Bush, Rumsfeld Announce Food Aid for Afghan Refugees
By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Oct. 4, 2001 President Bush announced today the creation of a $320 million humanitarian assistance package for the people of Afghanistan.
"This is our way of saying that while we firmly and strongly oppose the Taliban regime, we are friends of the Afghan people," Bush said.
The Taliban leaders of Afghanistan are providing safe haven for Osama bin Laden and his network. Bush has demanded the Taliban regime turn over bin Laden, close the terrorist camps in the country and open the camps to U.S. inspection. The Taliban has refused.
Since Bush stated U.S. demands, millions of Afghans have started fleeing the country to escape a possible attack on bin Laden and his terrorist network. As winter approaches, U.N. relief workers say a humanitarian disaster is in the making.
Currently visiting countries in the Middle East and Central Asia to strengthen U.S. relations, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld echoed Bush's announcement while speaking to reporters Oct. 4 in Cairo. He described U.S. intelligence photos that show "masses of people moving through drought- stricken areas looking for food and water and refuge." He called the situation "heartbreaking."
Rumsfeld said the U.S. military has been and will be involved in various aspects of humanitarian assistance efforts for the Afghans. America is already the largest international donor of food aid to Afghanistan, donating "something like $170 million already this year," he said.
Rumsfeld said air drops of food aid are an option the military is considering, but that they would only be used "in certain situations."
"Most people who interest themselves in military matters are well aware of the nature of the terrain and the nature of the people and the situation that other countries have faced in trying to deal with Afghanistan," Rumsfeld said. "I would hope that everyone learns from those."
DoD spokesman Rear Adm. Craig Quigley said in an Oct. 4 Pentagon briefing that the United States has more than 2 million "culturally neutral" humanitarian rations on hand. The mostly vegetarian meals would be a stop-gap measure to stave off hunger. Each ration pack provides enough calories and vitamins for one person for one day..
Quigley could not say when the operation would begin and would not talk details about the method of delivery. He said it was still too soon to ascertain the best way to deliver rations. He mentioned the airdrop option, but said DoD may choose to ship the rations to a nearby port and truck them to nongovernmental organizations to distribute.
Airdrops, while fast, "would be a dangerous mission under any circumstances," Quigley said. "If you choose the airdrop method ... you've got to do this very carefully."
Ensuring the drops are on target, that the food does not fall into Taliban hands, and ensuring the safety of aircrews and aircraft are just some of the factors affecting the decision on the mode of transport, he said.
Quigley noted the U.S. military has a lot of experience in delivering food to refugees fleeing unrest. DoD will use the lessons learned in Somalia, Bosnia, Kosovo and in Kurdish parts of Iraq to deliver these rations.
Bush said there is no question that the people of the United States are angry about what happened Sept. 11. "But in our anger, we must never forget we're a compassionate people as well," he said. "We will fight evil. But in order to overcome evil, the great goodness of America must come forth and shine forth. And one way to do so is to help the poor souls in Afghanistan. And we're going to do so."
(Army Sgt. 1st Class Kathleen T. Rhem, traveling with the secretary of defense, contributed to this story.)