The U.S. military has announced the official end of its extensive earthquake relief mission in Pakistan. Officials from both countries lauded the American emergency relief efforts, launched just hours after last October's deadly earthquake struck.
Pakistani officials described last October's earthquake as one of the worst natural disasters the region has ever experienced.
In less than a minute, the massive 7.6 magnitude quake killed an estimated 80,000 people and left more than three million others homeless.
Dozens of countries around the world responded with aid. Within 24 hours of the quake, the U.S. military had already helped establish a "combined disaster relief center" in the Pakistani capital.
Within 48 hours, U.S. soldiers were on the ground in many of the quake's hardest-hit areas, in the high Himalayan mountains of Northern Pakistan.
Navy Rear Admiral Michael LeFever commanded the U.S. relief center. During an emotional closing ceremony Thursday, he said the earthquake was a unique opportunity for the United States to show its solidarity with the Pakistani people.
"We will never forget what happened or what was accomplished. We worked together to do the impossible," he said. "The statistics, while impressive, only tell part of the story. The bonds and the friendship between the forces as we sought to save lives and restore hope is the other story that will never be forgotten. It will live in our hearts and our souls of all our soldiers who served here."
In just under six months, U.S. military helicopters, pulled from Afghanistan flew more than 4,000 relief missions and delivered more than nine million kilograms of emergency supplies.
American military hospitals set up inside the quake zone treated nearly 35,000 patients.
LeFever says the remaining U.S. helicopters will be flown back to Afghanistan this week, and all American troops will be out of Pakistan by April 15.
The American response is credited with helping improve Pakistani public opinion toward the United States.
The intervention itself was widely publicized throughout the country, and U.S. officials here promoted the effort as a chance for America to repay a key ally in the war on terror.
Speaking Thursday, Pakistan's commander of aviation assets, Major General Javed Aslam, thanked the United States for its assistance.
"Your Chinooks became the angels of mercy. Because of you, the relief effort reached the most inaccessible corners of the area," commented General Aslam. "Your whole-hearted participation in Operation Lifeline has not only earned the respect of every soldier in the Pakistan army, but has also left indelible marks on the hearts and minds of the people of Pakistan."
Despite the end of the U.S. military's effort here, American aid for the recovery will continue. The United States has committed more than half a billion dollars for relief and reconstruction projects.