- The Washington Times - Tuesday, December 20, 2005

MUZAFFARABAD, Pakistan (AP) — Vice President Dick Cheney, representing President Bush in reviewing earthquake relief efforts, waved and smiled at Pakistanis seeking treatment yesterday as they huddled against a chill wind under a banner proclaiming: “From the People of the USA. 212th MASH.”

Touring the rugged mountainous earthquake zone where tens of thousands were killed and thousands are being helped by American military doctors on a humanitarian mission, Mr. Cheney said the relief efforts were a credit to the capabilities of the U.S. military.

For Mr. Cheney, the humanitarian trip underscored the idea that helping Muslims in times of tragedy is one of the best ways the United States can improve its image overseas.

“It has been an amazing experience to see the extent of the devastation,” he said during a visit to a field hospital being run by the U.S. military near the quake’s epicenter in an area 65 miles northwest of the capital, Islamabad.

“I’m also obviously tremendously impressed with what we’ve been able to do with our MASH units,” the vice president said in one of the dozen medical tents in the complex. “U.S. forces were able to move quickly into the area. We were here within 48 hours, and we’ve been here ever since.”

Meanwhile, a Cheney aide said the vice president decided to cut short his trip so he could return home to participate in session-ending Senate votes.

“The vice president is returning to Washington to be on hand in the Senate to fulfill his constitutional duties as president of the Senate and cast tie-breaking votes, if necessary,” said spokesman Steve Schmidt.

The change in plans meant that Mr. Cheney would not be able to make scheduled visits to Saudi Arabia and Egypt.

During the visit to the military hospital in Pakistan, personnel running the facility told Mr. Cheney that although the center initially was set up for earthquake relief, more than 70 percent of the people now seek treatment for a variety of problems not directly related to the earthquake.

U.S. helicopters have been playing a key role in ferrying aid to the damaged areas, especially to the highlands, where heavy snow and rain are expected this week.

Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf welcomed Mr. Cheney at the presidential palace in Islamabad and thanked him for “the assistance in the relief operation in the form of helicopters especially, because I don’t think we could have managed the relief operation without your support.”

The 7.6-magnitude quake struck northern Pakistan and Kashmir Oct. 8, killing 87,000 people and destroying the homes of 3.5 million others. At the peak of the initial relief efforts, the U.S. had more than 1,200 personnel and 24 helicopters in the stricken areas.

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