Pakistan — Navy Choppers Provide Aid to Pakistani Flood Victims

WASHINGTON — As flood­ing con­tin­ues to plague Pak­istan, the U.S. Navy is pro­vid­ing heli­copters from a detach­ment in Bahrain to car­ry sup­plies into the strick­en country’s Swat val­ley.

Mem­bers of the Navy’s Heli­copter Mine Coun­ter­mea­sures Squadron 15 Detach­ment 2 spoke in a “DoD Live” blog­gers round­table today to explain the ins and outs of their mis­sion.

To date, the U.S. has pledged to pro­vide more than $76 mil­lion in assis­tance to flood-affect­ed peo­ple in Pak­istan. Twen­ty-two U.S. mil­i­tary and civil­ian air­craft are in Pak­istan in sup­port of flood relief oper­a­tions. U.S. heli­copters have evac­u­at­ed more than 5,000 peo­ple and deliv­ered more than 500,000 pounds of relief sup­plies.

In addi­tion, U.S. mil­i­tary car­go air­craft based in Afghanistan have trans­port­ed more than 268,000 pounds of inter­na­tion­al aid from the Pak­istani air force’s cen­tral flood relief cell in Rawalpin­di, Pak­istan, to oth­er loca­tions through­out the coun­try.

In the past five days, HM-15 and its MH-53E “Sea Drag­on” air­craft have been able to evac­u­ate more than 1,600 peo­ple and deliv­er more than 271,000 pounds of food and oth­er relief sup­plies. The unit has been at Ghazi Air Base for a week, but rain and cloud cov­er lim­it­ed their abil­i­ty to get to the peo­ple in Swat.

Navy Lt. Sean Sny­der, one of HM-15’s pilots, said the high alti­tudes have been dif­fi­cult to get accus­tomed to. The air­craft responds dif­fer­ent­ly to the thin­ner air at high­er alti­tudes, he explained, so con­trol­ling the heli­copter under a full load has been hard­er than it would be reg­u­lar­ly.

“It’s been a chal­lenge get­ting the mis­sion done every day,” he said. “Had it been a sea-lev­el sit­u­a­tion, we prob­a­bly could have dou­bled [the amount of evac­u­a­tions and deliv­er­ies].” Although Sny­der and crew mem­ber Navy Pet­ty Offi­cer 2nd Class Kevin Strick­houser oper­ate only in one area, they said the wide­spread dam­age has been appar­ent as they fly over the coun­try. The fact that the Unit­ed Nations is press­ing for more aid and more orga­ni­za­tions are ral­ly­ing to help the coun­try is heart­en­ing, they said. HM-15 is doing fine mov­ing things, Strick­houser said, but any more help would be appre­ci­at­ed.

“Any­thing any­body can send won’t be enough to stop the suf­fer­ing that peo­ple are going through right now; I don’t think that there’s any­thing that can be done [to fix things right away],” Sny­der said. “The more they can pro­vide, so the assets can be spread out to help the whole coun­try, would be very use­ful.”

Sny­der said his crew and the oth­er MH-53E’s crew from HM-15 have been work­ing tire­less­ly to car­ry food and get as many peo­ple out of harm’s way as pos­si­ble. Usu­al­ly, Sny­der said, about five trips to and from the val­ley can be made dai­ly by each air­craft.

Though con­cerns have been raised that the Tal­iban in the area may some­how be using the flood to their advan­tage by help­ing peo­ple as a recruit­ment tool, there’s no indi­ca­tion the insur­gents are pro­vid­ing assis­tance, Sny­der said.

“Oth­er than what we’re tak­ing in and what the Pak­istani gov­ern­ment is pro­vid­ing, I haven’t seen any oth­er groups doing any assis­tance,” Sny­der said, adding that he has seen noth­ing of the Tal­iban first­hand or anec­do­tal­ly. “Peo­ple from the World Food Pro­gram are here, but I haven’t seen any­thing else.”

Strick­houser added that there has been lit­tle dis­rup­tion of any kind to mis­sions beyond the bad weath­er on their arrival. The Pak­istani army is pro­vid­ing secu­ri­ty and has land­ing zones pre­pared for U.S. air­craft, and gen­er­al­ly the peo­ple wait­ing for aid have been order­ly out­side the estab­lished land­ing perime­ter.

“We’re only there for a short peri­od of time before they take off, so they don’t see a lot on the ground through­out the day,” he said, “but there haven’t been any prob­lems. The only peo­ple who approach the air­craft are there to get the food we’re bring­ing, and they take it to the oth­ers out­side our perime­ter.”

Mean­while, Sny­der and Strick­houser said, mem­bers of the U.S. mil­i­tary, the State Depart­ment, the U.S. Agency for Inter­na­tion­al Devel­op­ment and a col­lec­tion of non­govern­ment orga­ni­za­tions con­tin­ue to pro­vide assis­tance to strick­en Pak­ista­nis.

“The Pak­istani gov­ern­ment deter­mines where they need U.S. aid, and then the U.S. decides if they’re able to help there with the equip­ment they have,” Strick­houser said.

U.S. Depart­ment of Defense
Office of the Assis­tant Sec­re­tary of Defense (Pub­lic Affairs)

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