The U.S. aid effort to Pakistan, which has been relatively small so far, may well last more than four months and, if indications from the Pentagon are correct, will also grow in scale.
The man managing the Marine's response, Brig. Gen. David Berger, said he and his team had been operating on the presumption that the operation would last 30 to 60 days. Now, the head of Marine operations told reporters, the planning window looked more likely to be 90 to 120 days.
Pentagon sources have been at pains to say the U.S. is giving Pakistan everything it has asked for. So far, that would mean the Pakistanis have only asked for 15 helicopters and three or four C-130s. Given that the head of the United Nations has called this the greatest disaster he had ever seen, this seems a fairly paltry response. Since Ban Ki-Moon was involved with Haitian relief, as well the Chinese earthquake a few years ago, he has seen some pretty impressive disasters.
I asked a senior Pentagon official if it would be fair to say Pakistan does not want more aid, and the official said no. If that's case, then there can only be two other reasons: Pakistan doesn't have the capacity to absorb more aid yet or Pakistan is wary of inviting too many Americans in and is gauging public reaction to see if the public would be willing to entertain a greater U.S. presence. Gen. Berger indicated that some of the Pakistani airfields are at or near capacity already, pointing to Ghazi air base. Also, Berger said the Osprey was considered for the relief effort. "We looked at is there a need for them right now. The answer is no," he said yesterday. But Berger was careful to say they may be used sometime in a month or so. The Marines have targeted the Osprey for just such missions, as this article makes clear.
Another fact that may indicate the Pakistanis are wary of an increased U.S. presence is that every helo and C-130 flight has Pakistani soldiers aboard. And the U.S, for its part is wary as well. News reports from the region say every refugee is screened twice before being allowed aboard an aircraft.
One of the striking things about this disaster to someone who covered half-a-dozen civil wars and two huge famines in Africa are how relatively little public information is available about this disaster so far. Also, U.S. agencies are speaking about it in much more muted tones than they did about Haiti. Perhaps Pakistan does not want the world to now just how bad things are.