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U.S.: Officials Pledge More Food For Afghans

  • Jeffrey Donovan

The United States says it is trying to feed the Afghan people, many of whom are being displaced because of the ongoing military campaign. U.S. officials say large quantities of food and medicine have been made available through air drops and via land routes.

Washington, 10 October 2001 (RFE/RL) -- The United States says it will continue its efforts to get food and medicine to desperate Afghanis, despite criticism that its humanitarian airdrops there are a public relations campaign to justify its military action against suspected terrorist bases and the country's Taliban regime.

Just hours after launching air and naval strikes against the Taliban and terrorist groups it is said to be harboring, the U.S. has dropped thousands of packages of food aid. State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said yesterday the humanitarian assistance will continue.

"The United States is continuing shipments of food despite some interruptions with two airdrops that have totaled nearly 75,000 humanitarian daily rations that have been dropped into various places in Afghanistan. These airdrops will continue as necessary."

Still, one prominent international aid group has criticized the airdrops.

Medecins Sans Frontiers, a French medical relief organization known as Doctors Without Borders in English, said the humanitarian operation was military propaganda, to make international opinion accept the U.S.-led military action.

The group, which won a Nobel Peace Prize in 1999 for its medical relief efforts, added in a statement: "What sense is there in shooting with one hand, and giving medicine with another?"

Asked about such criticism yesterday, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said that airdrops were a notoriously ineffective way of delivering food. He said that through military action, the U.S. hopes to create a situation to make ground deliveries easier.

"The preferred way to deliver food is not from the air, it is from the ground. And the president's proposal to move from the $170 million that has been invested in food for Afghan people thus far this year to a substantially larger effort of $320 million will be, essentially -- one would hope -- a ground effort."

Boucher said aid is making its way overland into Afghanistan, which has the lowest per-person food intake in the world, according to the U.S. Agency for International Development.

"Three convoys of World Food Program trucks carrying a thousand tons of wheat left from Pakistan and Turkmenistan on Sunday (7 October). Two of those convoys have arrived in the Northwest and in Kabul; the third is expected to arrive in Herat by the end of the week.

Boucher added: "The World Food Program currently has 9,000 tons of wheat in Afghanistan and 50,000 tons of wheat in the region. In addition, there's 165,000 tons of wheat from the United States. So that broader humanitarian effort is continuing and will continue because it's important to us to continue to support the people of Afghanistan even as we carry out military action against Al-Qaeda organization and the people that supports them."

U.S. officials have stressed that the campaign is not against the Afghan people but it is aimed at international terrorists and those who harbor them.

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