ISLAMABAD, Pakistan — The United Nations Children's Fund said Friday it will use 4,000 donkeys to send 220 tons of emergency supplies through a treacherous mountain pass into northern Afghanistan.
The delivery, announced at a news conference in Islamabad, represents the first major shipment of humanitarian supplies into Afghanistan since the Sept. 11 terror attacks in the United States turned the Central Asian nation into a likely target of a U.S.-led military assault. The country's Taliban rulers shelter Osama bin Laden, the prime suspect in the attacks.
A convoy of 19 trucks will depart the western Pakistani city of Peshawar on Saturday and travel along the border before entering the Afghan province of Badakshan, which is controlled by a northern-based opposition alliance opposed to the Taliban.
Carrying food, medicine, clothes, soap, blankets, school books and other supplies, the convoy will ascend to about 10,000 feet above sea level before transferring the supplies to between 50 and 100 four-wheel-drive vehicles that will ascend another 3,300 feet to the Shah Saleem pass, said UNICEF special representative Nigel Fisher.
For the last stage of the trek, a team of 500 porters will transfer the supplies onto 4,000 donkeys for a two-day, 25-mile journey down the mountainside into Afghanistan, Fisher said. It's the largest U.N. shipment ever to cross the Shah Saleem pass, a high mountain avenue to Afghanistan which lies at 13,100 feet — nearly 2 1/2 miles above sea level. The pass is only open for a few months every year.
The Taliban ordered all foreign aid workers to leave Afghanistan after the Sept. 11 attacks, saying they could no longer ensure their safety. About 5 million Afghans depend on U.N. and other foreign aid to survive.
The Taliban also closed down the U.N. offices in the southern city of Kandahar and barred the remaining Afghan staff from using satellite telephones to communicate with the outside world.
Saturday's UNICEF shipment will go to needy people in opposition-controlled areas, which represent only 5-10 percent of Afghan territory.