Skip to comments.OPERATION: ENDURING FREEDOM: Postcards from the edge/Relief workers face challenges
Posted on 11/09/2001 9:50:10 PM PST by JohnHuang2
OPERATION: ENDURING FREEDOM
Postcards from the edge
Relief workers face challenges in quest to help refugees
By Anthony C. LoBaido
© 2001 WorldNetDaily.com
While the United States and opposition Northern Alliance in Afghanistan continue to gain ground on Taliban forces, organizations from around the world are attempting to assist the thousands of refugees who have fled the fighting.
Two of those helping to feed and clothe the refugees tell of the obstacles and victories they've experienced in their quest to bring relief to suffering Afghans.
Behind the lines
American Keith Idema, an ex-special forces operator, is working behind the front lines in Afghanistan, distributing food to the Northern Alliance.
Idema delivered a report to WorldNetDaily via a liaison of this writer.
"It is hell," Idema wrote, "a journey filled with disaster and complication. Moscow was fraught with delay and problems first the Tajik Air flights were canceled, then filled for days, so we had to reroute through Uzbekistan. Uzbek Air went down with a bird in the engine. Then our AeroFlot flight was downed in Bishek, Turkmenistan. Finally, the plane was waved off on approach by the tower three times before we landed in Tashkent, only to be jailed for a night with alleged visa problems, until 'friends' interceded and brought about our swift release and apologies. Apparently, the Uzbeks wanted bribes to let U.S. citizens and military pass their borders.
"The drive into Dushanbe was harrowing washed-out bridges, destroyed roadways, mudslides, land mines, treacherous mountain roads and bandits. The Red Cross passed us by in their shiny new Land Rover, refusing to pull us out of the mud because we were Americans. Hours later, after shoveling dirt and mud, we were back on our way. The border crossing into Tajikistan was eventful; we had to walk across the no-man's zone, our gear carried by kids on bikes. Finally, we made it."
Idema lamented the conditions he found in the post-Soviet world of Central Asia.
"It is classic post-Soviet infrastructure. Nothing works, especially not the phones," Idema reported. "The economy is corrupted by the media journalists who pay big bucks for water, beer, rides and hotels. Tajikistan sees this as a goldmine. It is the economy of war prices skyrocketing for anyone with a foreign accent. Food, medicine and relief supplies take a back seat to cameras, and CNN journalists willing to pay $20,000 for a ride across the border, only to be medi-vaced out a week later with malaria, hepatitis or dysentery.
"People are dying every night. They do not need the food the U.S. airdrops; they need tents and housing. And relief efforts are not in vain, for the equipment houses the families of the Northern Alliance troops that are willing to bear the brunt of the Taliban and thereby save American lives. It is the north we need to support in their fight against America's enemies."
Idema concluded his message by saying, "I cannot comment in e-mails about military action. Suffice it to say, the U.S. military is changing the scoreboard rapidly. This may be the last e-mail out for weeks. The [satellite] phones and pagers are working, but data transfer is almost impossible. We will be at the front within days."
In another transmission, Idema offered a report on what he and his friends experienced once they reached the front.
"It's not the Taliban who are poisoning our food packets; it's us. By accident. The stuff has desiccants in it, which is the stuff that keeps moisture from ruining the food. Only it's in packages that look like the salt and condiments. The Afghans, who don't read English, are eating the stuff, and it's killing them. The Northern Alliance is not fighting, at least partially because their women and children are not clothed, housed or fed properly, and they're giving their rations to their women and kids. They can't fight on empty stomachs."
Idema's friend Jim Morris explained that "Keith and his friends want to give the food they have directly to the Northern Alliance, but [the State Department] is insisting that they go through channels. They're also insisting that the paperwork be filled out properly. There isn't a phone, a fax or a post office within a hundred miles of where these guys are with their food supplies, and State is insisting on proper paperwork while the food sits there and rots. Keith says there is a mountain of food near him that isn't being distributed because of this same paperwork jam."
Wheat for the hungry
Idema has journeyed into Afghanistan along with Knightsbridge International, a charitable organization assisting the hungry in Afghanistan.
In a report written Oct. 31 and sent to WorldNetDaily, Ed Artis, the team leader, described what is unfolding in the areas controlled by the Northern Alliance.
Artis wrote, "After much difficulty in obtaining visas, logistics, communication and power, we made our first major food delivery yesterday. This consisted of 15 tons of wheat to the refugee residents of Hoji Malla, a camp on the outskirts of Khoja-Baldeen. This village has existed here for over five months. Except for some minimal amounts of wheat, no other aid organization has yet provided any assistance to this camp."
"This delivery consisted of 300 50-kilogram (110 pound) bags of wheat. One bag is enough to feed a family for one month. There are 300 families and approximately 1,000 residents in this village. There were several families with no shelter, and some with only makeshift shelter. We were able to find nine tents, which we purchased locally and delivered to the camp. They were immediately erected for shelter, as it was raining and windy yesterday, and the weather at night is more winter-like as the days go by.
"The food distribution was covered by many of the major media organizations from around the world, as they are in the area to cover the fighting between the United Front and the Taliban. One of the reporters followed several of the bags of wheat to their destination in the residents' tents. There, a woman explained that this wheat would mean that her remaining two children may not die. She took the reporter to a graveyard near the camp where one of her children who had died several days ago, along with five other children who had died within the past week due to hunger or exposure, were buried.
"After determining their primary needs in meetings with the leaders of the village, we purchased another 45 tons of supplies, which are due to arrive here around the end of this week. These supplies consist of more wheat, cooking oil, sugar, beans and 1,000 blankets. We are feverishly searching for more tents. It is our goal to provide this refugee camp with sufficient food and supplies to make it through the winter."
"Members of the team personally handed every one of the 300 bags of wheat and placed them in the hands or on the backs of the aid recipients. This is the kind of aid that these people want and need the most if they are to survive. As a result of our actions here, the United Front of the Islamic State of Afghanistan has requested that we travel into the Hindu Kush, the Panjshir Valley, where tens of thousands of refugees are fleeing the fighting and bombing in Kabul."
Artis continued, "We have received much media attention since we have been here, and we understand that we have been mentioned in many newspapers and on television reports. This is good because it helps the world understand that the United States does not have an enemy in the Afghan people, but rather a strong friend, a friend that needs our help right now. The press coverage is greatly appreciated but will only be of a real value if it results in getting this information to those that can afford to help us help the Afghans fleeing the war and areas that we are bombing. The level at which our small conglomeration of on-the-ground [non-government] organizations can assist these innocent victims will only be limited by the level to which we are funded.
"The donor community is constantly besieged by people like us with their hands out seeking financial support for all manner of really important and worthwhile projects. We only hope that those who have the capacity and interest in helping save the lives of innocent women, children and elderly will consider sending the financial assistance that we need to do what we have dedicated our lives to doing."
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Love that soviet-style efficiency.
LoBaido is a great writer, WND is lucky to have him.
Big smile, here JohnHuang....you're an inspiration...Anyone here told you today how much we love you?
aw, shucks! =^)