Humanitarian Mission Averts Afghan Starvation
By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Jan. 24, 2002 While combat still happens in Afghanistan, the international humanitarian relief effort has averted a disaster in that country, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said Jan. 24.
When the Taliban controlled Afghanistan, millions of people were in danger of starvation. Millions of Afghans voted with their feet by fleeing to surrounding countries to escape war, drought and persecution, he said to reporters in a midday press briefing.
Even before the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks on the United States, he said, Americans were the largest contributors to the international efforts to feed millions of Afghans. Since that time, even as America brings the Al Qaeda and Taliban terrorists to justice, U.S. efforts have been aimed to bring humanitarian aid to the Afghan people.
Rumsfeld said the Afghan humanitarian assistance program is possibly the largest in history. He said it would not have been possible without the military action to attack the Al Qaeda and depose the Taliban regime that sheltered the terrorists.
Aid deliveries also would not have been possible without government and nongovernmental relief agencies, he noted.
DoD was directly responsible for getting aid to hungry Afghans when they were most vulnerable -- when fighting first broke out on Oct. 7. From then through Dec. 22, Air Force C-17 transports flew 162 sorties and dropped 2.5 million humanitarian daily ration packets, 816 tons of wheat and 73,000 blankets.
"We helped to establish a security environment in which various international relief organizations have been able to conduct operations," he said.
U.S. and coalition forces have opened 11 major convoy routes from surrounding countries into Afghanistan. They've cleared nine airfields for use for humanitarian missions -- Faizabad, Bagram, Herat, Bamian, Shindand, Shebergan, Changhcharan, Mazar-e Sharif and Kandahar.
"This has facilitated the more rapid movement of humanitarian aid and supplies," Rumsfeld said. It opened up much of the areas most vulnerable to starvation.
Rumsfeld used two maps of Afghanistan to show the difference. Red on the maps meant people receiving none to half the daily food requirements, green meant people receiving between 76 percent and all the requirements, and gray reflected in-between areas. On the map from December 2001, nearly all the red is gone.
Rumsfeld said this does not mean there aren't still isolated, hard-to-reach pockets where people cannot receive humanitarian aid, but government and nongovernmental agencies are working to supply them.
Coalition forces have also provided medical aid to the country. Jordan, Russia, Spain and South Korea have provided hospitals and medical assistance in Afghanistan.
He said he is also encouraged by the progress the interim government led by Hamid Karzai has made since it took office in December. At the federal level, all positions have been filled and 16 of 30 provincial governors have been named.
"It's clear a good deal has been accomplished," Rumsfeld said.