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U.S. changes color of food aid

WASHINGTON -- The Pentagon says it is changing the color of the food aid packages being dropped over Afghanistan because of fears they could be confused with unexploded cluster bombs.

Both are yellow and approximately the same size.

In future the food packages, known as Humanitarian Daily Rations (HDR), are likely to be colored blue -- although the decision on the new coloring has yet to be finalized.

Announcing the change Air Force General Richard Meyers described the possibility of a mix-up between the HDR packages and unexploded cluster bomblets as "unfortunate".

However, he said with thousands of packages already in the pipeline it would be some time before the new ration packs were available to be airdropped.

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Speaking at a Pentagon news conference Meyers said that since the bombing campaign began on October 7 more than a million food packets had been dropped.

The dropping of food aid as well as bombs on Afghanistan has been an important part of the public relations campaign pushed by the Bush administration, which has repeatedly stressed that it has no quarrel with the Afghan people themselves.


The U.S has dropped leaflets warning Afghans how to tell the difference between bombs and food packages
The U.S has dropped leaflets warning Afghans how to tell the difference between bombs and food packages  

The individual cluster bombs units used in Afghanistan -- known as 'bomblets' -- are metal, shaped like a soft drink can and packed with high explosives.

The HDR packages are rectangular, of a similar size to the bomblets, covered in yellow plastic and contain a 2,000 calorie meal.

Earlier this week the Pentagon announced that it had begun broadcasts from flying radio transmitters warning Afghans of the difference between the bomblets and the HDR packages.

The broadcasts said cluster bombs and food ration packs were not being dropped in the same areas.

Leaflets written in local languages explaining the difference between the two have also been dropped.

Human rights groups and aid agencies have criticized the use of cluster bombs in the U.S.-led strikes on Afghanistan, saying they are indiscriminate and carry a high risk of causing civilian casualties.

Weapons experts say up to one in 10 of the cluster bomb units fail to explode on impact and pose a considerable danger, particularly to children who are attracted to them because of their bright coloring.

'Soft' targets

Cluster bombs have been used by the U.S. since the Vietnam War.

Each HDR package contains a 2,000 calorie meat-free meal
Each HDR package contains a 2,000 calorie meat-free meal  

The weapons are designed for use against so-called 'soft' targets such as enemy troop concentration, each bomb scattering about 200 bomblets across a wide area.

Thousands of unexploded bomblets are said to litter the Kosovo countryside following the NATO air war over Yugoslavia in 1999.

Several aid agencies have called for cluster bombs to be outlawed.

However, the U.S. and U.K governments have defended their use of the weapons saying they are the only effective way of dealing with particular threats and are only used after careful consideration of the risk to civilian life.

"They are being used on frontline al Qaeda and Taliban troops to try to kill them," U.S. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld told reporters Thursday.

"[That] is why we're using them, to be perfectly blunt."


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