By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service
May 20, 2009 - Two Air Force C-17 airlifters have begun delivering humanitarian aid to internally displaced people in Pakistan's northwestern provinces, the chief U.S. defense representative said today. For Navy Rear Adm. Michael A. Lefevre, who works out of the U.S. Embassy in Islamabad, the humanitarian effort to help the estimated 2 million Pakistanis displaced by the fighting against the Taliban brings a sense of déjà vu: the admiral headed the U.S. relief effort after an earthquake in Pakistan killed 73,000 people, injured 100,000 others and displaced more than 3.5 million Pakistanis in 2005.
The U.S. government has pledged $110 million to the relief effort. Pakistani forces are battling Taliban insurgents and other terror groups in the Pakistan's federally administered tribal areas and in the Swat Valley, Buner and Dir areas. The Taliban have used the region as safe havens to plan operations against the government in Islamabad and against coalition and Afghan forces in neighboring Afghanistan.
The C-17s were sent in response to a specific request from the Pakistani government, Lefevre said. The initial request was for air-conditioned tents, water trucks and food. The C-17s brought in 40,000 packaged meals that conform to Islamic dietary requirements and 25 large tents. U.S. funds will buy water trucks, air conditioners and generators locally, Lefevre said.
The C-17s delivered the supplies from U.S. stocks pre-positioned in Kuwait.
"The tents are key to the area," Lefevre said during a telephone news conference with Pentagon reporters. "Already it's 100 degrees here. It's very hot and steamy." The admiral said plans call for setting up tents to handle medical cases and another to treat those with heat stroke and other heat-related problems.
Roughly 200,000 to 250,000 people are in the refugee camps; the vast majority of those displaced by the fighting are living with relatives. Pakistani officials estimate that at least that many people will be in the camps through the end of the year. Overall, the number of refugees is expected to hit 2 million as the fighting approaches Mingoara, the chief city in the Swat Valley. This should happen in the next week to 10 days, Lefevre said.
Once the fighting is over, rehabilitation and rebuilding must take place, and the U.S. government will aid in that if asked, the admiral said.
Three C-17 flights are delivering 125,000 meals and 50 tents. Though plans now don't call for it, sealift support is available if needed, the admiral said.