US military to increase humanitarian aid to Pakistan
Pakistan Times Staff Report
WASHINGTON (US): The U.S. military is stepping up humanitarian aid to quake-hit Pakistan as the extent of the calamity unfolds, with relief workers, braving inclement weather, making their way to the inaccessible parts of the country.
President George W. Bush has offered an initial $50 million in U.S. emergency aid to Pakistan, a close American ally in the global war on terrorism.
US military officials said that American military aircraft based in Afghanistan have provided more than 100,000 pounds of relief supplies in two days of missions.
Eight Army helicopter crews deployed from Germany and at least two Air Force C-17 transport planes have been ferrying food, water, medicine and blankets from Bagram Air Base to a Pakistani military airfield since Monday.
Five CH-47 Chinooks and three UH-60 Black Hawks are flying the humanitarian missions, officials have said. In total, the United States expects to send at least 25 to 30 helicopters to Pakistan to assist with earthquake relief efforts, Pentagon spokesman Lawrence DiRita said in Washington.
At least one U.S. military Chinook helicopter was unable to reach the quake zone because of a rainstorm. "We had a storm blow into the area on some of the mountain passes that you have to go through to get into the remote area, and they had to come back and land due to the weather", U.S. military spokesman Col. James Yonts said.
Other C-17s with more support and equipment were scheduled to arrive today. DiRita said some of the additional helicopters would come from Afghanistan and Bahrain, but military officials said the earthquake recovery efforts would have no impact on current combat operations.
U.S. military officials are "identifying and will deploy additional capabilities to assist the State Department and affected countries, including helicopters, engineering and heavy lift capabilities, medical support and humanitarian assistance," the Pentagon said.
"Our total focus is on relieving the suffering in Pakistan, help them stabilize and, in the longer term, recover", said Lt. Gen. Karl Eikenberry, Combined Forces Command-Afghanistan commander.
Eikenberry had been sent to Islamabad to coordinate the beginning of the relief efforts. He has since returned to Afghanistan, officials said. Upon Eikenberry's return, the Pentagon announced Navy Rear Adm. Michael Lefever as the head of a "humanitarian coordination center" in Pakistan.
Lefever is tasked with coordinating between the Pakistani government, the Pentagon, the State Department, and other U.S. agencies providing aid.
The United States was also using reconnaissance aircraft, including unmanned drones, to survey damage from the quake, Di Rita said in Washington.
The Pentagon named U.S. Navy Rear Admiral Michael Lefever to head a disaster-assistance center in Islamabad and coordinate military relief efforts.
Lt. Gen. Karl Eikenberry, commander of U.S. forces in neighboring Afghanistan, visited Islamabad to oversee the initial U.S. military-assistance response but was returning to Kabul to resume his responsibilities in Afghanistan, U.S. Central Command said.
Trucks and Bulldozers
The United States also would try to get trucks and bulldozers into Pakistan to help, Di Rita said. He said that because Pakistan's airports are so busy after the quake, the United States was operating some of its aircraft out of Bagram air base in Afghanistan.
State Department deputy spokesman Adam Ereli said the government aid agency, USAID, had delivered plastic sheeting, blankets and water containers for up to 2,500 families and a team in Pakistan would assess needs for more aid. He said that the meals delivered were halal.
Briefing reporters in Washington, Ereli said; Looking ahead to the next steps and what we're hoping to accomplish in the near future, USAID (US Agency for International Development) is preparing additional relief commodity shipments", he said.
"These will include more shelter, more blankets, more tents and probably some medical supplies, although the details of those haven't been finalised." Our (disaster management) team will deploy to affected areas. They will do a needs assessment and coordinate provision of follow-on assistance", he added.
"Our military is organising delivery of other assets. There are four additional helicopters on the way."
"The military is also working to provide earth-moving equipment and medical facilities to help in relief operations," he said.●