GERESHK, Afghanistan — Two transport trucks loaded with humanitarian aid, escorted by South Carolina National Guard troops, rolled into the Afghan army base here earlier this month.
The aid - clothes, food and hygiene kits - was delivered after a NATO bombing killed dozens of men, women and children near this town of about 46,000 in the heart of Helmland province.
"The bombings caused a mess," said Army Maj. Marc Daniels, who commanded the aid convoy. "You get a hailstorm of people who are upset because you've just blown up their families."
Military leaders hope the aid will help salve hard feelings toward the U.S.-led coalition that is fighting the Taliban.
But Afghan officials increasingly are criticizing the coalition for attacks that kill civilians. The country's president, Hamid Karzai, has pleaded for Western forces to exercise more caution when targeting Taliban forces.
As of July 1, 314 Afghan civilians have been killed this year by Afghan and international forces, including U.S. and NATO troops, according to a United Nations report. Insurgents killed 279 Afghan civilians during the same period, the report added.
Afghan leaders say their country's people "understand there's still war in this region," said Daniels, a member of the 1st Infantry Division, headquartered at Fort Riley, Kan. "They do know there's a price to pay in getting rid of the Taliban."
The convoy of relief supplies to Gereshk had been planned for delivery in a couple of weeks, said Capt. Andy Wagner of Peachtree City, Ga. But, when the coalition attack killed Afghan civilians, it was decided to push up the delivery date and provide some immediate relief.
Daniels and Wagner are members of a logistics team at Forward Operating Base Tombstone, about 10 miles from Gereshk.
A security squad from the S.C. National Guard's 218th Brigade Combat Team, headquartered in Fountain Inn, also is stationed at Tombstone. The S.C. troops handle base security and convoy operations, such as escorting and guarding the Gereshk relief mission.
After the bombing, Daniels said the Army also approved a list of projects that local leaders had proposed, including an $800,000 soccer stadium that will double as a community gathering place.
Like the aid mission, the community projects were in the works before the Afghan civilians were killed. Now, however, Daniels worries the Afghans might perceive the projects as "blood money."
"The only thing I don't like about what we're doing is that it's like we're saying, `Sorry about your kid. Here, take a hygiene kit,'" Daniels said.
Relief efforts need to be conducted regularly, not seen as a response to civilian deaths, he added.
Humanitarian-aid projects, Daniels said, are performed "to win you over, to say, `Hey, there's a better life over here.'"
British Army Maj. Martin David, who has been mentoring Afghan army leaders, was on hand at the Afghan base when the S.C. Guard convoy arrived.
Martin thinks the aid will help win over the Afghan people, even those who suffered losses in the bombing attacks.
"These people are very pragmatic," Martin said. "They always back the winning horse."