Friday, November 5, 2010

Fighting Entropy

I mentioned how there is a threat of a starvation disaster, now that people have been uprooted from their homes by the flood. Oxfam mentioned how there is a threat that people could die of hunger or malnutrition. So the bery, bery chalaak US government (or Centcom, take your pick) decided to depute a US CH-53E Super Stallion helicopter from the 26th US Marine Expeditionary Unit to help carry four tons of food to a village called Hassan Khan Jamali about 90 or so miles from Pano Aqil that`s surrounded on all sides by water, with road access cut off. Apparently residents have returned, but food access is sporadic because the water hasn`t drained away. This is feets and feets of water we`re talking about, so no vehicle can drive through. So either the Pakistan military asked for help, or the new ambassador asked and said, you folks want any help?

Regardless, the US got in a photo op, and that too by being based at a cantonment that the Pakistan military established in the eighties to put down the raging MRD (Movement for the Restoration of Democracy) insurgency of the early eighties, an insurgency that degenerated into the Sindhudesh Movement.

I feel kinda bad; whilst Shahid Saeed has written a detailed narrative, with analysis, of the 1995 coup by Major General Zaheer-ul-Islam Abbasi, I've been trying to get these pictures from the US Pano Aqil photo op to link on to my blog.

But I think these pictures do serve a larger purpose. 1) A US propaganda coup (why was this not one upped by Pakistan?) 2) The floods are still a problem and will continue to be one 3) For God's sake, our weapons procurement process has to swing into getting us a heavy lift helicopter. This is the third large disaster Pakistan has experienced in five years where the paucity of heavy lift helicopters has crippled rescue efforts and made our military's mis-prioritisation apparent. If we can't lease CH-53's, Chinooks, Blackhawks, or Puma's then how about looking at the Mil Mi-6's or Mi-26's since we have a love affair with Russian military equipment.

And finally there are Chinese helicopter models that should be pursued. It's a question of when if ever the civilians can exert pressure on the military to change their weapons acquisition processes. On a final note, Dawn really should improve the way its pictures load. The current multimedia setup does not have any way to hold all the pictures in one place, whilst having an abysmally slow loading time.

The plains of southern Sindh photographed on 30 October aboard a US CH-53E Super Stallion helicopter of the 26th US Marine Expeditionary Unit. The newly appointed US ambassador to Pakistan Cameron P Munter is traveling to visit a World Food distribution point at Hassan Khan Jamali.

Ambassador Munter with his wife Marilyn Wyatt ready to board a US CH-53E Super Stallion helicopter for Hassan Khan Jamali.

79 nautical miles from the Pano Aqil Cantonment is the inconspicuous village of Hassan Khan Jamali, which three months after the floods is still surrounded by water from all sides, although the 2000 residents have returned home.

Stationed at Pano Aqil for the past two weeks, with six other women, Staff Sergeant Kali Gradishar, an Acting Public Affairs Officer waits as the Ambassador’s helicopter lands on a solitary strip of dust track loaded with food relief.

Unloading four tonnes of food including high-energy biscuits for Hassan Khan Jamali villagers. There are no road links to the area and no reconstruction is being done at the moment.

Pakistani army soldiers unload bags of flour from the aircraft.

Delivering WFP branded flour donated by Japan to a village of about 2,000 in southern Sindh.

I feel the way this soldier looks.

A narrow strip of dust track doubles as a landing strip for the 26th and 15th Marine Expeditionary Units flying CH-53 Super Stallion and CH-46 Sea Knight helicopters to isolated locations in the Sindh province. In the distance, villagers with wheat tokens wait for food relief. “Reconstruction of roads and secondary roads and all requires significant money and time. But what I incredible when we deliver food aid is the orderly manner that it’s distributed and credit goes to village leaders,” explains Brig. General Brian Beaudreault. [far left]

It becomes a dirt-track media moment, as a frail, ghostly woman, with one hand wrapped in an earthy brown dupatta wearing with no shoes is courted by the US and Pakistani contingents.

Staff Sgt. Kali Gradishar sits on the edge of the helicopter, taking aerial view photographs of the region. She is a photographer and journalist with the US army.

US Marine Corps Lt. Colonel Mark Sexton onboard a C130 to Karachi.

Lt. Colonel Arif [far right] and other members of the Pakistani Army are in charge of US security on the Pano Aqil airbase.

Lt. Colonel Ontero at Pano Aqil receives a medal of distinction for his services to relief efforts in southern Pakistan.

Much of the symbolism is obvious, but would love to know what that specific pattern of stripes on the braid is supposed to symbolise. And if I'm counting right, that's 13 stars. 13 original states anybody?

Since August, US military aircraft and personnel, working with the Pakistan military, have provided humanitarian airlifts for the delivery of more than 20 million pounds of relief supplies and the transport of more than 27,000 displaced persons throughout Pakistan. Photographed on board a US C130 travelling to Pano Aqil Cantonment, [from far left] are William Martin, US Consul General in Karachi, Bo (Robert) Palmer, information officer, US Marine Corp Brig. General Brian Beaudreault, Commander for Southern relief operations, Andie De Arment, information officer, Mary Elizabeth Madden, with Karachi’s US Consulate and Brian Harris, chief of staff to Ambassador Munter.

Onboard the C130 to Pano Aqil Cantonment. US Marines stationed there have delivered supplies to more than 150 locations throughout Sindh, flying more than 450 heavy-lift helicopter sorties.

Ambassador Munter talks to a reporter enroute to Pano Aqil, surrounded by members of the press. Just four days into his new assignment he will then travel to the Hassan Khan Jamali relief site where he and a team of Pakistani and US military members will unload approximately four tonnes of food aid.

US Marine Corp Brig. General Brian Beaudreault, Commander for Southern relief operations in Pakistan explains that he’s been in the country since October this year supervising the US task force flying aid relief for the south. “We work closely with the 16th Division of the Pakistani military at Pano Aqil, coordinating with them everyday as we do with the World Food Program and the Sindh Relief Services organisation.” With 200 US marines on the ground he says, “You’re not going to find a more compassionate group with no ulterior motive but to provide aid.”

USAID and OFDA is providing the funds to meet the emergency and early recovery needs of approximately 8,000 displaced families in Thatta and Dadu Districts in southern Sindh.

From left to right: Ambassador Munter, Pakistani army’s Lt. Colonel Arif and Brig. General Brian Beaudreault.

Ambassador Munter is briefed about the Pano Aqil airbase as a pickup point for WFP relief aid.

US Marine Corps Captain Danny Ortiz at Pano Aqil airbase.

US Marines stationed at Pano Aqil Cantonement in Sukkur since early September have transported more than 3.7 million pounds of relief supplies to different locations in southern Pakistan.

Lt. Colonel Ontero of the United States Army addresses the US Marines at an honouring marine corp service at Pano Aqil.

William Martin, US Consul General in Karachi coming back to Karachi after a day of distributing aid with the newly appointed Ambassador Munter in southern Sindh.

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