The bombing of Afghanistan is entering its fourth week. What began as an attempt to destroy the countryís air defense and military infrastructure in anticipation of direct attacks on bin Ladenís mountain lair has turned into an attempt to destroy the Taliban regime. What was supposed to be a new kind of war, to attack and destroy a terrorist network that knows no national bounds, has turned into the same old strategic bombing we know from previous wars. Carpet bombing, cluster bombs, one-thousand pound bombs that hit houses, health clinics, food warehouses and other civilian targets. The Afghan people, who have not been implicated in any terrorist crime, are the ones who are hurting.
Even before the September 11 attack, over five million people were on the edge of starvation in Afghanistan, surviving only because of international aid. The United Nations World Food Program (WFP) and other international humanitarian organizations were in Afghanistan working desperately to truck in food before winter closed the roads.
Because of the bombings, food aid to Afghanistan has been disrupted. "It is now evident that we cannot, in reasonable safety, get food to hungry Afghan people...," Oxfam President Raymond C. Offenheiser, has said. "Weíve run out of food, the borders are closed, we canít reach our staff and time is running out." Another two million people, according to the WFP, have been put at risk because of the bombing. If WFP canít meet its target of 52,000 tons of food each month, seven million Afghanis are at risk of starvation.
The United States claims the bombing is necessary to stop terrorism. But the Afghan people have never been accused of terrorism. None of the plane hijackers responsible for the 9-11 carnage have been identified as Afghani. Of the estimated one-thousand people being held for questioning in American jails, none are reported to be from Afghanistan. Bin Ladenís Al Qaeda network has been identified in Germany, Italy, and other European countries, but no one from Afghanistan has been identified as a member.
Itís true that the Taliban protects bin Laden in Afghanistan and most people, certainly most of the women in Afghanistan, would be pleased to have the Taliban driven from power. But at what cost? The Taliban may or may not survive this onslaught (they know how to protect themselves from bombs, as they proved in the war against the Russians). But itís the innocent people of Afghanistan who are being put at risk by what we claim is a war on terrorism.
Two guidelines govern the bombing of Afghanistan: 1) we donít want to lose men; and 2) we donít want to have our expensive and technologically sophisticated aircraft shot down. Hence we drop bombs from on high, so anti-aircraft guns and missiles canít hit us. The trouble is itís ineffective; too many bombs miss their targets. Iím sure that we donít want to bomb civilians; morality aside, itís bad politics. But as long as we refuse to risk our planes and our pilots, we canít help but hit homes, health clinics, schools and warehouses.
Some military realists, Senator John McCain and Iím sure many generals, understand that this kind of high-tech war is not working. They understand that war cannot be fought as a public relations project. Planes have to fly close to their targets and troops have to do close-up fighting. Some might say that our unwillingness to take casualties is a sign of national weakness. I would suggest itís a sign of civilized behavior. But if the public doesnít have the stomach for war, we shouldnít fight ineffective wars from our own safe havens. Instead, we should start looking for alternative ways of projecting our influence. High-flying strategic bombing is militarily ineffective and morally disastrous.
More to the point it has very little to do with stopping terror. Bin Laden, safe in a mountainous cave, canít hurt us. Itís the men he recruits who are willing to die to destroy others, that are our problem. And they only become lethal when theyíre in our country. There is a rush to secure our borders and protect the public. But, logistically, there is less of a rush to get at bin Laden; and doing so could cause the death Ė if the bombing doesnít stop so the food can get in Ė of millions of people and create the hatred for America that makes people want to destroy us.
TV pictures of bombs killing Afghan civilians enrages people who, for religious, ethnic or simply human reasons, identify with the victims. Every civilian we kill, increases the number of potential terrorists. People who are dying because our bombing prevents them from getting food increases the likelihood of revenge killing. Assistant Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz, in an interview with the London Sunday Telegraph, recently justified the use of cluster bombs or any other weapon in Afghanistan by saying, "We lost somewhere between 5,000 and 7,000 people in a single day. We are now being threatened with weapons that could kill tens of thousands of people, and we are trying to avoid killing innocent people, but we have to win this war and we will use the weapons we need to win this war."
But itís not a war against terrorism that Wolfowitz thinks heís fighting. Itís a war against the people of Afghanistan who are not responsible for any crimes against America. A number of relief organizations have called for a halt in the bombing so food can be trucked into Afghanistan before the winter. Thatís a start. A bombing halt will not hinder the international police efforts to uncover bin Ladenís terrorist networks; nor, practically speaking, will it increase the threat of terrorism here in America. More bombing, however, will increase the potential of future terrorist action. And to be implicated in the death of millions -- because our bombing stymied efforts to prevent people from starving -- is something no human being, except perhaps a terrorist, would ever want to be guilty of.
Marty Jezer writes from Brattleboro, Vermont and welcomes comments at firstname.lastname@example.org
Copyright (C) 2001 by Marty Jezer