U.S., Pakistani Militaries Bond in Disaster Relief

By Lisa Daniel
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Aug. 25, 2010 - The Pakistani military has shown tremendous cooperation, support, and friendship toward U.S. forces providing flood relief in northern Pakistan, the U.S. general in charge of troops there said today.

"The collaboration, the cooperation, the support, the protection, and the friendship and I use that word very deliberately extended to us by our Pakistani partners has been nothing but impressive," Army Brig. Gen. Michael Nagata told Pentagon reporters during a video-teleconference briefing from Ghazi Air Base in northern Pakistan.

"This is one of the best examples of combined collaborations among military partners that I've ever seen," Nagata said.

He said the U.S. military contribution in Pakistan's northern area, which includes the Upper Dir, Swat Valley and Kohistan regions, today includes 230 soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines and 19 helicopters. Four Air Force and Marine Corps C-130 cargo planes are delivering supplies in other areas of Pakistan, Nagata said.

The United States has steadily increased its assets in the area, Nagata noted, starting with eight Army helicopters from Afghanistan that worked out of Ghazi Air Base for two weeks soon after the flood began at the end of July. The 15 Navy and Marine Corps helicopters replaced the eight Army helicopters, he said.

Four additional heavy-lift helicopters are expected to arrive at Ghazi in early September, Nagata said. He added that the U.S. military will continue to help with the flood relief effort as long as the Pakistani government requests it.

Meanwhile, a "broad range of conversations" is taking place among various U.S. agencies at the U.S. Embassy in Islamabad to consider future relief operations, Nagata said. He emphasized that the flood, which has left more than a million people homeless, is of historic proportions and that it will take a long time to recover from it.

Though Nagata declined to discuss how the flooding has affected the Pakistani military's counterinsurgency effort in the Swat Valley, he said they had made "substantial progress" there when the flooding began four weeks ago. He added that the Pakistanis have been waging counterinsurgency operations "with great energy and great determination for several years now."

"They are completely committed," Nagata said of the Pakistani security forces, "and they've taken significant casualties in fighting militants in this country."

Likely through a combination of the Pakistani counterinsurgency work, their current security support, and the flooding situation, U.S. forces have had no security problems in the area, Nagata said. "We've simply had no reason to fear for our safety since we arrived in Pakistan," he said.

Working out of a large hangar and two other sites in northern Pakistan, the aircraft and crews mostly are delivering bulk food items, such as flour and rice, as well as cooking utensils and portable water systems, among other things, the general said.

So far, the northern provinces have not seen an increase in illnesses as Pakistan's southern provinces have, probably because of better drainage to reduce standing water in the mountainous northern regions, Nagata said. The drainage has allowed an assessment of the area that shows significant damage to crops, roads, fields, buildings and other infrastructure, he said.

Asked about the reaction of Pakistani civilians to U.S. servicemembers working in their country, Nagata said, "They're grateful. I've seen many occasions where they've approached U.S. and Pakistani military members to express their thanks."

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