As ThinkProgress reported yesterday, massive flooding is causing a humanitarian disaster in Pakistan and there are fears that the lack of a robust response by the international community will allow extremists to take advantage of the tragedy to push their own agenda. This is further compounded by the fact that the U.S. had been unable to spare many Chinook transport helicopters to assist the effort due to their use for the war in Afghanistan. Late Wednesday, the Defense Secretary Robert Gates announced that he will be tripling the number of Chinooks it will be sending to Pakistan, citing the dangers in allowing extremists the “opportunity” to take over the disaster response:
The United States announced on Wednesday more helicopters and aid to beef up relief efforts in Pakistan, which is grappling with its worst floods in 80 years. Defense Secretary Robert Gates said the U.S. military was tripling the number of helicopters in Pakistan from six to 19 and was sending in a landing platform to be used off the coast of Karachi, Pakistan’s biggest city.
President Barack Obama wanted to “lean forward” in being helpful, said Gates, who voiced concern that Islamist militants would seek to expand their influence by giving much-needed aid while Pakistan’s civilian government struggled to reach victims. “It does offer them (militants) an opportunity and so we are pleased to do what we can to help the Pakistani government and military demonstrate their capacity and their intention to care for their own people.” Gates told reporters traveling with him to Florida. “We will do what we can,” he added.
The Washington Post reports that the Obama administration’s assistance efforts are helping to build goodwill in Pakistan. The military says the Chinooks it already had deployed in Pakistan have “rescued more than 3,089 people and transported more than 322,340 pounds of emergency relief supplies.” The U.N. estimated this week that 1,600 Pakistanis have been killed in the floods, 980,000 have been left homeless, and six million people in the country are now dependent on humanitarian aid to survive.