Category Archives: War

SYRIA: Environmental impact of conflict in Syria could be disastrous

from PAX, a Pax Christi International member organization

2The ongoing conflict in Syria is likely to have a disastrous impact on the environment and public health, according to a new study published by PAX. Four years of fighting has left cities in rubble and caused widespread damage to industrial sites, critical infrastructure and the oil industry. Pollution from these forms of damage is likely to result in acute and chronic risks to civilians and will have a long-term impact on the environment that they depend on.

“With the additional attacks by Russia in or near Aleppo, which has numerous industrial complexes processing hazardous chemicals, existing environmental and public health risks from the ongoing conflict will only be compounded,” cautioned report author Wim Zwijnenburg, researcher for PAX.

Analysis of the fighting, which is based on satellite imagery, social media monitoring and the reports of UN agencies, has found that that there are already major problems around locations where hazardous chemicals are stored and processed. Industrial facilities such as chemical industries and the oil industry as well as critical infrastructure such as power plants and water and sewage systems have sustained severe damage. The shelling of residential areas has caused the destruction of the majority of Syria’s housing stock. This has created millions of tonnes of rubble, some of which contains hazardous materials such as asbestos, heavy metals and the toxic residues from conventional weapons. The breakdown of waste collection and management as a result of the conflict has led to the accumulation of solid household and industrial wastes, which has increased the spread of communicable diseases…

Read more at this link.

REFLECTION: Killing blind

Kathy Kellyby Kathy Kelly
Pax Christi USA Teacher of Peace

“These are people who had been working hard for months, non-stop for the past week. They had not gone home, they had not seen their families, they had just been working in the hospital to help people… and now they are dead. These people are friends, close friends. I have no words to express this. It is unspeakable.

“The hospital, it has been my workplace and home for several months. Yes, it is just a building. But it is so much more than that. It is healthcare for Kunduz. Now it is gone.

“What is in my heart since this morning is that this is completely unacceptable. How can this happen? What is the benefit of this? Destroying a hospital and so many lives, for nothing. I cannot find words for this.” – Lajos Zoltan Jecs


Lajos Zoltan Jecs survived October 3rd in the Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF) hospital in Kunduz, which the U.S. bombed for well over an hour, at fifteen minute intervals.  The bombing continued, despite frantic communication by the hospital staff who told U.S., NATO and Afghan officials that their hospital was under attack.  Afterwards Jecs reported the indescribable horror of seeing patients burning in their intensive care unit beds.

U.S. people have much to bear in mind as the Pentagon prepares to release its investigation of the attack.

One consideration is that the MSF staff, as a matter of humanitarian policy, treated anyone needing care that was brought to the hospital. The U.S. may have regarded some of the patients as enemies of the U.S., but this does not justify bombing a hospital.  Recent leaks of U.S. drone assassination policy, published by the online journal,The Intercept, clarify that the safety of U.S. people and the elimination of U.S. enemies have long overridden concern on Washington’s part for the preservation of other peoples’ lives, including civilians.

Secondly, the U.S. Government seems unable to imagine that attacks supposedly taken in U.S. national interests can be war crimes.

Thirdly, MSF has issued a strong, globally-echoed call for an independent investigation into the attack.  The U.S. insists on pursuing its own investigation, one element of which was an evidence-endangering attack actually crashing a tank through the burnt hospital’s shell of a first floor.
According to the New York Times, U.S. military commanders are expected to cite the ongoing partial withdrawal of U.S. troops from Afghanistan to help explain why a U.S. C-130 transport plane killed 30 people, 12 staff and 13 patients, three of them children. In a front page story, the NYT reported that Pentagon investigators asked whether “lack of experience in working together” on the part of U.S. and Afghan troops “may have directly contributed to the series of mistaken decisions that led to the attack.” The NYT report goes on to say that: “They attributed those problems, in part, to the withdrawal of American forces from northern Afghanistan that has been part of the United States’ gradual drawdown of forces in the country.”

The following day, AP reported that the Army’s $5 billion DCGS intelligence network, criticized by many as a boondoggle but elsewhere praised as having “saved lives” by collecting “drone footage, mapping software, human source reports, social media and eavesdropping transcripts”, was non-functional during the attack.  The report was based on anonymous government leaks.

Does this mean that on the day in question, the U.S. lacked a staff trained sufficiently well to consult a map, identifying the hospital they were attacking? Had the U.S. military lost its most convenient means of checking the map online?   And despite these handicaps, the military went on killing anyway?  It went on killing blind?

We ought not to be blinded by media theater, or by habits of dismissing the doubts, and even the deaths, of countless people just like ourselves, overseas, whenever our government offers us its unsubstantiated explanations, its sincere good will, its apologies.  The world can’t be blinded to attackers in a tank lunging through the gaping sockets, familiar to us from haunting pictures, of the hospital’s blackened windows and doors.  The United States must allow the world to see what it has done.

Ordinary people worldwide should be encouraged not to cooperate with the war makers and war profiteers who masquerade as providers of security.

I think ordinary people can understand Lajos’s affection for colleagues, his pride in hard work. Yet it’s difficult, perhaps impossible to grasp even a fraction of the terror Lajos experienced when the U.S. airstrikes destroyed the Kunduz hospital and killed so many innocents.

We must nevertheless try to imagine Lajos’s shock and terror and then imagine further how he might feel upon learning that the attackers, the killers, relied on 5 billion dollars’ worth of “intelligence” systems, which happened to be on the blink that day, and that they didn’t understand  that it’s murderously wrong to strafe a hospital, at fifteen minute intervals, for over an hour, even after being notified by panicked staff that their hospital was in flames and patients were burning.

Kathy Kelly ( co-coordinates Voices for Creative Nonviolence ( She returned from Afghanistan in mid-September 2015 where she was a guest of the Afghan Peace Volunteers  (

REFLECTION: Ignoring the suffering of a nation

Tony Maglianoby Tony Magliano

While much needed attention is being given to refugees flowing from war-torn Syria, one desperately suffering Middle East nation is barely a blip on the developed world’s radar screen.

And to be honest, Yemen wasn’t on my radar screen either, until I met Barbara Deller.

For 12 years Deller worked as a hospital nurse-midwife in Yemen, and later served as a faculty member of the Johns Hopkins University School of Public Health, advising ministries of health in numerous countries in Africa and Asia and the Middle East.


She explained to me that Saudi Arabia’s military campaign against the Houthi rebels in Yemen has greatly increased the suffering of this already desperately impoverished nation of 27 million people.

Earlier this year, when Houthi rebels took control of Yemen’s government, an Arab coalition led by Saudi Arabia attacked the Houthis because they claimed the Houthis are backed by Iran – Saudi Arabia’s archrival.

With U.S. and British support, Saudi Arabia has been pounding Yemen for the last several months with ongoing airstrikes; and is suffocating Yemen with a crippling air, land and sea blockade.

Sadly, as is always the case with war, masses of innocent children, women and men are bearing the brunt of untold suffering.

Deller said, “My personal contacts in Yemen include a young woman in Sana’a [Yemen’s largest city] who has three small children and is due to deliver any day now. She has little food and water.

“She said as the intense bombardment starts in the evening she lies with her children in the dark and used to pray that God would protect her and her family.

“Now she says she prays that God will let the next bomb kill them all as it is so excruciating waiting for a bomb to hit.

“If she has any problem while giving birth, she could easily die, as the one maternity hospital in the city has been bombed.

“All of her neighbors have fled the residential area, but they have no money and no place to go.”

Reportedly, even before the war, about half the population lacked access to clean water, and the country imported 90 percent of its food from abroad. But in the last several months the ongoing Saudi-led airstrikes, along with its blockade, has pushed Yemen into a full-fledged humanitarian disaster.

In June, the United Nations raised Yemen’s crisis status to Category 3 – its most severe level, shared only by Syria, South Sudan and Iraq.

In support of the plea of several nongovernmental aid agencies for a cease-fire, and the lifting of the blockade in Yemen (, please email ( and call (202-456-1111) President Obama urging him to pressure Saudi Arabia and its coalition members to immediately enact a total ceasefire in Yemen, and to quickly lift its blockade allowing a free-flow of all humanitarian aid into Yemen.

And please consider making a donation to Save the Children by calling 1-800-728-3843. And request that your gift be designated for Yemen.

Yemen’s Country Director for Save the Children, Edward Santiago, said “Children are bearing the brunt … not only have they been killed during airstrikes and fighting, but the homes, schools and hospitals they rely on have been damaged or destroyed. Many families don’t have the food, fuel or medicine they desperately need to survive” as a result of the blockage.

As believers in the God of peace, how can we possibly ignore the suffering people of Yemen?

Tony Magliano is an internationally syndicated social justice and peace columnist. Please contact your diocesan newspaper and request that they carry Tony’s column. Tony is available to speak at diocesan or parish gatherings about Catholic social teaching. His keynote address, “Advancing the Kingdom of God in the 21st Century,” has been well received by diocesan gatherings from San Clemente, CA to Baltimore. Tony can be reached at

REFLECTION: Learn your lessons well – An Afghan teenager makes up his mind

Kathy Kellyby Kathy Kelly
Pax Christi USA Teacher of Peace

Kabul–Tall, lanky, cheerful and confident, Esmatullah easily engages his young students at the Street Kids School, a project of Kabul’s “Afghan Peace Volunteers,” an antiwar community with a focus on service to the poor.  Esmatullah teaches child laborers to read. He feels particularly motivated to teach at the Street Kids School because, as he puts it, “I was once one of these children.” Esmatullah began working to support his family when he was 9 years old. Now, at age 18, he is catching up: he has reached the tenth grade, takes pride in having learned English well enough to teach a course in a local academy, and knows that his family appreciates his dedicated, hard work.


When Esmatullah was nine, the Taliban came to his house looking for his older brother. Esmatullah’s father wouldn’t divulge information they wanted. The Taliban then tortured his father by beating his feet so severely that he has never walked since. Esmatullah’s dad, now 48, had never learnt to read or write; there are no jobs for him. For the past decade, Esmatullah has been the family’s main breadwinner, having begun to work, at age nine, in a mechanics workshop. He would attend school in the early morning hours, but at 11:00 a.m., he would start his workday with the mechanics, continuing to work until nightfall.  During winter months, he worked full time, earning 50 Afghanis each week, a sum he always gave his mother to buy bread.

Now, thinking back on his experiences as a child laborer, Esmatullah has second thoughts. “As I grew up, I saw that it was not good to work as a child and miss many lessons in school. I wonder how active my brain was at that time, and how much I could have learnt! When children work full time, it can ruin their future. I was in an environment where many people were addicted to heroin. Luckily I didn’t start, even though others at the workshop suggested that I try using heroin. I was very small. I would ask ‘What is this?’ and they would say it’s a drug, it’s good for back pain.”

“Fortunately, my uncle helped me buy materials for school and pay for courses.  When I was in grade 7, I thought about leaving school, but he wouldn’t let me.  My uncle works as a watchman in Karte Chahar. I wish I can help him someday.”

Even when he could only attend school part-time, Esmatullah was a successful student. His teachers recently spoke affectionately about him as an exceptionally polite and competent student. He would always rank as one of the top students in his classes.

“I am the only one who reads or writes in my family,” says Esmatullah. “I always wish that my mother and father could read and write. They could perhaps find work. Truthfully, I live for my family. I am not living for myself.  I care for my family. I love myself because of my family. As long as I’m alive, they feel there is a person to help them.”

“But if I had the freedom to choose, I would spend all my time working as a volunteer at the Afghan Peace Volunteer’s center.”

Asked how he feels about educating child laborers, Esmatullah responds:  “These children shouldn’t be illiterate in the future. Education in Afghanistan is like a triangle. When I was in first grade, we were 40 children.  By grade 7, I recognized that many children had already abandoned school. When I reached grade 10, only four of the 40 children continued their lessons.”

“When I studied English, I felt enthusiastic about teaching in the future and earning money,” he told me. “Eventually, I felt I should teach others because if they become literate they will be less likely to go to war.”

“People are being pushed to join the military,” he says. “My cousin joined the military. He had gone to find work and the military recruited him, offering him money. After one week, the Taliban killed him. He was about 20 years old and he had recently been married.”

Ten years ago, Afghanistan had already been at war for four years, with U.S. cries for revenge over the 9/11 attacks giving way to unconvincing statements of retroactive concern for impoverished people who are the majority of Afghanistan’s population. As elsewhere where the U.S. has let “no fly zones” slide into full regime change, atrocities between Afghans only increased in the chaos, leading to the maiming of Esmatullah’s father.

Many of Esmatullah’s neighbors might understand if he wanted to retaliate and seek vengeance against the Taliban. Others would understand if he wished the same revenge on the United States. But he instead aligns himself with young men and women insisting that “Blood doesn’t wipe away blood.” They want to help child laborers escape military recruitment and ease the afflictions people suffer because of wars.

I askedt Esmatullah how he feels about joining the #Enough! campaign, – represented in social media by young people opposed to war who photograph the word #Enough! (bas) written on their palms.

“Afghanistan experienced three decades of war,” said Esmatullah. “I wish that one day we’ll be able to end war. I want to be someone who, in the future, bans wars.” It will take a lot of “someones” to ban war, ones like Esmatullah who become schooled in ways to live communally with the neediest of people, building societies whose actions won’t evoke desires for revenge.

This article first appeared on Telesur.

Kathy Kelly ( co-coordinates Voices for Creative Nonviolence ( She returned from Afghanistan in mid-September 2015 where she was a guest of the Afghan Peace Volunteers  (

CLIMATE CHANGE: Climate change and conflict – it’s complicated

by Philippa Garson

NEW YORK, 20 October 2015 (IRIN) – Scientists may not see Mad Max-style “water wars” ahead, but they nevertheless see strong relationships between conflict and climate change.

Whether dramatic changes in weather patterns drive conflict has long been the subject of great debate. Did a series of droughts precipitate the collapse of the Khmer Empire in the early 15th century, for example? Or was the Little Ice Age in the mid-17th century a leading cause of the rampant warfare in Europe, China and the Ottoman Empire?

But the complex forces shaping the world today rule out simple parallels or assumptions – let alone predictions of the future. Many scientists caution that a much hotter earth or catastrophic weather event could tip the balance in unforeseen ways. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change Fifth Assessment Report says there is “justifiable common concern” that climate change will increase the risk of armed conflict in some situations, even “if the strength of the effect is uncertain”.

Most studies currently describe climate change as a “threat multiplier” rather than a direct cause, just one of a host of interconnected factors – like poverty, exclusion of ethnic groups, government mismanagement, political instability and societal breakdown – that drive conflict…

Read the entire article here.

AFGHANISTAN: #Enough! We can respond to the tears of Kunduz refugee, Abdul Fatah

Dr_Hakimby Dr. Hakim

Kabul, Afghanistan — We live in a World at War, and as fellow human beings, what can we do for refugees like 45-year-old Abdul Fatah, who has been crying lately, who doesn’t have a home in his own home?

World at War is the title of a report UNHCR released in June 2015, in which António Guterres, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, describes the refugee crises in Europe and worldwide as “an unchecked slide into an era in which the scale of global forced displacement as well as the response required is now clearly dwarfing anything seen before.”

But for those of us who are distant from War and not ‘in the same boat’, being part of the ‘response required’ seems just as ‘out-of-reach’.

So, please follow this story for a while.

Ali, one of the Afghan Peace Volunteers, is 17 years old.  On October 6th, 2015, he would have liked to plan for school, as usual, the next day. He wanted to feel affirmed by his teachers and peers. He wanted to know that his mother in Bamiyan was fine for another day.

But, in Kabul, the news from Kunduz was worrying him, and the all-night blasts and whistles of bombs and gunfire a few nights before had made him think, “Perhaps, I should pack up and return to Bamiyan.”

Yet, on the 7th of October 2015, the anniversary of the beginning of the U.S. Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan 14 years ago, Ali and the Afghan Peace Volunteers decided instead to meet with members of five Afghan families who had fled the war in Kunduz. Together, they listened to and extended small gifts to these families.

Abdul Fatah told his refugee story. “My tears fall every day & I can’t bring myself to eat. I eat this little bread & the bread seems to eat me up. My heart is there and in Kunduz and here…”

The gifts were meant to help the Kunduz families endure their first weeks as Internally Displaced Persons in Kabul.

And the act of giving to others in need gave Ali, me, and the Afghan Peace Volunteers a chance to experience empathy, an emotion often repressed when people just need to survive.

We learned to do something small and different from 14 years of the ‘same, old’ method of war, and exploitation.

The photos and reflections below describe our time with the Kunduz families….

Abdul Fatah, a refugee from Kunduz, in Kabul

Abdul Fatah, a refugee from Kunduz, in Kabul


Since when did the meaning of this word change to ‘opportunists’, ‘illegal immigrants’?

“I am from Kunduz,”
said Fatah, his eyes a reservoir,
his family desperate.

It never crossed his mind what some may mistakenly think of him.
“He, that Asiatic-looking man with the beard,
is probably a lazy bum
who wants to snatch away jobs & homes from people in Kabul.”

He echoed, to our disgust,
“Our children are being killed”,
the same ‘disgust’ that Doctors Without Borders had for the U.S. gunship
that bombed 12 of their staff and 10 of their patients
to their fiery deaths.

How would we feel if we saw our hospitalized mother burning in her bed,
and heard from General so-and-so that
it was ‘collateral damage’ ( ‘just too bad’ ),
or ‘a request from the Afghan authorities’ ( ‘it’s not our fault’ ),
or a ‘mistake’ ( ‘okay, we did it, but we’ll compensate you, okay?’ )?

Abdul Fatah cries

Abdul Fatah cries

“My tears come,” Fatah states,
“and I can’t bear to eat any bread,
because my son is in danger,
some relatives are still in Kunduz,
and you know,
no one…”,
his head shivers, his fingers cupped in the direction of his heart,
“No one cares a damn.”

A man, strong, with bullet wound scars in his thigh and head
from 6 wars, he says,
breaks down,
lifting his neck scarf to wipe his eyes,
the reservoir that’s drying up.

Read more in a photo essay here.

Ali, one of the Afghan Peace Volunteers who assisted the five Kunduz families, including the toddler named Rana in the photo.

Ali, one of the Afghan Peace Volunteers who assisted the five Kunduz families,
including the toddler named Rana in the photo.

Dr Hakim ( Dr. Teck Young, Wee ) is a medical doctor from Singapore who has done humanitarian and social enterprise work in Afghanistan for the past 10 years, including being a mentor to the Afghan Peace Volunteers, an inter-ethnic group of young Afghans dedicated to building non-violent alternatives to war. He is the 2012 recipient of the International Pfeffer Peace Prize.

REFLECTION: 22 people killed by U.S. airstrike on Doctors Without Borders hospital in Kunduz, Afghanistan

Kathy Kellyby Kathy Kelly
Pax Christi USA Teacher of Peace

Before the 2003 Shock and Awe bombing in Iraq, a group of activists living in Baghdad would regularly go to city sites that were crucial for maintaining health and well-being in Baghdad, such as hospitals, electrical facilities, water purification plants, and schools, and string large vinyl banners between the trees outside these buildings which read: “To Bomb This Site Would Be A War Crime.”  We encouraged people in U.S. cities to do the same, trying to build empathy for people trapped in Iraq, anticipating a terrible aerial bombing.

Tragically, sadly, the banners must again condemn war crimes, this time echoing international outcry because in an hour of airstrikes this past Saturday morning, the U.S. repeatedly bombed a Doctors Without Borders hospital in Kunduz, a facility that served the fifth largest city in Afghanistan and the surrounding region.

U.S./NATO forces carried out the airstrike at about 2AM on October 3rd. Doctors Without Borders had already notified the U.S., NATO and Afghan forces of their geographical coordinates to clarify that their compound, the size of a football field, was a hospital.  When the first bombs hit, medical staff immediately phoned NATO headquarters to report the strike on its facility, and yet strikes continued, at 15 minute intervals, until 3:15 a.m., killing 22 people. 12 of the dead were medical staff; ten were patients, and three of the patients were children. At least 37 more people were injured.  One survivor said that the first section of the hospital to be hit was the Intensive Care Unit.

“Patients were burning in their beds,” said one nurse, an eyewitness to the ICU attack.”There are no words for how terrible it was.”  The U.S. airstrikes continued, even after the Doctors Without Borders officials had notified the U.S., NATO and Afghan military that the warplanes were attacking the hospital.


Taliban forces do not have air power, and the Afghan Air Force fleet is subordinate to the U.S., so it was patently clear that the U.S. had committed a war crime.

The U.S. military has said that the matter is under investigation.  Yet another in an endless train of somber apologies; feeling families’ pain but excusing all involved decision makers seems inevitable. Doctors Without Borders has demanded a transparent, independent investigation, assembled by a legitimate international body and without direct involvement by the U.S. or by any other warring party in the Afghan conflict.  If such an investigation occurs, and is able to confirm that this was a deliberate, or else a murderously neglectful war crime, how many Americans will ever learn of the verdict?

War crimes can be acknowledged when carried out by official U.S. enemies, when they are useful in justifying invasions and efforts at regime change.

One investigation the U.S. has signally failed to carry out would tell it how much Kunduz needed this hospital. The U.S. could investigate SIGAR reports (“Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction”) numbering Afghanistan’s “U.S. funded health care facilities,” allegedly funded through USAID, which cannot even be located, 189 alleged locations at whose coordinates there are demonstrably no buildings within 400 feet. In their June 25th letter they astoundingly write, “My office’s initial analysis of USAID data and geospatial imagery has led us to question whether USAID has accurate location information for 510—nearly 80 percent—of the 641 health care facilities funded by the PCH program.” It notes that six of the Afghan facilities are actually located in Pakistan, six in Tajikstan, and one in the Mediterranean Sea.

It seems we’ve created yet another ghost hospital, not out of thin air this time but from the walls of a desperately needed facility which are now charred rubble, from which the bodies of staff and patients have been exhumed. And with the hospital lost to a terrified community, the ghosts of this attack are, again, beyond anyone’s ability to number.  But in the week leading up to this attack, its staff had treated 345 wounded people, 59 of them children.

Now the region has no hospital at all.

The U.S. has long shown itself the most formidable warlord fighting in Afghanistan, setting an example of brute force that frightens rural people who wonder to whom they can turn for protection.  In July of 2015, U.S. bomber jets attacked an Afghan army facility in the Logar Province, killing ten soldiers. The Pentagon said this incident would likewise be under investigation.  No public conclusion of the investigation seems ever to have been issued.  There isn’t always even an apology.

This was a massacre, whether one of carelessness or of hate.   One way to join the outcry against it, demanding not just an inquiry but a final end to all U.S. war crimes in Afghanistan, would be to assemble in front of health care facilities, hospitals or trauma units, carrying signage which says, “To Bomb This Place Would Be a War Crime.” Invite hospital personnel to join the assembly, notify local media, and hold an additional sign which says: “The Same Is True in Afghanistan.”

We should affirm the Afghans’ right to medical care and safety. The U.S. should offer investigators unimpeded access to the decision makers in this attack and pay to reconstruct the hospital with reparations for suffering caused throughout these fourteen years of war and cruelly manufactured chaos. Finally, and for the sake of future generations, we should take hold of our runaway empire and make it a nation we can restrain from committing the fathomlessly obscene atrocity that is war.

Kathy Kelly ( co-coordinates Voices for Creative Nonviolence ( She returned from Afghanistan in mid-September 2015 where she was a guest of the Afghan Peace Volunteers  (