In 1904 in a bloody colonial war fought by Imperial Germany against the Herero and Nama peoples of what was then German South West Africa (now Namibia) this was exactly the method of the German High Command. Their own documents show how they drove the Herero into a barren region where they were, to quote the general staff, "doomed to die of thirst in the arid sandveld"(1). A fate realised by the surrounding of the borders of the desert with military outposts and by poisoning water holes.
In the First World War the history books record that: "Britain's trump card against the enemy was the blockade of Germany by Sea. While Britain's blockade of war materials was accepted under international law, her extension of the blockade to food-stuffs and other non-military goods raised a storm of protest. But Britain was prepared to incur the displeasure of neutrals in order to starve Germany into surrender."(2).
The food shortages produced by the blockade were a factor in the German Revolution of 1918.
The food supply was again a target in the Russian Civil War, in a different way. The "Communist" state issued orders that: "Villages which had rendered assistance to the insurgents by providing horses, carts, and reinforcements are to be under martial law and will be subjected to the following reprisals" and the first on that list is "confiscation of food supply stocks" (3).
To realise the gravity of this consider that much of the Russian Empire was facing famine conditions at the time.
Moving onward through the decades to America's war in Vietnam we find similar effects being created with more modern means. Operation Ranch Hand was the name given to the program of destruction of the vegetation of Vietnam. According to a study into it:
"Between 1962 and 1971, Ranch Hand sprayed about 19 million gallons of herbicide. Eleven million gallons of this total was Agent Orange. The spray fell mostly on the forests of South Vietnam, but some was used in Laos, and some killed crops to deprive Viet Cong and North Vietnamese troops of food." (4)
What relevance does this have to the current conflict?
Well everybody reading this should know that as I write, at the beginning of November, an estimated 7 and a half million people in Afghanistan are facing the immediate prospect of famine, according to the World Food Programme (W.F.P., a U.N. agency). This situation existed prior to S-11, the product of three years of drought and decades of war, but it has been exacerbated since then.
As Noam Chomsky described it in a speech in Boston:
"According to the New York Times there are 7 to 8 million people in Afghanistan on the verge of starvation. That was true actually before September 11th. They were surviving on international aid. On September 16th, the Times reported, I'm quoting it, that the United States demanded from Pakistan the elimination of truck convoys that provide much of the food and other supplies to Afghanistan's civilian population." (5)
The London 'Independent', on September 16th, claimed that:
"Pakistan has the power to strangle the Taliban regime in Afghanistan, without American help.
It can cut off it's fuel, shut down it's bank accounts, prevent the flow of food, and clamp down on the black market trade that is the militia's lifeline. These are all measures, it is reported here, that American officials have asked the Pakistani government to take."
The Pakistani military government has also sealed the borders attempting to prevent the entry of Afghan refugees into Pakistan and is deporting Afghan refugees back inside those borders.
A large section of the Afghan population is dependant on international aid. The World Food Programme maintains that 52,000 metric tons are needed a month and that before the onset of winter a stockpile of 250,000 metric tons must be inside the country.
The international agencies have the food stocks in Pakistan &endash; the only problem is getting it into Afghanistan. For three weeks in September the W.F.P. operation was suspended and since then it has re-started but not been able to realise it's goals.
On October 18th, various international relief agencies operating in the area, including Oxfam International, Christian Aid and the Birmingham-based charity Islamic Relief, called for a pause in the military operations to allow in humanitarian assistance.
A few days earlier, the U.N. Commissioner for Human Rights, Mary Robinson, said on the B.B.C. that
"There is an urgent need to provide huge humanitarian relief.
"The World Food Programme calculates that it is necessary to get something like 56,000 tonnes of food into Afghanistan. There are a few convoys getting in .... but these are very little in the context of winter closing in on about the 15th or 16th of November. It is a very, very urgent situation."
"It is very hard to get convoys of food in when there is a military campaign. Some of the roads are necessarily being damaged,"
"I would be very pleased if there were to be a pause.
"Because that would allow the kind of very urgent and widespread humanitarian relief to go in to all parts of Afghanistan, and particularly the centre.
"It had been thought that a lot of refugees would come across the borders to Pakistan and Iran. But the borders are closed. So you have millions of people, they say up to seven million at risk. It is almost like a Rwanda-style problem.
"Are we going to preside over deaths from starvation of hundreds of thousands, maybe millions of people this winter, because we didn't use the window of opportunity before winter closes? That is the problem." (6)
These pleas for a pause in the bombing fell on stony ground.
One wonders what military necessity prevented such a pause of a few weeks from happening, if that is, it is not the case that starvation is being used as a weapon.
"Two US Navy F/A-18C Hornet jets each dropped one 2,000-pound bomb on ICRC (i.e. Red Cross &endash; FE) warehouses on Thursday evening, the statement by US Central Command said.
At about the same time, a 500-pound bomb intended for the warehouses "inadvertently" hit a residential area about 700 feet south of the warehouses, apparently because the bomb's guidance system malfunctioned, Central Command said.
Early yesterday two B-52 bombers also dropped three 2,000-pound bombs on the same warehouse complex, the statement said.
"The US sincerely regrets this inadvertent strike on the ICRC warehouses and the residential area," the statement said.
"Although details are still being investigated, preliminary indications are that the warehouses were struck due to a human error in the targeting process," Central Command said." (7)
Much supplies of food and other goods necessary to people's well being were destroyed in this air raid.
One could of course consider that this was a cock up worthy of the people that brought us the Chinese Embassy bombing.
However not only does hitting the large buildings with the Red Cross painted on top, not once, not twice, but several times over the course of two days, seem beyond even their talents, it has in fact been admitted that this was a deliberate target.
As we can see in the following NBC report:
"NBC 10/29/01 (7:00 AM ET)
KATIE COURIC: We've also heard about this Red Cross facility that apparently had enough food and blankets for 55,000 Afghan people.
Maj. Gen. PERRY SMITH: If that food was headed for the innocents, we never should have hit it, but the Taliban had taken over those Red Cross facilities, they were feeding their own troops at those Red Cross facilities. So if a bomb hits a Red Cross facility with food in it, that's hurting the Taliban." (8)
The Red Cross have denied that their warehouses were being used by the Taliban. Although the Major General is right in one sense, that food or any other food in Afghanistan could go into the mouths of the Taliban. All the more reason to prevent any food from getting in there.
A few days before the Red Cross bombing The Irish Times reported that "One bomb exploded near a UN World Food Programme warehouse on the northern edge of the city, slightly injuring one Afghan employee, UN spokesman Mr Khaled Mansour said in Islamabad." (9)
There is one glaring problem with my contention that the near mass starvation existing in Afghanistan is being used as a weapon of war &endash; the American food drops.
However as I will show these are not only inadequate in volume and method, but we have seen them on our T.V.'s being dropped in to the Northern Alliance held areas (while the troops of the Northern Alliance collected them and drove off the hungry). We have no reason to suppose that the bulk is not being dropped on the Northern Alliance territory, from a humanitarian point of view it would seem those areas need it as much as the rest of the country.
In any case as shown by the following extract from the Z Magazine website, the amount of food aid being dropped by the U.S. Air Force represents a drop in the ocean in comparison to what could be brought in by the international relief agencies if there was a suspension of the bombing.
"The first week's airdrops, we're told, averaged about 37,500 rations per day. One ration is 3 meals, or one person-day of food. There are between 3-7 million people at risk of starvation. Thus, in order to alleviate the danger, the rate of airdrops has to increase over the largest drops so far by a factor of between one and two hundred. Bush pledged $324 million in humanitarian aid to Afghanistan.
Each ration costs $4.25. Let us assume that there are only 3 million at risk of starvation, that every ration will reach one of those people, and that every dollar of that $324 million is going to rations (and not to the planes, fuel, staff, medicine, or any other item associated with delivery).
Under these fantastically generous assumptions, there will be enough food to feed these people for 25 days. The reality is much worse: millions are now fleeing the bombing, and will not sow their crops of winter wheat. Much of the dropped food will land in minefields and remote areas. Most of Bush's money will not be spent on food.
And there are probably 7.5 million in danger of starving, not 3 million. But even in this scenario the money is insufficient to last for the winter. Also for comparison, $40 billion was appropriated for the war effort, and a single B-2 bomber costs $2.1 billion." (10)
Nobel Peace Prize wining aid agency Medecins Sans Frontieres(Doctors without Borders) describe the food drops as not "in any way a humanitarian aid operation, but more a military propaganda operation, destined to make international opinion accept the U.S.-led military operation." (11)
Apart from the massively insufficient amount of food being delivered aid agencies point to the inherent inefficiencies of this method &endash; without organisation on the ground there is no way of getting this food to the people who need it (there have already been reports of it being seized and sold on the market), in fact there is no way except by chance of getting this food to anyone.
We also have no indication as to how much of it is going into the tiny percentage of the country under the control of the Northern Alliance and how much of it is going into the larger part under the sway of the Taliban.
If indeed there is a serious attempt to provide humanitarian assistance by air, could this food not end up in the hands of the Taliban (in fact that is most likely to happen), in which case why with your other hand bomb Red Cross facilities because (we are told) they were feeding the Taliban.
In Afghanistan there is no need to spray defoliants, no need to blockade trade, no need to poison wells, all you need to do is prevent the arrival of aid. You don't need even to seal the borders to do that &endash; a continuation of the bombing is hampering the transportation of aid to a large extent.
If there is no temporary halt in the military campaign to allow the introduction humanitarian aid vital to the lives of millions we can only conclude that the U.S. Government is prepared to weather the resulting bad publicity in favour of an attempt to starve their Afghan enemies (or perhaps it is hoping hunger will turn the populace against the Taliban). The window of opportunity to save millions will close in less than two weeks.
(1) Quoted in 'Rivers of Blood, Rivers Of Gold' by Mark Cocker
(2) 'Modern European History' by Frank O hUallachain page 121.
(3) Quoted in 'The Bolsheviks in Russian Society' edited by Vladimir N. Brovkin page 223.
(4) OPERATION RANCH HAND HERBICIDES IN SOUTHEAST ASIA1961-1971 By William A. Buckingham, Jr., Ph.D.This guy wrote the official Operation Ranch Hand history for the U.S.A.F. and you'll find a link to the above document at: http://www.mtholyoke.edu/acad/intrel/vietnam.htm
(6) Quoted in 'The Irish Times' website, report dated 14/10/01. www.ireland.com/newspaper/archive
(7) 'The Irish Times' website, report dated 27/10/01.
(8) Posted on Indymedia, www.indymedia.org
'US Intentionally Bombed Red Cross in Afghanistan?' posted Nov 2 '01.
(9) 'The Irish Times' website, report dated 15/10/01.
(11) Common Dreams website http://www.commondreams.org/headlines01/1008-04.htm