Military arrives in Pakistan to assist in earthquake recovery
American military aircraft based in Afghanistan have provided more than 100,000 pounds of relief supplies in two days of missions to earthquake-ravaged Pakistan, U.S. military officials said Tuesday.
Eight Army helicopter crews deployed from Germany and at least two Air Force C-17 transport planes have been ferrying food, water, medicine and blankets from Bagram Air Base to a Pakistani military airfield since Monday.
Five CH-47 Chinooks from the Giebelstadt-based 3rd Battalion, 158th Aviation Regiment and three UH-60 Black Hawks from Illesheim’s 2nd Squadron, 6th Cavalry Regiment are flying the missions, officials have said.
In total, the United States expects to send at least 25 to 30 helicopters to Pakistan to assist with earthquake relief efforts, said Pentagon spokesman Lawrence DiRita.
At least one U.S. military Chinook helicopter was unable to reach the quake zone because of a rainstorm.
“We had a storm blow into the area on some of the mountain passes that you have to go through to get into the remote area, and they had to come back and land due to the weather,”U.S. military spokesman Col. James Yonts said.
Other C-17s with more support and equipment were scheduled to arrive Tuesday. DiRita said some of the additional helicopters would come from Afghanistan and Bahrain, but military officials said the earthquake recovery efforts would have no impact on current combat operations.
U.S. military officials are “identifying and will deploy additional capabilities to assist the State Department and affected countries, including helicopters, engineering and heavy lift capabilities, medical support and humanitarian assistance,” the Pentagon said.
“Our total focus is on relieving the suffering in Pakistan, help them stabilize and, in the longer term, recover,” said Lt. Gen. Karl Eikenberry, Combined Forces Command-Afghanistan commander.
Eikenberry had been sent to Islamabad, Pakistan, to coordinate the beginning of the relief efforts. He has since returned to Afghanistan, officials said Tuesday.
Around 19,000 U.S. troops are in Afghanistan conducting reconstruction programs and hunting Taliban and al-Qaida fighters. Eikenberry has operational control over those forces; U.S. officials have said earthquake relief efforts would not slow combat operations in Afghanistan.
Upon Eikenberry’s return, the Pentagon announced Navy Rear Adm. Michael Lefever as the head of a “humanitarian coordination center” in Pakistan. Lefever is tasked with coordinating between the Pakistani government, the Pentagon, the State Department, and other U.S. agencies providing aid.
Lefever commands the Tarawa Expeditionary Strike Group, which arrived in the Central Command area of responsibility at the end of August. Among the ships assigned to the group are the amphibious assault ship USS Tarawa, the amphibious transport dock USS Cleveland, landing dock ship USS Pearl Harbor, guided missile cruiser USS Chosin, and the guided missile frigate USS Ingraham.
The strike group also includes more than 2,000 Marines from the 13th Marine Expeditionary Unit (Special Operations Capable), officials said.
DiRita said he had not heard any information on whether the recent earthquake may have injured or killed Osama bin Laden, often rumored to be hiding somewhere in the region.
Stripes reporter Jeff Schogol and The Associated Press contributed to this report.