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Reopening of Key Bridge Will Help Afghan Relief Effort - 2001-11-16


Pentagon officials report a key bridge linking Uzbekistan and Afghanistan is on the verge of reopening - a move that will allow an expanded relief effort in the north of the war torn country.

The commander of U.S. forces in Afghanistan says it is still too soon to say conditions are stable enough in the north of the country to permit an expanded humanitarian relief effort.

Army four star General Tommy Franks says a few more days are needed to ensure the area is secure and overland relief convoys from Uzbekistan can begin.

"What we want to do is, we want to have an opportunity to look over the territory," explained General Franks." We want to spend two or three days to be sure - so that we satisfy ourselves that the environment in places like Mazar-e-Sharif is secure enough for these non-governmental organizations and international organizations to be comfortable that they can do what they want to do."

General Franks says the Pentagon will not give aid groups instructions - just information.

The Pentagon's top civilian humanitarian affairs official says meanwhile the U.S. military will soon cut back on its airdrops of emergency food rations into Afghanistan as more food convoys move in overland.

Joseph Collins, Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Peacekeeping and Humanitarian Affairs, also says he sees little need for heavy security for future aid shipments, especially in the north.

"I don't see any reason why food moving from Uzbekistan to Mazar would need any more security than food that during the war moved from Pakistan all the way to the Kabul area," he said.

But Mr. Collins says that is assuming the last pockets of Taleban resistance in the north are cleared up.

He also makes clear that while military airdrops of food aid will taper off, there will be increased U.S. military assistance to help get certain services restored in Afghanistan, including repairs of roads, bridges and airfields.

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