- The Washington Times - Sunday, October 9, 2005

From combined dispatches

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan — The United States has dispatched eight military helicopters as well as emergency-management personnel to assist with search-and-rescue operations in Pakistan, officials said yesterday.

“Thousands of people have died, thousands are wounded, and the United States of America wants to help,” President Bush said from the Oval Office.

But the military assistance is sensitive in Pakistan, which has been highly reluctant to permit U.S. forces to enter the country in pursuit of Taliban and al Qaeda fighters crossing the border from Afghanistan.

Interviewed on CNN yesterday, Pakistani Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz said no American troops were needed to help rescue victims of the Saturday earthquake but that he expected the helicopters to begin arriving today.

“We have no problem with the U.S. helping us with the helicopters like the Chinook,” Mr. Aziz said on “Late Edition” with Wolf Blitzer.

“This is exactly what we need, and we will welcome them. … We understand they should be here tomorrow.”

In Washington, Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld said five CH-47 and three UH-60 helicopters were being moved into Pakistan immediately.

The secretary said he will designate a task force commander in the region to work with the affected governments, help assess their needs and draw on U.S. military resources.

“Additional capabilities for airborne reconnaissance, heavy-lift ground equipment and medical support are being identified and dispatched from within the Central Command region,” he said.

In Islamabad, U.S. Ambassador Ryan Crocker said the helicopters would be sent to hard-to-reach areas in northern Pakistan and Pakistan-controlled Kashmir.

“The U.S. will provide additional assistance in the form of emergency supplies, the use of U.S. military helicopters and emergency management personnel,” Mr. Crocker said.

Officials said the helicopters were likely to be transferred from Afghanistan, where 20,000 American troops are battling Taliban rebels. The Taliban regime was ousted by U.S.-led forces in late 2001.

The United States also will send two C-13O military aircraft with blankets, cold-weather tents and other relief supplies, with further relief missions expected.

A seven-member disaster assistance team also is on its way.

Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf appealed for help to the international community earlier yesterday, including cargo helicopters, “the bigger these copters the better,” he told the state news agency.

Mr. Aziz made clear in the CNN interview that Pakistan was not looking for U.S. troops.

“There are no troops. These are merely helicopters to help lift people back and forth because the town of Muzzaffarabad, which is in [Pakistan-controlled] Kashmir, is not accessible completely at the moment. …

“This is a very hilly and mountainous region of the country where it snows in the winter. So we need heavy-lift helicopters to bring the injured out and move heavy relief goods to the various parts which are otherwise — even in normal times — difficult to access.”

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