U.S. Army MASH Unit Rolls Into Pakistan


Chief Engineer
U.S. Army MASH Unit Rolls Into Pakistan
Associated Press | October 25, 2005
MUZAFFARABAD, Pakistan - Trucks carrying more than 100 American soldiers and the U.S. Army's only remaining MASH unit trundled into this quake-ravaged city Monday on a mission Washington hopes will help generate goodwill among Pakistanis.

The Oct. 8 earthquake killed an estimated 79,000 people. Many of the injured have yet to receive proper medical care.

The 212th Mobile Army Surgical Hospital could save lives, but its arrival was delayed by a shortage of aircraft, vehicle breakdowns and the winding roads of the lower Himalayas.

When the unit finally rolled into Muzaffarabad after a 27-hour drive from a military base near Islamabad, it still lacked equipment for major surgeries. That gear had to be returned to the military base because it was on long trailers that could not negotiate the curving mountain roads.

The equipment will be loaded onto other trucks and could reach Muzaffarabad in a few days.

"We came as quickly as we could. Everyone we have talked to is very thankful that we are here," Maj. Soo Lee Davis, the unit's executive officer, said as the unit set up shop outside the city's parliament house.

Davis, who is from El Paso, Texas, conceded that the lack of surgical facilities was disappointing, but said the medics could provide other valuable services.

"It's a small setback, but we can provide badly needed surgical care and treat outpatients," she said.

Once the unit is complete, the MASH team - which is based in Germany - will be able to perform 20 major operations a day.

In recent years, the Army has largely phased out the once ubiquitous MASH units, replacing them with Combat Army Surgical Hospitals designed to be more flexible and operate closer to the front lines.

The U.S. military has sent in 17 helicopters, with 11 more on the way, and Washington has pledged $50 million to Pakistan's recovery effort.

On Monday, the USS Pearl Harbor reached the port city of Karachi, bringing 140 tons of food and blankets. The goods, donated by Pakistanis in the United Arab Emirates, will be transported to the quake zone.

Officials say they are keen to show Pakistan - a major ally in the war on terrorism - that the United States is here in its hour of need.

More than 3 million people are believed homeless because of the quake. Rashid Kalikov, U.N. coordinator for humanitarian assistance in Muzaffarabad, said 800,000 people still have no shelter whatsoever, with winter looming.

On Monday, the United Nations said it had received less than 30 percent of the $312 million in aid it desperately needs to help quake victims.

Secretary-General Kofi Annan has invited ministers to attend a donors' conference in Geneva on Wednesday to try to mobilize additional financial support. Officials said there was only a three-week window to deliver aid to mountainous regions before the first snowfall.

"If things don't turn on Wednesday, I don't know where we're going," said U.N. deputy emergency relief coordinator Margareta Wahlstrom. "It is quite worrisome because the Red Cross is reporting the same problems."

Afghan President Hamid Karzai brought in five tons of medicine and medical equipment on Monday, along with 30 doctors and nurses who will travel to the quake zone. Karzai also held talks with Pakistani President Gen. Pervez Musharraf and Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz.

The devastation has brought traditional rivals India and Pakistan closer together.

Officials from India plan to come to Pakistan on Friday to discuss setting up relief camps in Kashmir, while Pakistan has proposed opening the border entirely to allow Kashmiris to travel freely. It remains unclear whether the proposals can be reconciled.

Opening the border is particularly sensitive for New Delhi, which has fortified the Line of Control dividing Kashmir to prevent infiltration by Islamic militants.