San Diego Union-Tribune

November 22, 2001

Relief agents stress peacekeeping need
   Humanitarian groups say aid distribution is dangerous, difficult


WASHINGTON -- Humanitarian groups yesterday urged the rapid mobilization of a multinational security force in Afghanistan to suppress factional fighting and lawlessness that are preventing aid from reaching refugees.

"We believe there is a dangerous lack of security in parts of Afghanistan, making it difficult to distribute aid," said Kenneth Bacon of Refugees International.

As anti-Taliban forces take over more territory, "our concern is that the violence and misrule will spread. We are calling on the international community to act to address the problem," Bacon said at a news conference of relief organizations.

Bacon said the organizations believe it would take too long for the United Nations to organize, train and deploy a sizable security force. A quicker solution, he said, would be deployment of troops from nations that have offered help, including Great Britain, France and Turkey.

Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld has said U.S. troops will not participate in a peacekeeping force in Afghanistan. But he has offered American units to repair bridges, roads and airports to help relief supplies get into the war-ravaged country.

U.S. planes have airdropped 1.6 million packets of humanitarian rations in areas where refugees are and have flown tons of food and relief supplies into neighboring nations while pressing air and ground attacks against the Taliban and the al-Qaeda terrorists.

But Bacon, a former Pentagon spokesman, said, "It is very important that the United States be part of a broad coalition" working on the long-term recovery of Afghanistan. "We can provide leadership and direction."

Mark Bartolini of the International Rescue Committee said the violence is particularly bad in northern Afghanistan around Mazar-e Sharif, where three factions of the anti-Taliban Northern Alliance are fighting each other for control.

The committee's vehicles have been stolen, workers harassed, warehouses looted, and equipment is missing, Bartolini said. As a result, their drivers have refused to make relief deliveries.

Although Bartolini said his workers considered conditions better around Herat, the U.N. Food Fund reported that a convoy was ambushed and 185 tons of relief supplies were stolen on the road to that western Afghan city.

Mary Diaz of the Women's Commission for Refugee Women and Children said defeat of the oppressive Taliban militia "has opened the door for the restoration of rights for women and children" in Afghanistan. But without the intervention of an international security force, "hundreds of women and children will die," she said.

Michelle Maynard of Save the Children said at least 1 million Afghan children are in need because of a decade of war and a year of drought.

"The situation on the ground is changing rapidly. . . . Women and children are in jeopardy," Maynard said.

International relief organizations have estimated more than 4 million Afghans have been driven from their homes by the harsh Taliban rule or the fighting. The danger of starvation and disease increases rapidly as winter cold and snow spread south from the Hindu Kush Mountains in the northeast, the relief officials said.