A Veil on the Truth
By Cynthia Peters
A few privileged Afghan women have been caught smiling for AP cameras,
but many Afghan women, men and children are silently dying behind
the burqa of U.S. deceit.
The facts are simple. Massive food distribution programs put in
place prior to 9-11 in response to widespread famine were derailed
by the anticipation of and then the actual U.S. bombing campaign,
and have been even further set back by the Taliban's retreat. According
to the New York Times (11/30/01), "In the past two weeks, the tonnage
[of aid] delivered dropped to a pace less than half of what it had
been in the previous two weeks." The problem is that the "towns
and cities are so chaotic that relief agencies cannot safely operate.
Many roads are off limits because of lawlessness and banditry."
Those of us who opposed the U.S. war in A fghanistan nevertheless
saw its apparent rapid resolution as an opportunity to at least
get much needed supplies into the country. Having routed the enemy,
perhaps the United States would stop the bombing, allowing food
trucks to move in from across the border. But, instead, the opposite
is true. As of this writing (December 5), the bombing continues,
civilian populations are left at the mercy of marauding gangs, and
food aid dwindles.
There are a few simple things we could do that would immediately
turn down the torture in Afghanistan.
First, the U.S. should stop bombing. There is no real accounting
yet of the civilian casualty rate, but reports in the last few days
claim that U.S. bombs hit four villages near Tora Bora, possibly
killing hundreds (NYT 12/3/01). This is an unethical and illegal
use of U.S. firepower. If it's Osama bin Laden who we are still
after, it is never too late to apprehend him in a manner that accords
with international law -- present proper evidence and allow the
UN to mount a prudent, ground-based multilateral campaign to capture
him. In any case, since there is no Afghan enemy mounting any kind
of defense or engaging in battle, there is no excuse for large-scale
bombings -- whether directed by the U.S. or the UN.
Second, the bridge to Uzbekistan, which is a key passage for aid
trucks, should be secured. And we should meet Uzbekistan's demand
that an international force provide security at their Afghan border.
Instead American military officials are saying that although they
"recognize the urgency of opening the bridge from Uzbekistan, [U.S.]
troops will not be protecting the border."
There is callous disregard for human life in this casual acknowledgement
of the urgency. American officials understand the consequences of
their inactivity, but are blithely sitting back and saying they
want Afghan forces -- not foreign troops -- to police the roadways,
when the only Afghan forces that exist in the country are "lawless
bandits," and it is American officials themselves that installed
them. Having destabilized the country to the point where it is not
even safe for aid trucks to travel, it seems the U.S. is washing
its hands of the disaster.
If only that were the case.
Instead, the U.S. is actually blocking efforts to bring in the
very peacekeepers that might secure the roads and borders, and facilitate
the transport of life-saving aid. Buried in an article about how
the Northern Alliance, during negotiations in Bonn, finally relented
on allowing foreign peacekeepers into the country, the Boston Globe
(11/30/01) reported that some U.S. officials believe peacekeepers
will be a nuisance to their unilateral conduct of the war. "Citing
Bush Administration officials, the Washington Post reported that
`the U.S. Central Command, which oversees the war in Afghanistan,
is opposing the imminent deployment of peacekeepers in areas freed
from Taliban control out of concern this could encumber U.S. military
In a New York Times article (12/3/01) about the Bonn negotiations,
a brief aside mentions the "Pentagon's unwillingness to take part
in any peacekeeping force or to favor placing peacekeepers anywhere
where they could get in the way of the war against Al Qaeda." Specifically,
since November 12 when the Northern Alliance took Kabul, the Pentagon
has blocked proposals by France and Britain to send thousands of
troops to secure Kabul, the northern half of the country, and aid
routes. On December 4, the Pentagon said it would "not object to
peacekeepers confined to Kabul and its immediate vicinity" -- a
concession that is mostly symbolic (only 200 peacekeepers will be
admitted) and is nonetheless entirely irrelevant to ensuring open
channels for aid (NYT 12/5/01).
Third, the U.S. should reconsider food airdrops. Dropping "Humanitarian
Daily Rations" -- bright yellow packages, decorated with the American
flag and containing 2200 calories worth of peanut butter, shortbread,
and fruit pastries -- is counterproductive. Airdrops undermine the
work of neutral aid organizations by turning humanitarian assistance
into an attempt to win "hearts and minds." They ignore the special
needs of malnourished children who require a specific diet. "If
you would give peanut butter to a severely malnourished child, you
are likely to do more harm than good," says Lucas Van den Broeck
of Action Against Hunger (Boston Globe 10/25/01). And the airdrops
bypass crucial distribution methods, which ensure food gets to all
who need it, not just to those nimble enough to gather the yellow
packets as they drop from the skies, assuming, that is, that they
land where people can reach them and not among land mines (10 million
of which litter the Afghan landscape). According to at least one
UN report (Boston Globe, 11/30/01), two children have already been
killed "when they stepped on mines running across a field trying
to pick up food packets."
We won't see pictures of their exploded bodies in the morning newspaper
because those images are a theat to the Pentagon's ongoing prosecution
of the "war on terrorism." Those images must stay safely shrouded
from public view. While the media showcase the newly revealed faces
of Afghan women, the innocent victims of the U.S. war are still
This is a veil that U.S. citizens have the power to lift, and the
consequences of doing so are immense. We should expose and demand
an end to a war that has turned Afghanistan into a world stage for
the theatrical display of U.S. might and banal disregard for human
Cynthia Peters is a political activist, writer and editor. She
can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.