taliban. Nor do these explanations address the fact that al-Qaida operates openly in Somalia, Yemen or any number of other states, including Pakistan. Why have we not targeted those countries?

Humanitarian reasons have been cited - to improve the status of women and to aid the economic development of Afghanistan. But then why do we not have troops in the Congo to stop the rape and mutilation of thousands of women, or in Myanmar (Burma) to stop the violent repression of human rights there?

The reasons for our military commitments are complex, but one explanation can be summed up as: pipelines, geography and energy reserves. Afghanistan sits smack in the middle of a pipeline route that would bring the control of future energy to whoever can install "friendly governments" in the area. Afghanistan's gas reserves are largely unexplored, but expected to be vast (the World Bank is funding a study of those reserves). But the key is the region itself. Afghanistan lies south of Turkmenistan, Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan. These three countries have known gas reserves that place each of them among the top 20 nations with the most natural gas.

There are a number of financial interests vying to control the pipeline that has actually started construction in Afghanistan. One is the Asian Development Bank, whose purpose includes meeting Japan's future energy needs. Why is the U.S. fighting to protect Japan's interests?

Japan and the United States each hold 12.8 percent of the votes in the Asian Development Bank, which means they control more than one-quarter of the votes. The next largest bloc of votes is China and India, both countries with desperate future energy needs. They each only control a little over 5 percent of the votes. Vote proportions are based on "subscribed capital." This means the United States has purchased a controlling interest in this bank. Where was the general public discussion of this investment?

The second important player in Afghanistan is Chevron. In 2005, Chevron merged with Unocal - an energy company that had been in talks with the Taliban after the Soviet army was driven out. Unocal had negotiated an agreement to build a pipeline through Afghanistan. According to Richard H. Matzke, president of Chevron Overseas Petroleum Inc., "Another mega-project on the drawing board is called the Central Asian Oil Pipeline. This is a proposal by Unocal and the Saudi company Delta. They want to build a $2.7 billion pipeline from the heart of Turkmenistan, south through Afghanistan and Pakistan to the Arabian Sea. Oil would then move by tanker to the fast-growing economies of East Asia." The above quote is an "American" corporation executive with an "American" company describing the plans to deliver oil, not to America, but to the economies of East Asia. Unfortunately, American troops are being used to accomplish this agenda.

If "American interests" are at stake in the quest for energy sources, why are we not developing the vast natural gas reserves of the Marcellus shale formation - a gas reserve the size of Greece that underlies West Virginia and several other northern Appalachia states. Is "energy independence" simply a slogan for political purposes?

The American public needs answers for these questions that, so far, our media has failed to give.

Ewen is a retired sociology professor and former co-director of the Center for the Studies of Ethnicity and Gender in Appalachia at Marshall University.

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