U.S. Forces Race Winter to Aid Pakistani Refugees
By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Nov. 10, 2005 With winter setting in, American troops in Pakistan are racing against time to get tents, blankets, heaters and medical care to victims of the October earthquake, U.S. officials in the country said today.
Navy Rear Adm. Mike LeFever, commander of the Disaster Assistance Center, said the American troop level in the country will rise to about 1,200 when doctors, nurses and medics of the 3rd Marine Expeditionary Force set up for business this week. All moves are being made in close cooperation with Pakistani officials, LeFever said during a telephone interview with reporters in the Pentagon.
Snow is falling at the 8,000-foot level, the admiral said, and temperatures are dropping rapidly. Officials expect snow to reach the 3,000-foot level soon. It is crucial that the people affected receive shelter and supplies.
U.S. aircrews continue to do yeoman work in delivering supplies to the worst-hit areas, northeast of Islamabad. LeFever said 24 U.S. heavy-lift helicopters have delivered more than 5.6 million pounds of supplies and transported 3,400 casualties to aid stations. The U.S. effort has also carried 8,000 passengers, many of whom are people displaced by the quake.
U.S. personnel are also helping unload and distribute official aid and aid supplied by nongovernmental organizations. He said U.S. ground personnel volunteer to unload aircraft arriving in Islamabad from all over the world. They have unloaded almost 10 million pounds of supplies.
The 212th Mobile Army Surgical Hospital is seeing patients in the city of Muzaffarabad. The hospital has treated more than 1,300 patients, covering everything from routine medical care to amputations. The doctors, nurses and medics at the facility have performed 125 surgeries, LeFever said.
The medics also are monitoring conditions in and around the city to prevent outbreaks of disease. A U.S. water purification unit is working with the medics to supply clean drinking water for the facility and for the surrounding population, the admiral said.
Navy Seabees based in Gulfport, Miss., are clearing roads, repairing culverts and clearing rubble in order to open routes to areas that still do not have ground transportation. The admiral said one valley has been cut off since the quake struck Oct. 8. Helicopters have been able to get supplies to the 170,000 people that Pakistani officials believe are affected.
American forces are doing great work but their conditions are Spartan, LeFever said. At the headquarters, troops receive one hot meal a day, with meals, ready-to-eat, making up the rest, LeFever said. The troops are living in 16-person tents with heaters.
Up in Muzaffarabad, Seabees and medics share an area on the Parliamentary Grounds. Pakistani police and rangers provide security for the Americans who live in tents. "They have kitchens up and running, but it's still primitive," LeFever said.
The admiral said U.S. morale is "sky high, because of the mission they are doing and because of the thousands of lives they are saying."
He said the U.S. military aid has had an unintended benefit. Average Pakistanis, many of whom were anti-American, are rethinking their impression of America and Americans. LeFever said the most popular toys in Pakistan today are small replicas of CH-47 transport helicopters.