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Bangladesh Gets Aid From U.S. Marines, Sailors

By Phillip Kurata

Storm-Stricken Bangladesh Gets Aid from U.S. Marines, Sailors

Twenty-four hundred U.S. Marines and sailors are helping the Bangladeshi government provide clean water, medical aid, food and other relief supplies to victims of Cyclone Sidr, the most severe storm to hit the country since 1991.

Speaking to reporters from Pacific Command headquarters in Hawaii via video link November 27, Admiral Timothy Keating, the commander of the U.S. Pacific Command, said the USS Kearsarge has arrived in Bangladesh with 1,200 Marines and 1,200 sailors aboard who were greeted warmly by the people of Bangladesh.

Equipped with 20 helicopters, the U.S. forces will have delivered 160 tons of relief supplies to the storm victims by the end of this week, the admiral said. He underscored that the Marines and sailors are working to support the U.S. Agency for International Development and are filling requests of the Bangladeshi government.

"We are attempting as best we can to make sure that the Bangladeshis understand it's their operation and we are in support. We will do nothing that they don't ask for, and when they are done with us, we will leave," Keating said.

The admiral said that the main need of the storm victims is clean water, which is processed aboard the Kearsarge and in water purification units on shore then delivered by helicopters to the victims.

"Water is the overarching requirement. We're making [purified] water on the ships. There are several of these water cleaning machines ... in Bangladesh. The Bangladeshis have identified the distribution points. They tell us where the water is being made. We're bringing water in and then we're helping move the water out to the outlying areas affected by the storm," he said.

The storm, whipping up 6-meter-high waves, swamped the low-lying ponds of fresh water in the coastal areas, leaving undrinkable salt water in its wake.

The admiral said medical assistance is another area where the U.S. forces are making an impact.

"We have about 75 medical personnel, from surgeons, corpsmen [medics], anesthesiologists, nurses. We are bringing these folks ashore to supplement Bangladesh medical and foreign medical assistance," Keating said.

He said the Kearsarge has surgery facilities aboard for emergency treatment, but so far the Bangladeshi authorities have not put in such a request.

The U.S. government began anticipating the relief assistance needs for Bangladesh well before the storm made landfall, the admiral said.

"When we learned that the storm was in the Bay of Bengal and heading north, well in advance of the November 15 landfall, a week or so, we began to look at assets that might be of assistance if the host nation asked for them," Keating said. "The Air Force began to position heavy-lift aircraft here at Hickam [Air Force Base in Hawaii] to move those water purification units and some other forms of aid, if requested."

Although the United States and, to a much lesser extent, Pakistan are the only countries that have deployed military forces to Bangladesh for relief operations, the admiral said 23 other countries also have pledged aid, totaling $4.1 billion. The largest donor is Saudi Arabia with a contribution of $100 million, the admiral said.

The admiral said that the United States is mindful of the need for cultural sensitivity in delivering assistance to Bangladesh, where nearly the entire population is Muslim. He said that a high-ranking Marine officer has been placed ashore and a senior naval officer is onboard "to handle not just the movement of military assistance and personnel but the diplomatic aspects of the situation as well."

"We will do nothing that is not at the behest of Bangladesh," the admiral said.


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