The first humanitarian aid to enter Afghanistan since the terrorist attacks on the United States three weeks ago reached Kabul on Monday, paving the way for a full-scale relief operation.
Six trucks that had left from the northwestern Pakistan border crossing of Torkham near Peshawar the previous day with around 200 tons of wheat reached the Afghan capital late Monday morning, UN World Food Program (WFP) spokesman Khaled Mansour told AFP.
"The trucks have arrived in Kabul and the supplies are being offloaded at our warehouse there," Mansour said.
"They reported no problems along the road and so we'll certainly be looking at sending other convoys very soon."
Another batch of eight trucks carrying a similar load were still making their way to the western Afghan city of Herat, after crossing into Afghanistan at Chaman, near the Pakistani city of Quetta.
"They should reach Herat in the next couple of days," Mansour said.
The progress of the two "test" convoys was closely monitored by the United Nations, amid fears for their security and concerns that the wheat supplies could be diverted away from those in need.
"The arrival in Kabul is a very positive sign," Mansour said. "But we will have to keep monitoring the situation on the ground very carefully to ensure, to the greatest extent possible, that none of these supplies fall into the wrong hands."
All aid shipments were stopped and foreign aid workers pulled out of Afghanistan after the September 11 suicide plane attacks on Washington and New York.
The United States has ordered the ruling Taliban regime in Afghanistan to hand over Saudi-born dissident Osama bin Laden -- the main suspect behind the attacks -- or face military reprisals.
The closure of borders and the disruption of aid programs in Afghanistan since the attacks have prompted a massive humanitarian appeal by the United Nations, which says nearly eight million displaced Afghans are in need of emergency assistance.
Further WFP food shipments were heading towards the northern Afghan border Monday from the central Asian states of Tajikistan and Turkmenistan.
"The Turkeminstan convoy left our warehouses last night and should cross into Afghanistan today," Mansour said.
In Peshawar, WFP representative Michael Huggins said the safe arrival of the convoy in Kabul had paved the way for much larger convoys.
"We have 20 trucks with 500 tons of wheat ready to roll this evening, and another 500 tons will be trucked out in the morning -- all bound for Kabul," Huggins told AFP.
"The idea is that we eventually start sending the aid in regular, 1,000-ton batches."
Huggins said the authorities in Pakistan's Northwest Frontier Province had agreed to "loan" the WFP around 50,000 tons of their stockpiled wheat, to tide the agency over as it awaits fresh airlifts from Europe.
The feared exodus of as many as 1.5 million Afghan refugees in the wake of any US military strikes has yet to materialize and the UN has in recent days shifted its focus onto the millions of people inside Afghanistan who are dependent on food handouts.
UN Secretary General Kofi Annan has appealed for $584 million from donors to avert a humanitarian catastrophe in Afghanistan -- PESHAWAR, Pakistan (AFP)
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