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US aid reaches quake-damaged Pakistan city

Aid, MASH unit arrive after a delay

MUZAFFARABAD, Pakistan -- Trucks carrying more than 100 US soldiers and the Army's only remaining MASH unit trundled into this quake-ravaged city yesterday, on a mission that Washington hopes will help generate some goodwill among Pakistanis.

The earthquake on Oct. 8 killed about 79,000 people. Many of the injured have yet to receive proper medical care.

The 212th Mobile Army Surgical Hospital could save lives, but its arrival was delayed by a shortage of aircraft, vehicle breakdowns, and the winding roads of the lower Himalayas.

When the unit finally rolled into Muzaffarabad after a 27-hour drive from a military base near Islamabad, it still lacked equipment for major surgeries. That gear had to be returned to the military base because it was on long trailers that could not negotiate the curving mountain roads.

The equipment will be loaded onto other trucks and could reach Muzaffarabad in a few days.

''We came as quickly as we could. Everyone we have talked to is very thankful that we are here," Major Soo Lee Davis, the unit's executive officer, said as the unit set up near the city center.

Davis, who is from El Paso, Texas, said that the lack of surgical facilities was disappointing, but said the medics could provide other valuable services.

''It's a small setback, but we can provide badly needed surgical care and treat outpatients," she said.

Once the unit is complete, the MASH team, which is based in Germany, will be able to perform 20 major surgical operations a day.

In recent years, the Army has largely phased out the once-ubiquitous MASH units. The military has replaced them with so-called Combat Army Surgical Hospitals, which are designed to be more flexible and operate closer to the front lines.

The military has sent in 17 helicopters, with 11 more on the way, and Washington has pledged $50 million to Pakistan's recovery.

Yesterday, the USS Pearl Harbor reached Karachi, bringing 140 tons of food and blankets. The goods, donated by Pakistanis in the United Arab Emirates, will go to the quake zone.

Officials say they want to show a US presence in Pakistan, a major ally in the war on terrorism.

More than 3 million people are believed homeless because of the quake. Rashid Kalikov, UN coordinator for humanitarian assistance in Muzaffarabad, said 800,000 people still have no shelter whatsoever, with winter looming.

, Also yesterday, the United Nations said it had received less than 30 percent of the $312 million in aid it needs to help victims.

Secretary-General Kofi Annan has invited ministers to attend a conference tomorrow in Geneva to try to mobilize additional support. Officials said there was only a three-week window to deliver aid to mountainous regions before the first snowfall.

''If things don't turn on Wednesday, I don't know where we're going," said UN deputy emergency relief coordinator Margareta Wahlstrom. ''It is quite worrisome because the Red Cross is reporting the same problems."

The Afghan president, Hamid Karzai, brought in five tons of medicine and medical equipment on Monday, along with 30 doctors and nurses who will travel to the quake zone. Karzai also held talks with the Pakistani president, General Pervez Musharraf, and the prime minister, Shaukat Aziz.

The devastation has brought India and Pakistan closer together.

Officials from India plan to come to Pakistan on Friday to discuss setting up relief camps in Kashmir, while Pakistan has proposed opening the border entirely to allow Kashmiris to travel freely.

Opening the border is particularly sensitive for New Delhi, which has fortified the so-called Line of Control dividing Kashmir to prevent infiltration by Islamic militants.

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