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Est. April 5, 2002
April 20, 2017 - Issue 695

In All the Bombing
What about Afghanistan’s Farmers?


"Imagine the good that could come
from the millions that are spent on bombs,
if they were spent on the people."

For most Americans, the dropping of a nuclear-sized, non-nuclear bomb in Afghanistan was a ho-hum affair. Since the U.S. drops so many bombs in so many places around the world, mention is restricted to a small paragraph in a deep inside page of the major newspapers.

The “mother of all bombs” (MOAB) certainly seemed like a nuclear device when it hit the area near the frontier between Pakistan and Afghanistan. At least, some farmers thought so. The bomb, which was so big that it had to be dropped from the rear cargo hatch of a giant transport plane, rather than a bomber designed properly to rain death down on the earth.

The bomb, the GBU-43B, or Massive Ordnance Air Blast, carried a payload of some 20,000 pounds of explosives and took $314 million to develop, with a unit cost of $16 million, according to The Fiscal Times. The drop, designed to kill ISIS fighters in their subterranean digs, did its job, but it also traumatized those living in the area, according to foreign researchers who have been working in that remote area of the country, Nangarhar Province.

Farmers in that region apparently were the last to know that a massive bomb was going to be dropped in their vicinity. They found out about it when they saw soldiers leaving the area and asked them what was going on and, when they heard that a bombing was imminent, they too left the area. Some see that the use of MOAB was less for military ends, than to serve as a warning to others, who might be on the wrong end of U.S. bombs in the future. Yes magazine noted last week: “Adding evidence to that argument is the relatively small scale of the local branch of ISIS, known there as the Islamic State Khorosan Province, or ISKP. Andrea Chiovenda, an anthropologist with Harvard Medical School who conducted his research not far from the bomb site, said that ISKP has only a few hundred fighters, most of them foreign. Even so, he said, these fighters have brutalized the local population. ‘You might tell me you want to cut it [the branch] down when it’s still young,’ Chiovenda said. ‘But there’s plenty of evidence that it’s not gaining traction among the people.’”

After decades of war, the people of Afghanistan experience the daily stress of not knowing from one day to the next whether they will be attacked by either the local ISIS branch or the U.S. or some one of its allies, if there are such things in the ongoing war, even though the U.S. part in it (as far as we know) consists of the 8,400 troops, with 5,000 coalition troops, that President Obama said would stay to give support to that country’s army. Now, however, there is talk inside the Trump Administration that more troops are needed to end what has become America’s longest war. Trump’s decision now, according to his generals, is whether to accept a stalemate or increase the number of troops. Since he has declared that the U.S. is through with nation-building, it’s hard to see him increasing the number of troops, although he might be more averse to setting himself up for being viewed as a loser. For him, either choice is a path to potential disaster.

Under any circumstances, there are people in Afghanistan who have been born, grown to maturity, and are concerned for their grandchildren’s well-being, who never have known anything but war. That relentless condition is a stressor that can’t easily be calculated. Thus, the small farmers and others who live in the remote regions of the country can never be able to figure on a peaceful season of growing crops on their small holdings. There are conflicting reports that the giant MOAB strike did not hit any civilian land, but some observers, viewing the video of the bombing released by the U.S. Department of Defense said that it appeared that cultivated fields and terraces were destroyed. This is an impoverished region whose tribal people have suffered, since the late 1800s, when the British cut up the region and left families on either side of the Pakistan-Afghanistan frontier.

Spogmai Akseer, an educator with a doctorate from the University of Toronto and a native of the area of the bombing, told Yes magazine: “Male members of my family I spoke with last month said that, once the sun sets, they don’t like to leave their homes for fears of ISIS and Taliban. They are very angry with the government, for not looking after them.” She has been based in Kabul for the past two years and thought immediately of her family back home, when she heard of the bombing.

More than one observer referred to the criticisms the local people express about the expense of the bomb and what that money could do if it were applied to hospitals, schools, housing, and other necessities of life. Sixteen million dollars, the cost of one MOAB, would go a long way to alleviate the suffering of so many in that region or other regions, where some are said never to see a doctor in their entire lives. Dropping bombs, especially one of that size, is not the way to win the hearts and minds of the people, either in Afghanistan or any other country.

If large parts of the U.S. are considered “fly-over country,” imagine what the country is like where the big bomb was dropped. It would be like a moonscape or the surface of Mars for most Americans, who would be shocked that people actually eke out a living in that dry and hostile landscape. But, those Afghani farmers do, as do U.S. farmers in a much less hostile part of the world. Imagine further, the good that could come from the millions that are spent on bombs, if they were spent on the people. If that had been done in the first place, there might not be any reason for the presence of U.S. troops at all and certainly would not be a reason for sending more troops soon. The Afghani small farmers’ counterparts in the U.S. could use some of that military money to make their lives easier, as they grow food for the masses.

That doesn’t appear in the offing, since Trump has asked for an additional $54 billion for the already bloated military and defense budget and he may get even more, considering the loud voices on the right, demanding the use of the largest military on the planet against every little impoverished and disorganized country in the world. Hamid Karzai, the immediate past president of Afghanistan, said a few days ago that he wants the U.S. out of the country and charged that the current president is a traitor. Harsh words, but the country is divided on the issue and it would be a surprise if Trump would decide to pull out all troops. Trump recently said that he thinks the U.S. needs to “start winning wars, again,” so it’s not likely that he will declare a stalemate or bring the troops home. We’re in for a bad time. Columnist, John Funiciello, is a long-time former newspaper reporter and labor organizer, who lives in the Mohawk Valley of New York State. In addition to labor work, he is organizing family farmers as they struggle to stay on the land under enormous pressure from factory food producers and land developers. Contact Mr. Funiciello and BC.




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David A. Love, JD
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