Marines Deliver Aid To Pakistan's Flood Victims

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Pakistan is considering a one-time tax to cope with the crisis caused by its ruinous floods. Relief, meanwhile, has poured into far flung areas that are slowly regaining access after being cut off for weeks. U.S. Marines are delivering emergency aid in inaccessible areas of Pakistan's Swat Valley.

STEVE INSKEEP, host:

It's MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Steve Inskeep. Renee Montagne is on assignment in Afghanistan.

In Pakistan, the flooding has receded in the northern reaches of the country, but many towns and villages are still cut off because of washed out roads and bridges. American Marines are now delivering emergency supplies to places like the Swat Valley. NPR's Julie McCarthy accompanied the Marines on one of their missions to this remote and often dangerous territory.

(Soundbite of helicopter)

JULIE MCCARTHY: The CH-46 Sea Knight, a work horse of a helicopter that the Marines affectionately call Phrogs, climbs thru Kalam in upper Swat. Its sweeping hills and steep mountain gorges form part of the Hindu Kush. Below lies the destruction caused by the swelling Swat River, entire stretches of roads have been vaporized by the flooding. The River runs narrow here. With the water so tightly channelized it rose fast, sweeping away the lifeline of bridges.

(Soundbite of water rushing)

The American Navy and Marines plan to add eighteen more helicopters to their round-the-clock relief operation.�

The Pakistanis get very nervous about anything remotely looking like U.S. troops in their country. And they're here delivering humanitarian assistance. They were asked to come by the Army Chief of Staff, General Kayani, ferrying goods and services and steel sheeting to rebuild bridges, ferrying people back and forth. It hasnt stopped since the first week of August.

Unidentified Man: Im sorry we have to stop our car here.

MCCARTHY: In this remote northwest corner of Pakistan, you can see the countrys security drama come full circle. World Food Program organizers take us to a hotel that is now a warehouse for aid. A hotel that had been overrun by the Pakistan Taliban a couple of years back.

And in the incursion, the offensive where the Army moved into Swat a year ago, they expelled the Taliban from this hotel. Its now an army encampment and it doubles as a prison. And we're told there's something in the order of 30 to 35, perhaps 40, local militants being held in this prison cum food depot.

The Pakistan Army, deployed here since last summers offensive, has had to turn its attention to the floods. Theyve put their prisoners local militants to work loading relief trucks. Major Naeem Hanif says theres been a lot of progress made in the five weeks that have passed since the monsoon rains began.

Major NAEEM HANIF (Pakistan Army): We didnt have big life losses. But in terms of property, in terms of road infrastructure, in terms of bridges in the area all destroyed. But now we have constructed with the help of the people about half of the roads. So things are moving in a right direction now.

(Soundbite of pounding)

MCCARTHY: The vital work of restoring bridges is underway. Retired General Tallat Masood also sees in the recovery effort the promise of building bridges between two allies whose relations are delicate and sometimes disjointed. He says the U.S. relief missions can combat Pakistani public skepticism about the Americans, but he says the U.S. contribution needs more publicity.

Retired General TALLAT MASOOD: Well, I think its a great gesture and I would say that it's amazing that the government does not take this as, again, an opportunity to really build bridges with America and change the anti-American sentiment, which has been self-destructive for Pakistan.

MCCARTHY: The troops we travel with from the 15th Marine Expeditionary Unit, are volunteers out of San Diego. Flying, their banter is a game full of best ofs moms best dessert, how Guinness is best served warm or cold.

Lieutenant Colonel Todd James Onedo says the choppers will be decommissioned after this tour, going out, the colonel says, in the service of a humanitarian cause.�

Lieutenant Colonel TODD JAMES ONEDO (15th Marine Expeditionary Unit): I told all my Marines and Sailors, this is life-changing mission. You know, when you land in a zone and you're giving water or food to somebody that's been isolated and has not had it, I mean, or when you pull those people out of the zone, it is something youll never forget.

MCCARTHY: The Americans are delivering flour, cooking oil, and high energy biscuits.�On a good day, they say they can drop 90,000 pounds of rations.�

Julie McCarthy, NPR News.

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