Operational aspects of ongoing US military relief effort
* General Nagata deems it an honour to be assisting military forces in Pakistan to get to people in need and to render whatever assistance possible
By Ali K Chishti
The US Department of Defence organised a briefing on Friday by Brigadier General Michael Nagata, deputy commander of the Office of the Defence Representative, Pakistan, on the US relief response to the recent floods in Pakistan.
Following is the transcript of the conversation:
Q: General, can you talk about the transition from the army pilots that have been flying missions from Afghanistan into Pakistan to now the navy and Marine pilots? How are they going to continue the mission that’s been going on there?
Gen Nagata: Thanks for the question. The transition is ongoing. The first Marine element landed here at Ghazi Air Base yesterday. We’ve been receiving additional aviation assets and personnel throughout the day. As a matter of fact, a couple of additional helicopters just landed within the last hour. But it’s going to take us a few days to get the entire complement in here. Meanwhile, the army element that has been here now for almost two weeks continues to operate. And our goal is to make this transition from army aviation to Marine aviation as seamless and as transparent as possible to the Pakistani military partners that we are – have been working with ever since this effort began.
In terms of operational focus, I anticipate right now that the focus of the Marine aviation effort, once the army element leaves, will be the same as what we have been doing already, which is focused on the Swat valley, where we have been delivering hundreds of thousands of pounds of relief supplies and recovering thousands of stranded personnel from this very large river valley, because of infrastructure damage, bridge destruction, road erosion, etc, many, many people are in need.
Q: What’s the total amount of aid that has been actually given to the Pakistani government? And how many helicopters are actually in operation, General?.
Gen: First of all, it’s an honour to be here. An honour to be assisting the military forces in Pakistan to get to people that are in need and to render what assistance we can.
In terms of what the total amount of aid the US has delivered or is delivering, I honestly don’t know the figures. I know it is substantial, and I know it is growing. In terms of what our specific military effort has been doing, think the two most important parts were that very early in this effort, we delivered or assisted in the delivery of almost half a million rations that have been distributed to people in need in many parts of the country; and then, of course, the aviation element – the aviation effort, I should say, specifically that we’re mounting here at Ghazi Air Base. What we have been using for the nearly two weeks that we’ve been operating here has been to use four Chinook helicopters, nomenclature CH-47, and two Blackhawk helicopters, or UH-60s, to conduct these cargo deliveries and personnel recoveries that I mentioned earlier.
We have now received four or five Marine CH-53 helicopters. They’re on the deck at Ghazi now. But we’re still in the process of in-processing and supporting the early hours and days of the Marines’ arrival here.
They’re not yet operational in the affected areas, but we hope to get them up there very soon.
Q: With all those supplies, are you delivering them from Pakistani resource or are they being delivered by, like, from Air Force resources, like 130 and C-17s coming into the airport?
Gen: Yeah, that’s a great question. The origin and nature of the relief supplies we are delivering comes from a very divers set of contributors, including the Pakistani military itself. They have been donating some of their own rations and some of their own supplies to help people in need from their own country. But – the list is not something I have at my fingerprints, but I’ve seen everything from foodstuffs and non-food items, with everything from World Food Program to USAID to regional donors.
Q: Since you’re focusing on the Swat Valley now, what interaction have your people or have the US -(inaudible) — people had with the Taliban in the area??
Gen: Well, none. First of all, as is pretty obvious, our focus is purely humanitarian assistance and disaster relief. Secondly, while there is, obviously, a militant threat in this region, not just in Pakistan, there are some security challenges here, but the Pakistani military, ever since we stood up this task force, have done simply an incredibly energetic and totally committed job at providing multiple layers of security around our activities both in the air and on the ground.
Q: How long will the US Army be there helping out in Pakistan? And specifically what kinds of aid are you providing? Medical? Helping build shelters? Providing food? What’s the scope of the aid?
Gen: Sure. First of all, we will be here so long as the government of Pakistan requests and requires our assistance. Everything we do, both the locations we operate from, the access we are given to fly, the landing zones that are designated for our support operations, all of these things are requested by, provided by, designated by the appropriate authorities here in the military and the government of Pakistan. So, again, the answer to your question how long we’ll be here, so long as there is a need that the Pakistani government and the appropriate authorities need our help with.
Q: If you know Pakistan, there’s a huge conspiracy culture going on in Pakistan where, you know, about US Marines in Pakistan. You know how it works out. So there is a way that you guys provide more transparency to what’s actually happening?
Gen: I think the best transparency I can provide is to simply tell you what we have here. We do have Marines here in Pakistan. We have Marine security guards at our US embassy, as we do in every embassy around the world. I just talked about the Marines that are coming in with the aviation element, coming here to help Pakistani citizens in need, and partner with Pakistani military forces. You started your first question or you started the question earlier talking about how some people talk about thousands of Marines or thousands of US military personnel that are in Pakistan. It is not true. It is – it wasn’t true then. It isn’t true now. Everything we do here, every single US service member we bring to Pakistan is based on one thing and one thing only: the request for support and partnership that we receive from the Pakistan military and appropriate government authorities.
That is as literally as transparent as I can be.