According to The Washington Post, forces in Afghanistan have taken to disposing of the trash produced by the Afganistan war in the cheapest, most environmentally unfriendly way possible. The “millions of kilograms of waste” produced by the war effort are being destroyed by burning in huge pits next to military bases, dubbed “Burn Pits.” These pits are filled with “plastic water bottles, Styrofoam food containers, mangled bits of metal, paint, solvent, medical waste, even dead animals.” The waste is simply doused with fuel and set aflame without any care for which way the wind is blowing or what materials are being released into the air by the burning. This disposal method sounds like something that the villainous Taliban would do, and it brings back memories of Saddam Hussein’s burning of the Kuwaiti oil fields in the first Gulf War. But this is the method employed by the U.S. military, the most advanced military force in the world.
Aside from the obvious environmental harm that large-scale outdoor waste burning causes, it also contributes to serious health concerns for American personnel. Many servicemen and women have contracted rare forms of cancer in Afghanistan that may be linked to these burn pits. Military officials say open burning was often the best — if not the only — option for getting rid of huge amounts of trash. No trash-removal system existed; incinerators are expensive and take time to install; and the military lacked the time and space to build landfills on bases. These statements seem ludicrous given the size and funding of the military; the idea that administrators had planned for the construction of these installations without a suitable method for waste disposal indicates gross incompetence and mismanagement of resources.Who will be responsible for this mess? Who will pay the medical bills of the people who inhaled the toxic fumes of the pits, and how will the mess be cleaned up? For all of the military’s emphasis on winning the hearts and minds of the Afghani people, it seems that it has a very long way to go. Burning trash in open-topped pits with plumes of poisonous fumes wafting over the supposed liberators hardly seems like a good image to show to the local populace.