WASHINGTON (REUTERS) — U.S. military cargo planes dropped 37,500 humanitarian food packages into remote areas of Afghanistan Sunday night to help feed thousands of displaced refugees within that country, the Defense Department said.
Pentagon spokesman Bryan Whitman said two Air Force C-17s dropped the meatless Humanitarian Daily Rations (HDR) some nine hours after U.S. and British forces struck Taliban targets and guerrilla training bases across Afghanistan with bombs and missiles.
The drops, designed to help avoid a humanitarian disaster and impress on the world that the United States and Britain were not conducting war on the Afghan people, occurred in Monday morning darkness in Afghanistan due to a time difference of nearly eight hours with Washington.
U.S. defense officials said the two aircraft were based at Ramstein Air Base in Germany.
Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld told reporters at an earlier news conference that bombing and cruise missile attacks by U.S. and British warplanes and ships were designed in part to destroy military air defenses of the ruling Taliban and pave the wave for safe delivery of the “HDR” packages, which carry a full daily meal for the average adult.
“[The packages] carry a message that they are ‘a food gift from the people of the United States of America’,” Whitman told Reuters.
DROPPED FROM HIGH ALTITUDE
The packages were dropped from very high altitude without parachutes, Whitman said. Each package, wrapped in heavy yellow plastic, is designed with wing-shaped plastic protrusions at either end to help them flutter, rather than plunge, to the ground.
The aid packages are part of a $320 million humanitarian effort for displaced Afghan refugees announced by President Bush on Thursday.
The two-pound Humanitarian Daily Ration packages are designed to be religiously and culturally acceptable to all people.
They include rice, vegetables, fruit and a variety of nutritious ingredients while avoiding items such as pork, for example, which is not eaten by Muslims.
Bush’s growing aid offer of food, medicine and other items underscored U.S. determination not to alienate the Afghan population even as it threatened military action, which was carried out on Sunday.
Rumsfeld told reporters at his Sunday news conference that the food drops would avoid Taliban strongholds and would be concentrated in areas where people have gathered after fleeing because they feared the possibility of bomb and missile strikes.