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U.S. Helicopters Rescue Stranded Afghans in Uruzgan Province

American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, March 19, 2005 – U.S. helicopters and crews rescued more than 200 villagers March 18, after flooding from three days of intense rain stranded them along the Helmand River near Deh Rawod in Afghanistan's Uruzgan province.

The villagers were taken to a nearby coalition aid station.

The U.S. Army UH-60 Black Hawk and CH-47 Chinook helicopters were launched from a military base near Kandahar. Coalition forces worked through the night to rescue the Afghans and airlift them to safety, officials said.

The province's governor, Jan Mohammed, was present during the operation and supervised the efforts of coalition troops. Earlier, villagers alerted coalition troops that the river had overrun its banks. Family members and livestock were reported missing, as many areas became unreachable. Coalition planners had predicted heavy flooding this year, officials said, and were prepared to support the Afghan government.

Brig. Gen. Jack Sterling, deputy commander of Combined Joint Task Force 76 said it could have been much worse. "If it were not for the efforts of the helicopter crews," he said, "it's quite possible more villagers could have suffered."

Relief supplies are expected to flow into the area as coalition forces coordinate efforts with Afghan and international relief organizations.

In other news, coalition forces celebrated the opening of a new provincial reconstruction team in southern Afghanistan today. U.S. Ambassador to Afghanistan Zalmay Khalilzad was on hand to open the new facility in Lashkar Gar, Helmand province. The Afghan minister of agriculture, the minister of rehabilitation and reconstruction and the governor of Helmand also were present.

Khalilzad said Afghans are working hard to rebuild their country, and he cited a long list of recent accomplishments. While there is still a lot of work to be done, Khalilzad said, assistance to Afghanistan is increasing.

Lashkar Gar PRT commander Lt. Col. Eugene Augustine said some of that investment already is bearing fruit. The PRT has been working closely with Bost Hospital in Lashkar Gar, Augustine said, to improve health care by refurbishing the women's wing and rebuilding the hospital's infectious disease ward. The PRT also has renovated the hospital's exterior, repaired water service, and donated more than $100,000 worth of medical equipment, Augustine said.

In cooperation with the U.S. Agency for International Development, Augustine said, the PRT has built 12 medical clinics and 16 schools, and has provided 1,500 desks and more than 100 computers for students. Khalilzad praised the contributions of other countries to Afghanistan. "By investing in Afghanistan, the world is investing in success," he said.

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