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U.S. Aid Helps Avert Famine in Afghanistan

By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Jan. 4, 2002 – U.S. and U.N. efforts in Afghanistan appear to have averted starvation in the country, U.S. State Department officials said Jan. 3.

Aid organizations have moved more than 200,000 tons of food into Afghanistan since Oct. 1, according to U.S. Agency for International Development Administrator Andrew Natsios and Alan Kreczko, the acting assistant secretary of state for the Bureau of Population, Refugees and Migration.

"Of that 200,000 tons, 64 percent of it came from the United States," Natsios said. "So almost two-thirds of the food that went in came from America."

Natsios forecast earlier that more than 1.5 million Afghans faced starvation unless help could flow into the war-torn country.

DoD played a major role in averting a humanitarian disaster even as the attack against Taliban and Al Qaeda targets in Afghanistan was fully engaged. DoD dropped 2.2 million humanitarian daily rations from Oct. 7 to Dec. 13, said Mike McNerney, a foreign affairs specialist with DoD's Humanitarian Affairs office. Those dates covered the startup of operations against the terrorists and when DoD ended the "flutter drop" of the rations.

Also, DoD contributed greatly to solving the humanitarian crisis simply by driving off the Taliban government. In December, as Taliban control was ending, aid organizations were able to ship in 116,000 tons of food, double what they were able to deliver in November. Before that, Taliban officials had confiscated aid organizations warehouses, vehicles and supplies. They also limited distribution of food to certain areas of the country.

DoD helped in other ways. For example, military transport aircraft bulk-dropped wheat, blankets and foodstuffs during the fighting.

And DoD has coordinated the logistics behind the aid. The department "'deconflicted' the airspace so humanitarian operations wouldn't conflict with combat operations," McNerney said. U.S. Central Command also coordinated what coalition partners could help airlift supplies to the region. Officials said Germany, Belgium, Spain and Italy were among the countries helping get supplies to the area.

Finally, DoD helped clear and operate airfields. "What really helped there was getting personnel in place to distribute food," McNerney said. While trucks have delivered most , getting U.N. and non-governmental organization personnel in place made the distribution go that much quicker.

Natsios said the world should congratulate the international organizations that did the primary distribution into the country and the NGOs that did the distribution from Afghan warehouses to the remote villages and to the cities. He said the Afghan staffs of these organizations are the real heroes of the effort. "We think that is a very hopeful sign that the people who, in fact, saved Afghanistan, were the Afghan people, themselves -- the people who worked for the NGOs for the last 20 years," Natsios said.

But the world cannot declare victory and move out, he said. Internal distribution is very difficult in Afghanistan and remote areas may still experience starvation. "We are not assured that every single person is being fed now," Natsios said.

The situation since the fall of the Taliban has been promising enough that the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees estimates between 60,000 and 80,000 refugees are returning to the country, said Kreczko. "(The U.N.) would estimate that slightly more than half of those have been from Iran, with the remainder from Pakistan. They are largely spontaneous, unassisted returns.

"Beyond refugee returns, we have seen some returns of internally displaced persons as well, with again the U.N. estimating that there have been about 30,000 returnees to Kabul alone," he noted.

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