MAZAR-I-SHARIF, AFGHANISTAN - In a tragic accident earlier today, aircraft belonging to the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) inadvertently killed 51 Afghans near the city of Mazar-i-Sharif while attempting to drop candy to a group of children.
According to accounts from both Afghans and international observers, two NATO aircraft, later identified as American C-130s, made a low pass over a village of several hundred Afghans outside the city.
Approximately 1.4 million M&Ms were to be delivered via Container Delivery System in a single package with a weight of 1500 lbs. Due to a malfunction in the static line, the parachute failed to deploy and the container crashed through the roof of a local school at nearly 100 miles per hour.
Upon impact, the force of the rapidly settling candies caused the sides to explode outward, causing what physics professor Dr. Rosella Schwartz described as “essentially a 360 degree anti-personnel mine full of chocolate flechettes.”
By "flechettes," Schwartz is referring to the M&Ms' candy shells, which shattered and spalled upon entering the bodies of the victims and also caused more numerous and severe secondary injuries.
Dr. Manuel Velez of the Red Cross, one of the first medical personnel at the site of the impact, had a similar assessment of the candy shells' damage.
“I've seen a lot of injuries inflicted on civilians by military ordnance, but this was much worse,” Velez said, stooping to change the bandages on one of the victims while pointing out the many blue, green, and yellow splotches.
“The worst were the peanut M&Ms. The soft chocolate acted as a sabot around the peanuts, so basically these things were candy-coated penetrator rounds.”
ISAF spokesperson Col. Mark Marshall, who spoke to reporters today at a press conference in Kabul, said the candy drop was only the latest phase of a new operation called "Reese's for Peaces.” He added that while ISAF regrets the accidental loss of civilian life, it would not deter them working to relieve the suffering of the Afghan people.
Sources at ISAF headquarters in Kabul said the operation was first proposed by Deputy Commander Gen. Bill Whitehead as a way to help boost the morale of Afghans as western forces began their long-anticipated drawdown.
Whitehead said he first got the idea after reading a book about the 1948 Berlin Airlift. After finishing their cargo deliveries, American pilots would drop pieces of candy to impoverished children, which earned the United States a lot of good publicity.
"Counterinsurgency is all about winning the hearts and minds of the people," said Whitehead, "and as we transition to a much smaller footprint, the Air Force is going to have to take on some of the roles traditionally filled by soldiers, such as handing out candy."
In early March, Whitehead gave ISAF the authority to begin planning a series of humanitarian airdrops over population centers in Afghanistan. Operation "Reese's for Peaces", referred to informally as "Dessert Storm", was launched two weeks later with MQ-9 Reapers dropping several tons of licorice on Kandahar.
Over the next few weeks, ISAF warplanes dropped tons of assorted chocolates, sweets, and even ice cream over the war-torn country. Other NATO countries also took part, with French planes dropping bon bons and German planes dropping Bavarian chocolate. The United States, however, is contributing the bulk of the candy being used in the operation.
The incident in Mazar-i-Sharif is unfortunately not the first setback for "Reese's for Peaces." Other blunders included a crate-load of Baby Ruth bars being dropped short of its target on March 19 and plowing into a bus full of madrassa students, killing 22. On April 27, several Snickers bars hit a wedding party near Kunduz, killing 35. And on May 8, several packs of Starbursts inadvertently hit an orphanage and killed 8 children and an adorable kitten named Mittens.
Following the press conference, Col. Marshall tried to exit the podium, but tripped and crashed into a group of civilians, killing 9.
Duffel Blog investigative writer Dark Laughter also contributed to this report.