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Britain Dispatches 100 Troops to Kabul - 2001-11-16

Britain has sent about 100 troops to an airbase near Kabul to support humanitarian relief efforts in Afghanistan. The move comes as the World Food Program makes plans to expand operations in the country.

The British defense ministry says a contingent of Royal Marines is working to reopen a Russian-built airport northeast of Kabul for use by the international community.

Foreign Secretary Jack Straw spoke to British radio Friday about the troops' mission. "The task of the 100 or so British troops who arrived Thursday is to secure Bagram airport, which is the main airport near Kabul, and make it safe for humanitarian and diplomatic missions amongst many other things," he said.

Mr. Straw says there is no intention for British forces to take on a policing role to prevent clashes that may erupt between anti-Taleban factions. However, he says British troops might have to respond to what he called "unanticipated" situations.

Britain is also re-opening its embassy in Kabul. Mr. Straw has named a veteran foreign office diplomat, Stephan Evans, as the new ambassador. Mr. Evans is due to leave London on Saturday.

In another development, the chief of the United Nations' World Food Program, Catherine Bertini, has met British Prime Minister Tony Blair to discuss the humanitarian needs of the Afghan people.

Ms. Bertini told a news conference in London Friday that enough food is getting into Afghanistan, but security and distribution are difficult. "Just because we're getting the food into the country, it doesn't mean that every person in the country now has access to food. Because, now, the critical issue is that, we have to get that food distributed to the households of the people who need it," she said.

Ms. Bertini says her biggest worry is for three million people in northern Afghanistan, who have been weakened by years of conflict and drought. In all, she says, the World Food Program is feeding six million Afghans.