WAR ON TERROR: THE REAL VICTIMS: The Irresponsibility of This Conflict Is Breathtaking. It Is Not about Terrorism. as Blair and Bush Stoop to the Level of the Criminal Outrage in New York, British Forces Are Little More Than Mercenaries for the Hidden Agenda of U.S. Imperial Ambitions

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Byline: JOHN PILGER Legendary foreign correspondent

THE war against terrorism is a fraud. After three weeks' bombing, not a single terrorist implicated in the attacks on America has been caught or killed in Afghanistan.

Instead, one of the poorest, most stricken nations has been terrorised by the most powerful - to the point where American pilots have run out of dubious "military" targets and are now destroying mud houses, a hospital, Red Cross warehouses, lorries carrying refugees.

Unlike the relentless pictures from New York, we are seeing almost nothing of this. Tony Blair has yet to tell us what the violent death of children - eight in one family - has to do with Osama bin Laden.

And why are cluster bombs being used? The public should know about these bombs, which the RAF also uses. They spray hundreds of bomblets that have only one purpose; to kill and maim people. Those that do not explode lie on the ground like landmines, waiting for people to step on them.

If ever a weapon was designed specifically for acts of terrorism, this is it. I have seen the victims of American cluster weapons in other countries, such as the Laotian toddler who picked one up and had her right leg and face blown off. Be assured this is now happening in Afghanistan, in your name. Why?

None of those directly involved in the September 11 atrocity was Afghani. Most were Saudis, who apparently did their planning and training in Germany and the United States. The camps which the Taliban allowed bin Laden to use were emptied weeks ago. Moreover, the Taliban itself is a creation of the Americans and the British. In the 1980s, the tribal army that produced them was funded by the CIA and trained by the SAS to fight the Russians.

The hypocrisy does not stop there. When the Taliban took Kabul in 1996, Washington said nothing. Why? Because Taliban leaders were soon on their way to Houston, Texas, to be entertained by executives of the oil company, Unocal.

WITH secret US government approval, the company offered them a generous cut of the profits of the oil and gas pumped through a pipeline that the Americans wanted to build across Afghanistan.

A US diplomat said: "The Taliban will probably develop like the Saudis did". He explained that Afghanistan would become an American oil colony, there would be huge profits for the West, no democracy and the legal persecution of women. "We can live with that," he said.

The deal fell through; but an urgent priority of the administration of George W. Bush, which is steeped in the oil industry, is to exploit the same oil and gas reserves in the Caspian basin, the greatest source of untapped fossil fuel on earth and enough, according to one estimate, to meet America's voracious energy needs for a generation. Only if the pipeline runs through Afghanistan can the Americans hope to control it.

So, not surprisingly, US Secretary of State Colin Powell is now referring to "moderate" Taliban, who will join an American-sponsored "loose federation" to run Afghanistan. The "war on terrorism" is a cover for this: a means of achieving American strategic aims that lie behind the flag-waving facade of great power.

The Royal Marines, who will do the real dirty work, will be little more than mercenaries for Washington's imperial ambitions, not to mention the extraordinary pretensions of Blair himself. Having made this country a target for terrorism with his bellicose "shoulder to shoulder" with Bush nonsense, he is now prepared to send troops to a battlefield where the goals are so uncertain that even the Chief of the Defence Staff says the conflict "could last 50 years". The irresponsibility of this is breathtaking, and comparable with Blair's messianic posturing that has made Britain a terrorist target.

Having reported many wars, I am always struck by the absurdity of effete politicians eager to wave farewell to young soldiers, but who themselves would not say boo to a Taliban goose. …