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Bangladeshis Thank Task Force For Relief Efforts

By Lisa Daniel

Bangladeshis Thank U.S. Sailors, Marines for Cyclone Relief Efforts

U.S. sailors and Marines on a humanitarian mission to Bangladesh are being met with extreme gratitude as they work to prevent and treat waterborne illnesses and meet basic needs in the aftermath of a Nov. 15 cyclone, a U.S. commander there said today.

"With all of our deliveries, we've been greeted warmly and with gratitude by the Bangladesh people," Rear Adm. Carol M. Pottenger, commander of Navy Task Force 76, said in a news briefing broadcast from the USS Kearsarge.

Upon receiving medical treatment, one local man told American troops, "In the eyes of my village, you are the face of the world. You show that the world cares," she said.

The Task Force arrived off the Bangladeshi coast aboard the USS Kearsarge, along with 22nd Marine Expeditionary Unit, on Nov. 23. In support of the U.S. Agency for International Development, the troops have flown more than 21 sorties and delivered more than 9,000 gallons of water and 18,000 pounds of medical supplies. The United States is one of 25 countries providing more than $4 billion in aid, defense officials said.

Waterborne illnesses are a growing concern in Bangladesh, where most wells were destroyed by the storm, Pottenger said. U.S. forces have treated and evaluated more than 600 patients, mostly for trauma and water contamination, she said.

A major role for U.S. troops is to produce fresh water aboard the Kearsarge, which can filter 200,000 gallons per day, and distribute it in 5-gallon containers to various locations, Col. Douglas Stilwell, commander of the Marine unit said. Marines also have taken time to bond with the local people, including playing soccer with Bangladeshi children, he said.

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Providing disaster assistance "is what the Navy task force and Marine expeditionary force are really good at," Pottenger said. "We watch every storm very carefully, and we recognized this as it headed to Bangladesh.

"This is very rewarding for every sailor and Marine involved in this effort," she said.

Asked by a reporter why the Bangladeshi government waited until a week after the storm to make its request for aid, Cmdr. Mohammad Fazale Rabbi, a Bangladeshi liaison officer said, "The initial assessment was not that easy for us."

Still, Rabbi said, the Bangladeshi government took precautions, including evacuating hundreds of thousands of residents, that caused the small, impoverished nation to fare better than in previous catastrophic storms. More than 3,000 people were killed in the latest storm, compared to 140,000 in a 1991 disaster, he said.

Pottenger, who was deployed from Okinawa, Japan, stressed that U.S. forces will leave Bangladesh as soon as possible, but added that she does not know when that will be. The Bangladeshi government's request was for only initial humanitarian aid, defense officials said.

"It's really not our mission to be there a long time, but we will be there as long as the Bangladesh government wants us," Pottenger said. "I really can't put a timeline on it."


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