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War machine keeps swallowing lives

By MINLU ZHANG in New York | China Daily Global | Updated: 2021-12-09 09:17
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Ahmad Qassim visits his son Mahmoud in a hospital in Idlib, Syria, on Monday. A US airstrike targeting an al-Qaida leader in northern Syria wounded six members of his family on Friday. [GHAITH ALSAYED/AP]

From Vietnam to Syria, ever-rising costs of US aggression tallied by researchers

In a village of about 400 people called Labeng-Khok, a site that was used by the North Vietnamese Army to infiltrate the South during the Vietnam War, a family welcomed a newborn boy, Suk. The baby later had difficulty sitting, then with standing and walking. He was one of three children in the extended family with birth defects.

A cousin of Suk's was born mute and did not learn to walk until he was 7. A third child died at the age of 2.

"That one could not sit up," their great-uncle told The New York Times. "The whole body was soft as if there were no bones."

Suk's was one of the millions of families in Vietnam and Laos suffering long-term health problems caused by exposure to the dioxin in Agent Orange, one of the herbicides sprayed by US forces for military purposes during the Vietnam War.

Research published in the journal Nature in 2003 and 2018 found that the amount of Agent Orange used by the US military on the Vietnam battlefield greatly exceeded the amount originally recognized by the US government.

The researchers pointed out that as many as 3,181 Vietnamese villages were sprayed directly with Agent Orange and up to 4.8 million people would have been present during the spraying.

US foreign wars have "caused massive loss of military lives, serious civilian casualties as well as property damage, leading to horrific humanitarian disasters", according to a report released in April by the China Society for Human Rights Studies.

In the past three years, the US has carried out "counterterrorism" activities in 85 countries, according to a recent report by the Costs of War project, a research initiative based at the Watson Institute for International and Public Affairs at Brown University.

Those operations include air and drone strikes, ground combat, programs in which US special operations forces plan and control partner-force missions, military exercises in preparation for/or as part of counterterrorism missions, and operations to train and assist foreign forces.

The term "counterterrorism" is problematic because of how the US government uses the term to "less focus on the harm done to civilians and more to create a category of enemies who must be opposed with military force", the paper said.

'Negative consequences'

"What human rights abuses or other negative consequences do these US engagements have for people who live in these countries? What are the financial implications of this vast expanse of activities?" the report said.

More than 929,000 people have been killed directly in the wars in Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, Yemen and elsewhere, according to a report published in September by the Costs of War project. More than 387,000 civilians were directly killed in those wars.

The report noted that the actual number of people who have been killed in the wars could be several times more due to the collateral effect of the military actions. For example, there are war-related diseases, water loss, sewerage problems and other infrastructure issues.

The US' post-9/11 wars have displaced at least 38 million people in and from Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, Libya, Yemen, Somalia and elsewhere, according to the project.

The weapons used by the US military also caused long-term health problems for civilians.

US officials have confirmed that the military used depleted uranium, or DU, weapons on the battlefield in Iraq and Syria, spurring outrage among local communities, which alleged that the toxic material caused cancer and birth defects.

DU can enter the human body by inhalation, the ingestion of contaminated food or eating with contaminated hands, getting dust or debris in an open wound, or by being struck by shrapnel. The US Environmental Protection Agency considers depleted uranium to be a "radiation health hazard when inside the body".

In 2014, in a UN report on DU, the Iraqi government expressed "its deep concern over the harmful effects" of the material. Such weapons, it said, "constitute a danger to human beings and the environment".

"I think this is an area of international humanitarian law that needs a lot more attention," Cymie Payne, a legal scholar and professor of ecology at Rutgers University, told Foreign Policy magazine. "As we've been focusing more in recent years on the post-conflict period and thinking about peace building …we need a clean environment so people can use the environment."

There are still around 25 million land mines and explosive remnants from the war in Iraq, according to the country's Ministry of the Environment and the Directorate of Mine Action. Although no statistics are available on the number and types of casualties, it is estimated that hundreds of civilians are maimed by the debris of warfare every year.

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