The senior officer supervising U.S. military flood relief efforts in Pakistan said the United States is prepared to do more to help reach people in need, if Pakistani officials in charge of the effort ask for more assistance.
U.S. Army Brigadier General Michael Nagata spoke to reporters at the Pentagon via satellite from Pakistan's Ghazi Air Base, about 50 kilometers north of the capital, Islamabad. He called the damage in northern Pakistan "extensive" and "significant," and said it will take a long time and a lot of work for the region to recover.
"As the water has receded it has become clearer how much of the crop-producing fields, how much of the road infrastructure, how much of the bridge infrastructure, how many buildings have been either damaged or destroyed by the flood," said General Nagata. "They're no longer masked by the significant spread of water that was once there."
General Nagata reports that American aircraft have delivered more than 450,000 kilograms of supplies and rescued more than 6,000 people from the flood waters. He pointed up, though, there is much more to do.
View this related report on Pakistan floods by Ravi Khanna:
"We will operate wherever the Pakistani government and military authorities that asked us to come here designate for us," said General Nagata. "They have right now designated the Swat River Valley and the adjacent province of Kohistan. If they determine that there are other areas that they require our assistance in, we will of course attempt to meet those needs."
General Nagata referred questions about the possible expansion of U.S. aid to the U.S. embassy in Islamabad and the Pakistani government. He said the American relief effort currently involves 15 helicopters, two fixed-wing aircraft and about 230 U.S. military personnel. Officials said four more helicopters have been flown to Afghanistan aboard larger aircraft to be ready if needed in Pakistan.
In addition, a Navy-Marine force of three ships and 10 Marine Corps Osprey aircraft leaves the eastern United States on Friday, and is expected to arrive off the Pakistani coast in about a month to join the relief effort. The new Ospreys can take-off and land like helicopters, but turn their rotors to fly like airplanes. The Marine Corps commandant says an offer to send the Ospreys ahead on their own was turned down, partly due to a shortage of space at the Ghazi base. A Corps spokesman said the Ospreys could still leave the ships and finish their journey by air at any time, if there is a need and if space is designated at a Pakistani air field.
General Nagata said U.S. and Pakistani forces are working closely together to deliver aid and rescue survivors. "We have both some of their most experienced pilots flying with us, mostly because they understand these intricate valleys in the Swat River Valley complex better than we do, but we also have some of their own security guards on our aircraft providing our close in security."
The general declined to discuss what impact the flood has had on the expected expansion of the Pakistani military's campaign against insurgents in the north and west of the country. But he said he does expect the effort to continue.
"Am I still confident the Pakistanis will continue to wage a dedicated, committed struggle against violent extremism in Pakistan? Yes I am. Do I believe they will continue to aggressively pursue violent extremists in this country? Yes I do," said Nagata.
The general also declined to comment on any impact the flood may be having on the insurgents' status in Pakistan. There have been reports of militant aid agencies benefiting from help provided in some areas, and of insurgent leaders engaging in a propaganda campaign criticizing the Pakistani government's response to the flood.