U.S. officials are reporting major progress in the delivery of food aid to Afghanistan - all but eliminating, they say, the danger of a winter famine in the war-torn country.
U.S. officials say a combination of positive factors, including the sharp drop-off last month in the level of hostilities across Afghanistan, has permitted food deliveries in the country that far exceed targets of relief groups.
At a briefing, State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said more than 115,000 tons of food, about 80 per cent of it provided by the United States, arrived in Afghanistan last month.
He said that was twice the level of November and is enough to feed for two months the six million people in the country described by relief groups as being in "dire need" of assistance. Mr. Boucher said, "There's quite a bit of distribution going on, and it's getting to the people who need it, so that they can take care of themselves and their families over the course of the winter."
The U.S. assessment coincides with that of the U.N. World Food Program, which said earlier this week there will be no famine in Afghanistan this winter, though it could not preclude the possibility of scattered deaths due to distribution problems.
The State Department also announced another step toward the normalization of U.S. relations with the post-Taleban interim government in Kabul.
It said Ryan Crocker, a former U.S. ambassador to Syria, had been named charge-affaires in Kabul and would take up his post next week.
Mr. Crocker will succeed U.S. diplomatic troubleshooter James Dobbins, who presided at the re-opening of the U.S. mission in Kabul late last month and had played a key role in negotiations on the formation of the interim government.
Also due in Kabul later this week is the Bush administration's new special envoy to Afghanistan, Zalmay Khalilzad, who is due to hold several days of talks with Afghan leaders.
Mr. Khalilzad, an Afghan-born former staff member of the White House National Security Council, was named to the post by President Bush on Monday.