Aid Groups Urge U.S. to Not Worsen Afghan Disaster
By Randy Fabi
Thursday November 1 7:35 PM ET
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Humanitarian groups on Thursday urged the United States to take more care in its military campaign against the Taliban and Al Qaeda network to avoid hurting Afghans already suffering from hunger and drought.
U.S. food, medicine, shelter and other aid is at the heart of an image-conscious strategy to feed millions of starving Afghans while American troops bomb targets throughout the nation.
But the military strikes on power plants have led to major health and sanitation concerns in Kandahar, said Andrew Wilder of Save the Children, a private aid group. And unexploded yellow cluster bombs -- which look similar to U.S. food packages wrapped in yellow -- threaten young children, he said.
``More and more (Afghans) are expressing their concern that the U.S.-led coalition is losing the battle for the hearts and minds of Afghans,'' Wilder told the House International Relations Committee. Wilder spoke via video phone from Islamabad, Pakistan.
The Pentagon earlier on Thursday said it would change the color of air-dropped humanitarian packages to blue to avoid confusion between food and bombs.
LAWMAKERS BLAME BIN LADEN
Kenneth Bacon, president of Refugees International, said the United States must keep its humanitarian goals in mind when planning military strikes.
``Military operations should be planned to minimize the impact on people already tottering on the edge of famine,'' he said.
Bacon said President Bush should designate a Cabinet-level official to take charge of all U.S. humanitarian efforts. The official would be responsible coordinating aid operations with military and diplomatic campaigns.
Last week, U.S. planes inadvertently dropped bombs on Red Cross warehouses in Kabul and a residential area near them.
That was the second time since the U.S. led-bombing of Afghanistan began on Oct. 7 that warplanes struck warehouses used by the International Committee of the Red Cross in Kabul.
U.S. lawmakers at the hearing were quick to blame Islamic militant Osama bin Laden, the main suspect behind the Sept. 11 attacks on the United States, for the problems in Afghanistan.
``We place full responsibility on the terrorists, for the most recent addition to the crisis of the Afghan people,'' said California Rep. Tom Lantos, ranking Democrat on the panel.
The United States has led the effort to provide food, shelter and medical supplies to an estimated 7.5 million people before the onset of winter.
``Because of the chaos brought about by the brutal Taliban dictators, Afghanistan is on the verge of widespread and precipitous famine,'' said Committee Chairman Rep. Henry Hyde, an Illinois Republican.
BORDERS NEED TO REOPEN
Bush administration officials also called on neighboring countries to reopen their borders to refugees.
Alan Kreczko, a State Department assistant secretary, said the number of Afghans fleeing the country was lower than anticipated because many countries, like Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, and Tajikistan, have shut their borders.
Kreczko said about 100,000 Afghans fled to Iran and Pakistan, a significantly smaller number than the 1.5 million first estimated.
Pakistan, which closed its borders, recently estimated that help for Afghan refugees would cost it about $500 million this year.
On Wednesday, the U.S. Agency for International Development said it would buy $11.2 million worth of foreign wheat to help feed hungry Afghans. The purchase is in addition to a $320 million humanitarian package for Afghanistan announced earlier this month by the White House.
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