As America Cares for Dead and Wounded, So Does AfghanistanBear McConnell, Director of the Central Asia Task Force for USAID
Interview with Leon Harris and Amanda Kibel - CNN Live Event
October 23, 2001
HARRIS: Well the U.S. is not giving up its aid efforts in Afghanistan and Bear McConnell is the Director of the Central Asia Task Force for USAID. He joins us from Islamabad, Pakistan this morning.
Mr. McConnell, we thank you very much for your time today.
MCCONNELL: It's a pleasure to be here.
HARRIS: Well give us an assessment of exactly how things are shaping up right now with your agency.
MCCONNELL: Well our agency is fully engaged with President Bush's initiative that he announced on the fourth of October -- $320 million of new money to address the humanitarian crisis. As our president has said a number of times, we have no quarrel with the Afghan people. We want to help the Afghan people. Our problem is with terrorists and those who support them.
HARRIS: Well is that message getting through here today? I'm sorry - I'm sorry to cut you off like that, but is that message getting through? There is - there are still signs - ample signs in the media that we've been observing from that region that perhaps that message is not getting through all the way.
MCCONNELL: Well I think our efforts have been going on for a long time. It predates certainly September 11th. The U.S. has been the largest aid donor in Afghan for several years. I think the people - the people in Afghanistan understand that. I think our message needs to be constantly reinforced that we are not enemies of those people and I think our efforts will continue and demonstrate that that commitment is there as the president has said.
HARRIS: Well then what do you make of how well the U.S. is assessing the actual needs of the people in that region? There have also been questions about that.
MCCONNELL: Well that is not just the U.S.'s responsibility. We work very closely and rely very closely on U.N. agencies, on private volunteer organizations and on non-governmental organizations that have been in Afghanistan for years.
It's interesting to note that although there are no ex-patriot staff inside that country involved in the relief efforts due to Taliban harassment. There are thousands of loyal Afghan workers that are continuing to do what they've done for years, and that is to get the aid to the people most in need, and I think they're doing a magnificent job.
HARRIS: Give us an update, then, on what you know about how much of this aid is actually reaching the people who need it the most. We've seen and heard many people who have said or many voices in the media have been saying that perhaps it is not reaching the people. There have been (INAUDIBLE) Taliban troops have been going out and rounding up most of the drops that have actually hit the ground there, keeping it away from the people who may be needing it the most.
What do you know exactly about that situation?
MCCONNELL: Well the drops - please understand the airdrops are a very small fraction of the total food aid that is going and is continuing to go into Afghanistan. The drops are focused. We have a close relationship with the central command and we have made suggestions to them on where drops might go, and that's based on accessibility, and it's based on the needs of the people.
So we are confident without being eyes on the ground that a considerable amount of those drops are getting to the people who need them. The focus and the answer in the larger sense, of course, is ground-based food delivery. Trucks are the way to get food to people and trucks are continuing to roll.
HARRIS: All right those trucks are rolling right now, but we know the winter is about to roll in itself. How well poised do you think that the aid agencies that are working right now on the ground in Afghanistan are to prevent a catastrophic winter there?
MCCONNELL: Well please remember that we're facing our - well we're into our fourth year of severe drought in Afghanistan, two decades of civil war, five years of oppressive Taliban rule. There are going to be deaths this winter. There's no escaping it. The president has pronounced a strategy that is designed to certainly reduce those death rates, but I think that's the best we can hope for.
A lot of food is in route to the region. We have, in U.S. terms, about 45,000 tons of food in the area. Another 65,000 tons will be delivered by the end of this month. There's 100,000 more metric tons that has been purchased and is being loaded, and we just bought (ph) a further (ph) 55,000 tons.
So we are moving food to the region. Please understand that we don't distribute the food ourselves. Again, that is - we rely on the U.N. and on the non-governmental organizations to do that, and no one will pretend that this is not going to be a very difficult winter, but no one is ready to back away from that difficulty.
HARRIS: And there are many people who are wishing you the best of luck in try to tackle that challenge. Bear McConnell, thank you very much for your time this morning and good luck to you sir.