- The Washington Times - Tuesday, October 9, 2001

The United States acknowledged yesterday that more than $50 million worth of food dropped in Afghanistan in an "unprecedented mission" during the first two days of airstrikes was largely symbolic and meant to show the Afghan people that the war is not against them.

The Bush administration said the drops were aimed at averting a humanitarian disaster, but their degree of effectiveness as well as that of a shower of leaflets and broadcasts from U.S. aircraft won't be clear for some time.

Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld told reporters at the Pentagon that although "37,000 rations in a day don't feed millions" of Afghans, "if you were one of the starving people who got one of the rations, you'd be appreciative."

The leaflets, offering protection and a reward to anyone who shares information about terrorist ringleader Osama bin Laden and his associates, are written in the local languages. Because many Afghans can't read, however, "they include some figures and symbols," Mr. Rumsfeld said.

The food packages came from a previously prepared supply, military officials said, so they do carry a notation saying "Food gift from the people of the United States of America" written in English, French and Spanish.

Comprising at least 2,200 calories per ration, the 2-pound bright-yellow packages contain bread, peanut butter, peas, beans, rice and fruit. They also have a stencil of an American flag and illustrated user instructions as well as a set of plastic cutlery, seasoning, matches and a napkin. They were part of a $320 million humanitarian effort for displaced Afghan refugees announced by President Bush last week.

In an unprecedented move, U.S. aircraft began dropping food and medicine only hours after the first wave of airstrikes. Two C-17 planes completed a barrage of drops worth $25 million early yesterday, and the Pentagon said the number after the second round of strikes would be about the same, if not bigger.

American planes dropped food packages in Bosnia in the early 1990s, but from lower altitudes and not after combat.

Meanwhile, the World Food Program (WFP) halted food convoys into Afghanistan yesterday as a result of the U.S. and British strikes against Taliban targets.

"We have suspended the operation," said spokeswoman Christiane Berthiaume. "Everything has been put on hold because of what happened overnight."

The WFP, which was forced to withdraw its international staff from Afghanistan in the wake of the Sept. 11 attacks, began moving in some 500 tons of food a day from neighboring countries 10 days ago.

Asked whether the airstrikes have resulted in a net loss for Afghanistan's starving population despite the U.S. food drops, Mr. Rumsfeld said: "To suggest that what is taking place now is a net loss for the Afghan people would be a total misunderstanding of what is taking place."

The two military cargo planes returned safely yesterday to Germany's Ramstein Air Base, about 100 miles west of Frankfurt, after flying 6,000 miles in 24 hours, military officials said. There were 10 crew members on each plane, all based in Germany, where the United States has a permanent military force of about 70,000.

Mission commander Col. Robert Allardice said the packages contain enough nutrients for the average adult for an entire day.

"We feel this mission was a complete success," Col. Allardice told reporters in Germany. "The overall feeling of the crew is great excitement and enthusiasm to be part of such a mission."

In the meantime, leading aid organizations accused the United States of creating confusion by dropping humanitarian aid into Afghanistan while bombing it. They also said the food being parachuted in was inappropriate for people suffering from malnutrition.

"What sense is there in shooting with one hand and distributing medicines with the other? How will the Afghan population know in the future if an offer of humanitarian aid does not hide a military operation?" French-based Medecins Sans Frontieres (Doctors Without Borders) said in a statement.

"Furthermore, the confusion between military and humanitarian operations only increases the danger for already-complicated humanitarian action, limiting even further the possibilities of intervention," said the group, which won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1999.

Also yesterday, the Voice of America (VOA), the international broadcaster funded by the U.S. government, expanded its broadcasts in Afghanistan's two main languages, Pashtu and Dari, by 30 minutes each per day, for a total of 21/2 hours.

"We want the people of Afghanistan to be informed … fairly and accurately," a VOA official said.

The VOA had already expanded its Pashtu and Dari programming each to 1 hour and 45 minutes daily on Sept. 18, a week after the attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon.

This article is based in part on wire service reports.

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