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Navy Vice Adm. Michael LeFever
Navy Vice Adm. Michael LeFever ()

ARLINGTON, Va. — The top U.S. officer in Pakistan said Wednesday that the benefits of U.S. efforts to open a military relationship with Pakistan are on display as the two nations’ armed forces have produced a smooth response to that country’s catastrophic flooding.

But he said it’s too soon to tell if that American goodwill will spark a similar softening toward the U.S. among the Pakistani public.

“We are seeing some indications that the U.S. aid is appreciated,” said Navy Vice Adm. Michael LeFever, the senior defense representative at the U.S. Embassy in Islamabad. “It’ll take time, I think, to see if there is an impact.”

For years, opening the U.S.-Pakistani relationship after a freeze in the 1990s has been a top priority for the senior U.S. military officer, Joint Chiefs Chairman Adm. Mike Mullen. Last week, Mullen made his 21st visit to Pakistan as chairman, touring flood damage that would stretch the entire East Coast of the United States.

In a rare on-the-record Pentagon press conference, LeFever, who also worked through the massive 2005 Pakistani earthquake response, said that watching the flood relief effort was a manifestation of relationships forged during the earlier disaster.

“It’s really been wonderful to watch and it just grows the relationship even more,” he said.

The U.S. has dedicated $258 million to the relief effort, according to State Department figures. But the positive diplomacy comes at a horrible price for Pakistan, where flood damage has now affected hundreds of square miles of territory.

“By now the extent of the disaster should be clear,” LeFever said. “Without a doubt, this is the single worst natural disaster in Pakistan’s history.”

It has submerged one-fifth of the country, affecting 17 million people and damaging 1.2 million homes.

“It’s like watching a tsunami move in slow motion,” he said.

To date, U.S. forces have delivered 4 million pounds of supplies and rescued more than 12,800 people — numbers that rise daily. That effort means Americans have touched down with aid across the country, including areas of operation for terrorist groups like Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan and al-Qaida. In Quetta, where on Friday a suicide bomber killed 60 people protesting Islamic opposition to Israeli control of Jerusalem, U.S. cargo planes are delivering supplies to an airfield that is an aid hub for Pakistani authorities and humanitarian groups to distribute goods.

Security for U.S. troops “is a concern,” LeFever said, “but I have been very comfortable.”

Pakistani pilots and troops ride along with aid flights to show joint cooperation, translate and hand out supplies to civilians.

LeFever called the disaster an “overwhelming event” for the Pakistani government and said the relief effort has taken away some Pakistani aviation relief from counterinsurgency campaign in the northwest, which the U.S. considers crucial to buffer Afghanistan operations across the border.

The number of Pakistani troops in that campaign “has not waivered,” he said, adding that last week, Pakistanis killed insurgents in airstrikes.

“It shows to 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.

baronk@stripes.osd.mil

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