DoD Airlifts Rations to Balkans
By Linda D. Kozaryn
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Apr. 5, 1999 The Defense Department is airlifting 500,000 humanitarian daily rations to the Balkans, and more are ready to go if needed, according to the Pentagon's top logistician.
Each package contains one day's complete food requirement for one person, said Army Lt. Gen. John M. McDuffie. The high-calorie, grain-based meals contain no meat, and are suitable for all religions, he said. The Pentagon has distributed these humanitarian rations during relief operations around the world since 1993.
McDuffie, the Joint Staff's director of logistics, met with Pentagon reporters April 2, shortly after attending a White House meeting focused on providing U.S. aid to refugee relief efforts underway in the Balkans. Earlier in the week, President Clinton authorized an additional $50 million in emergency aid.
The money is intended to augment U.S. contributions to the U.N. High Commission on Refugees and other relief organizations, Clintons said. It will also ensure the military can help them get aid to the people in need.
The first load of 30,000 rations was loaded aboard a U.S. Air Force C-17 that departed Dover Air Force Base, Del., April 3. A U.S. Air Force C-5 also took off for Europe, bearing a 60,000 pound loader, forklifts and other cargo handling equipment. A second C-17 carried an airlift control unit who set up airport operations and manage air traffic control on short notice.
The flights were bound for Italy, where the supplies would be transported to Albania, Pentagon officials said. "The plan right now is to move the rations into Tirana, Albania," McDuffie noted. "That's where our urgent request is right now."
Throughout the week, civilian contract 747 aircraft are slated to carry more rations to Europe where they will be transferred to U.S. military aircraft for transport to the Balkans. In Europe, U.S. European Command officials are shipping 80 U.S. military trucks and 30 State Department trucks to Albania to help move supplies from ports and airports to the people who need them.
U.S. military officials are also delivering 200 large tents that can sleep 30 people each, 8,000 sleeping bags, 3,000 blankets and 1,500 cots to Macedonia. Another 700 large tents are on pallets in California ready to go to Macedonia.
The 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit is dispatching a 24- person team into Albania and Macedonia to help NATO assess humanitarian operations. NATO announced April 3 it had instructed the Allied Rapid Reaction Corp to help deal with the humanitarian crisis in Macedonia. NATO is also developing a concept of operations for sending a humanitarian force of up to 8,000 troops to deal with the situation.
The refugee crisis is reaching massive proportions beyond anyone's expectations, according to Pentagon officials. As of April 2, McDuffie reported, 138,000 refugees were in Albania, 86,000 in Macedonia, 55,000 in Montenegro and 17,500 in Bosnia. These numbers are changing by the hour, as Yugoslav paramilitaries force thousands to leave Kosovo. NATO officials said as many as 200,000 refugees within Kosovo are on the roads bound for neighboring states.
About 12,000 NATO forces stationed in Macedonia are setting up camps, erecting tents and other facilities. Because these troops are already in the region, McDuffie noted, the mission is challenging, but not as tough as some he's seen in other parts of the world. The Albanian army is also helping with the flow of refugees, dispersing them from the border into the interior.
Another plus, McDuffie said, is the fact that basic infrastructure -- roads, ports and airfields -- is already in place to conduct operations. There are useable airfields in Skopje, Macedonia, Tirana and Gadjr, Albania, and near Thessaloniki, Greece. "While the roads are tough and rutted [and] you can't particularly go fast," he said, "you can at least get there, and you can get the airplanes in as we need." the general said.
McDuffie stressed that DoD is playing a supporting role in the relief effort. The United Nations and non-government agencies had already prepared for the possibility of a refugee crisis. They pre-positioned food in the area, he said. OXFAM, a British humanitarian organization, flying in significant water production and water purification capability into the region, McDuffie added.
"There's enough food in the region to sustain about 400,000 refugees for an extended period of time," he said. "There's 20,000 metric tons here in Montenegro that U.N. relief agencies are now getting their hands on."
Food stored in Pristina, Kosovo's main city, however, was reportedly destroyed, McDuffie said. There are currently no plans to airlift food to refugees within the war torn province, he added. The high threat from Yugoslav air defenses, make the prospect of an airdrop very dangerous, he said.
Airdrops within Kosovo might end up resupplying the Serb military more than feeding Kosovars, McDuffie said. "Secondly, you would be establishing almost a magnet for Kosovars to put them in harm's way -- they could be rounded up by the Serbs even more. So we don't see air drops during this non-permissive environment as an option."