The Secretary of State for International Development, Clare Short MP, and the Under Secretary of State for Defence, Dr Lewis Moonie MP, held a press conference in London on 12 October 2001 at 1130.
Short: Good morning. This morning I will outline to you the scale of the humanitarian crisis in Afghanistan, and the work we are doing with the United Nations to prevent a catastrophe in Afghanistan.
It is important to remember that this is not a new crisis. The people of Afghanistan were facing a very serious crisis before 11 September. Twenty years of war, and three years of drought have contributed to a huge loss of life and tremendous human suffering.
Afghanistan is one of the poorest countries in the world. It has some of the world's highest child and maternal mortality rates. Disability is common - a consequence of the large number of landmines that litter the country. Health and education services have virtually disappeared. And women and girls have suffered grievously form the restrictions on them imposed by the Taliban.
Even before 11 September, the Taliban regime were making the huge humanitarian relief effort difficult, harassing NGOs and making great difficulties for UN agencies. Over four and a half million refugees have already fled Afghanistan. But following the attack on the World Trade Centre, the crisis has escalated.
As the Prime Minister has repeatedly made clear, our conflict is not with the people of Afghanistan. Our objective is to dismantle the Al Quaida network, and bring to justice those responsible for the events of 11 September. Our means are to share intelligence to enable us to arrest members of the network, attack with international regulation of money laundering to deprive them of the means to operate, and target military action to enable us to dismantle their headquarters in Afghanistan. We are hopeful that the Taliban regime will continue to crumble, and be replaced as soon as possible by a government that is representative of the people of Afghanistan and will cooperate in bringing Bin Laden to justice. These measures are designed to enable to work with the new government to support the organisation of Afghanistan, and the building of a better future for its people. Clearly, with the crisis in Afghanistan, the humanitarian effort is as important as the military and diplomatic effort.
In five or six weeks - when the first snows will bring the beginning of Afghanistan's winter - it will become massively more difficult to move enough food by land. More than a quarter of the population of the country is already hungry. The availability of resources is not our problem. The response to the UN appeal for funds has been generous. The international community has met the US$ 600 million appeal from the UN. The priority now is to get sufficient supplies into Afghanistan to feed the hungry and lay down stocks to carry them through the winter.
Yesterday, I spoke with Kofi Annan, and met Catherine Bertini, Executive Director of the World Food Programme, which is the key agency for the delivery of food aid. The structures, both within and outside of Afghanistan, for the delivery and distribution of food are still in place, and we know that the Afghan staff are keeping all of that going, and some trucking has continued - even after 11 September, when all international staff left Afghanistan - and it has resumed since military action began. The priority now is to step up this level of trucking and yesterday I agreed with Catherine Bertini that the UK stands ready to help her remove any obstacle that stands in the way of this objective. I announced the £25 million, which Britain pledged on 19 September, and this commitment, of course, came on top of the £35 million we have provided for Afghan refugees since 1997. We have maintained our reputation for responding quickly and disbursing the money where it is most urgently needed.
Today I can announce that Gordon Brown has agreed a further £15 million from the Treasury's Reserve for the Afghan crisis, and we are using this selectively to break down blockages and ensure that the international system gears itself up rapidly to respond to the needs of the Afghan people in order to prevent a catastrophe in Afghanistan.
We are also helping surrounding countries to deal with the impact of the humanitarian situation in Afghanistan. For years, Pakistan has been host to two million refugees from conflict and drought.
The UN appeal has provided resources to care for the refugees, and we have provided £11 million for immediate short-term support to the poorer communities of Pakistan, especially those most directly affected by the influx of refugees from Afghanistan. These funds have been spent on essential drugs for the most affected provinces, and water and sanitation services. We are also working to support Pakistan's economic and democratic reform programme over the long haul.
In conclusion, the people of Afghanistan are facing the risk of famine conditions. we are racing against time to truck massive quantities of food and other emergency supplies into the country before the snows make the trucking hazardous. This is a very difficult operation, but I believe it can be done. Clearly, it is crucial for humanitarian reasons, and also for the work being led by Ambassador Brahimi - the Special Representative of the Secretary General of the UN - who is charged with the responsibility of assembling the new government in Afghanistan, which will be a crucial step in bringing the present crisis to an end and starting the long-term rebuilding of Afghanistan. Thank you.
Moonie: Clare has covered the growing humanitarian crisis that threatens to overwhelm the people of Afghanistan, and how we and the world are trying to help. And it is help they need desperately - I do not think anyone would doubt that we should and would offer assistance out of common humanity.
Humanitarian aid is also a vital part of our wider strategy to combat terrorism. As you know, great effort has been made to enhance the military contribution to the humanitarian operation. Some of you will recall the military, NGO and DfID coordination as part of the Kosovo campaign, for example, the establishment of refugee camps in Macedonia to ease the plight of many innocent people caught up in the conflict. Military planners on both sides of the Atlantic are again linking with their NGO and departmental counterparts to put together a coherent plan to alleviate some of the suffering.
The case for military action against Usama Bin Laden, his Al Quaida terrorist organisation, and the military installations of his supporters - the Taliban regime - has been well made; and I do not think I need repeat it now. But I would like to take this opportunity to update you about our current involvement in the round of military operations.
As I think you must all know, we have played an active part in the coalition. We have launched Tomahawk missiles, flown support missions and continuously made available to the United States' forces the base at Diego Garcia. Last night, for example, the Royal Air Force flew seven air-to-air refuelling, airborne early warning and reconnaissance missions.
The Chief of the Defence Staff yesterday described how important our input is to the success of coalition operations. Support operations are an essential part of modern air operations. We did not want or seek this conflict, but now that it has been thrust upon us by international terrorism, we enter it with a great determination to do all that is necessary to achieve our goals.
There have been real successes to date. Terrorist camps have been damaged beyond use. Command and Control facilities have been hit and put out of action. Afghanistan's early warning and air defence systems have been devastated. All our missions are rigorously scrutinised to ensure that the targeting is entirely compliant with international law, and seeks to ensure that there is minimal impact, both on humanitarian programmes and on the civilian population.
We must now think how to maintain and build upon the achievements thus far. I cannot speculate today on what our options might be - they are wide and embrace a range of forces - but I can say the United Kingdom is committed to seeing this campaign through. I repeat - our strategy embraces military, diplomatic, legal, economic and humanitarian strands. We are in this for the long haul.
Could I just make one final point? We have made clear form the outset that the scale and tempo of operations will be fluid. Some days we will see more activity than others. We are also, of course, very sensitive to the feelings of Moslem people around the world. I am not going to be drawn on operational planning, but I can say that we are well aware of the religious significance of the next few days to the Moslem world, and will be taking that into account in our actions. Thank you.
QUESTION (The World at One): Yesterday the Prime Minister said that the west was in danger of losing what he called the propaganda war, and particular, in the Arab and Muslim world. What do you think he meant by that and what can be done to address that?
Short: I think weíve all seen reports of demonstrations in Muslim countries across the world but nowhere out of control, in my view. Iíve followed this very closely. But clearly there is propaganda being fed out in those countries distorting what is said in claims of casualties that are not true and the danger would be that those are widely believed and there was mounting opposition throughout the Muslim world and in surrounding countries to the campaign, and that would be a danger, so we are determined that that will not come about and we will be very careful in our military activity and put enormous international effort into bringing some relief to the people of Afghanistan.
QUESTION (Sky News): You are part of the War Cabinet. What indications have you been given that it would be said at the start that that was (inaudible) going in before we went to Iraq?
Short: (Inaudible) are moving in now. So it is safe and it is happening. It is Afghan commercial truckers who are doing the work and obviously they know their own country. No international workers are inside Afghanistan, they left after 11 September, not because of ensuing military activity but because the Taliban were making life impossible and endangering international workers but Afghan staff of all the UN agencies and all the NGOs are still there. The warehouses are still operating and they are still delivering the food to needy people, so they need some time(?) under pressure. So that is all still continuing but we have got to double the scale of current operations because we have got to feed people now and lay down large stocks to get the country through the winter. So that is the big effort we need now. I think it can be done but it is an enormous effort.
QUESTION (Channel 4): You made references to Taliban claims of casualties that are not true. But how do we know this? How can we verify how many casualties there are or there are not?
Short: YouĎll have to talk about that.
Moonie: We select our targets very carefully indeed. The targets, which are selected, are military installations and camps, which we know are involved in terrorist activity. We do not target civilian populations nor are there to our knowledge any large concentrations of civilians near the targets that have been selected.
QUESTION: We know that, obviously we know that, but I mean there are the occasional stray bombs. I mean how do we know, for instance the Taliban claim that 100 people were killed in a particular village, how do we know that it is not true?
Short: We have information networks and, of course, the humanitarian networks information moves across the border to the refugees and families and it is widely understood amongst Afghanistan refugees that there have not been civilian casualties.
QUESTION: (Inaudible question).
Short: Yes we are not contemplating the military doing the job of the UN. It is the UNís job to take in the food and have the distribution networks. And we have got networks in place because the crisis was there before 11 September. But obviously we can improve the collaboration and information sharing and, of course, since we started we are becoming more and more aware about what they do in the country. And, assuming the government in Afghanistan is co-operating with the international community, I am sure military efforts lending (inaudible) will bring benefits to the people of Afghanistan but the principle that humanitarian relief is delivered by the UN and not by the military will continue. Do you want to add?
Moonie: No I have nothing to add to that.
QUESTION (The Guardian): Miss Short, we have heard from Defence officials in this room scepticism about the military role in the delivery of aid. Is it, given the scale of the crisis, is it not the only option for the bombing to stop and for convoys to resume immediately to have any chance of averting millions of deaths?
Short: The convoys are moving now, as we speak.
QUESTION: Food - 1000 tonnes of food, 200 tonnes --
Short: It is about 500 metric tonnes weekly. And we need to double that. But this --
QUESTION: A month.
Short: I believe we can do it. I mean we stopped, started again and got to that level, stopped again when the bombing began and started again and got to that level in a period of a week. We are now going to need to keep that up and double it. It is a big effort but I do believe it is doable - I am not just saying that - I believe it is do-able and we will do it.
QUESTION (Jonathan Marcus, BBC World Service): A question on the defence side: I think just many people, particularly many people around the world have been perplexed that you and the Americans are claiming significant military successes initially. You appear to have bombed most of the fixed infrastructure that has a military application in Afghanistan and yet there is all this talk about campaigns going on into next summer, even perhaps for more than one year and possibly two years. Could you explain why you see this campaign as being so long, not the wider war against terrorism but the specific part that is focused on Afghanistan? Could you say what it is that is the principal driver of the chronology? Is it waiting to assemble some sort of viable alternative government to the Taliban regime that would be perhaps more broadly based? I think, you know, many people are very perplexed at why you seem to be doing so well so quickly in a purely military sense but then you are talking about this very, very long timescale during which we are going to see pictures of people dying of hunger and we are going to have more civilian casualties and so on.
Short: Can I say a word? The problem we have and so many people who comment on this crisis have, is that they sort of think the military option to be the only action and that is simply wrong. It is one component. They have got this Taliban headquarters in Afghanistan but with tentacles into 60 countries. The exchange of intelligence is to arrest some individuals, and we have done a large number of arrests. I canít exaggerate the importance of the action (inaudible). There is (inaudible) with drug trafficking and the criminality that comes with that and the funding of these networks and now the increased international co-operation (several inaudible words). There are a lot of works of that kind going on and then, of course, the military activity that weakens the Taliban to protect the Al Qaida headquarters is part of an action then to move to a new government in Afghanistan and the building of a country. And, no doubt, then it will take time to arrest all the individuals who are engaged. That is going to take time, I mean, getting the tentacles out of 60 countries across the world and getting Afghanistan established as a functioning country co-operating with the international community will take time. But the action is not all military throughout the time that it takes to really deal with the problem and destroy the Al Qaida network. I donít know if you want to add?
Moonie: On the purely military side of the objectives, we have made it clear what we are trying to do. We are trying to seek out Al Qaida and destroy the network. We are trying to destroy the infrastructure of support that exists with the active support of the Taliban government. Now there is going to be some uncertainty as to whether that can be achieved purely by destroying the command and control structure and their principal military assets. We know that we have had an enormous effect so far on their ability to maintain their operations on the ground. But there has to be some uncertainty always on whether you will achieve the desired effect and therefore we have to plan on the assumption that it may take longer than one might have hoped or envisage. But obviously that uncertainty means that you cannot be sure of any one time until Taliban themselves gives (inaudible) as to whether your actions to date have been successful. It also takes time to acquire proper targets. I have tried to emphasise all along that we are conscious of the fact that we donít have a quarrel with the Afghan people at large and we are exceptionally careful in selecting our targets so that we know they are of value and so that we know we are not going to cause collateral damage.
Short: (Several inaudible words) still free in Bosnia, so we are not -- we havenít caught all of them yet and it is worth continuing until they are brought to justice.
QUESTION: I am trying to (inaudible) with the scale of the operation, can you tell us when you hope to achieve that by and just say a bit more about what sort of condition you expect to find people within Afghanistan living when it gets there?
Short: Can I repeat the aid is getting in there? The people are depending on food brought in by the UN from outside, a quarter of the population maybe more. Conditions are very bad indeed. I hope within days and a week we can get to juggling the numbers but remember the juggling - we can see people with the amount now, with the amount that is going in now - we have got to double in order for aid and stocks to get through the winter when trucking will become very difficult and once the snows are there. So the people are in bad shape. I mean they have been misgoverned and living in terrible conditions as well as though the drought now - they are in bad shape.
QUESTION: You know no-one is actually starving in Afghanistan now?
Short: No there are people with very serious nutrition problems and children who are not well; there are already and there were before 11 September.
QUESTION (Daily Telegraph): Can I just ask two questions? Firstly, the care that has been taken to prevent civilian casualties is, doesnít the use of cluster bombs contradict that and was that a decision which the UK had any involvement in? And secondly, is it true, as the New York Times reports this morning, that there is a Pakistani veto over any attacks on Taliban front-lines in front of the Northern Alliance, and are we not now in danger of putting our ground troops into Afghanistan facing two different enemies: both the Northern Alliance and the Taliban?
Moonie: Cluster bombs have been used on one occasion. They have only been used on that one occasion because that was when it was thought to be appropriate. They are a very effective munition and we will not deny ourselves the use of effective munitions in prosecuting this action. I can't make any comment on the second point.
Short: No, we are not going to do that; no question. There are not going to be large numbers of ground troops, and they are not going to face on two enemies. Absolutely not.
QUESTION (Peter Grant, BBC): Coming back to an earlier question, is there any merit in having a pause in the bombing to allow massive aid(?) to go on the ground?
Short: What we need and what we are establishing are these improved communications. We have had them in previous crises between the humanitarian effort and the military, and an office is open in Islamabad that will do that job in the proper mechanism, so that the humanitarians will be able to say what they are planning and know that that will be safe. And then, of course, we want, as soon as areas of the country are not controlled by the Taliban, International(?) want us to return and there will be that that kind of process, and the sharing of information about how that can be done safely, as rapidly as possible, for the parties preparing the ground for a new government in Afghanistan. So it is that kind of liaison. We need to improve what we have got already.
QUESTION (Peter Grant, BBC): (Several inaudible words) suggestion of stopping at present to allow the aid to get in?
Short: The aid is going in, and we need to double the amount.
QUESTION (John Ingham, Daily Express): Two questions on the defence side. First of all, Mr Moonie, you were talking about how we have got to be aware of the sensibilities of Moslem nations with Ramadan coming up. Can you expand on that: does that mean that we may have a pause in the attacks to take into account Islamic feelings, and would that not just simply allow the Taliban to repair air defences and mean we would have to do it all over again? Secondly, we seem to be getting conflicting signals about ground troops. We had a press conference yesterday where we were told that we wouldn't be rushing in, and this morning we seem to be getting signals that we have got to be involved before the winter comes in, which Clare has just said would be in the next five to six weeks. Can you just explain what is going on please?
Moonie: (inaudible) first and confirm if I want to make any clear statement on what our operational intentions are other than the fact that our planning continues and that a range of options are being considered. On the point about the pause, I think I made it quite clear that we are sensitive and I therefore would not be at all surprised if activity was much less over this weekend. I would not be surprised if activity was much less over this weekend than at other times. I think I have made that quite clear in what I have said.
Short: I didn't hear anybody say that (inaudible) ground troops before the snows comes. It is the humanitarian food that has got to be got in before the snows come; let us not get into confusion. I think you misunderstood.
QUESTION (Peter Grant, BBC): (Several inaudible words). Sorry. First of all, Mr Hughes said the thing about being in before the winter this morning. And, secondly, I would be grateful if you could address the issue of Ramadan, which goes on for more than just a weekend. I would just like to know what you mean by having to address the sensitivities of the Islamic world with the next few weeks that are coming up. Are we going to have to have a pause over Ramadan? If you are trying to address the sensibilities of the Islamic world, doesn't that mean that you can't attack at all during Ramadan?
Moonie: No, it does not.
Short: And today is Friday.
QUESTION: (inaudible) accepts a special day in the Islamic world.
Short: Don't over read. Today is Friday.
QUESTION ( Matt Peacock, Australian Broadcasting): You mentioned the bravery of the Afghani aid‑workers. How difficult is their job being made at the moment by the Taliban and what kind of communications do you have with them?
Short: Communications are limited. As you know, the Taliban issued an instruction that they shouldn't use telephones to keep in touch with international international agencies on pain of death. There is some communication, but it is very difficult. And there has been harassment of staff working for International NGO and the UN agencies before September 11 and, of course, enormous difficulties for women staff, and the bakeries in Kabul are run by women and they cook every day and distribute food to people who would otherwise go hungry. So they have had enormous harassment and difficulties for a long time, and they are keeping all the networks working and they are distributing the food, and they really need to be respected for that. And it gives you hope for Afghanis who will run their own systems, when they can get a decent government; they can begin to rebuild the country.
QUESTION (Michael Evans, Times): The Secretary of State for Defence this morning, so far as I could hear him saying, said that the approach of winter was a decisive factor in planning for the possibility of sending in ground troops, based on the five to six weeks we have been given - and it may be less than that. Would you agree that winter is a decisive factor in dictating whether or when ground troops go in? If I could ask Clare Short also, please: you made a very personal appeal before the attacks started four weeks ago about the dangers of attacking a very poor country. I just wonder whether you are now satisfied three weeks later with what has been achieved and whether your predictions have been, of suffering have actually been - there is evidence of that?
Moonie: Yes, of course winter is a decisive factor and that is being included in the planning which we are going through just now.
Short: I was concerned, and I think many people were concerned, answering the second part of your question, that there was a danger of a lashing out and wide-scale bombing of Afghanistan, and the danger that innocent people would lose their lives, and that wouldn't deal with the problem, indeed it would escalate. Yes, I am content that the absolute, clear determination to have limited military action is very carefully targeted and the avoidance of civilians (inaudible) meets my concern. I am very pleased, and I think Tony Blair has made it clear that his respect for President Bush in holding back and not lashing out, has shown (inaudible) well structured and well thought through and carefully targeted military campaign.
QUESTION (Channel 5): You say you want to double the amount of aid getting into Afghanistan before winter; what happens when winter sets in then?
Short: It will be possible to do some trucking, but it would be very much more difficult. There are some of the remote areas of Afghanistan, it is already difficult to get to, and the World Food Programme is planning some of their drops to more remote communities. But we have warehouses across the country and we need to get them fully stocked before the snow makes getting large quantities in difficult. That is the plan.
QUESTION (Channel 5): Are you saying, then, food convoys could stop altogether once the snow sets in?
Short: No, they won't stop; they will continue. They are using Afghan drivers: they know their own roads. But it will be difficult, and getting large quantities will be very difficult. We want to use these five or six weeks to really get large quantities stored inside the country.
QUESTION (Chicago Tribune): Is the food going just into the border areas where the refugees are concentrated, or are you able to get it into the interior of the country to any great extent?
Short: It goes into the interior. It is coming from all the neighbouring countries and there are warehouses right across the country concentrated in the areas of greatest need that were most deeply affected by the drought and unable grow their crops. There are some very remote areas that are still a worry. But it is not at all confined to the borders. On the contrary, it is being distributed right across Afghanistan. As I said before, the network of warehouses is already there because we had this crisis before, and it is just going on fully stocked up. And we are delighted that the distribution mechanisms then on from the warehouses are still working, and that is the Afghan staff doing that job
Moonie: Thank you very much.
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