The Strikes against Afghanistan and Sudan

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  • by Anup Shah
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Please note that most of this page was written in 1998 and 1999 and hence some of the links to external web sites, especially the Guardian Newspaper articles, may be broken. External sites may have restructured their web pages since and I am unable to foresee that in most cases. However, for now I leave the links in tact here, just to keep the shape of this old page as it was.

August 20, 1998 saw the USA retaliate1 for the two bombings in Nairobi and Dar es Salaam, August 7, 1998. The strike back2 involved over 75 cruise missile attacks3 at two sites suspected of being involved in the appalling bombing, which cost the lives of many innocent people.

Just 8 months after this bombing, without an apology, the US admitted that it made a mistake in bombing the Sudanese factory4.

Having delved straight into a unilateral military response for the two bombings in Nairobi and Dar es Salaam, Washington's foreign policy5 in the Middle East came under scrutiny. There were many criticims of double standards6, an over-reaction7 and being counter-productive8 to real substantial efforts to deal with the threat of terrorism as violence to resolve violence may not always be the answer. Some have additionally criticized the USA's approach to countering terrorism saying that not enough cooperation9 exists between Washington and governments in the area.

On this page:

  1. Timing Concerns:
  2. Small Question of Legality:
  3. Guilty 'til Proven Innocent:
  4. Effects of the quickly thought out decision to strike back:
  5. Media Coverage Helps?

Timing Concerns:

One of the targets was Afghanistan10 and the other Sudan11. (The two previous links to each country provide a detailed description of the recent history of the two states and how they were influenced, affected and aided by Soviet and US regimes during the cold war.) Both were suspected of involvement in the bombings or future bombings against US interests. USA can perhaps claim the right to self-defense and justify these attacks, by quoting Article 5112 of the UN Charter13. The question of the legalities were expectedly not the main focuses of the debate, but rather the timing14 -- due to the Monica Lewinsky15 controversy -- and the parallels to Wag the Dog (a story where a war is created to divert the pressure and attention on an American presidential scandal elsewhere).

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Small Question of Legality:

There are, however, questions and incidents in history which, as these links suggest, the legality16 of the attack and the use of Article 51 as a means for justification may just be an excuse17 and possibly an invalid one.

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Guilty 'til Proven Innocent:

The "overwhelming burden of proof" still hasn't been made available18 which is a concern especially since at the time many claimed that the factory couldn't possible make chemical weapons and only now the US have admitted that the bombing was a mistake.

The FBI have said that the collaborative efforts of Kenyan, Tanzanian and US authorities to search for evidence was not used19 to determine the necessity of the tit-for-tat strikes. It is also interesting to note, as this news article20 from the BBC points out, that when Iraq's Saddam Hussein was the center of focus, USA was restrained by the United Nations. This time, a terrorist has been bombed unilaterally without the need for the United Nations. And as this article21 from the Guardian22 suggests, the tit for tat may not be the answer and also notes that if every nation reacted like this then we would be in a state of disorder.

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Effects of the quickly thought out decision to strike back:

Whatever, legal or not, it unfortunately lead to heightened security23 around the world for US citizens and there were calls in the Islamic world threatening more attacks and voicing the outrage and hypocrisy24 at this, as the USA had threatened more similar attacks25. What is even more ironic is that the main person that was targeted by the USA, Osama bin Laden, was once supported26 by the US, just like Saddam Hussein. The result of all this is that the strategic game of chess27 in this area has been prolonged and in the meanwhile, the health crisis28 in Sudan will deepen even more as the factory that was destroyed produced most of their medicine.

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Media Coverage Helps?

While there have been many protests29 around the world, the majority in the opinion polls in USA seem to show that most Americans were in favor of the strikes30 and that many European heads of state also supported them. However, is that surprising considering the lack of editorial diversity31 on this issue? There was no major media corporation looking into the issue of the legality of the attack, for example.

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While Washington comes under a lot of criticism from the Islamic world and others, Pakistan's involvement is also coming under scrutiny32: some claim that they allowed the US to use their airspace -- although they deny this and say that their airspace was violated. Either way, Pakistan doesn't want to get into the bad books of Washington as they rely on financial aid from USA and they have in the past supported Afghanistan and the current Taliban regime.

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  • by Anup Shah
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