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Defense Officials Consider Aid for Quake Victims

By Linda D. Kozaryn
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, March 26, 2002 – Pentagon officials are responding to requests for assistance following a hard- hitting earthquake that struck Afghanistan about 100 miles north of the capital city of Kabul.

No U.S. or coalition forces were injured in the quake, according to U.S. Central Command officials. Pentagon spokeswoman Torie Clarke said requests for help started coming in early this morning. "We're working with them on what kind of assistance we can provide," she told Pentagon reporters here today.

A series of quakes registering magnitudes of 4.4 to 6.1 struck Afghanistan's Hindu Kush region Monday evening and Tuesday morning, according to the U.S. Geological Survey Web site.

Afghan interim government officials initially reported the quake killed an estimated 1,600 Afghans and injured about 4,000. Subsequent press reports indicated the death toll may be as high as 5,000, with another 20,000 left homeless.

Clarke noted that prior to Sept. 11, 2001, the United States was Afghanistan's largest food aid donor. Defense officials have said U.S. donations totaled more than $400 million in fiscals 2000 and 2001. Clarke noted the United States has sent about $325 million in humanitarian aid in just the six months since Sept. 11.

"One of our military objectives has been to provide the kind of security that was necessary to bring in large amounts of humanitarian aid," she said. "One of the things we did in the earlier days and weeks was to drop over 2 million humanitarian daily rations in the areas that needed the most."

That may not seem like a lot in a nation where millions of people were suffering, she added, "But if you were one of those people who got those rations, it was enormously helpful."

In light of the conditions in Afghanistan prior to Sept. 11 and in light of a rough winter, humanitarian organizations had expected a massive disaster. "Quite a few humanitarian organizations are on the record as saying a massive humanitarian disaster was largely averted," she noted.

"We continue to work hard with the Afghan interim government (and) with the coalition partners to provide secure roads, environments, land bridges so meaningful amounts of humanitarian aid can be brought in," she concluded.

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