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Afghanistan Bombing Still Not Justified
31 October 2001
There is so much else to write about - the failure in Northern Ireland to resolve conclusively by far the most important issue: policing; the deepening poverty here and the widening of the inequality gap; the continuing nonsense of the Garda obsession with cannabis and their "triumph" with the "biggest ever haul"; the disappearance of the Celtic Tiger almost overnight; the impact of the recession on the media.
But how can we divert our horrified gaze from the awfulness of what is going on in Afghanistan? After nearly 24 days of bombardment you wonder what is there left to bomb in Afghanistan? They are dropping hundreds of bombs per day - say 300, each of about 2,000 lbs: that's 600 times per day what was detonated at Omagh and for each of 24 days. We know now they have twice bombed the warehouse of the International Committee of the Red Cross, they have bombed a mosque, a hospital, a village, wiped out a family: that's what is admitted. The Taliban says there were more than 1,000 civilians killed in the first week. We can discount that but are we to believe that only a handful have been killed by these "surgical strikes", when we know the strikes are not "surgical" and we know the explosives used are anything but "surgical"? I am referring particularly to the thousands of "cluster bombs" that are being dropped every day.
These bombs were used extensively in the 78-day bombardment of Yugoslavia two years ago. A House of Commons Defense Committee report, Lessons of Kosovo, commented on these cluster bombs: "Each of these weapons contains 147 bomblets, primarily firing a plasma-jet able to penetrate armor but having a secondary anti-personnel effect with over 2,000 sharpened pieces cutting into the casing." The report states that between eight and 12 per cent of these cluster bombs (i.e., between 42 and 64 bombs), each with 147 bomblets and 2,000 shrapnel pieces, failed to explode and therefore are lying around on the ground in Yugoslavia. It quotes a report which states that only 31 per cent of these cluster bombs hit their targets and a further 29 per cent cannot be accounted for.
So we can believe that about 70 per cent of these bombs, each with 147 bomblets and 2,000 shrapnel pieces, do not hit their target and that thousands of them have been dropped in the last 24 days? How could it be that thousands of civilians have not been maimed by these bombs? How could it be, even if the bombing stopped now, that thousands more civilians will not be maimed or killed by the unexploded "bomblets" that will lie around on the ground for years to come?
One of my correspondents (having got 330 emails after my column of two weeks ago I got over 400 to last week's column, this time most of them supportive of the anti-war stance) has challenged me on what my attitude would be if a loyalist gang had hijacked three Aer Lingus aircraft and flown them into office areas of Dublin, killing 5,000 people, and if this gang was harbored by a loyalist government in Northern Ireland, that the gang had gone on to call for a holy war to kill all Catholics, including all Catholics in the South, what would be my attitude then? Would I favor the kind of response to the Northern state that the Americans are making to the Taliban regime in Afghanistan, assuming that the Dublin government had the military prowess to respond? The answer is: I do not know how the emotional trauma of that event would color my judgment but how should I respond? I believe it would be wrong to bomb Northern Ireland in the way that the Americans and British are bombing Afghanistan. I believe it would be wrong to use cluster bombs or any other kind of indiscriminate weapons. I believe that before anything was done militarily every effort should be made to secure the extradition of the culprits either to the Republic or to an agreed third state. And I think that would be the right response even if my own children were victims of the attack on Dublin (although, of course, in that event my judgment would be entirely overwhelmed by the catastrophe that had occurred).
But what is going on in Afghanistan is worse than just the killing and the maiming caused by the bombing. There is also the vast humanitarian crisis. More than six million people were "causing concern" to the aid agencies prior to the commencement of the bombing - "causing concern" is a nice way of saying on the verge of death from starvation. Surely thousands of these have died by the withdrawal of aid since October 7th, when the bombing started? And, as I have written before, what is the point of it all? John Ashcroft, the US Attorney General, said last week the attack on America of September 11th was planned in Germany. Most of the hijackers were from Saudi Arabia and a few from Egypt. Some of these may have been in Afghanistan at some time, but so what? They could not have learnt any skills in Afghanistan relevant to what they did on September 11th. Their fundamentalism was engendered not in Afghanistan but in Saudi Arabia (the major center for that kind of fanaticism but that can't be mentioned because of the oil) or Egypt or Germany.