September 8 Defense Department Briefing

By The Pentagon, The Pentagon - September 8, 2010

                COL. DAVID LAPAN (deputy assistant secretary of defense for media operations):  Good morning. It's my privilege to introduce Vice Admiral Michael LeFever, the commander of the Office of the Defense Representative- Pakistan, based in Islamabad.  He's here today to provide an update on U.S. military support to Pakistan's flood relief efforts.  

                Admiral LeFever assumed command of what we call ODR-P in Pakistan in July 2008.  He also led the U.S. disaster assistance center that was responsible for coordinating the American response to Pakistan's devastating earthquake in 2005.  So he brings a wealth of experience and a unique perspective regarding U.S.-Pakistani military relationship and our humanitarian assistance efforts there.  The admiral will make a few brief opening comments and then take your questions.  He does have an appointment to get to quickly, so you have him for about 25 minutes. 


                VADM LEFEVER:  Thank you, thank you.  Like he said, I'd like to make a brief statement and then -- and then take your questions. 

                Obviously, thank you very much for being here today.  I appreciate the opportunity to update you on the support provided to Pakistan's flood relief efforts by the U.S. military.  Again, my name is Vice Admiral Mike LeFever, and I currently have the great privilege to serve as the commander of the Office of Defense Representative-Pakistan, from the U.S. embassy there in Islamabad.  Before I take your questions, I'd like to update you briefly on our efforts to support Pakistan's flood relief operations, which began just over a month ago.  

                By now, the extent of the disaster should be clear.  Without a doubt, this is the single worst natural disaster in Pakistan's history.  At the height of the flooding, it's estimated that about one-fifth of Pakistan was submerged.  More than 17 million Pakistani citizens have been affected, and 1.2 million homes damaged or destroyed.  And while the 1,600 who died may not seem high when compared to other recent disasters, the staggering numbers who face the very real and life-threatening dangers of the waterborne diseases, starvation, lack of shelter continue to make this an urgent crisis which deserves our full support and our attention. 

                As many may be aware, this is the second time in my career that I've had -- been in a position to assist our Pakistani friends during a natural disaster.  Just as we were during the earthquake relief operations in 2005, the United States is here once again to help.  We are committed to providing assistance requested by the government of Pakistan to aid the people of Pakistan in their time of need.  

                Since the flooding began, the U.S. military has provided a unique capability to rapidly deliver much-needed aid and humanitarian assistance.  Our response to this terrible disaster was immediate.  Only 36 hours into the flooding, U.S. Air Force C-130s and C-17 aircraft had already begun aid flights, delivering more than 436,000 halal meals for distribution for Pakistani authorities.  

                Six U.S. Army helicopters were dispatched from Afghanistan shortly afterwards to Ghazi Air Base in Tarbela to begin urgently requested relief flights which continue today both at Ghazi in the north of Pakistan and in the air base in the south called Pano Aqil, thanks to follow-on U.S. Navy and Marine Corps and Army helicopters.  In addition, the U.S. Air Force and U.S. Marine Corps C-130 cargo planes and C-17s continue to assist the Pakistan government with transportation of international aid to required locations throughout the country, to include Sukkur, Multan, Quetta, Shara-e-Faisal, Jacobabad, Gilgit and Skardu.  

                To meet the government of Pakistan's request for assistance with expediting smooth flow of international aid to Pakistan and out to those in need, we also deployed approximately 40 U.S. Air Force personnel, part of a contingency response element, to Pakistan Air Force Base Chaklala right in Islamabad.  These airmen support Pakistan's civil-military efforts to receive, unload and offload humanitarian relief supplies aboard U.S. military and other military cargo aircraft at Chaklala, and deliver it to Pakistan government distribution centers throughout the country. 

                To date, the U.S. military aircraft supporting flood relief efforts in Pakistan have now transported more than 4 million pounds of humanitarian assistance supplies and rescued more than 12,800 people within Pakistan, delivering aid and providing transport to people who urgently need emergency assistance. 

                The scenes of Pakistani and U.S. military members working together to evacuate Pakistani citizens from areas cut off by the floods and delivering aid have been inspiring and noteworthy.  It points to a relationship developed not overnight, but through years of deepening commitment to learn from one another, build strong security assistance partnership based on mutual trust and respect.  Whether it's combating floods or working together to safeguard Pakistani people in the region from terrorism, we can all be proud of what's been accomplished to date to save lives and bring hope to Pakistan. 

                I'm happy to entertain your questions. 

                Q     Sir? 

                VADM LEFEVER:  Yes, ma'am. 

                Q     Is it correct that COIN operations have been suspended in certain areas?  And do you expect that this will have any lasting effect on the counterterrorism fight there? 

                VADM LEFEVER:  It's interesting.  Quite the contrary, we have not seen many of the Pakistan military forces move out of the areas that they were involved in in the west and northwest, and General Kayani had mentioned that to Admiral Mullen when -- in his recent visit out there.  What they've used is other forces from their corps commanders because of the extent of the flood.  And we are still engaged in security assistance, cooperation and COIN training with the Pak military in addition to the flood relief. 

                Q     So you would say that there's been zero effect -- the flood has had zero effect on COIN operations? 

                VADM LEFEVER:  It has taken some of the resources -- some of the aviation resources that would be supporting the operations, that are -- that are used to rescue people and to help.  But as far as the number of troops and the focus of the Pakistan military, it has not.  It's not wavered in the west or in the northwest. 

                Q     Admiral, if I could follow up on that, they haven't moved the forces, but have they changed the schedule or the calendar in terms of when they're going to move into the additional areas that they've been expected to move into? 

                VADM LEFEVER:  Boy, that's a great question.  As they -- as they work together on the different operations, they have a campaign plan that they're adhering to in most areas, I think.  And the extent of devastation has affected both the military, the people and the insurgents in that area.  And so I think for everything -- everything's kind of in a set right now to understand what's going on and how that's impacted everybody across the board. 

                As far as their campaign line, as in anything, I think there's adjustments that are made based on resources that are available and troops that are available.  But they have not withdrawn from any of the areas. 

                Q      So when do you expect them to be able to move forward? 

                VADM LEFEVER:  I think we're seeing it.  In fact, last week I think you might have noticed that they're continuing the fight to the areas.  There were insurgents killed out in the Tirah Valley by a helicopter and air strike.  And so it shows me that they are still very much concerned with the extremists and the operations, and they continue to do that while doing their relief operations. 

                Yes, sir. 

                Q     Thanks, Admiral.  Have they requested any additional equipment?  And also, how is the situation as far as health, medicine and food is concerned?  Are the people still crying for food and not reaching to the people? 

                VADM LEFEVER:  Great question.  We work very closely with their National Disaster Management Authority -- General Nadeem, who is retired and is now head of their NDMA.  That has been the central focus point for the government of Pakistan and the Pak military.  He's been exceptional.  He was one of our partners during the earthquake in 2005 and 2006, and then he was also instrumental in the internally displaced personnel that were -- that moved out of the Swat area in their campaign about a year ago.  He is very familiar with the international aid, and he is collecting and administering daily briefings and updates for all personnel, to all the NGOs, to all the -- all the countries regarding their needs and assessments.  And we're working very closely with them and with our USAID and DART partners to be able to respond to the needs of the government of Pakistan for those -- for those efforts. 

                My impression is, is that -- you know, this is -- the extent of damage is unbelievable.  I had the wonderful opportunity to ride with Admiral Mullen on his trip with General Kayani to look at the devastated areas, particularly in the south.  Areas where maybe only the Indus River was 10 kilometers long, it's now 50 kilometers and is spreading.  The amount of devastation -- to see islands of homes scattered around the countryside and roads cut off, it is incredible to watch. 

                And to watch this, unlike the earthquake, which -- in a matter of minutes, you know, an incredible number of people died and were injured, but it was isolated to about 30,000 square kilometers.  This is now hundreds of [thousands of] square kilometers, and you're watching the flood waters continue to go down the Indus, which has been given -- helped them in order to evacuate people out of the low-lying areas, but also if there is -- it's like watching a tsunami wave in slow motion to see the devastation that's still occurring. 

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