Aid agencies compromised by military strikes
By Andrew Demaria
ISLAMABAD, Pakistan (CNN) -- International aid agencies say their humanitarian relief efforts risk being compromised as their role is increasingly being confused as a part of the U.S.-led military campaign in Afghanistan.
With U.S. military planes continuing to tag-team between dropping aid packages and dropping bombs, the agencies say their role is being blurred with the military action.
The United Nations said Wednesday that several of its de-mining workers in Afghanistan were beaten up by the Taliban and there have been reports of attacks on several international and local relief agencies in neighboring Pakistan.
"The blurring of lines between military and aid activities has the potential to undermine the provision of larger-scale humanitarian assistance by independent, non-governmental actors to the most vulnerable populations in Afghanistan," Medecins Sans Frontieres-U.S.A. executive director Nicolas de Torrente said.
The U.S. dropped 35,000 food packages Wednesday night over parts of Afghanistan and similar relief drops have taken place each night since the strikes began.
It is a combination of what the U.S. calls humanitarian action with military action.
"It's not an effort against the Afghan people," U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said of the military operation. "Indeed, we are providing humanitarian assistance."
The U.S. says it is committed to lead an aid campaign to assist Afghans already suffering from drought and years of civil war.
Now facing sustained military strikes and the onset of winter, the U.N. estimates 6 million Afghans need aid to survive. The U.N. says that 55,000 tons of food is needed every month to feed this number.
Many aid agencies have criticized the U.S. food drops, dismissing them as propaganda and labeling them inadequate and insufficient to address the mounting humanitarian crisis.
"When aid is subordinated to political objectives, it can no longer be called 'humanitarian'," an MSF statement said.
Nick Guttman, the Emergencies Manager of Christian Aid, welcomed the U.S. "show of concern" but said it was not enough.
"We haven't really seen the humanitarian action, which means bringing urgently needed supplies to the countries now. A few ration packs dropped from 30,000 feet doesn't really supply that," he said.
Adding to the problem, aid agencies say, is that the drops are causing confusion.
"It could actually be damaging for the people who need the help in the long term because they are confused where the aid is coming from," MSF's Martin Broughton said.
"They won't know when the next plane comes over whether it will be dropping bombs or food."
Burning and looting
Anger over the U.S.-led attacks and anti-U.S. sentiment has already been directed at relief agencies.
In Pakistan, staff at the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees office in Quetta were forced to evacuate after demonstrators broke windows on Wednesday. The U.N. Children's Fund building in the city was torched. No one was injured in either attack.
Meanwhile, work on prospective refugee campsites in Quetta and Peshawar was halted for a third straight day on Wednesday due to security problems, the UNHCR said.
Other aid agencies near Peshawar have also reported security issues.
"The string of attacks and continuing security interests highlight the difficulties for local and international relief agencies to operate safely," the UNCHR said in a statement.
Local officials expressed regret over the incidents and promised more security in Quetta and also for staff traveling to the field.
Cause for concern
The incidents are cause for concern for agencies sending food aid convoys into Afghanistan.
Forty trucks loaded with 1,000 tons of food aid are en-route to Kabul, the Afghan capital, after departing Peshawar Wednesday.
The convoy is the U.N. World Food Programme's biggest since the crises began. Another convoy is departing from Quetta Thursday, as part of a collective 3,286 metric tons in food aid to be delivered into Afghanistan via Pakistan, Iran, Turkmenistan and Tajikistan.
Although there have been convoys operating since the weekend, there is a growing fear that relief workers may be targeted by Afghans angry over the strikes.
The U.N. confirmed on Wednesday that attacks on personnel working for its de-mining program are on the rise.
U.N. spokesman Stephanie Bunker told reporters in Islamabad that non-governmental organizations (NGOs) working with the U.N. Mine Action Programme for Afghanistan "are increasingly being attacked by Taliban authorities."
She said staff had been beaten in Kabul, Jalalabad and Kandahar.
-- CNN's Robin Oakley contributed to this report
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