Trying to win Pakistani trust, 1 flight at a time
By KIMBERLY DOZIER
The Associated Press, Sunday, October 17, 2010
SWAT, Pakistan -- The flood waters have mostly receded from the Swat Valley, leaving a vast swath of silt littered with the remains of houses, roads, and bridges.
Above it, there's the incongruous sight of lumbering U.S. Army Chinook helicopters, like twin-rotored flying trucks, ferrying refugees in one direction, and cement, rice and other relief supplies in the other.
Aboard this flight is U.S. Army Brigadier Michael Nagata, second in command of the U.S. military mission to Pakistan.
"I tell my people, we are ruthlessly focused on being here for the people of Pakistan," said Nagata. He rejects any notion that U.S. aid relief was about boosting U.S. approval rating in Pakistan, which is somewhere in the 17 percent range.
The Chinooks - together with a fleet of smaller Black Hawks - could well be a visual symbol for the almost schizophrenic military and diplomatic relationship between the U.S. and Pakistan.
Here, U.S. pilots work closely and quietly with the Pakistani army on flood relief, in what is almost a model for cooperating with a host country instead of putting U.S. boots on the ground, at great cost in money and lives. Yet in recent weeks, U.S. pilots in armed helicopters have also strayed or fired into Pakistan's tribal territories, killing two Pakistani border guards while pursuing militants from Afghanistan. Pakistan shut its Torkham border crossing to U.S. truck shipments to Afghanistan for almost two weeks in retaliation, before opening it again.
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