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US airdrops could harm future aid operations, Red Cross warns

The United States has been dropping food supplies over Afghanistan Keystone Archive

The International Committee of the Red Cross has warned that the US airdrops of food in Afghanistan may do more harm than good. In addition, the ICRC believes the linkage between military and humanitarian operations will jeopardise future aid operations.

This content was published on October 10, 2001 - 17:55

The concern voiced by the ICRC about the American operation is significant as the Geneva-based humanitarian organisation is often slower than other non-governmental organisations in criticising Washington, which provides forty per cent of its budget.

But there is a growing feeling in aid circles that the American action threatens to exacerbate an already difficult humanitarian situation. Apart from the possible civilian casualties caused by the US-led air strikes, there are also serious doubts about the effectiveness of the much-publicised American airdrops of food parcels to Afghan civilians.

The ICRC, along with the United Nations World Food Programme, has the biggest humanitarian operation in Afghanistan. Yet, it was not directly informed by Washington of the airdrops.

A number of aid agencies, such as Médecins sans Frontières and Oxfam, were quick to express their concern about this humanitarian aspect of the American operation. MSF described the airdrops as a "propaganda exercise" aimed at making the military strikes acceptable to international opinion.

The doctors group also said that blurring the distinction between the military and humanitarian operations could lead the Afghan people to identify all aid agencies with one of the parties in the conflict and imperil future humanitarian operations.

A spokesman at the US mission in Geneva said he was unable to comment.

Neutrality compromised

MSF's view is shared by Jean-Daniel Tauxe, head of ICRC operations, albeit in slightly less strident tones. He says he fears that the area of aid operations will shrink as a result of the US action, and humanitarian workers will no longer be seen as neutral and independent, not only in Afghanistan, but elsewhere.

Tauxe also acknowledges that: "the airdrops are neither technically, nor professionally the best way of responding to the needs of millions of Afghans." He points out that such operations require people on the ground to oversee the distribution of the food, to ensure that it goes to those who need it and not to the combatants.

Tauxe is also concerned that these deliveries, dropped into one of the most heavily mined countries on the planet, might cause even more victims.

Unlike the NGOs, though, the ICRC stops short of questioning the Americans' motives.

"It's not up to use to criticise and express a political opinion. We don't do that at other times, so why should we do it now," says Jean-Michel Monod, head of ICRC operations in Asia.

"The funding issue has nothing to do with that," he told swissinfo.

by Roy Probert

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