U.S. Remains Committed to Flood Relief, Commander Says

WASHINGTON, Sept. 8, 2010 — While the flood waters in Pak­istan may be reced­ing, the need for human­i­tar­i­an assis­tance is mount­ing, a U.S. com­man­der based there said today.

“By now, the extent of the dis­as­ter should be clear,” Navy Vice Adm. Michael A. LeFever, com­man­der of the office of the U.S. defense rep­re­sen­ta­tive in Pak­istan, told reporters.

With­out a doubt, this is the sin­gle worst nat­ur­al dis­as­ter in Pakistan’s his­to­ry.”

Dur­ing a brief­ing at the Pen­ta­gon, LeFever described the mag­ni­tude of the dev­as­tat­ing floods, trig­gered by heavy mon­soon rains, and under­scored the ongo­ing U.S. com­mit­ment to sup­port flood-relief efforts.

At the height of the flood­ing, one-fifth of the nation was sub­merged. Offi­cials esti­mate that the floods have affect­ed more than 17 mil­lion Pak­ista­nis and destroyed or dam­aged 1.2 mil­lion homes.

The floods also claimed about 1,600 lives, LeFever said, and while that num­ber may seem small in com­par­i­son with oth­er recent dis­as­ters, it doesn’t begin to con­vey the urgency of this cri­sis. A “stag­ger­ing” num­ber of peo­ple are fac­ing life-threat­en­ing dan­ger from water­borne dis­eases, star­va­tion and lack of shel­ter, he not­ed.

LeFever said he joined Navy Adm. Mike Mullen, chair­man of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and Gen. Ash­faq Parvez Kayani, the Pak­istani army’s chief of staff, on a Sept. 3 aer­i­al tour of the more heav­i­ly affect­ed areas, par­tic­u­lar­ly in the south. The extent of the dam­age was “unbe­liev­able,” the admi­ral said. “It’s like watch­ing a tsuna­mi wave in slow motion to watch the dev­as­ta­tion that’s still occur­ring,” he added.

LeFever praised the ini­tial U.S. response to Pakistan’s request for aid, which was imme­di­ate, he said. Just 36 hours into the flood­ing, he not­ed, Air Force C-130s and C-17s were fly­ing aid flights, deliv­er­ing more than 436,000 reli­gious­ly appro­pri­ate meals for dis­tri­b­u­tion to Pak­istani author­i­ties.

Six Army heli­copters were dis­patched short­ly after from Afghanistan to Ghazi Air Base in Tar­bela to begin relief flights, an effort that con­tin­ues today with a joint Navy, Marine and Army effort oper­at­ing from Ghazi in the north and from Pano Aqil air base in the south, the admi­ral said. And Air Force and Marine Corps C-130s and C-17s con­tin­ue to assist with the trans­porta­tion of inter­na­tion­al aid to loca­tions through­out the coun­try, he added.

To help expe­dite the smooth flow of inter­na­tion­al aid, a group of about 40 air­men, part of a con­tin­gency response ele­ment, was deployed to Chak­lala, an air force base in the Pak­istani cap­i­tal of Islam­abad, he said. The air­men are sup­port­ing Pakistan’s civ­il-mil­i­tary efforts by receiv­ing, unload­ing and offload­ing relief sup­plies des­tined for Pak­istani dis­tri­b­u­tion sites through­out the coun­try.

“The U.S. mil­i­tary has pro­vid­ed a unique capa­bil­i­ty to rapid­ly deliv­er much need­ed aid and human­i­tar­i­an assis­tance,” LeFever said. “Nobody in the world can respond like the U.S. can with its sup­port of strate­gic air­lift and sealift.”

To date, U.S. mil­i­tary air­craft have trans­port­ed more than 4 mil­lion pounds of human­i­tar­i­an assis­tance sup­plies and res­cued more than 12,800 peo­ple with­in Pak­istan, LeFever said. U.S. offi­cials remain in close con­tact with Pak­istani lead­ers, he added, and will con­tin­ue to pro­vide aid for as long as it’s request­ed by the Pak­istani gov­ern­ment.

The Unit­ed States also remains engaged in secu­ri­ty assis­tance, coop­er­a­tion and coun­terin­sur­gency train­ing with the Pak­istani mil­i­tary, the admi­ral said.

While the floods may have drawn away some avi­a­tion resources, it has not affect­ed the Pak­istani military’s focus, LeFever said. “As far as the num­ber of troops and the focus of the Pak­istan mil­i­tary, it has not … wavered in the west or in the north­west,” he said.

LeFever praised Pakistan’s coun­tert­er­ror­ism efforts. “They have been engaged in the last 16 months with over 147,000 troops in that area, going after the insur­gents that affect their coun­try,” he said. “And so we are there to sup­port them in their efforts to be able to car­ry out their oper­a­tions.”

Pak­istan is con­tin­u­ing the fight against insur­gents, LeFever said, cit­ing a recent air strike in which insur­gents were killed in Tirah Val­ley. “It shows me that they are still very much con­cerned with the extrem­ists and the oper­a­tions, and they con­tin­ue to do that while doing their relief oper­a­tions,” he said.

LeFever said it’s been “inspir­ing and note­wor­thy” to see Pak­ista­nis and U.S. mil­i­tary mem­bers work­ing side by side on flood-relief efforts.

“It points to a rela­tion­ship devel­oped, not overnight, but through years of deep­en­ing com­mit­ment to learn from one anoth­er, [to] build a strong secu­ri­ty assis­tance part­ner­ship based on mutu­al trust and respect,” he said.

“Whether it’s com­bat­ing floods or work­ing togeth­er to safe­guard Pak­istani peo­ple and the region from ter­ror­ism, we can all be proud of what’s been accom­plished to date to save lives and bring hope to Pak­istan,” he added.

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

More news and arti­cles can be found on Face­book and Twit­ter.

Fol­low GlobalDefence.net on Face­book and/or on Twit­ter