Afghanistan: October 13, 2001

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After a bombing halt on Friday (the Moslem weekly "day of prayer"), the attacks returned early Saturday. Because of the distances from bases to Afghanistan, the US can only up a few dozen warplanes over Afghanistan each day. Some ten heavy bombers fly 2-3,000 miles from the island of Diego Garcia. Each bomber carries 30-40 tons of bombs. Aircraft carriers off Pakistan contribute another 10-20 smaller aircraft (carrying 1-2 tons of bombs) each day. 

Northern Alliance forces took the capital of Ghowr province in central Afghanistan. This provides a land link between territory controlled by the Uzbek Northern Alliance forces in the north and the growing Shiite resistance forces led by Iran backed Ismail Kahn. The Northern  Alliance also claims another 40 Taliban warlords (leading 1200 men) have switched sides. 

The Taliban are trying to play up civilian deaths from the bombing, but have been unable to provide really compelling photo ops. Meanwhile, the approach of Winter and the difficulty of moving food because of the war, makes it more likely that there will be many deaths from starvation and related causes (disease and exposure) in the next five months. The UN estimates that 250,000 tons of food (plus tons more of blankets, medicine, etc) will be needed to get drought stricken people in the countryside through the five months of Winter. Some 300,000 tons are stockpiled in Afghanistan and Iran for movement to Afghans. Thousands died last Winter from lack of food and it's expected to be worse this year because of the war. The UN has halted food convoys for the last month. There are only about six weeks before the Winter snows begin to close many roads.  Many truck owners are reluctant to enter Afghanistan because of the war risk, and this situation is made worse because truck insurance rates (for those truck fleet owners who have it) go way up (if available at all) during wartime. The UN (or the United States) may have to buy trucks (and pay "combat bonuses" to drivers) to get the food in. But it is likely the food won't get in, and hundreds of thousands will die. The people at greatest risk are in very isolated areas, too isolated for camera crews to get to. These people are weak from three years of drought and food shortages and were liable to perish this Winter no matter what. Air drops of food, ridiculed by some aid organizations, may end up being the difference between life and death. The Taliban appear in no hurry to help the situation, some food convoys are held up in Afghanistan by Taliban troops who demand a "tax" of $32 per ton of food before the trucks can proceed. The UN refuses to pay.

 

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