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New Afghan aid shipment to leave Tuesday

LAKE CHARLES, Louisiana (CNN) -- Thousands of tons of U.S. processed food worth more than $5 million will be shipped from here Tuesday bound for Afghanistan to help prevent starvation among Afghan refugees during winter.

The shipment is expected to include 10,000 metric tons of items such as yellow peas, vegetable oil, corn soy blend, wheat soy blend and lentils, U.S. administration and aid officials said.

While U.S. planes have already been dropping wheat, blankets and ready-to-eat meals in Afghanistan, the latest shipment will be the first of many humanitarian efforts the coalition of nations fighting terrorism will unveil in the coming two weeks, senior administration officials said.

The U.S. says it will ship more than $5 million worth of food to Afghanistan. CNN's Kelly Wallace reports (November 20)

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A spokeswoman for the U.S. Agency for International Development said the food shipment will be delivered to Afghanistan via Iran and Pakistan. A total of 6,900 tons will go to Iran and 3,100 tons to Karachi, Pakistan. The World Food Programme will then carry the food over land into Afghanistan, she said, adding that the total value of the shipment is $5,308,944.

The United Nations said Monday a slow trickle of refugees is beginning to return from refugee camps in border countries, but it expects a "large repatriation movement" at the end of winter.

U.N. aid worker Filippo Grandi said most of the returnees, the number of which he described as "very small," are extremely destitute Afghans.

"We think the bulk of the people will return just after the winter," Grandi said. "One of the main objectives of my agency is it to get ready for a very large repatriation movement.

"Now, how large it will be is anybody's guess."

Grandi, who works for the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees, said that even if only 20 percent of the Afghan refugees in surrounding areas return, that would be 800,000 people.

The U.N. estimates at least 140,000 Afghans have fled the country to Pakistan since September 11, bringing the total number of refugees in surrounding countries to between 3 million and 4 million.

President Bush on October 4 announced $320 million in humanitarian aid for Afghanistan, including $195 million for USAID and $100 million for the State Department to assist refugees crossing from Afghanistan into the surrounding countries of Pakistan, Iran, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan.

The United States has supplied more than 80 percent of food aid to Afghanistan through the World Food Programme. CNN White House Correspondent Kelly Wallace contributed to this report.


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