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U.S. plans aid shipment to Afghanistan

By Major Garrett and Kelly Wallace
CNN Washington Bureau

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- President Bush is expected to announce Monday the shipment of thousands of tons of U.S. processed food to Afghanistan, worth more than $5 million, senior administration officials told CNN.

The announcement is part of a broader humanitarian effort to feed starving Afghans, an initiative that officials said is getting renewed attention during the holiday season.

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Also Monday, about 50 ambassadors from Muslim nations are to attend a fast-breaking dinner at the White House in honor of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan. Called an iftar, such dinners are held at sunset, ending the day's fast.

Aides said they believed it would be the first time such a meal has been held at the White House, and would be symbolic that the United States is not targeting Muslims in its antiterrorism campaign.

Bush -- who arrived back in Washington Sunday from his ranch in Crawford, Texas -- is to receive an update on coalition humanitarian efforts at a Monday Cabinet meeting at the White House. Andrew Natsios, administrator of the U.S. Agency for International Development, who recently returned from the Afghan region, is to brief the president.

The shipment -- expected to include 10,000 metric tons of items such as yellow peas, vegetable oil, corn soy blend, wheat soy blend and lentils -- is due to leave Lake Charles, Louisiana, Tuesday for Afghanistan.

The shipment will be the first of many humanitarian efforts the coalition of nations fighting terrorism will unveil in the coming two weeks, the senior officials said.

The food is to be delivered to Afghanistan via Iran and Pakistan, a spokeswoman for AID said. A total of 6,900 tons are slated for Iran, and 3,100 tons are to be sent to Karachi.

The World Food Program will then carry the food over land into Afghanistan. The value of the shipment is $5.3 million, the spokeswoman said.

Prior to the September 11 terrorist attacks, 165,000 metric tons of U.S. processed food was on its way to the people of Afghanistan, the spokeswoman said. Of that amount, 65,000 metric tons have arrived in Iran, but the rest is still en route to Pakistan.

U.S. planes already have been dropping some humanitarian relief into Afghanistan, including wheat, blankets and ready-to-eat rations.

The ambassadors invited to the White House for the Iftar dinner will gather for prayer in the White House East reception room, then join the president in the State Dining Room where he will deliver remarks, a White House spokesman said.

The administration also is encouraging U.S. embassies in Muslim countries to host Iftar dinners to show that the U.S. is "sensitive" to Muslims and Muslim nations, the spokesman said.


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