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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.

Article 55 of the Geneva Conventions states:

"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...."
Article 59:
"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

Photojournalist Andrea Bruce covering the story:

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.  

Further donation information

Please contact, "Send emergency supplies to the Kabul refugee camps!":

Ambassador Ryan Crocker, US Ambassador to Afghanistan:

rcrocker@bushschool.tamu.edu  and   kabulwebmaster@state.gov

Contact the White House email form
Comments: 202-456-1111
Switchboard: 202-456-1414

White House Facebook

General John Allen, Commander of US Forces in Afghanistan:
pressoffice@hq.isaf.nato.int


Contact Congress: "Pass emergency assistance to Kabul refugees now!"


Thanks to Capt. Ron Fisher (USN-retired) formerly of the JAG for explanation of international law.  The author gives express permission for reprint in full of this article with attribution.  He is co-founder of Jobs for Afghans.

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Comment Preferences

  •  conditions of so-called (7+ / 0-)

    secret prisons from Reprieve are in a word, inhumane.  i noticed the account of frostbite at Bagram, and wondered if you had seen this.

    Success loves a witness, but failure can't exist without one. - Junot Díaz

    by Avila on Sun Feb 19, 2012 at 01:01:11 PM PST

  •  Thanks for the donation links. (5+ / 0-)

    It's frustrating enough to see something like this happening without having an immediate outlet for that frustration.

    Saint, n. A dead sinner revised and edited. - Ambrose Bierce

    by pico on Sun Feb 19, 2012 at 01:02:26 PM PST

  •  By that standard we're not the occupying power (4+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Avila, SquirrelWhisperer, FG, Geekesque
    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."
    The only place we effectively control is Kabul.

    But nobody's buying flowers from the flower lady.

    by Rich in PA on Sun Feb 19, 2012 at 01:08:08 PM PST

    •  From the diary (5+ / 0-)
      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.

      Millions of tons of commodities and cargo destined for US military bases pass through and around Kabul regularly.

      We are the occupying power in the territory where this problem is happening.

      "Territory" does not mean the entire country. Territory can be as small as a single camp or beachhead, as long as the armed forces have secured effective control.

      "The problems of incompetent, corrupt, corporatist government are incompetence, corruption and corporatism, not government." Jerome a Paris

      by Orinoco on Sun Feb 19, 2012 at 01:22:00 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

      •  I don't want to get all Dickensian (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        Orinoco

        But that's a number where you have to look at the administration of the camp (who's administering it, by the way?) rather than the occupying power.  I imagine that if the US government or military tried to run that camp directly, there would be one hell of an outcry.

        But nobody's buying flowers from the flower lady.

        by Rich in PA on Sun Feb 19, 2012 at 02:05:56 PM PST

        [ Parent ]

        •  Keep reading, Rich. (3+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          Orinoco, glorificus, zinger99
          The occupying power cannot avoid its responsibilities as long as a national government is not in a position to carry out its normal tasks.
        •  We don't have to run the camp (5+ / 0-)

          in order to run a couple of flat beds over there and start handing out blankets, rain ponchos and MREs. (Yeah, I know it's not that simple, unless, of course, it is.)

          We do not administer the refugee camps. We do not administer Afghani citizens in their private homes. We do not administer Afghan government offices. But we do occupy that territory.

          As occupiers, we have the legal duty to not let people die of starvation, lack of medical care or freezing to death if we can help it. We have the means, and, according to the Geneva Convention, we are legally obligated to use those means.

          The Geneva Convention is a treaty we have signed and ratified, as such, it is the supreme law of our land. Breaking the Geneva Convention is a war crime. But I suppose we can hardly expect anyone to worry about war crime prosecution these days, when so many admitted war criminals are walking around free as the birds because we are looking forward, not backward.

          This is the slippery slope we are on. When we fail to follow our own laws because the perpetrators of heinous crimes go unpunished because of their political position, we open the door for travesties and atrocities such as this.  

          "The problems of incompetent, corrupt, corporatist government are incompetence, corruption and corporatism, not government." Jerome a Paris

          by Orinoco on Sun Feb 19, 2012 at 02:45:40 PM PST

          [ Parent ]

    •  Kabul is where the babies are freezing to death (5+ / 0-)

      So even though there is no excuse fore the rest of the country, because we already have 8,000 supply trucks crossing it every month, there is absolutely NO excuse for it happening in Kabul.

      "Effective control" only means you are the power which can exert its authority anywhere in the country.  SOF can arrest anyone they want where they find him, and has the firepower to back it up.   Effective control means:

      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.
      That describes Afghanistan to a tee.
  •  Haven't you heard? America doesn't... (6+ / 0-)

    ..."do" the Geneva Convention anymore. Whatever the goals are in the WarrenTerra it certainly does not encompass the well-being of the Afghanistan population on any level. Have you seen our military/government take any steps to rectify the situation in Iraq where the number of severe birth defects and miscarriages (associated with our use of dangerous ammo) has skyrocketed? No. Do our leaders care about starving frozen child-corpses? No. They only care about controlling the PR should the facts become widely known. It seems that whatever sense of morality and international decency we had when the Marshall Plan was conceived no longer exists. Americans are an agency of destruction, misery, death and nothing other than that.

    •  This is racist hogwash. We're in an election year! (5+ / 0-)

      You can't go treating humans like humans in an election year. It's just not how things are done, and if you weren't so naive and racist and, um... a tea bagger, then you wouldn't suggest so cavalierly that we start treating human beings like human beings. This has been going on for centuries, but did you ever speak up in the 1860s? No, you didn't. You waited until their was a black President, then you started caring. Or, I started listening. Anyways.

  •  This is the smart war? (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    joanneleon
  •  Who cares.... (5+ / 0-)

    People are marginalized and dying as a result of American agression.

    Let us quit the bickering and attemp to do something.  I sent an email to the whitehouse.  I don't have money right now, just time.

    "A weed is a plant whose virtues have not yet been discovered:" Ralph Waldo Emerson

    by Yo Bubba on Sun Feb 19, 2012 at 02:20:17 PM PST

  •  Yet another reason why counter-insurgency fails. (5+ / 0-)

    Hard to get the population on your side if you're not quite sure they're human. The dying babies is almost always a tell.

  •  Aschiana Foundation (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    FG, the fan man

    has bene doing excellent work in Afghanistan for over ten years, and is one of the two top NGOs working on this immediate issue of IDPs in the camps. One of the problems has been coordination, or lack thereof, with some camps getting blankets when they need food, and others getting coal when they need blankets. There are over 1,700 registered NGOs working in country, and they often step on each other, trying to do good. It's simply not safe or practical for many of the IDPs to travel, so the aid will have to come to them.

    Life is a shipwreck. But we must not forget to sing in the lifeboats. — Voltaire

    by agrenadier on Sun Feb 19, 2012 at 03:17:41 PM PST

    •  Love your sig line. (0+ / 0-)

      “The first principle [in science] is that you must not fool yourself, and you are the easiest person to fool.” Richard Feynman

      by the fan man on Sun Feb 19, 2012 at 06:37:31 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

    •  This is partly true. Fortunately Afghans are (0+ / 0-)

      extremely resourceful and will find a way to balance out supply and demand.  They'll find a truck to take an excess of blankets to trade with a camp that has an excess of fuel.  I've never seen a more resourceful people.  Nothing would go to waste.

      IDFs travel outside the camps all the time.  They walk miles into the city to gather in the squares hoping for a day of work ($5 for the day is a good wage) and the kids will go to beg in the streets or outside embassies.  It is an entire subculture.  

      If they opened Kabul Stadium and said there are warm fires in oil barrels there, many would find their way.  You can walk across Kabul in a day and they are used to walking for days on end.

      •  Why doesn't the Afghan Govt do this? (0+ / 0-)

        The US is not the only one that has a government presence in Afghanistan. Evidently there's plenty of money for Karzai's family and cronies to get rich on.
        Seems to me like the Afghan government is as much responsible for its peoples welfare as Americans are

        Happy just to be alive

        by exlrrp on Mon Feb 20, 2012 at 06:31:54 AM PST

        [ Parent ]

  •  US was never an Occupying Power in Afghanistan (0+ / 0-)

    NATO (via the ISAF) was, up until around 2005.  Continued NATO presence is authorized by the UN to provided security support.

    As per previous security/peacekeeping actions by the UN, the UN-authorized peacekeepers not the occupying power.

    So, no, there's no war crimes.  Even if there were, it'd by NATO, not the US.

    The diarist supposedly quotes Amnesty International on the subject of Occupying Power, but actually links to a piece that quotes Amnesty International... on Iraq.

    I don't see anything on Amnesty's website regarding this issue.

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