The U-S led anti-terrorism coalition is expanding its humanitarian operations inside Afghanistan.
The French Defense Ministry says 60 soldiers (from Istres airbase) are leaving today (Friday) for northern Afghanistan. The troops are to secure a base in the city of Mazar-e-Sharif that will be used for international aid shipments.
Earlier, about 100 British Marines landed at Bagram air base, north of Kabul. The base has several runways capable of handling large transport aircraft needed to bring in humanitarian assistance. Its large complex of buildings could be used for storage and distribution of relief supplies.
Canada and Turkey have committed troops for postwar peacekeeping operations in Afghanistan, while Germany and Jordan are considering similar moves.
Thursday, a top U-S aid official visited northern Afghanistan to assess the situation (flying by helicopter to the town of Khoja Bahawuddin near the Tajikistan border). The head of the U-S Agency for International Development Andrew Natsios said his agency has budgeted 120-million dollars for Afghan aid projects for next year. The agency has already provided five-and-a-half million dollars to a French charity (ACTED) which is helping thousands of Afghan refugees.
President Bush announced last month that the United States will give an additional 320-million dollars of humanitarian assistance to Afghanistan.
Meanwhile, aid agencies are waiting for Uzbekistan authorities to re-open the bridge over the river Amu Darya (Oxus River) - the country's only land link to Afghanistan. Opening the bridge will speed up relief shipments.