what was that about bombing them with food?

Mike Masnick mike@techdirt.com
Thu, 04 Oct 2001 17:12:50 -0700

It's funny how many peole just assumed that the US would just go in and
kill everyone in Afghanistan.  Reasons not to make assumptions. 



U.S. Prepares $320 Million Relief Plan for Afghans
October 4, 2001 5:57 pm EST 

By Jonathan Wright
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - President Bush announced on Thursday the United
States will give $320 million to help Afghans survive severe drought,
bypassing the ruling Taliban who shelter wanted militant Osama bin Laden.

The U.S. military, which is building up forces for a possible attack on bin
Laden's al Qaeda organization and the Taliban, expects eventually to
parachute food to thousands of hungry Afghans, Defense Secretary Donald
Rumsfeld added while traveling in Egypt.

"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 in a speech
at the State Department.

"We will work the U.N. agencies such as the World Food Program and work
with private volunteer organizations to make sure this assistance gets to
the people.

"We will make sure that not only the folks in Afghanistan that need help,
get help, but we will help those who have fled to neighboring countries to
get help as well," he added.

The United Nations estimates that up to 1.5 million Afghans might flee the
country if the United States and its allies attack the country in their
campaign to get bin Laden, prime suspect for the Sept. 11 attacks on New
York and Washington.

The rugged Central Asian country of some 23 million people has suffered 22
years of war and four years of drought. As the bitter winter approaches,
the need to bring in food is acute.


"They're not in good shape. They're very tough people, but to go through
four years of drought where the crops fail one year after another makes
them extremely vulnerable to what now is happening," Andrew Natsios,
administrator of the U.S. Agency for International Development, told a

The massive U.S. contribution should remind the Afghans that the Taliban
and bin Laden, a Saudi-born multimillionaire, have done nothing to help
them overcome hardship, he said.

"There's no program by bin Laden. There's no program by the Taliban. We're
the program, and the Afghan people know that. The relief workers you talk
to will all tell you that."

Afghanistan will need every month about 50,000 tons of food -- wheat, rice,
beans and oil, about twice as much as it was receiving before September,
Natsios added.

The United States, already by far the largest source of humanitarian aid to
Afghanistan, will probably have to buy between 300,000 and 400,000 tons of
food over the current fiscal year to supply the operation, he said.  

It already has 45,000 tons of food in Pakistan and bought 65,000 tons three
weeks ago and 100,000 tons last Thursday. The 65,000 tons are en route
across the Pacific and the 100,000 will be at sea shortly, he added.

The United States will distribute the food mainly through relief
organizations which maintain Afghan staff or through sales to Afghan
merchants who can cross the borders into neighboring countries. Most
international staff of relief organizations have left the country for their


The idea of selling to merchants is to bring down the price of grain in
Afghan towns by flooding the market, so that people with some money can buy
what they need at reasonable prices.

Natsios said the air drops of food were only one option and no decision had
been taken to choose this method.

But Rumsfeld said: "There's no doubt in my mind but that there will be some
food drops ... over a period of time."

"The food drops will be done only in the event that it's very clear that
the SAM (surface-to-air missile) sites and .... the rather larger number of
Stinger missiles that are still in the country would not pose a problem,"
he added.

Navy Rear Adm. Craig Quigley, a Pentagon spokesman, said that plans for air
drops were incomplete and that escort fighter jets would protect the big
cargo planes.

Natsios said relief would not need the consent of the Taliban. "There has
been a civil war for a very long time. So the argument that there is a
government is an exaggeration."

"We already had trouble with them before, and we were able in the middle of
the civil war ... to run a relief program that saved hundreds of thousands
of lives. We expect to be able to do that in the future," he added.

The $320 million, which includes $25 million authorized on Sept. 28,
compares with about $180 million in U.S. assistance to Afghanistan in the
fiscal year which just ended.

One feature of the relief operation is that food will enter Afghanistan
from every direction -- Iran, Pakistan and the Central Asian republics to
the north -- to minimize the distance it has to travel to reach its

"It reduces the incidence of diversion and the risk to the food shipments,"
Natsios said.

To help with transport in remote mountain areas impassable to vehicles even
in summer, a convoy of 4,000 donkeys is on its way into Afghanistan from