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House International Relations Subcommittee on International Operations and Human Rights, Statement on Afghanistan: Congresswoman McKinney

Wednesday, October 31, 2001

Thank you Madam Chair for accepting my request to hold this very important hearing today on Afghanistan. I'm extremely concerned about the humanitarian disaster we hope to prevent from unfolding.

The World Food Program reports today that there are 7.5 million civilians in urgent need in Afghanistan. Of these some 6 millions are inside Afghanistan and 1.5 million are refugees. They need US$ 257 million to get them through the winter months. That amounts to 493,000 metric tons of food aid.

Now, this might sound like a lot, but in reality it's almost nothing compared to what is being spent in Afghanistan now every day to, in the words of our Secretary of Defense, "drain the swamp." In fact, it's about one-tenth of one B-2 bomber.

We know what they need to survive.

The world can and must deliver this.

We are in danger of letting this situation in Afghanistan become another Rwanda. I shudder to think what the consequences will be if the 1.2 billion members of the Islamic world believe that we allowed millions of innocent Afghan women and children to needlessly die in the next few months.

Images of burning Red Cross and UN buildings struck by US bombs contrasted with images of thousands of desperately poor Afghan women carrying sickly and starving children out of Afghanistan as they flee the might of the US military is tearing at international public confidence in our war against terrorism.

Medecins Sans Frontieres called our food drops to the Afghans nothing more than a propaganda campaign seeking to assuage public concerns over the starving millions in Afghanistan. Senator Biden has warned us that we could soon be seen as the "high tech bully" by attacking one of the poorest nations in the Third world.

The New York Times reports today that even Britain, our staunchest supporter in this war against terrorism, is concerned that we may be losing the battle for international public opinion in the Islamic world and that this loss of confidence is now even spreading to Western Europe. Large riots against the United States are being reported in Pakistan, Indonesia, Malaysia, Nigeria, and Turkey.

This time, the infamous Clinton defense of "We didn't know," used to justify US inaction in the face of the Rwanda genocide and its bloody aftermath will not work now.

We are on clear notice.

The world is watching us.

The current humanitarian crisis in Afghanistan needs our most urgent attention. If left unresolved, and if millions of innocent Afghans die, then the hatred against the US will only grow. We have an opportunity to be a force for good in Afghanistan. I hope and pray that we do not fail.

Madam Chair, I was also pleased to receive in my office and to invite to testify today a representative of a very important group in Afghanistan: a group that represents the voice of women who have been mistreated by those in authority and who want a better life for themselves and their children and for all the people of Afghanistan.

Women, can and must, play a future role in rebuilding Afghanistan.

The international community must ensure that this happens.

The current crisis in Afghanistan has long been in the making. The Heritage Foundation has called US policy toward Afghanistan over the past twenty years one of our colossal failures. President Bush recognized this failure when he acknowledged in an October 11, 2001 press conference that we should not have just left after the military objective had been achieved in Afghanistan.

History has not judged us well. Nor have the people of the region.

Now, Afghanistan has captured our attention once again. The people of Afghanistan cannot endure yet another one of our foreign policy failures. We must bring peace and hope to the region. Not yet more suffering and death.

But, Madam Chair, Medecins Sans Frontieres warns us today as we speak that Iran, Pakistan, and Tajikistan are facing desperate humanitarian situations as well. The entire region has become one great humanitarian crisis.

I've visited the refugee camps in the Pakistan region. I've spoken to women from all the different ethnic groups. I've had to plead for plastic for one woman and an extension on space in the refugee camp for another. The things that we take for granted over here are life and death issues for the women and their children over there in the camps.

I asked the women in New Shamshatoo camp, do you know what capitalism is? Do you know what Communism is?

They shook their heads.

They didn't know about global politics and super power conflicts.

But they did know about bombs . . .

They knew about war . . .

They knew about men fighting . . .

They knew about their children dying . . .

They knew about trying to defend themselves from cruel men . . .

They knew about trying to defend their children . . .

And they knew they wanted more from life for themselves and their country than they are getting now.

That's the legacy we left there in Afghanistan when we exited the scene as quickly and unceremoniously as the Soviets that we had repelled.

And look at what we are doing now.

Madam Chair, the BBC reported in the last few days that our cluster bomb munitions are almost indistinguishable from the food canisters that we are dropping.

How shameful is it that the Pentagon is now having to send messages to the Afghan people to be careful not to pick up packages that look like this cluster bomblet and to make sure that they only pick up packages that look like this food packet.

Madam Chair, how in the world can a 300 billion dollar a year military machine not see to it that the food packets and the bomblets from the cluster bombs they are dropping are not the same color?

Is it that they really just don't care?

Because that is what is fast becoming the conclusion throughout the world. Many people are now concluding that we really don't care about the innocent people in Afghanistan.

Madam Chair, we must care.

And the world must see that we care.

We must solve the humanitarian crisis in Afghanistan and the surrounding r egions urgently.

We must help put an end to the human rights abuses in Afghanistan.

It is not our place to decide who will be the next ruler of Afghanistan.

And we certainly shouldn't be supporting any group that doesn't respect the rights of women.

Our role must be to promote democracy.

Through their own process of Loya Jirga, the Afghan people are perfectly capable of deciding their own fate.

The United States role ought to be that of an honest broker to facilitate an authentic Afghani Loya Jirga that will lead the Afghan people into peace and dominion over their own land and resources.

Thank you, Madam Chair for calling this important hearing and I look forward to hearing today's witnesses.


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