Pace Tours Earthquake-Ravaged Area of Pakistan
By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service
MUZAFFARABAD, Pakistan, March 21, 2006 The U.S. chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff today had nothing but praise for Pakistani leaders who coordinated relief efforts after a devastating earthquake here in October.
A devastated village in Pakistan shows signs of rebuilding five months after a magnitude 7.6 earthquake killed 75,000 people in the region. Photo by Jim Garamone
(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.
"I was struck by two things today," Marine Gen. Peter Pace said at a news conference here. "One was the incredible natural beauty of your country. The other was the resilience of your citizens and all that has been accomplished in the five short months since the disaster."
Navy Rear Adm. Michael A. LeFever, who coordinated relief efforts of U.S. forces dispatched here, led Pace on a helicopter tour of the Jhellem valley, the center of the magnitude 7.6 earthquake. The quake killed 75,000 Pakistanis in the rough and rugged terrain that make up the foothills of the Himalayas. The swath of destruction covered an area approximately 100 kilometers by 300 kilometers and left 2.8 million people homeless as winter began.
LeFever called the earthquake a "life-changing event" for those affected and those who assisted.
Operation Lifeline, the American code name for the humanitarian operation, moved food, clothing and building materials to the area, provided medical care to thousands of Pakistanis, brought heavy equipment in to clear roads and build bridges, and flew helicopters to the most remote areas.
The American military spearheaded the international aid effort. At its peak some 1,200 U.S. servicemembers were involved in the operation. The first Americans were in country surveying damage within 48 hours of the earthquake, and the first U.S. helicopters airlifted supplies to the area within 72 hours.
The U.S. military also helped Pakistanis sort out the jumble of relief supplies that poured in to Pakistan following the disaster. It didn't matter where the supplies came from, American airmen, sailors, soldiers and Marines helped speed cargo to affected areas. An embassy official said American crews helped repair an Iranian plane that landed with supplies and required mechanical work.
In an illustration of the international aid effort, Pace flew over the affected area today in an Australian Black Hawk helicopter.
"I speak for all of us when I state that this was a mission that we were all very proud to take part in," LeFever said at the news conference. "We've come together with our Pakistani friends as one team, focused on one goal: to alleviate the pain and suffering of those struck by this devastating disaster. And together we overcame the odds and the challenge and survived the winter and are now firmly on a course for reconstruction and rebuilding."
Pace also spoke of the assistance Pakistan has given America in the years since the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. Pakistani leaders have made courageous decisions in the war on terrorism, Pace said. "You can go back as many decades as you want and you can find examples of friendship between Pakistan and the United States, so it was only natural that when your country was struck by this devastation that we should try to assist you in any way that we could," he said. "That we have been able to help gives great satisfaction to those of us in uniform."
The American military aid mission here ends next week, but the United States has pledged $200 million to help Pakistan rebuild the devastated area, U.S. Ambassador to Pakistan Ryan Crocker said.
Pakistani Maj. Gen. Khalid Nawaz, who commanded the 12th Heavy Mountain Division in the affected area, spoke of how people came together to aid Pakistan in its time of need, particularly Americans. "It wasn't how much rubble they moved, it was the spirit they showed as they did it," he said. "They worked 24 hours a day, seven days a week and it didn't matter if it was Thanksgiving, Christmas or New Year's, they were on the job."