Kathy Kelly’s eyewitness reports from the U.S. War in Afghanistan
As a longtime Christian-based peace activist, Kathy Kelly visits places on Earth where violence is the norm and war is all around. She recently returned from her twelfth trip to Afghanistan, where the United States’ war has displaced 400 people per day, according to Amnesty International.
This winter—her fourth in the war-torn country—she says 100 people froze to death, including 26 children in Kabul refugee camps. “People flock to places where there is no room for them,” she says of the fleeing.
As co-director of the Chicago-based Voices For Creative Nonviolence, Kelly has dedicated her life to bringing an end to U.S. military and economic warfare. She is currently focused on Afghanistan, which is the site of the longest war in U.S. history. On Wednesday, April 16, Kelly will share her experience of living with working-class Afghanis in Kabul at Santa Cruz’s Resource Center for Nonviolence in a talk titled “The Cost of War, the Price of Peace: Eyewitness Reports From Afghanistan.”
The recent trip brought the plight of street children into focus for Kelly. Children—an estimated 600,000, she says—hawk goods like tissues and cigarettes on the streets of Kabul to earn money for their displaced families who have fled to refugee camps.
“They’re cold and earning a meager wage, but it’s necessary for the family to survive,” she says. “They go back to wretched housing that’s sometimes just a piece of plastic held up by four poles and perhaps some blankets issued by the UNHCR [United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees].”
Kelly and others from Voices For Creative Nonviolence were invited to Kabul by Afghan Peace Volunteers, a group of former refugees that coordinates food and education for street children and their families.
She has made similar trips to many regions in the midst of war. From 1996 to 2003, she formed 70 delegations that openly defied economic sanctions against Iraq by bringing medicines to Iraqi children and families. Kelly lived in Baghdad throughout the 2003 “Shock and Awe” bombing, alongside Iraqis and members of Voices in the Wilderness, an earlier incarnation of her current organization. She has also lived alongside people during wars in Gaza, Bosnia, Nicaragua and Lebanon.
“The first time I was under a drone I didn’t even realize it,” Kelly says, recalling a day in Lebanon in 2006. “The Israeli-Hezbollah war had ended with a cease-fire but surveillance was still going on.”
She was attending a funeral for Muslim children who had been sent by their parents into a bomb shelter. “The mother of one of the children showed me a photo of her 6-year-old daughter and told me, ‘They must have known that my daughter was in the bomb shelter overnight and that she ran back to be with me for breakfast in the morning,’” Kelly says. “She pointed up at a drone overhead and said, ‘Didn’t they know? Didn’t they see?’ Then she asked me, ‘Who is the terrorist?’ She tapped the photo of her daughter and asked me, ‘Is she the terrorist?’”
Kelly has joined in protests against drone warfare at U.S. military bases in Nevada, New York and Missouri. She was sentenced to one year, from 1988 to 1989, in federal prison for planting corn on nuclear missile silos and spent three months in prison in 2004 for crossing the line at Fort Benning’s military training school. She has also refused to pay all forms of federal income tax since 1980. These experiences and more are detailed in her 2005 book, “Other Lands Have Dreams: From Baghdad to Pekin Prison.” Kelly has been nominated twice for the Nobel Peace Prize.
The United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) reported earlier this year that civilian drone deaths in Afghanistan tripled in 2013, with 45 civilians killed in drone strikes last year. U.S. and British drones also killed civilians in Pakistan and Yemen, where at least 12 civilians attending a wedding were reported killed on Dec. 12, 2013, according to Human Rights Watch. “U.S. plans for maintaining special operations forces and drone warfare in Afghanistan will prolong and exacerbate the war,” Kelly says.
“People in Afghanistan who experience drone surveillance or night raids, or whose neighbors and relatives have been hunted down in drone attacks, express intense frustration and anger,” she continues. “Even General [Stanley] McChrystal, the former U.S. commander in Afghanistan, said as recently as January 2013 that the arrogance of drone strikes jeopardizes the security of people in the United States.”
She would like to see Americans “start asking some very pointed questions about drone surveillance.”
Kelly will touch on first-hand observations of the implications of U.S. drone policy at her April 16 presentation. She will also share her insights into the true nature of the War in Afghanistan and actions that can be taken to stop the violence.
“We here at Voices for Creative Nonviolence believe that where you stand determines what you see,” Kelly says. “And what I’ve seen is that the U.S. is not waging a ‘humanitarian war’ in Afghanistan. The actual purpose for U.S. involvement is to ultimately gain control over the pricing and flow of some very valuable resources: rare earth elements reputed to be under the Hindu Kush Mountains and the natural gas and fossil fuels from the Caspian Sea basin. When those resources are extracted, whoever manages to build a pipeline or roadway can control the pricing and flow. The idea that we’ve protected women and children in Afghanistan is a cruel notion because the opposite is true.”
Kathy Kelly’s talk “The Cost of War, the Price of Peace: Eyewitness Reports From Afghanistan” will take place at 7 p.m. on April 16 at the Resource Center for Nonviolence, 612 Ocean St., Santa Cruz. $8-15 sliding scale donation at the door. No one turned away for lack of funds. Visit rcnv.org for more information.