by DAVID AXE
The U.S. military uses cargo planes to air-drop vital supplies to isolated ground troops fighting in Afghanistan’s rugged mountain ranges. The U.N. World Food Program does the same thing, for isolated refugee communities in Democratic Republic of Congo. Denys Saltanov is stationed in Dungu with a small team of humanitarians. In the vicinity are more than 100,000 refugees who have fled the Lord’s Resistance Army rebel group. The natives call the WFP workers “the ones who get food from the sky.”
On a typical day, the WFP staffers will coordinate two air-drops by U.N.-chartered cargo planes — usually former Soviet military aircraft. “My first task is to check the condition of the drop zone, located three kilometers from our camp,” Saltanov wrote:
We make sure the airdrop zone is properly cordoned off and guarded to avoid any possibility of accident or theft. … The airplane usually makes a dry run, then three or more live runs, dropping 280 bags — about 14 tons in total — of food. When it leaves, we have about three hours to collect the bags and bring them to the warehouse. The sun beats down and the work is hard. There are also lots of snakes in the grass. I have a machete with me, just in case.
The hundreds of aircraft chartered by the U.N.’s aid agencies represent one of the world’s largest air forces. But it’s one that’s slowly dying, for lack of funding. Already, the U.N. has shut down air ops in Ivory Coast. Ops in Chad, Nigeria and other countries are also on the brink.
The U.S. Air Force is slowly gaining a toe-hold in Africa, with the establishment of U.S. Africa Command and the new 17th Air Force. Perhaps there’s a place for the USAF in U.N. humanitarian air ops.