© St. Petersburg Times, published December 29, 2001
KANDAHAR, Afghanistan -- Large-scale deliveries of food relief began Friday in Kandahar for the first time since the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks and the U.S. military campaign to oust the Taliban and al-Qaida terrorist network.
More than 700 people lined up outside the Islamic Relief compound in the southwest part of Kandahar, where officials issued rations of flour, cooking oil, sugar, rice, tea and beans.
Officials say they plan to distribute 1,763 tons of food in the next few weeks, enough to feed 17,000 families for two months. They acknowledge that tens of thousands of others will go hungry because of insufficient supplies.
"We can't feed everybody, that has to be acknowledged," said Sakandar Ali, the group's country director for Afghanistan. "So what we try to do is identify the most vulnerable families first and vulnerable individuals, including the handicapped, sick, elderly and orphaned children."
Each ration included about 198 pounds of flour, about 28 pounds of cooking oil, 20 pounds of sugar, 48 pounds of kidney beans and about 120 pounds of rice. The food is enough to feed a family of seven for two months, Ali said.
Many aid recipients complained about the distribution, and said they had more dependents than each ration allowed for.
"This will help a little, but it is not enough," said Abdul Khaliq, who estimated his age between 70 and 75. "I lost both of my legs to a land mine 10 years ago, and now there are 12 of us in one household. I can't work. I haven't had a single rupee to my name in years. Where else will we get food?"
Officials began distributing rations before sunrise, but stopped by midmorning after the crowd became unruly. Armed guards grabbed sticks and threatened people to get them to fall into an orderly line. Then they erected a nylon rope to keep the crowd in check.
A group of men with crutches sat disconsolately at the end of the line. They complained that they had not been issued ration cards while many of their better-off and better-connected neighbors received enough for several families.
"All of these people are yelling for help," said Akhatar Mohammed, 25, who lost a foot and an eye to a mine blast. "We are 20 handicapped men, and we are waiting for coupons. But these rich people and those who know people in the government have gotten three or four coupons each. We are from this district as well, but we have gotten nothing. For the last two days, I have been waiting outside this office, and I haven't been able to get a single coupon."
Relief officials defended their selection policy, saying they went through each district painstakingly, relying on mullahs and elders to tell them who needed assistance first.
"Look," said engineer Ama Nullah, an Islamic Relief team leader, pointing with a pencil at a roster full of names. "At this mosque, there were 30 families, but we had only enough food for eight."
The Taliban expelled all foreign aid workers a few weeks after the terrorist attacks on America, after it became apparent that the United States planned to bomb Afghanistan. Most relief organizations closed down operations, and have begun to return only in recent weeks.
With warlords and gunmen controlling many of the routes to the Pakistan border and to the capital of Kabul, it could be weeks more before a reliable humanitarian aid corridor to Kandahar is established.
"Maybe there will be a (U.N.) World Food Program convoy soon," Ali said.
WASHINGTON -- American forces in Afghanistan on Friday were expecting to receive a growing stream of prisoners in the coming days from among the thousands captured by Afghan fighters. Some could face U.S. military tribunals.
The number of prisoners jailed at the makeshift detention center at Kandahar airport has risen steadily this week, and the Pentagon was expecting the additions of a couple dozen daily over the coming days, a defense official said.
On Friday, the number of captured al-Qaida and Taliban figures in U.S. custody was 70. Eight of these prisoners, including American John Walker Lindh, were being held on the USS Peleliu in the Arabian Sea; the other 62 were in Kandahar.
Pakistan also holds hundreds of prisoners, and now that a number of them have been determined to be of interest to the United States, they are being sent to Kandahar, the official said. Marines have expanded the Kandahar facility to hold 250 prisoners.