U.S. Military Assistance Moving Toward Pakistan
By Kathleen T. Rhem
American Forces Press Service
MACDILL AIR FORCE BASE,
"It is a big disaster," Army Gen. John Abizaid said at his headquarters here after an hour-long meeting with Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld. "It is of sufficient size that it requires a true international effort to help the Pakistanis, and we're doing our part in that."
U.S. Central Command officials said "less than 100" U.S. troops are on the ground. Speaking here after a meeting with Abizaid, Rumsfeld said there would probably be "relatively few" U.S. forces needed to deal with the disaster.
"What they need is tentage and blankets and medical facilities that can be put in," he said. "They have a lot of doctors, and they have a lot of manpower."
So far, five CH-47 Chinooks and three UH-60 Black Hawks have moved from Afghanistan to Pakistan. Two more U.S. military helicopters, Navy H-53s, were due to arrive in Pakistan today from Bahrain, a U.S. Central Command official said. An additional two Navy SH-60s should arrive within the next two days.
In addition, the Afghan military has sent four Mi-17 helicopters and Afghan medical personnel to Pakistan to assist in disaster-relief efforts, the official said.
The aviation task force has flown about 150 missions since arriving Oct. 10, moving 250 people and 45,000 pounds of supplies and equipment, the official said.
Three dozen more U.S. military helicopters from units around the world have been identified as available to send to Pakistan. Those helicopters will likely be transported to the region aboard military aircraft, the official said.
U.S. and other international troops providing aid in Pakistan face many dangers. Relief operations are taking place at altitudes up to 14,000 feet - where thin air makes it difficult for helicopters to fly -- in a region that in 2004 saw its first snowfall in October.
"We're looking at an operation of huge scale; we're looking at a situation where the weather is going to dramatically impact the ability to help these folks," the official said.
"Operating in this part of the world ... is dangerous," Abizaid said. "The mountains are high; the weather is bad; the conditions are difficult. But we've been doing it in Afghanistan. There's no better trained group of people to do it than the people that are there now."
Navy Rear Adm. Michael A. LeFever, commander of Expeditionary Strike Group 1, is in Islamabad, Pakistan, coordinating relief efforts with the Pakistani government and the U.S. State Department. ESG1 is designated as the consequence-management task force command group for the U.S. Central Command area. The ships of ESG1 are en route from Egypt, where they have been participating in the Bright Star exercise, to Kuwait. LeFever and about 25 staff members were flown from the command ship to Pakistan.
LeFever's main mission is to assess the situation and determine what other U.S. and international military aid is needed, the CENTCOM official said. Several military assets have also been identified for service in Pakistan: a medium-lift aviation support company, a heavy aviation battalion, a heavy engineer battalion, and a deployable hospital.
The official explained Pakistan has not yet officially requested these units, but officials are preparing them to move in anticipation of such a request. He said it's generally best to put such moves in motion so there is less of a delay when a request does come in.
Humanitarian aid is particularly vital right now, as torrential rains are drenching people whose homes and village infrastructure have been destroyed.
"The weather's not been good, and winter is approaching," Rumsfeld said. He added, "The situational awareness is still imperfect; the roads and bridges and passes have been damaged in Pakistan."
The official explained the U.S. is sending aid to help Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf help his own people. Musharraf is a strong U.S. ally in the war on terror.
"Clearly the most important thing at this point is ... providing help to Pakistanis for whatever they think they need," the official said.
The devastation in Pakistan poses a long-term problem, Abizaid said. "There's the immediate relief needs that we're helping with now, then there'll be a long-term effort that's going to be necessary with regard to humanitarian concerns: blankets, tentage, etc."
Pakistani Brig. Gen. Ikram UL Haq, the senior national representative from his country to U.S. Central Command, also met with Rumsfeld and Abizaid today. Ikram is from northwest Pakistan, the area most damaged by the earthquake. He said the people there need U.S. help, and that a U.S. presence there now is a means of bringing the two countries together.
"After the tsunami (that struck South Asia Dec. 26) was felt, wherever the American aid went, public opinion changed," he said. "This is one occasion that you can change public opinion of Pakistanis."
Abizaid said the American response to the disaster is in stark contrast to the actions of terrorists. A suicide-bomb attack in Kandahar killed six people Oct. 10.
"While the Afghan government, the Pakistani government and the U.S. government are helping people as much as we possibly can in the region, we had al Qaeda and Taliban conduct a suicide attack in Kandahar, killing a bunch on innocent people," Abizaid said. " So if there's anything that demonstrates to people the difference between what we stand for and what they stand for, it ought to be pretty apparent."
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