WASHINGTON – Crew members from two C-17 cargo planes that dropped food packages to the people of Afghanistan hugged and exchanged high-fives after returning to their base in Germany Monday.
"It was an outstanding success," said one of the flight commanders, whose named was withheld for security reasons. "It's a testament to the professionals and the dedication of the crews and people supporting them. An unprecedented mission. A difficult one."
The two planes dropped 37,500 food packages to starving Afghans on the first day of airstrikes to underscore the message that the attacks are meant to harm terrorists, not ordinary Afghans.
"To say that these attacks are in any way against Afghanistan or the Afghan people is flat wrong," said Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld.
The military also dropped leaflets and made radio broadcasts into Afghanistan to explain the U.S. action, he said. Rumsfeld did not elaborate on what kinds of medicine or supplies other than food packets were being dropped into the country.
The 20 crew members of the C-17s returned safely to Ramstein Air Base, Germany. Air Force Col. Bob Allardice, who briefed reporters, would not say whether the planes encountered any hostilities. The crew members are attached to the 437th Airlift Wing at Charleston Air Force Base, S.C.
The airdrops delivered "humanitarian daily rations," plastic pouches of food enriched with vitamins and minerals to boost refugees weakened by hunger and travel. The drops -- more are expected -- will be focused on areas inside Afghanistan, not refugee camps in Pakistan and other border countries, Pentagon officials have said.
The food, wrapped so that one packet has enough for one person for one day, does not contain any animal products so as not to violate any religious or cultural practices. Muslims, for example, do not eat pork.
The yellow plastic packets are about the size and weight of a hardcover book. They have a picture of a person eating from a pouch, a stencil of an American flag, a notation that they were made by Rightaway Foods of McAllen, Texas, and this greeting in English: "This food is a gift from the United States of America."
Inside are several smaller packets with food such as peanut butter, strawberry jam, crackers, a fruit pastry, and entrees such as beans with tomato sauce and bean and potato vinaigrette.
The packets provide at least 2,200 calories per day. The United States has a stockpile of about 2 million of them.
The packets are also designed to flutter to the ground rather than drop straight down to minimize the possibility that they could hit and injure someone.
Afghanistan is among the world's poorest countries and has the lowest per-person food intake in the world, said Andrew Natsios, administrator of the U.S. Agency for International Development. Afghanistan also has the world's highest rate of women who die in childbirth, and one-fourth of its children die before reaching age 5, Natsios said.