Why are we fighting in Afghanistan?

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Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper in his government’s recent Throne Speech announced that he wants to extend Canada’s participation in the Afghan War for another two years. Many people are asking why are we in Afghanistan and for what purpose are our soldiers dying? What are the other costs to Canadians?

The Conservative Government of Stephen Harper is attempting to portray the Afghan war as “a humanitarian mission” while continuing to fight against Afghans who are resisting what they see as “foreign invaders.” I wonder how Canadians would see American, Russian or Chinese soldiers who invaded our country, over threw an unpopular government, killed tens of thousands, wounded many thousands more, caused wanton destruction and massive environmental damage. Even if they claimed that they were bringing “democracy to Canada” I do not believe that most Canadians would be impressed.

The recent poll published in the Globe and Mail showed that Afghans want the fighting to end, and they support negotiations with the Taliban. The Globe and Mail said; “Despite the enmity toward the Taliban, 74 per cent [of Afghans] said they supported negotiations between the Karzai government and Taliban representatives as a way of reducing conflict. In Kandahar, support for talks jumped to 85 per cent."

But what is the cost of the war in Afghanistan to Canadians? The deaths of 71 soldiers and a diplomat are fairly well known? The financial costs are less well known. According to one study published by the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, the "full cost" of the Afghan war to Canada will be $7.2 billion by March 2008. This works out to more than $100 million every month. What could Canada do with $7.2 billion dollars? How could this money benefit our health care system, to help alleviate poverty, provide tax relief or be used in the fight against global warming?

One aspect of the war that is rarely discussed is the impact of exposure of our own soldiers, not to mention the civilian population in Afghanistan and Iraq, to toxic substances.

In the first Iraq War in 1991 causalities reported killed and wounded numbered less than 800. However, in 2001 the United States Veterans Affairs Department officially recognized 159,000 U.S. Desert Storm soldiers as being disabled and another 60,000 becoming disabled in Gulf service after the 1991 war. The 2001 report also noted that 8,000 Gulf War vets had already died.

The numbers are staggering. These figures are from 2001 and the rates for cancers and other illnesses can only go up. They are the 220,000 causalities from the First Iraq War virtually no one talks about.

At the end of December 2001 U.S. Army reports were released that suggested one cause for Gulf War illnesses was low level exposure to sarin nerve gas. The gas was released into the air when the U.S. military improperly blew up Iraqi chemical weapons sites in 1991.

The other suspected cause for “Gulf War Syndrome” is Depleted Uranium or DU. Major Doug Rokke (Ret.) who has a Ph.D served as health physicist for the U.S. Army Depleted Uranium Assessment team in Iraq. He directed development of radiation and safety education and field procedures at the Bradley Radiological Laboratories. He now has a 40% army disability because the uranium in his urine is 5,000 times the permissible level. He also has trouble breathing.

In 1991 his team was brought in to cleanup contamination caused when U.S. troops fired DU weapons accidentally against their fellow U.S. troops ("friendly fire" casualties). DU is basically reprocessed nuclear waste. His containment team went into smashed up tanks without radiological protective suits. Within 72 hours they were getting sick, had respiratory problems and rashes that bled. Over the years many team members died. Dr. Rokke says they were abandoned by the US Defense Department. Rokke himself was fired from his job at Bradley Labs in 1996 after he wrote a report saying the US Army had huge liability for contamination at an US army base in Alabama. (See here .)

The Veterans Affairs Department has awarded disability to 60,000 soldiers who went into the Gulf countries after the war was over. Two thousand of these Gulf War "theater" veterans have died. This is very alarming. It means that the Gulf area (Iraq, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia) is still highly contaminated.

The chief suspect again is DU, "depleted uranium.” Rokke says the name is a mistake. "There’s nothing depleted about it.” He says the dangerous "alpha proportion" actually goes up in the processing. More than 900,000 DU projectiles were fired during the first Gulf War. When the weapons hit, about half of the uranium was released as tiny particles. The radioactive particles will last for billions of years.

Looking for a quick victory and low body count the U.S. military fought the first Gulf War without regard to the long term effects of exposure to DU and other environmental hazards on its own soldiers. The US Military liked the cheapness and great penetrating power of the DU shells so it made a political decision to downplay the risk of uranium poisoning. (For much more info on DU, please click here .)

Now another generation of U.S., Canadian and British soldiers are being sent to war by politicians, most of whom who never have been in combat, into what is a toxic waste land. These soldiers are very likely going to pay a very steep price for fighting in Afghanistan and Iraq. The future health costs and law suits are going to be very expensive and the human cost in pain and suffering incalculable.

In a more recent study it is reported that more than 73,000 US Military service men have died since the First Gulf War. These figures do not include Iraqi civilian deaths estimated at more than one million in the First Iraq War and the period of sanctions and an additional 1.2 million in the current war in Iraq. Over 20,000 civilians have been killed in the War in Afghanistan.

The United States Department of Veteran’s Affairs, in conjunction with the Joint Chiefs of Staff, in May 2007 released figures which reveal “the true cost of the War against Iraq and Afghanistan." According to the report more Gulf War veterans have died than the number of US soldiers killed in Vietnam.

The Department of Veterans Affairs, May 2007, Gulf War Veterans Information System reported the following: Total U.S. Military Gulf War Deaths Since Gulf War One: 73,846; Deaths amongst Deployed: 17,847; Deaths amongst Non-Deployed Veterans: 55,999. Total "Undiagnosed Illness" (UDX) claims: 14,874. Total number of disability claims filed: 1,620,906. Disability Claims amongst Deployed: 407,911 Disability Claims amongst Non-Deployed Veterans: 1,212,995. Percentage of combat troops that filed Disability Claims 36%.

Soldiers, by nature, are generally not complainers. The real impact of those who are disabled from the US invasions of Iraq, Afghanistan and other nations, is not fully reflected in the official Veterans Affairs numbers. Many soldiers suffer from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder and other psychiatric aliments due to their war time activities and many are never able to live normal lives.

The official US government numbers, as of October 25, 2007, of deaths due to the War in Iraq is 3,838 with 28,171 reported as wounded.

Apparently the Bush administration does not want the 73,000 dead veterans to be compared to the 55,000 U.S. soldiers killed in Vietnam. What the Bush Administration is doing is counting only the soldiers that die directly in action in Iraq or Afghanistan. Injured soldiers are quickly taken out of the war zone for medical treatment. Any soldier who is shot in the war but is removed from the war zone before they die is not counted as a causality of the war.

The 73,843 dead amongst the U.S. soldiers for this scale of operation in Iraq and using weapons of mass destruction is proportionately not that high. However, according to one source, “they expect the great majority of U.S. soldiers who took part in the invasion of Iraq to die of uranium poisoning, which can take decades to kill. From a victors perspective, above any major war in history, the Gulf War has taken the severest toll on soldiers.”

According to reports more than 1,820 tons of radioactive nuclear waste uranium were exploded into Iraq alone in the form of armor piercing rounds and bunker busters, representing the world’s worst man made ecological disaster ever. To compare 64 kg of uranium was used in the bomb that destroyed Hiroshima. The U.S. Iraq Nuclear contamination represents more than fourteen thousand Hiroshima’s. It has been suggested that the nuclear waste the U.S. has exploded into the Middle East will continue killing for billions of years and could possibly wipe out more than a third of life on the planet. Gulf War Veterans who have ingested the uranium will continue to die off over the next few decades from cancers and other horrific diseases.

Birth defects are up 600% in Iraq. Being exposed to the same radioactive contamination we can expect a massive increase in birth defects in the children of U.S. veterans of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. Our Canadian soldiers are being exposed to the same radioactive contamination and other environmental hazards.

This information is not being addressed in the North American mainstream media. However, this information is readily available on the United States Department of Veteran’s Affairs web site .

The financial cost of the US war against Iraq and Afghanistan is also staggering. A recent US Congressional study estimates the cost for U.S. war in Iraq and Afghanistan at $2.4 trillion through the next decade. The report says the United States has already spent 604 billion dollars on the so-called “War on Terror.” US President George W. Bush has asked for $196.4 billion for war-related operations for the 2007-2008 budget year.

The question that needs to be asked is what is spending all of these billions of dollars accomplishing. According to Lord Ashdown, “NATO has ‘lost in Afghanistan’ and its failure to bring stability there could provoke a regional sectarian war ‘on a grand scale." Lord Ashdown is the former leader of the British Liberal Democrats and a highly respected British political figure. He is also the former United Nations High Representative for Bosnia and Herzegovina. Ashdown delivered his dire prediction after being proposed as a new "super envoy" for Afghanistan.

Lord Ashdown’s pessimistic assessment of the war in Afghanistan is shared by Great Britain’s Chief of Defence Staff, Sir Jock Stirrup. He recently has said the military cannot resolve the situation in Afghanistan alone. The Chief of Britain’s Armed Forces warned “that British troops could remain in Afghanistan for "decades." He also said that even then the conflict will only be resolved by a political deal – after talks with Taliban leaders.”

Is Stephen Harper’s Afghanistan war the kind of war that Canadians want? We need to very loudly ask our political leaders why are we fighting a war in Afghanistan?

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