On Oct 17, 2001, ten days into Operation ENDURING FREEDOM, BBC Monitoring recorded the following message broadcast to the Afghan people by US PsyOps:
“Attention, people of Afghanistan! Aid is being dropped by plane at a very high altitude using large parachutes. These parachutes slow their descent. Despite the parachutes, the bundles will still fall very fast. […] Do not stand directly below them. […] If you follow these instructions you will not be injured. The bundles are filled with food, water, and medical supplies. […] The United States does not want you, the innocent people of Afghanistan, to suffer for the deeds of Al Qaida and its leader Osama bin laden.”US Department of Defense Flyer: “The Partnership of Nations is here to help”1
That same year, the United States dropped bombs across a wide swath of western Afghanistan. Many of these were BLU 92 cluster bombs2 — metal envelopes containing 202 football-sized yellow canisters. The envelope was designed to split open a few hundred feet from the ground to disperse the canisters evenly across a wide area. These bomblets were made in the USA, and exhibited two qualities characteristic of American products: high lethality and poor quality control.
A radio broadcast in both Dari and Pashto announced:
“All bombs will explode when they hit the ground, but in some special circumstances some of the bombs will not explode.”Us Psychological Operations Radio Broadcast (2001)3
“Some”, in this case, meant at least 14 out of every 202 bomblets would remain unexploded on the ground. Bomblets are typically designed with safety triggers that are supposed to disarm them in case they fail to explode after a short period. However, similar ordinance dropped during the Vietnam War continues to kill after decades on the ground4.
Simultaneously, as a part of Operation ENDURING FREEDOM, thousands of Humanitarian Daily Rations (HDRs) were being dropped across much of the same territory. The important things to know about these rations are that they were packed with enough calories to sustain a single adult for a single day, roughly football-sized, and yellow. They deployed from a specifically engineered cardboard container designed to split open midair to spread the rations over a wide area. They also came printed with the text “A Food Gift From the People of the United States”.
“In addition to food being dropped, MAF disbursed leaflets to the intended recipients of the HDRs. These leaflets illustrated to the Afghan people that the United States was providing their sustenance and that the food was prepared in accordance with the Koran.”Hybrid Power: Mobility Air Forces and Foreign Policy5
One boy, Sayyid Ahmad Sanef, made the understandable mistake of confusing a bomblet that landed near his home for a ration. This gift from the United States blew his head off6.
A Stronger Loving World to Die in
America isn’t the first country to fuck with Afghanistan. The nation would have problems even if America hadn’t shown up with war hardon dowsing for the grave of empires. Its borders were carved into their current shape by colonialist brits hoping to keep Pashtuns out of India and Josef Stalin — two parties that were thoroughly unconcerned with the fate of Afghans, themselves. However, America’s childish approach of dropping aid and death intermittently from a mile overhead makes previous imperial interventions seem thoughtful. It is as if America’s war machine is the product of generational inbreeding — indiscriminately biting and licking every proffered hand.
Speaking of long-term planning, many older Afghans had dealt with the American model of humanitarian aid before — when we were pouring millions of dollars in guns and missiles into the Mujahedeen in an attempt to boil the Soviets out of Afghanistan during the Cold War. We also did Afghans the favor of creating hydroelectric dams and rerouting rivers to bolster the nation’s infrastructure, make friends with the state, and pass some choice contracts to American engineering firms like Boise Idaho’s own Morrison-Knudsen. Shifting the nation’s water table had the unintended effect of raising the salinity of its soil and destroying acres of farmland.
“[…] because the canal was too low, the natural gravity drainage was hampered and fields tended to be overwatered. This led to the natural salts in the soil percolating to the surface and destroying the soil. […] The solution offered by the Americans as the most technically efficient was to move the farmers off their land, to level the whole area with bulldozers, and to return farmers to “equivalent” pieces of land. Facing tremendous uncertainty as to what land they would get back, where it would be located, and if it would be as much as they had before, the farmers refused to leave their land.”“The Helmand Valley Project in Afghanistan”, A.I.D. Evaluation Special Study No. 18 19837
Ironically, salting the earth through short sighted international aid projects had the effect of making an ideal environment for growing poppies8. And, as with previous fuckups, the United States was able to strain victory from the waters of defeat. The emerging heroin trade offered a brand new avenue for the US state to fund regime change efforts, tap warlords to commit genocide at arm’s length, and jail its domestic poor as millions were weened off of prescription oxycontin and on to cheap heroin grown empire’s back yard.
The rations dropped over Afghanistan were designed to remain edible for at least three years without refrigeration. The expiration date of an unexploded cluster bomb is, as yet, unknown. After the outcry over the rations/bomblets mixup, the color of the Humanitarian Daily Ration was updated from yellow to pink to eliminate any future confusion.
Carrabba, Pete L. “THE RIGHT PLACE AT THE RIGHT TIME- An Analysis of High Altitude Airdrop and the Joint Precision Airdrop System .” AIR FORCE INSTITUTE OF TECHNOLOGY, 30 Apr. 2004, https://apps.dtic.mil/dtic/tr/fulltext/u2/a455927.pdf. ↩
Radio warns Afghans over food parcels (2001) BBC News | MEDIA REPORTS. Available at: http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/world/monitoring/media_reports/1624787.stm [Accessed February 3, 2019]. ↩
Boland, Rosita. “Death from below in the World’s Most Bombed Country.” The Irish Times, The Irish Times, 13 May 2017, https://www.irishtimes.com/news/world/asia-pacific/death-from-below-in-the-world-s-most-bombed-country-1.3078351. ↩
Major Russell O. Davis (2010) Hybrid Power: Mobility Air Forces and Foreign Policy (United States Army Command and General Staff College) Available at: https://apps.dtic.mil/dtic/tr/fulltext/u2/a522987.pdf. ↩
The cluster bomb controversy (2003) BBC NEWS | UK. Available at: https://web.archive.org/web/20170324085812/http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/uk_news/2912617.stm [Accessed February 3, 2019]. ↩
Clapp-Wineck C, Baldwin E (1983) The Helmand Valley Project in Afghanistan (U. S. Agency for International Development – AID). ↩
U.S.-built project waters Afghan heroin trade Poppies: An American water project from the 1950s is helping Afghans grow poppies for the U.S. heroin trade. (1997) The Baltimore Sun. Available at: https://www.baltimoresun.com/news/bs-xpm-1997-03-29-1997088009-story.html [Accessed February 16, 2020]. ↩