As we stand on the precipice of a massive
humanitarian catastrophe in Afghanistan, it is becoming painfully evident that
the pious promise made by the US regarding the preservation of civilian life is
In the coming months, according to the United Nations, over 7 million Afghans will be dependent upon aid for survival. Many of them are going to die, including at least 100,000 children.
The United States is killing Afghans with one hand, whilst feeding them with another.
One of the first orders issued by the United States following its Faustian pact with the Pakistani government, was to shut the border with Afghanistan. According to the New York Times (16/9/2001), this served to prevent the flow of truck convoys that provide much of the food and other supplies needed by Afghanistan's civilian population.
Since then, food supplies have been dwindling, with aid agencies unable to get truck convoys, the lifeline of the Afghan people, into the country.
At the same time, the US has been relentlessly bombing Afghanistan. Most concerning is the use of cluster bombs - a device conspicuously absent in tabloid breakdowns of US weaponry and firepower in favor of the more glamorous " smart bombs" and " bunker busters" . The Federation of American Scientists describes them as " 1,000-pound deadly munitions that break into 202 bomblets, and each bomblet fractures into 300 fragments of steel. It covers a football field, it can turn an apple orchard into apple sauce -- or people into hamburger."
Their high failure rate means many do not explode on impact, thus becoming, what Human Rights Watch describe as orange-yellow soda-can sized landmines highly attractive to small children.
Aside from bombs, US planes are also dropping pamphlets. One such pamphlet reads, " Our bombs are so accurate we can drop them right through your windows." So accurate that they have been dropped on at least one mosque, a hospital, several villages, an old people's home, UN aid workers, and six Red Cross facilities (two of which having been attacked twice in 10 days).
Senator John McCain wrote in an Op-Ed in the Wall Street Journal (26/10/2001) that the killing of civilians was " a regrettable but necessary fact of war", and called for the US to " get on with the business of killing our enemies as quickly as we can, and as ruthlessly as we must" .
Despite that, there have been plenty of aid agencies who want the " business of killing" to stop. On October 17th, Oxfam, Islamic Relief, Christian Aid, CAFOD, ActionAid, Tear Fund, and others, called for a cessation of bombing " to allow food to be delivered in safety and in sufficient quantities to sustain people through winter" .
In desperation, Oxfam America President, Raymond Offenheiser said, " We've reached the point where it is simply unrealistic for us to do our job in Afghanistan. We've run out of food, the borders are closed, we can't reach our staff and time is running out."
The United States is killing Afghans with one hand, whilst feeding them with another. The much-publicized " humanitarian parcel drops" have been condemned by aid agencies as a politically motivated hijacking and subversion of genuine humanitarian work.
A statement issued by Medecins Sans Frontieres said, " This is not a humanitarian operation. It is part of a military campaign designed to gather international approval of the attacks. Dropping a few cases of drugs and food in the middle of the night during air raids, without knowing who is going to collect them, is virtually useless - and may even be dangerous"
Replacing programs that fed millions a day, with a program that scatters 35,000 meal packages across the Afghan countryside is farcical.
In a masterful stroke of psyops stratagem, Rear Admiral John Stufflebeem announced late last week, that " there are reports that the Taliban might poison the food and try to blame the United States". He warned Afghans receiving aid that, " if it comes from Taliban control, they must be careful" . In other words, don't eat the food even if it does become available to you.
Amid all of this, the US is going to extraordinary lengths to hide the human cost of their campaign. The Guardian (17/10/2001) reported that the Pentagon has bought exclusive rights to the one non-military satellite (Ikonos) able to take photos to the level of resolution needed to discern dead bodies on the ground. The US has also attempted to exert pressure on the Qatari government to temper the reporting of Al-Jazeerah.
Since September 11th, the Taliban have made at least three attempts to negotiate with the United States as to the issue of bin Laden. Most recently, they offered to have him tried in a third country. The United States refused and warned, "do what we say, or pay the price".
Now the price is being paid in full, though not by bin Laden and the Taliban. It is being paid by the Afghan people - men, women and children equally as innocent as those who died on September 11.
Amir Butler is Executive Director Australian Muslim Public Affairs Committee.