Washington – As the United States continued with air attacks on targets in Afghanistan, dubbed “strategic military locations” by Pentagon officials, peace advocates found their struggle pushed to the forefront. The U.S. strikes, comprised of cruise missiles launched from remote locations and bomber raids, were initial steps of what President Bush described as a “sustained, comprehensive and relentless” campaign against Taliban forces. According to the Washington Post, the attacks focused on Taliban strongholds in the south of Afghanistan, damaging airports and other military facilities in Kabul and Kandahar.
Critics of the campaign questioned the approach behind these “strategic” strikes.
“The use of heavy bombers against a country with few hard targets raises serious doubts about the Bush Administration’s claim that the attacks are not against the people of Afghanistan,” Stephen Zunes, senior analyst with the Foreign Policy in Focus Project, said in a statement to the Institute for Public Accuracy.
“The Taliban has allowed Bin Laden and his followers sanctuary,” Zunes acknowledged, “but there is little evidence that they have provided the kind of direct financial or military support that can be crippled through air strikes.”
U.S. forces reportedly followed the first round of bombing raids with an aerial food drop near a refugee camp in southern Afghanistan. According to Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, two U.S. planes dropped 37,500 “Humanitarian Daily Rations,” in an action ostensibly proving that the attacks are not against the people of Afghanistan. But Jim Jennings, president of Conscience International, a humanitarian aid organization, reported that these steps don’t begin to address the huge starvation threat currently facing Afghanistan, and pale in comparison to food relief being provided before the strikes began. On Monday, the U.N. World Food Program halted convoys of food relief to Afghanistan.
“Food drops from high altitudes alone absolutely cannot provide sufficient and effective relief that is urgently necessary to prevent mass starvation,” Jennings said. “The conditions of the Afghan refugee camps in Pakistan earlier this year were the worst I have ever seen – and I have seen a lot. The camps inside Afghanistan are in even worse shape.”
Jennings added that, in one camp in Herat, there are “600,000 people on the verge of starvation. If you provide one pound of food per day, the minimum for bare survival, it would take 500 planeloads a month to supply the one camp in Herat alone, and Afghanistan is the size of Texas.”
Other critics pleaded with the U.S. to consider the effects the current strikes will have on people in the Middle East. Since the attacks began Sunday night, news agencies have reported anti-U.S. demonstrations in Pakistan, the Gaza Strip, and other areas.
“Both Bin Laden and Bush say that you are either with them or against them,” said As’ad AbuKhalil, a fellow at the Center for Middle Eastern Studies at the University of California at Berkeley, “yet much of the Middle East stands in opposition to both. Bin Laden clearly is attempting to reach out to an audience well beyond a small community of followers.”
Lamis Andoni, an independent journalist with two decades of experience covering the Middle East, emphasized the tenuous circumstances of Arab popular opinion. “The Arab people are obviously opposed to the Sept. 11 attacks, but the U.S. is again proving that the only way it deals with the region is through coercion, extortion and violence,” Andoni said. “Once again the U.S. is perpetuating the conditions of injustice in the region, which will feed the extremists.”
Other critics challenge the legality of America’s undeclared war upon the Taliban. John Quigley, professor of international law at Ohio State University, maintains that “military action should have been done through the Security Council at the United Nations. As it is – a U.S. and United Kingdom military action – it is illegal under international law.”
In his condemnation of the strikes, Quigley posed a difficult question that many Americans are worriedly pondering themselves: “Will this protect the U.S. from further attacks?”
Evan Woodward is a writer with IPA Media, a project of the Institute for Public Accuracy.