Britain is sending a team of humanitarian aid experts to Afghanistan to bolster international efforts to feed and shelter people displaced by the fighting there.
Britain's secretary for international development, Clare Short, says British aid workers will head for northern Afghanistan in a few days to coordinate relief efforts there.
She says the team will be based in Mazar-e-Sharif. The experts will monitor distribution of aid and work with United Nations agencies and non-governmental organizations to speed up relief operations.
The U.N. estimates as many as 7.5 million Afghans need humanitarian assistance, and the World Food Program must feed more than three million people.
Britain says several thousand troops are on standby to enter Afghanistan, and Ms. Short says they should be deployed within days to provide security for the humanitarian mission. "What we need in the crucial next step in terms of the humanitarian effort is securing order," she said. "The thing that would threaten us doing more than we have up to now is disorder and chaos."
Ms. Short also declines to criticize those who had called for a halt to U.S. bombing in Afghanistan. She had argued for weeks that the military campaign was not disrupting food shipments to the country, but she refuses to express any vindication now. "The situation remains complicated," said Ms. Short. "The suffering of the people of Afghanistan has been very great, and rebuilding the country is going to be an enormous task. No one should gloat about this."
Ms. Short said Britain is disbursing nearly $18 million from its Afghan aid fund to support health care, mine clearing and preparations to protect homeless Afghans during the approaching winter.