Updated: 24-Feb-2006 NATO Speeches


22 Feb. 2006


with Andrew Walton,
Commander of NATO’s Disaster Relief team in Pakistan

MODERATOR: We are speaking today to Air Commodore Walton, the Commander of the Deployed Joint Task Force. Welcome Air Commodore.

ANDREW WALTON (Air Commodore, Commander of the Deployed Joint Task Force): Thank you.

Q: First question: The Prime Minister of Pakistan recently sent a letter to the NATO Secretary General thanking him for NATO's support to the relief effort after the devastating earthquake in October last year. Could you remind us what were the main elements of NATO's assistance?

WALTON: The first element was the air bridge which NATO started within two days of being asked for assistance by the government of Pakistan . And that flowed aid some 300,000 tons of aid over 100 sorties... 170 sorties throughout the mission.

In addition to that, we deployed engineers. We deployed medical capabilities, a field hospital. And we deployed helicopters and crews. And together that package provided disaster relief to the surviving population from the earthquake over the 90 day period of the mission.

Q: Hum, hum. How do you assess the impact of this assistance? Were there any areas in which the Alliance contribution was a particular significance?

WALTON: Well, we carefully tailored the package before we went out to make sure that the capabilities we brought in to theatre were those that were particularly required. And so no one capability stood out as being more important than any others. They were all part of a package that was carefully designed to match the requirements on the ground which cover those areas of medical capability, engineering and helicopter support.

Q: NATO is not a humanitarian organization. So why did NATO decide to take part in the relief effort? Do you feel it sets a precedent for the future?

WALTON: It isn't a precedent in so much as this is the second disaster operation that NATO has undertaken. The first one being a contribution to... following the hurricane Katrina in the United States when the government asked for NATO's assistance. So this is the second time that NATO has done this. And I'd make a differentiation between disaster relief and humanitarian assistance. Disaster relief almost by definition, a disaster happens, it's unexpected, it's short notice. And three things happen next: the first is there's a search and rescue activity which is not NATO's forte; then there is a disaster relief, getting population back on its feet, getting the infrastructure starting to prepare for full-term recovery and then in the long-term there is reconstruction which is the host nation's responsibility. So for NATO to get involved in disaster relief which seems to me a good use of our capabilities... We've got engineering. We've got medical. We've got helicopter capabilities. And those are the three things that are needed on pretty much any disaster relief operation. Humanitarian assistance, on the other hand, is a quite different animal. It can last for 10 or 15 years. It's something that people can dip into and come out of. And that is not really suited to the sorts of military capability that NATO has. So humanitarian assistance is not really a NATO's strength at the moment. Disaster relief is one of the NATO's Response Force specified missions. It's something we're well equipped for. And for as long as the nations are prepared to support it, it's something I can think... I think we can offer most useful to any future disaster relief to which we are invited.

Q: And some of the elements you've mentioned - coordinating the delivery of supplies, the airlift, they're really quite complex - what would be the main challenges that NATO had to overcome during this operation?

WALTON: Well, one of the first things we had to do is to explain to the Pakistani population who NATO is, what we are. Although the government of Pakistan invited NATO it was pretty obvious that the vast majority of the population did not understand what NATO does, how it does it. And so they were a little weary of us, first, but we quickly overcame that by frankly explaining what we do and letting them see what we were doing. So that was the first challenge if you like. But it was a fairly small challenge. The coordination with all of the other agencies involved in this disaster relief: the UN was there of course; the Pakistani Army was there of course; individual nations were there and some 28 international organizations, non governmental organization were also there. So the coordination of all our relief efforts to make sure that it was evenly spread, fairly distributed over the earthquake zone which, itself, was some 30,000, square kilometres was a fairly tricky challenge which I have to say... The staff that I had in the headquarters, the people that we had on the ground rose to, magnificently.

Q: It was going to be my last question but it's becoming my penultimate question. The people of Pakistan are probably not that familiar with NATO. It's a Euro-Atlantic organization. So do you think that NATO's involvement in the relief effort has changed all of that? Do you think they're much more aware?

WALTON: Yes, I saw that in a number of fora. We saw in the media. We saw it on the television programs where they were discussing what NATO was doing as part of this international relief effort. We saw it in the media and editorials and commentaries and in just straightforward reporting. We saw it in our dealings with the Pakistani army and the Pakistani government and in the various government departments. We saw it in the people of Kashmir . And I think the impression we have left is one of NATO being a force of good, of NATO being a capable, professional, and trustworthy organization. And that is very satisfying.

Q: So what do you think are the main lessons that have been learned from the operation?

WALTON: I think the main lesson that has been learned is that the NATO Response Force is reaching maturity, that we were able to deploy this force a quarter of the way around the globe at very short notice to put it into a difficult area, an earthquake area, in the Himalayas, in winter, is not a picnic. And to maintain it in austere conditions, people in tent conditions far from home in challenging circumstance. And the NRF has not yet reached full operational capability. So I think this bodes very well for the NRF. So the lesson I take away, we're on track with the NRF. There is some more work to be done. We learn of... Every operation has to do things slightly better. This one is no different. But we're on track for a very successful NATO Response Force capability for NATO to use as it wishes.

Q: Air Commodore, thank you very much indeed for taking time to talk to us today.

WALTON: My pleasure.

Q: Thank you.

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