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Command's Coalition Alliance Forges Support to Pakistan

By Capt. Steve Alvarez, USA
American Forces Press Service

MACDILL AIR FORCE BASE, Fla., Jan. 26, 2006 – The international military relationships forged by the 63 nations banded together at U.S. Central Command extend beyond the terror-war battlefield, a coalition official said here today.

The countries, or the "alliance" as it is known, are clustered in a small village-like community at the command's headquarters here in Tampa. While fighting terrorism brought the nations together, the alliance's purpose has grown beyond that, officials said.

"This coalition proved itself - we are not only together to fight, but we're also here to serve humanity," Pakistani Army Brig. Gen. Ikram Ul Haq said. He is Pakistan's senior national representative with the coalition alliance and leads a contingent of Pakistani military personnel who serve as liaison officers here.

Ikram is from northwest Pakistan, in the heavily damaged area where the 7.6 magnitude earthquake struck in October 2005. The general used that disaster to point out how the alliance operated to support humanitarian assistance efforts in his country.

Coalition alliance nations assisted Pakistan, where the U.S. National Earthquake Information Center estimates 86,000 were killed and 69,000 were injured. More than 4 million were left homeless.

"The same day it happened, the Pakistani army was called," Ikram said. Within 48 hours, he added, Pakistan's half-million strong military force was mobilized and deployed to impacted areas. But the response was hampered by impassable roads and destroyed communication infrastructure.

About 500 Pakistani soldiers were killed in the earthquake, Ikram said. And he was clear to note that no nation alone would be able to respond to a disaster of this magnitude.

"We were helped by CENTCOM, who coordinated the operation," Ikram, said. Half a world away from the tragedy, the coalition alliance began working on plans to respond to Pakistan's disaster hours after the earthquake. The coalition assembled and held meetings every six hours for two weeks until relief operations were stabilized. The coalition's response ramped up and aid began flowing into the ravaged country within three or four days.

"The response was more than quick," Ikram said. "This was military cooperation that was being offered here." The political response was handled at political levels, Ikram said - and at military levels, it was soldier helping soldier, soldiers helping a people. "Almost anyone who could help, did help us," he said.

Nations that used Soviet-made helicopters offered spare parts for Pakistan's inventory, since their Soviet airframes would be under considerable stress from overuse in airlift and rescue missions. Others offered humanitarian supplies, financial support, personnel, and whatever else they could.

"Everyone used to come to this office and offer assistance," Ikram said. "This coalition was heavily involved."

CENTCOM's coalition alliance airlifted 1,942 tons of humanitarian aid to Pakistan and provided about 1,500 military personnel to help the nation recover. The alliance also has moved 94 tons of medical supplies into the region and delivered 107 pieces of engineering equipment to help in search-and-rescue and rebuilding efforts. The coalition has provided medical support, airlift and rescue capabilities.

U.S. troops, Ikram said, were well-received in Pakistan as part of the coalition's response force. "Once they saw U.S. troops in their country, helping, not fighting, I think it won a lot of the hearts and minds of the Pakistani public," Ikram said.

He called the alliance's response "a great success story." But more importantly, he noted, "this disaster has paved the way for another discussion."

The coalition alliance is now talking about ways to formalize international disaster response plans and organize their efforts to better respond to natural disasters on a global level.

Ikram estimates it will be at least five to 10 years before Pakistan fully recovers from the impact of the earthquake.

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