- The Washington Times - Wednesday, October 17, 2001

America's humanitarian effort to relieve hunger in Afghanistan is drawing increasing international fire.
Traditional food agencies and U.N. organizations say the small, bright yellow boxes of food dropped from U.S. planes are feeding hostile Taliban soldiers or are landing in minefields.
Jean Ziegler, a U.N. official from Geneva, described the U.S. actions as "totally catastrophic for humanitarian aid," in a report from the British Broadcasting Corp. Because the food drops are not targeted, he said, "the man with the gun picks it up. So Americans are feeding the Taliban every night."
A report in this week's Sunday Mail in Glasgow, Scotland, said much of the food has been scattered across minefields in rural Afghanistan.
An official at the U.S. Agency for International Development acknowledged that the food drops, which are not publicly mapped for security reasons, could fall into the minefields of the besieged country.
"They pick strategic locations in remote parts of the country," said the source, who spoke on the condition of anonymity. "We do everything we can to make sure the areas don't have mines. But there are a lot of mines in Afghanistan."
The air drops are being made mostly in the northern portion of Afghanistan and are largely "symbolic," said Rep. Jim Kolbe, Arizona Republican and chairman of the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Foreign Operations, Export Financing and Related Programs.
"It shows our intent is to help the people but the largest number of people that are in danger are not being helped. These drops are in the north part of the country that is controlled by the Northern Alliance, not the south where the real starvation is."
The Bush administration said the military cargo planes are dropping food as part of a $320 million humanitarian effort.
The planes also have been dropping leaflets, written in Pashto and Dari languages, which read: "The partnership of nations is here to help." On the other side, "The partnership of nations is here to assist the people of Afghanistan."
But it is the food that has caused controversy.
Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld told reporters that "over the weekend we dropped another 68,000-plus rations into Afghanistan, for a total of 275,000 rations since the effort began."
The effort has angered some aid organizations, who say the U.S. government does not know where assistance is needed. Most government-sponsored humanitarian efforts are carried out by organizations with personnel on the ground, but the air strikes have not made that possible.
"Air drops should include the clear identification of beneficiaries, careful monitoring of the distribution of assistance, and transparency in implementation of the operation," Nicolas de Torrente, executive director of the international group Doctors Without Borders, told a congressional panel last week.
Personnel for most of the aid agencies left Afghanistan shortly after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks in New York and Washington.
Reports say some of the air-dropped food reaches people who don't need it and that traders have started selling supplies at the bazaar in Khoja Bahawuddin after Afghans truck their supplies into the town.
White House Press Secretary Ari Fleischer said earlier this month that "there is always a concern to make certain that the food is kept out of the hands of the Taliban who will deny it to their people, while getting it to the people who were suffering. And in this case, the United States government will work with world food programs, with the United Nations, to get food into the regions where it can do the most good."
Despite the U.N. official's claim that Taliban soldiers are eating the U.S. food, a spokesman for the Afghan militia said last week that the humanitarian rations have been gathered up and burned in some sections of the country.
The Department of Defense drops the food in 7-foot-high cardboard boxes with three-ply walls to avoid using parachutes and detection by the Taliban. When the large boxes hit the slipstream, the individual meals are supposed to "float to the ground," said an Air Force spokesman.

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