Magazine article Joint Force Quarterly

U.S. Humanitarian Assistance/disaster Relief Keys to Success in Pakistan

Magazine article Joint Force Quarterly

U.S. Humanitarian Assistance/disaster Relief Keys to Success in Pakistan

Article excerpt

On the morning of October 8, 2005, an earthquake measuring 7.6 on the Richter scale struck the North West Frontier Province/Azad Jammu Kashmir (AJK) region of Pakistan 63 miles north of Islamabad, creating a multifaceted humanitarian emergency necessitating an immediate worldwide response. The earthquake left nearly 74,000 dead, 70,000 injured, and 2.8 million displaced or homeless. Since the buildings were primarily constructed of brick and cinder block, the quake literally shook them to pieces. Some 80 percent of structures collapsed in Muzaffarabad, the capital of AJK province. Due to the hour, most people were indoors and were crushed or trapped under the rubble. The inaccessible terrain, the near-destruction of all medical facilities and roads to the area, the approach of winter, and the demographics characterized by subsistence-level agriculture presented intense challenges to relief operations.


The U.S. response to its ally was instantaneous. Rear Admiral Michael LeFever, USN, Commander, Expeditionary Strike Group 1, was immediately appointed by General John Abizaid, USA, Commander, U.S. Central Command (USCENTCOM), to head Joint Task Force Disaster Assistance Center Pakistan (DAC PAK). The admiral and an initial assessment team of medical, engineering, and logistic personnel were in Islamabad within 48 hours. For the next 6 months, a coalition force with a peak strength of over 1,200 personnel conducted the largest and longest relief effort in U.S. military history.

During the course of relief efforts, helicopters (primarily CH-47 Chinooks) flew more than 5,200 sorties, carrying almost 17,000 passengers, 3,751 of whom were casualties. They delivered more than 14,000 tons of humanitarian aid supplies, up to 200 tons per day. Two field hospitals, the 212th Mobile Army Surgical Hospital (MASH) from Germany and Combined Medical Relief Team 3 deployed from Okinawa, Japan, treated over 35,000 patients and administered 20,000 vaccinations. Navy SEABEES brought the engineering capability to clear 50,000 cubic yards of rubble from roads so trucks could deliver supplies. Many members of the first SEABEE unit to respond, Naval Mobile Construction Battalion 74 out of Gulfport, Mississippi, had recently lost homes due to Hurricane Katrina. Because of that experience, they brought useful insight to the relief/reconstruction effort.

Following the natural disasters of the tsunami that struck Southeast Asia in December 2004 and Hurricane Katrina the month before the earthquake, the U.S. military once again found itself centrally engaged in a familiar if rather new role conducting hurricane assistance/disaster relief operations.

Admiral LeFever discovered early on that the ability to respond quickly, adapt regionally, and coordinate and communicate between disparate agencies was vital. In assessing a full range of lessons learned, several major elements contributed to success:

* the military's capacity for speed and effectiveness

* adaptive procedures including on-scene, empowered command and control

* the ability to coordinate the response to a dynamic and evolving situation among vastly different military, civilian, and government entities in addition to international nongovernmental organizations (NGOs)

* creating a "semi-permissive" environment

* the prominence of strategic publicaffairs/public diplomacy and the way they enhanced U.S. goals in the USCENTCOM area of responsibility (AOR).

Speed and Effectiveness

Of foremost importance to initial relief operations was the capacity to deploy rapidly and effectively. The military, a "9/11 force," was able not only to respond quickly but to stabilize the situation so the governments of Pakistan and other nations, along with the NGOs, could conduct long-term relief and reconstruction programs. The military simply possessed unique assets designed for crisis situations and rapid movements, such as field hospitals, engineering/construction crews, and security capabilities. …

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