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U.S. & Allies Allow Bandits To Hijack Food From Aid Convoys, Then Permit Warlords to Steal What's Remaining At Destination

January 6, 2002

First we learned of bandits stealing food from humanitarian aid convoys on the road.  Now even if the food gets to its destination, brutal local warlords -- back in power big time across Afghanistan -- are seizing most of it to feed their own troops.

The result is that there's not enough food to feed the refugees for whom the food was intended.  Children are dying of hunger:

"There are children who have become very thin because of the cold and not enough food," said Muktar, a [Red Crescent] society employee. "Some of them are dead already, and others will die soon."

Nightmarish scenes result when starving people try to grab whatever supplies are left, and soldiers beat them back:

Outside the Red Crescent compound in Jalalabad, soldiers at times struck children, women and old men indiscriminately. Some soldiers hit women who sat on the ground and begged...

[T]he crowd wailed and pushed on the compound gate. The crowd surged, the gate held, the crowd relaxed, then surged again. Soldiers could be seen swinging sticks from the top of the walls down into the crowd, striking those who pressed too close.

Three times since late November, relief organizations in this area tried to distribute wheat.  Local soldiers took most of the food for themselves each time.

Warlord: Stealing Food? Not me!

The local warlord, Hajji Hazat Ali, blames corruption at the Red Crescent Society for the food shortages! 

"Some people who are working for the non-government organizations are all thieves," he said. "They try to divide some food they receive between themselves and some of the local commanders. We are trying to capture these people."

The reporter astutely points out that this accusatory warlord

did not seem to be trying very hard to catch the thieves or recover the rice, sacks of which could be found today in the city being used to feed his own soldiers at each of the checkpoints he maintains.

U.S., Allies Sit Back & Watch

Indeed, these very soldiers are part of the alliance of local warlords which worked with U.S. troops in the anti-Taliban campaign.  A small number of U.S. troops left behind with these "allies" of ours could easily have prevented this kind of theft.  Warlords are good at stealing from women, children and old men.  They are not the type to challenge heavily armed American soldiers.

Why haven't some of the thousands upon thousands of U.S. troops in the region been entrusted with this task?

It's wonderful that the U.S. is providing over half the food pledged to feed hungry Afghans.  It's despicable that we then act like we don't care whether or not the food actually reaches the starving people.  (This attitude brings to mind our high altitude drops of yellow food packages, which were not only the same color and size as unexploded, still-dangerous cluster bombs, but unlikely to ever find their way to the people who really needed the food.)

Alternatively, one might think, with a 5,000-man international peacekeeping force set to be operational shortly, the theft of humanitarian aid food -- whether from convoys on the road or at the destination location -- will quickly be put to an end.

Not so.  The mandate of the peacekeepers absurdly limits them to Kabul, already the safest part of the country.

Atiqullah Mohmand, the Jalalabad program director for the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, said this stealing of food was being perpetrated by the same local officials who ran the province in the early 1990's and abused civilians and stole from them then.

"The people who are now in the positions of authority in our province, they are exactly the same persons who were here before.

They are following the same system as before.

It is not good."

"Meet the new boss/Same as the old boss" as The Who sang in a different context.

No, it is not good at all.

This was a selection from The Daily Diatribe

More on Starvation in Afghanistan

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