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Feb-05-2012 20:30printcommentsVideo

Freezing to Death in Afghanistan

Vulnerable residents of war-torn Afghanistan struggle for survival in harsh winter.

Little girl in Kabul, Afghanistan
Photos by Tim King Salem-News.com

(SALEM) - A report this week by Abdul Haleem and Yangtze Yan with China's Xinhua* news agency, describes the extreme, freezing conditions families in Afghanistan are attempting to survive. They won't all make it. Never in all of my life will I forget my freezing 2006/08 winter covering the war in Afghanistan. I have both sympathy for, and a degree of empathy with, these people.

Firewood truck crash on icy mountain pass

Unshakable- the only word for this memory of freezing children and their mothers, alternating between utter despair and strength and hopelessness, wearing thin layers of clothing inadequate for winter- even mild cold, let alone this.

Because the trees of Kabul are all long gone, every one of them... all of the wood here that is used to make fires- absolutely essential for survival in this capitol city, was trucked in from Pakistan.

Afghanistan is a high country, Kabul is very cold in the winter and from there, heading south toward places like Gardez, the elevation goes way up and the temperatures fall. Other parts of the country aren't as extreme, but the mountain regions are dangerously cold.

History of Destruction

In addition to eradicating trees for their own purposes, and poisoning water supplies, the Soviets destroyed every living thing resembling a tree during their ten-year war here. The Russian soldiers who wreaked havoc on the city were located in the exact places the Americans occupy today. They worked out of the same buildings, flew from the same airfields, went on the same patrols from the same bases, on the same roads, and were assaulted, shot down, blown up and killed just like Americans today.

Frozen Relations

From the report: Afghanistan National Police: An Exercise in Survival

The fact that firewood rolled into this city from trucks crossing Pakistan's Khyber Pass sure puts the U.S. war effort in a difficult spot. American soldiers killed too many Pakistani soldiers a few weeks ago in a case of deadly mistaken identify, and as a result the U.S. forces have been thrown out of Pakistan and blocked from using this vital route by their former longtime ally. The majority of all American supplies crossed on the historic Khyber Pass.

That's especially bad news for the Americans because they're calling the freezing weather in this Asian nation for 2112 unprecedented- the coldest they've seen in years. The low temperatures combined with heavy snowfalls, are impacting most parts of mountainous Afghanistan in recent weeks, with a measured snow depth of up to 60 centimeters in Kabul and adjoining provinces.

More than 40 people have died from avalanches so far. The number has jumped by 12 since our last report on the frigid 2012 Afghan winter.

I was just telling friends this week, about a patrol I went on with the U.S. Army (Oregon Guard) and two ill-equipped Afghan National Police (ANP) officers. The poor guys, one of whom I got to know and saw repeatedly, didn't even have gloves. Intended as an act of kindness, the U.S. soldiers in this cross-training patrol carried bags of candy to distribute to local children in the back streets of Kabul.

This event also emblazoned a permanent memory, of desperate children fighting each other for the candy and how the small ones didn't fare well. The soldiers had just dumped it in the middle of a street and essentially said, 'go'.

The video report also reveals where Kabul residents get their electric power... from gas-powered generators. The growling motors create a haunting sound in the otherwise black night in a city where the ghosts may outnumber the living.

War Promises

From the report: Americans Bring Medical Help to Afghanistan Families

I was dialed into maddening aspects of the American war machine when I went to Afghanistan, but I still sported plenty of naivete without question.

For example, I believed that the program started by then-President G.W. Bush to aid Afghan children (You might recall, U.S. kids were asked to send a kid in Afghanistan a dollar) was real, only to learn that it had been canceled before I even had my boots on the ground in this country.

There was no aid for these families living with 30 years of continuous war, now continuing and escalating thanks to the Americans.

People will argue, and it is true that there were projects underway, but all problems relating to food, clothing and particularly healthcare, were vastly unaddressed, and that is the long and short of it.

Yet in this timeframe, Kabul residents in particular were happy that Americans had run the Taliban out of their city. The Taliban are warring zealots who misuse religion and favor cruelty toward their own people with an overwhelming, specific emphasis on women and girls.

Afghan Winter by Tim King/Salem-News.com
See more Afghanistan photos at this link

I met a number of people in this country who were terrorized by Taliban attacks and had lost things like family members and the ability to walk. Sadly, I only wish I was exaggerating. One friend, an interpreter, had a brother killed by the Soviets, another brother killed by the Taliban, who he said was decapitated with a knife, and then his own two-year old daughter was shot in their Kabul front yard by Taliban driving in a pick-up truck.

The United States had a chance to do some real good still I sensed, in 2006 and early 2007, but of course this is before large numbers of Iraq Veterans were sent to Afghanistan.

These wars- they weren't the same at all in the earlier period. They undoubtedly ended up quite similar. Americans aren't always properly educated in what they need to know when interacting with the frightened people who comprise this sensitive culture.

In the report, Americans Bring Medical Help to Afghanistan Families, you see and hear the real statistics, the unaddressed needs. The story is framed around a day-long mission to treat Afghan civilians in Kabul. Doctors and medical teams from the U.S., Canadian and British Armies managed to treat almost 400 people, with security provided by the U.S. and U.K. military forces.

1 in 5 Afghan Kids Die

From the report: Hospital in Kabul, Afghanistan Opens with Many Needs

I hated learning the vital statistics in this place, discovering that one in five kids will not get to the age of five. There are so many reasons kids die here. In the report to your right, on the efforts of western military forces to rebuild a women's and children's hospital in Kabul, in their spare time we are allowed a rare opportunity to see the inside of an Afghan maternity ward.

The stories were dismal, through a translator or 'terp, kids at the hospital talked about their now-deceased brothers and sisters, and some of the moms didn't deliver babies who lived.

The idea that one of the only facilities of this nature in Kabul would need volunteer effort from soldiers and sailors; donating their spare time, was astounding to me. It did underscore the spirit of the military troops to make a difference, but also the lack of balance in the approach to this war.

These are good people and the war would be all the worse if there were not plenty of individuals of this nature in place. However they are limited, and they generally only remain in-country for a year at a time.

What I'm saying is that a huge emphasis should be placed on assisting the people whose lives are displaced by this ongoing conflict- the people of Afghanistan. It wouldn't take that much, it should be an automatic part of the program of the war if its goal is truly is a sincere effort to help the Afghan people.

Interviewing a woman named Salma Seraj, who represented the group Tomorrow's Women and Children of Afghanistan (TWCA), I learned that her greatest wish would be for American hospitals to send their old unused equipment to Kabul. I wrote about this several times and never did a single U.S. hospital respond, at least that I know of.

Battling Misery & Fear

The following year, in 2008, I went to Iraq and reported from a few different parts of this country. Here I learned of the distrust, the contempt Americans held for most Iraqi people.

Women in Iraq walk past the scene of a car bombing that killed dozens the day before. Photo by Tim King Salem-News.com

The perilous truth is that after no less than 945 documented publicly stated lies from George W. Bush, Americans were so sold on the idea of invading Iraq, and that they somehow believed Iraqi people wanted Americans on their soil.

Would you want a foreign invader on your soil for any reason? After all we killed up to 1.5 million Iraqi citizens, even though the U.S. and its minions admit only a fraction of that number. Anyone who ever simply toured Baghdad to see the results of Shock and Awe could scarcely believe the official numbers.

From the report: It's A Cold Dog's Life in Afghanistan

I saw many places in Afghanistan that were similarly destroyed by the initial U.S. attack immediately after 9/11. Before this, and before the Taliban, Afghanistan was victimized by the Soviet Union for a decade-long civil war that ended with the defeat of the Russians in 1989. This is the reason the Soviet Union buckled.

Afghanistan needed our help, back in '89. It would never have worked for Americans though because there was no profit in it. Ever see the movie Charlie Wilson's War? If you have then I don't need to say more, nothing about western involvement in this country has been managed properly or in time. We let the place break down in tribal conflict, a Mujaheddin leader who was instrumental in defeating the Soviets, Ahmad Massoud, the "Lion of Panjshir", was the best choice to lead the people of Afghanistan and he was assassinated two days before 9/11. At that point we let it go to the dogs of war, the Taliban.

As the report It's a Cold Dog's Life in Afghanistan shows, the freezing winter in a war zone offers no favor for local dogs- the four legged variety, however a lucky few had it OK for a while when the U.S. first occupied Afghanistan. 'FOB dogs'- named for the forward operating bases where they were adopted by Americans, are a source of comfort and the lucky animals had a warm place to sleep at night. Then on cue, the U.S. government banned having all such dogs on U.S. bases in Afghanistan.

Cold and Lacking Hope

Afghanistan The humanitarian community launches its 2012 appeal for Afghanistan for US$437 million

Kabul, 28 January 2012 - The Humanitarian Country Team (HCT) in Afghanistan has called for US$437 million for humanitarian preparedness and response in the country. A launch event held today in Kabul was officiated by the Humanitarian Coordinator, Mr. Michael Keating, under the auspices of His Excellency the Minister of Rural Rehabilitation and Development, Mr. Jarullah Mansoori.

“The Afghanistan CAP 2012 focuses on delivering humanitarian assistance to people affected by conflict and natural disasters, including displaced people and refugees. The appeal is more streamlined than in previous years – better targeting those with acute humanitarian needs. With greater clarity between what we must address in the humanitarian response and what is better addressed by reconstruction and development mechanisms, the appeal has been reduced by 25 per cent as compared to 2011,” the Under- Secretary-General and Emergency Relief Coordinator, Ms. Valerie Amos said in a video message.

“The CAP 2012 is all about partnerships between the different stakeholders. The Government of Afghanistan is actively involved in the humanitarian decision making process through the cluster system. Other partners include the UN agencies, the humanitarian NGOs and the donor community. They all support me as Humanitarian Coordinator to effectively coordinate the emergency response and integrated humanitarian action, in close collaboration with the Government,” Mr. Keating said.

The failure to closely link the work of humanitarian and development actors in Afghanistan has resulted in persistent challenges associated with those displaced by the conflict and recurrent environment hazards. The 2011 drought (which was the eighth in 11 years) reminds all the partners of the critical importance of focusing not just on immediate humanitarian relief but on real solutions. Increased priority by development actors in collaboration with government towards investment in solutions that mitigate these vulnerabilities is required which will ultimately eliminate the need for humanitarian assistance.

The 2012 appeal seeks $437 million for humanitarian preparedness and response. 28% of the request targets the Food Security and Agriculture Cluster related to the drought-specific needs still requiring response. The 2012 CAP represents a shift from previous years and a “back to basics” approach, excluding the provision of humanitarian assistance to chronic vulnerable populations in favour of advocacy for development.


Abdul Haleem and Yangtze Yan with China's Xinhua news agency, detail in their report the intense suffering that is taking place right now in Afghanistan. They quote a woman in Kabul saying, "I am a mother of three and have nothing to keep my hut warm." Destitute, she appealed to anyone for assistance for alms in downtown Kabul.

Sitting alongside a snowy street and holding up an umbrella to keep herself and two kids from heavy snowfall, the dejected lady said that the continued cold spell and snowfall had doubled her pains.

"I have no choice but to beg, I have three children and no proper food and shelter," the upset mother told Xinhua on Friday. In spite of her desperation, the woman still refused to offer her name, saying that "I need assistance and not talking to people."

The report states that the impoverished woman who has been receiving charity from other Afghans, is not alone.

Even though begging, particularly by women, is a taboo in Afghanistan, many continue to seek this help due to the instability and extreme poverty.

Almost in every street of the war-battered yet under- construction capital city and other Afghan cities, the begging men, women and children often disturb the attention of onlookers, the Xinhua article states.

Another Chance for Aid

It makes me sick to consider how little Americans and their politicians really care about the misery they have extended for the Afghans. Yet the politicians have another chance to help, this time in the UN, and the need is strong.

From Xinhua:

    To cope with the poverty and assist the needy Afghans in 2012, the government of Afghanistan and the United Nations' Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) appealed for 437 million U.S. dollars on Jan. 28.

    "The appeal is a total of 437 million U.S. dollars," UN Humanitarian Coordinator Michael Keating told a joint press conference with Afghan Minister for Rural Rehabilitation and Development Jarullah Mansoori.

    At the press briefing, the UN official said that 8.8 million Afghans are in need of humanitarian assistance in 2012 and over 187,000 people were displaced in 2011, mostly due to security incidents.

Hearts and Minds

From the report: Oregon Soldiers Give Aid to Remote Afghanistan Village

The statement's not a joke you know, not some reincarnated line from the Vietnam War. Surely the general population deserves an effort from the invading forces to fill their stomachs and allow them the essential warmth required for healthy living.

What I learned while following along on winter humanitarian aid missions in Afghanistan, is that the U.S. government itself provides almost nothing in terms of assistance for the population of the country they occupy. The military provides the personnel, however the supplies all come from donations from civilians.

The truth is that Americans will undertake these aid missions on their own even if they aren't funded. I can't count the number of soldiers, Marines, sailors and airmen that I met in the wars (both) who work with their own communities to assist the Afghan and Iraqi people.

It's no laughing matter for them, they have no choice but to witness the inhumanity and suffering, the general unfairness that so many live with.

One village I visited with members of the Oregon National Guard and Afghan Army is called KatehKhil, it is high in the mountains above Kabul, and the images from this mission to deliver clothing and other supplies that were donated for the effort are probably the most pathetic of all.

Here we see children in bitter cold with out shoes~! We see kids picked up by the arm and carried around like a shopping bag... We witness the incredible heartfelt response of U.S. military officers, one of whom is an Oregon high school principle. It is bizarre, shocking and just tragic. There needs to be a constant effort to win the hears and minds of any populace, if it doesn't work out then the war effort was never sincere.

One Cold Ride

From the report: White Out Conditions in Afghanistan`s High Country

I think the biggest lesson learned by the soldiers I accompanied on patrol, came on Christmas day 2006, as our convoy of U.S. and Afghan Army vehicles made our way through the mountains in the high country. Every day was bitter cold but this day was colder with more snow.

As the report to the right shows, we had barely started when the first ANA truck spun off the roadway. It was a grueling, harrowing journey and just when we thought it was hitting the worst point, we totally lost sight of the road. Chains and high tech computers mean little when the snow covers every sign of a tire track. This, in the country that has the largest number of unexploded land mines, mostly from the Russians. Some record.

As it turned out we made it, thanks to a party of Afghan civilians who were traveling in the opposite direction. Our destination was a castle built by the British during their wars here in the late 1800's. The same place was restored and used by the Russians during their war here, and then the Taliban had taken control before the U.S. and its assorted allies arrived. Talk about cold, that night in a Soviet-built headquarters building with a fire, it was impossible to stay warm.

The Afghan people are having a hard winter, they need the support of Americans who decided so many years ago to invade this place. I don't see it having a good outcome, eventually the U.S. will just quit and pull out and all will have been for nothing, except political and humanitarian agitation.

* Vulnerable Afghans struggle to survive harsh winter - xinhuanet.com


Tim King in 2007, covering the Afghanistan War

Tim King: Salem-News.com Editor and Writer

Tim King has more than twenty years of experience on the west coast as a television news producer, photojournalist, reporter and assignment editor. In addition to his role as a war correspondent, this Los Angeles native serves as Salem-News.com's Executive News Editor. Tim spent the winter of 2006/07 covering the war in Afghanistan, and he was in Iraq over the summer of 2008, reporting from the war while embedded with both the U.S. Army and the Marines. Tim is a former U.S. Marine.

Tim holds awards for reporting, photography, writing and editing, including the Silver Spoke Award by the National Coalition of Motorcyclists (2011), Excellence in Journalism Award by the Oregon Confederation of Motorcycle Clubs (2010), Oregon AP Award for Spot News Photographer of the Year (2004), First-place Electronic Media Award in Spot News, Las Vegas, (1998), Oregon AP Cooperation Award (1991); and several others including the 2005 Red Cross Good Neighborhood Award for reporting. Tim has several years of experience in network affiliate news TV stations, having worked as a reporter and photographer at NBC, ABC and FOX stations in Arizona, Nevada and Oregon. Tim was a member of the National Press Photographer's Association for several years and is a current member of the Orange County Press Club.

Serving the community in very real terms, Salem-News.com is the nation's only truly independent high traffic news Website. As News Editor, Tim among other things, is responsible for publishing the original content of 102 Salem-News.com writers. He reminds viewers that emails are easily missed and urges those trying to reach him, to please send a second email if the first goes unanswered. You can write to Tim at this address: newsroom@salem-news.com

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