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Winter in Afghanistan


30 October 2001

With such a huge number of victims, many people have personal ties to the Sept. 11 attacks. What's that thing about six degrees of separation?

The father of a friend of mine was on the American Airlines flight that crashed into the World Trade Center. I fly out of Logan International Airport in Boston regularly and have been a passenger on both American and United Airlines flights.

My older brother works in Manhattan, very close to what is now called Ground Zero. My beloved aunts - my mother's two sisters - live in Virginia, only a few minutes drive away from the Pentagon. Aunt Janine said she felt the tremors in her house, emanating from the explosion at the Department of Defense headquarters.

Uncle Auggie, a former master sergeant in the Army, worked in the Pentagon for years. He's retired now. But what if he hadn't retired and was working there on Sept. 11? And I still have family and loved ones serving in the military.

So yes, an international police action in which bin Laden and his bunch are dealt with according to international law strikes me as the right thing to do. But there's a difference between the protective use of force and the punitive use of force.

U.S. officials are saying the bombing of Afghanistan could continue through the winter and maybe into spring. According to the oft-repeated poll, 90 percent of Americans support military action in response to the attacks on America.

I don't know how many Americans will continue to support military action if thousands of civilians are killed.

"Collateral damage" is a major concern for most Americans, considering the overwhelming support for the food drops in Afghanistan.

Two weeks ago, Mary Robinson, the U.N. human rights commissioner and former president of Ireland, called for the suspension of air strikes on targets in Afghanistan in order to provide aid to civilians before the onslaught of winter.

"We must have a pause in order to enable huge humanitarian access and to allow a number of Afghans to come across the borders," she said. "It is absolutely wrong that 6,000 people were killed in the terrible events of Sept. 11, but equally we must have regard for the population in Afghanistan."

Dominic Nutt, spokesman for Christian Aid in Islamabad, says: "Air-dropping ration packs is about as useful as dropping leaflets telling Afghan people not to worry. Indeed, we fervently hope that the drops don't actually kill people. Our experience tells us that much will end up in the hands of warring parties and that fighting over the food will occur."

"It's likely that the weakest - women, children and the old - will go without. The policy of air drops, then, is either extremely naive or a cynical attempt to mask the real needs of the situation... . Those dependent on food aid now number 7.5 million, an increase of about 50 percent - entirely attributable to the ensuing crisis... . The bombing must stop as soon as possible," he warns.

Barbara Stocking, director of Oxfam, says: "We've reached the point where it is simply unrealistic for us to do what we need to do in Afghanistan. We've run out of food, the borders are closed, we can't reach our staff and time's almost run out." According to a joint statement released by a coalition of relief agencies working in Afghanistan, 500,000 of the 2 million Afghans who don't have enough food to last through the winter will be cut off by snow by mid-November.

U.N. foodstocks within Afghanistan is down to two weeks supply - 9,000 tons, according to Stocking.

"We just don't know how many people may die if the bombing is not suspended and the aid effort assured... . But if nothing changes, there will be huge loss of life and unspeakable suffering this winter," she added.

I can't help but think about my friends and family, especially my two precious daughters.

My fear is that our ongoing military campaign in Afghanistan will not only destroy terrorists but also create new ones who may bring harm to my loved ones.

Sean Gonsalves.
Published in the Cape Cod Times.
2001 Cape Cod Times.



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