The Last Sortie
28 March, 2006
By Farzana Shah
The last of US armed forces engaged in the relief effort in the wake of deadly earthquake that struck Pakistan on October 8, 2005, is departing on March 31st. United States had responded promptly and swiftly in our hour of distress and need by establishing a Combined Disaster Relief Centre within 24 hours of the catastrophe. Arrival of the NATO troops for lending a similar helping hand had, too, invoked unsavoury remarks bordering apprehensions from some political corners that they were here for good and would take over the AJK for establishing a permanent base there. Such thoughts were fed by them to the naïve till almost the last - till the departure of NATO forces. However, with the departure of the last batch of the US forces all those misplaced fears and propaganda have been quelled.
Now that they are leaving, let’s take a look at the work done by them. An analysis of the systematic relief activities of the US forces would reveal that they helped in all needed areas right from the health related activities to the transportation of the badly needed food and clothing items, shelter and tents, evacuation of casualties and wounded, training of the relief workers to cope up effectively with the emergencies, etc.
The US mobile medical units in Muzaffarabad and Shinkiari have done a great job. They provided badly needed healthcare to local populace and thus saved many a valuable life. Almost all medical facilities had been razed to the ground in these areas. They helped in re-establishing a dozen healthcare units in Shinkiari area by February 4th, thanks to the US Combined Medical Response Team. Having accomplished the mission of saving the lives, they have donated over $6 million worth of military medical and construction equipment to the Pakistan authorities to keep the good work going in their absence.
To support the healthcare and alleviate the human suffering in Muzaffarabad area, the United States Military moved on February 16th a 84 bedded, 212th Mobile Army Surgical Hospital (MASH) to Pakistan. The hospital includes a two bed surgical unit, anaesthesia apparatus, ventilators in the Intensive Care Units and wards, and a X-ray plant to provide the state-of-the-art mobile medical facility.
Since October the MASH has treated over 18,000 patients and provided 17,000 vaccinations to 7800 patients. Rear Admiral LeFever Commander U.S. Disaster Assistance Centre Pakistan speaking to journalists at Chaklala Airbase on Earthquake Relief said "This is the last MASH unit in the United States Army. We are excited that this MASH will live on in Pakistan." He continued, “I speak for all of us in uniform when I say that this is a mission and a memory that none of us will ever forget. We came at the invitation of the Pakistani people and as friends. Through this experience, the historic bonds between our nations are stronger than ever before. It has been the most professionally and personally rewarding tour of my military service."
The United States Navy Mobile Construction Battalion, SEABEES, has handed over 3 bulldozers, 10 heavy dump trucks, and 7 x 100KW generators to Pakistan Army on 13th February 2006 to continue the ‘transition to reconstruction’ phase and beyond.
The venerable CH-47s "Chinooks" have played a significant role in vacating earthquake victims besides transporting relief items in the affected areas. They have been rightly named the ‘Angels of Mercy’.
According to the statistics collected upto February 4th, 2006 since October 2005, over 4000 sorties had been flown, delivered over 20 million pounds of humanitarian aid, treated nearly 30,000 patients and cleared over 40,000 tons of debris. A no mean achievement by any standards. The Chinook ground crews have trained their Pakistani counterparts how to build swing loads and how to operate the rapid aviation refuelling system. Two portable forward area-refuelling systems have also been transferred to the Pakistani military by them.
US Agency for International Development (USAID) has also been working in the affected areas and still helping Pakistani reconstruction programmes by focusing on health and education through the construction of new schools and healthcare facilities in both NWFP and AJK. USAID is also providing professional training for new and existing health and education personnel and re-establishing systems needed to sustain these facilities.
The overall U.S. commitment to Pakistan for relief and reconstruction is $510 million dollars. The pledge also includes $300 million for relief and reconstruction from other parts of the US Government -- $100 million in relief and $200 million pledged for reconstruction. In addition $100 million from US private sector contributions are also expected.
There is much to tell about the US and its forces’ help in our hour of trial, now its time for us to thank them as they are departing tomorrow.
After the publication of the blasphemous sketches the atmosphere in Pakistan was not conducive to work for most foreign NGOs and missions, and they could have easily packed up and gone. No one would have blamed them for doing so. However, they continued with their efforts of saving lives, providing succour to the needy and hope to the desperate. We must not forget their good deeds and must thank them for it.
As Muslims we should not forget that Islam advises us to pay back the goodness (ahsaan) in the same coin. Allah says in Qura’n ,“What is the recompense of goodness, but goodness? Which then, of the favours of your Lord will you deny?”
We have to thank our guests for their help without indulging into politics as that is something to be left to the political players only. We as ordinary Pakistanis thank you US forces for your help.
Adieu friends and Bon Voyage Angles of Mercy.