A little known aspect of World War II history is that immediately after the end of major hostilities, as Europe lay in ruins, millions of Germans in Ally-occupied Germany and people in other Axis nations descended into a spiral of humanitarian crisis, and faced the specter of mass starvation as Allies bickered over the spoils of war. After a particularly harsh winter in 1946 – 1947, Assistant Secretary of State William Clayton reported to Washington that “millions of people are slowly starving.” With the infrastructure ruined, and with a shortage of coal, many Germans froze to death.
Finally President Harry Truman was persuaded by General George Marshall to implement the Marshall Plan, by which million of tons in assistance was delivered to populations by the Allies. Marshall warned that “The patient is sinking while the doctors deliberate.” Truman understood that there would be no more fertile ground for left-leaning ideologies to take hold than in populations which were cold, hungry, and hopeless. In 1949, at the Fourth Geneva Convention, the responsibilities of an “occupying power” were recognized as a part of international law, to remain in effect as long as the occupier was the true and final authority in the client country, regardless of the nominal existence of a new, indigenous national government.
“To the fullest extent of the means available to it, the Occupying Power has the duty of ensuring the food and medical supplies of the population; it should, in particular, bring in the necessary foodstuffs, medical stores and other articles if the resources of the occupied territory are inadequate….”
“If the whole or part of the population of an occupied territory is inadequately supplied, the Occupying Power shall agree to relief schemes on behalf of the said population, and shall facilitate them by all the means at its disposal. Such schemes, which may be undertaken either by States or by impartial humanitarian organizations such as the International Committee of the Red Cross, shall consist, in particular, of the provision of consignments of foodstuffs, medical supplies and clothing.”
And Article 60 insured that even if civilian relief efforts are underway:
“Relief consignments shall in no way relieve the Occupying Power of any of its responsibilities under Articles 55, 56 and 59.”
As for what constitutes an “occupying power,” according to Amnesty International, “The sole criterion for deciding the applicability of the law”:
…is drawn from facts: the de facto effective control of territory by foreign armed forces coupled with the possibility to enforce their decisions, and the de facto absence of a national governmental authority in effective control…Even though the objective of the military campaign may not be to control territory, the sole presence of such forces in a controlling position renders applicable the law protecting the inhabitants. The occupying power cannot avoid its responsibilities as long as a national government is not in a position to carry out its normal tasks.”
Amnesty elaborates that an occupation:
“takes effect as soon as the armed forces of a foreign power have secured effective control over a territory that is not its own. It ends when the occupying forces have relinquished their control over that territory.”
US forces in Afghanistan, willing and able to arrest Afghan nationals and imprison them as well as back all decisions with military force, clearly meets the definition of an “occupying power” according to international law. By 1950 the number of US occupation troops in Germany was about 100,000, roughly the same number in Afghanistan now.
A crucial component of Article 55 would obviously be “To the fullest extent of the means available to it…” Some argue, not altogether convincingly, that in remote areas of Afghanistan where starvation is prevalent, the US lacks the means to meet the food and basic survival requirements of the occupied population. Mountain passes are snowed in for a good part of the year, and high altitudes and bad weather make airlift difficult. In Ghazni and other remote provinces it is not unusual to hear reports that villages have been reduced to eating grass, and lose many members over the course of winter.
But it is in the Kabul refugee camps, in the most secure area of the country with constant NATO activity in and around it, where at least 23 children have been reported by the New York Times to have frozen to death since Jan. 15th, due to lack of simple items such as blankets, warm clothes, food, and fuel for heating the tents and mud huts that are now home to approximately 35,000 Afghans. The winter which has hit Kabul is the coldest in 20 years.
Millions of tons of commodities and cargo destined for US military bases pass through and around Kabul regularly. Rep. John Tierney in his subcommittee's report “Warlord, Inc.” reveals the enormous extent of the volume of goods paid for with US tax dollars which cross the country daily in 200 and 300-truck convoys, comprising the material deemed necessary to sustain the military occupation.
Rep. Tierney's Subcommittee on National Security and Foreign Affairs reports in “Warlord, Inc” that supply missions in Afghanistan consist of:
“roughly 6,000 to 8,000 truck missions per month. The trucks carry food, supplies, fuel, ammunition, and even Mine Resistant Ambush Protected vehicles (MRAPs).”
The Subcommittee writes:
“Military logistics officers are responsible for providing the troops with the food, water, shelter, weapons, ammunition, and fuel they need to perform their duties. To put the scope of the logistics operation into perspective, U.S. and NATO forces required 1.1 million gallons of fuel per day in 2009. That year, as troop levels grew from 31,800 to 68,000, U.S. military and contractor planes delivered 187,394 tons of cargo. Given that the backbone of the military’s distribution network is overland, the cargo transported by trucks is nearly ten times that amount. Eighty percent of goods and materiel reach Afghanistan by land.”
The Tierney report detailed how the massive quantities of goods entering into Afghanistan can only reach its destinations as a result of pay-offs to insurgents to not attack the convoys. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton told Congress in 2009:
“You offload a ship in Karachi [Pakistan] and by the time whatever it is – you know, muffins for our soldiers’ breakfasts or anti-IED equipment – gets to where we’re headed, it goes through a lot of hands. And one of the major sources of funding for the Taliban is the protection money.”
What is abundantly clear is that there is no lack of “means available to” the US to meet its responsibilities under Articles 55 through Article 60 of Geneva, especially when the afflicted populations are in the most secure part of the country.
Temperatures early this week in the Kabul refugee camps where dozens of babies froze when temperatures were in the teens, are forecast to drop to the single digits, down to 7 degrees F. In such temperatures, every northern city in the US will issue “dangerous cold” alerts and open emergency shelter and warming facilities to residents, especially homeless populations.
There is no doubt that within short distances of the camps, at Camp Phoenix outside of Kabul, for example, warehouses are stacked high to the rafters with blankets, sleeping bags, Meals-Ready-to-Eat, heat tabs, and insulating material which are normal stocks for an occupation of 100,000 soldiers. The $2 billion per week in war spending which flows into Afghanistan every single week makes Afghanistan the most expensive war in American history. Camp Phoenix, one of the largest American bases in Afghanistan, offers many amenities, according to Wiki:
“[Camp Phoenix offers] a small selection of electronics. The PX also sells some military clothing and tactical goods for the war on terror. The PX area has a Green Bean Coffee shop. There are also pool and ping pong tables available. The Dining Facility (DFAC) offers a large menu, including short order, weekly “surf and turf,” Americanized versions of “Mexican” food, “Chinese” food, and “Italian” food, soft drinks, and ice cream. Just outside the PX is a Pizza Hut which opened 2/19/11. A Burger King also opened 7/4/11.”
NBC News has now reported definitively what aid workers and many others have long known in Afghanistan: Millions of children are starving rapidly, and millions more people are starving more slowly, even in secure population centers little affected by the war. NBC News reports:
“This crisis that is now at emergency levels, killing 30,000 children every year. Drought and poverty are at its root. According to Save the Children, who are working in the country, 60% of children – more than 15 million – are chronically malnourished.”
Development is not technically the concern of an occupying power, at least according to the Geneva Conventions, although as Truman showed, making it one is wise. But adequate food, shelter, and basic needs are.
As Commander-in-Chief, Obama, or Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta, can give an order and start trucks loading and rolling before single digit temperatures hit, or make provisions to open a center, such as Kabul Stadium, where refugees can go and avail themselves to heat sources, blankets, clothing, and food. The Geneva Conventions, to which the US is signatory, is crystal clear on this. Where it can be helped, people freezing and starving to death cannot be allowed to happen.
NBC News: Starvation Among Children in Afghanistan Reaches Epidemic Proportions
The British Afghan Women's Society will be taking donations of blankets, winter clothing for children and adults, and other emergency items at collection points across the UK, in a modest relief effort which will not come anywhere close to the total need, but which will save some lives. The cargo will then be loaded onto an air cargo transport destined for Kabul. Monetary donations are being accepted. American credit cards can be used even though donations are denominated in British pounds. A small conversion fee may be charged. Please reference donation with the note “winter012.”
British Afghan Women's Society online donation link.
Please contact, “Send emergency supplies to the Kabul refugee camps!”:
Ambassador Ryan Crocker, US Ambassador to Afghanistan:
Contact the White House email form
General John Allen, Commander of US Forces in Afghanistan: