WASHINGTON (AP)--The Taliban militia have seized two warehouses in Afghanistan that contained nearly 7,000 metric tons of donated wheat, the U.N. World Food Program said Oct. 17.
The two facilities in Kabul and Kandahar are among six major food warehouses that the organization operates in Afghanistan. The seizures Oct. 16 left the World Food Program with about 5,000 tons of wheat in the country.
"Armed men came in, told our staff to leave and took over the warehouses," said Catherine Bertini, executive director of the World Food Program.
Her agency has about 48,000 tons of wheat in Pakistan and other neighboring countries and hopes to truck about 16,000 tons into Afghanistan over the next 10 days. When possible, the trucks will bypass warehouses and deliver grain direct to communities, Bertini said.
"We have to keep moving food in. We have to find alternative ways to distribute it," Bertini said.
Meanwhile, private aid groups appealed for a pause in the U.S.-led bombing in Afghanistan to allow urgent food deliveries for the winter.
Two million Afghans need donated food to help them get through the winter, and a half-million of them will be cut off by snow if aid doesn't reach them by mid-November, the aid groups said.
"We've run out of food, the borders are closed, we can't reach our staff and time's almost run out," said Barbara Stocking of Oxfam International. Oxfam, ActionAid, Christian Aid, Islamic Relief and other organizations made the appeal in Islamabad, capital of neighboring Pakistan.
U.S. bombs on Oct. 16 hit Red Cross warehouses in Kabul, damaging vital stores of blankets, tents and grain.
On Oct. 15, a missile landed a few hundred yards from a World Food Program depot where 250 tons of food were being loaded for distribution, relief workers said. The food would have been the first relief to reach the central city of Hazarajat since Sept. 11, the aid groups said.
"It is evident now that we cannot, in reasonable safety, get food to hungry Afghan people," Stocking said.
At least 50,000 tons of food must get into Afghanistan by next month, aid groups said.
The organizations asked for a halt in strikes for an unspecified amount of time.
They also appealed to all sides to forbid their fighters from targeting or impeding aid convoys.
Andrew Natsios, administrator of the U.S. Agency for International Development, said the United States hopes to have about 55,000 tons of food head into Afghanistan each month as part of the Bush administration humanitarian aid package.
About 65,000 tons of food are expected to arrive in the area within the next few weeks. An additional 100,000 tons will arrive toward the end of next month for November and December. The food will be administered by the World Food Program.