Image: Pakistan refugees
Mohammad Sajjad  /  AP
New refugees who have fled from fighting in  Swat Valley, arrive at the Jalozai camp in Peshawar, Pakistan, on Monday.
msnbc.com news services
updated 5/19/2009 5:54:49 PM ET 2009-05-19T21:54:49

Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said Tuesday the United States was sending $110 million in emergency humanitarian aid to Pakistan, part of the administration's new strategy for countering the appeal of Taliban militants in the nuclear-armed American ally.

Clinton detailed the aid package at the White House, saying the money is flowing to ease the plight of about 2 million Pakistanis who have fled fighting in the country's Swat Valley and are living in squalid tent cities.

The White House said Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani had appointed Brig. Gen. Nadeem Ahmad to lead the Pakistani relief effort. He was highly praised for his work in the relief effort after the 2005 earthquake in Kashmir.

Pakistan's army is engaged in major combat in Swat, in response to attempts by armed Islamic militants to solidify their hold on the region. Pakistan reluctantly undertook the offensive under pressure from the United States after Taliban fighters had taken positions within 60 miles of the capital, Islamabad. The military says more than 1,000 insurgents have so far been killed in the fighting.

President Barack Obama has spoken of the need to improve the lives of people in both Pakistan and Afghanistan as part of the administration's new plan for linking the U.S. fight against the resurgent Taliban in the two countries.

The Taliban has provided sanctuary to Osama bin Laden and his top al-Qaida leadership along the lawless and mountainous border shared by Afghanistan and Pakistan.

Is $110 million enough?
The White House said $100 million in aid would flow from Clinton's State Department, with $10 million is coming from the Pentagon.

The largest single expenditure is $26 million for the immediate purchase of wheat, other food and related items produced in Pakistan, the White House statement said.

"Pakistan welcomes the announcement by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton of over $100 million in emergency relief," said Pakistan's U.S. ambassador, Husain Haqqani. "It is a manifestation of the commitment of the United States to support the people of Pakistan and of the generosity of the U.S. people." He also encouraged those in the U.S. to donate to help the refugees.

An advocacy group for refugees said the aid was "a very positive step" but added that much more is needed.

"However, this only amounts to a mere $55 per displaced person and these people will remain displaced for many months," said Patrick Duplat, of Refugees International. "To stabilize the country, the U.S. must provide many more resources to support two million displaced Pakistanis and protect them from further harm."

At the Pentagon, a spokesman said the United States was sending military assets to the region to help alleviate suffering, not with the explicit role of improving U.S. image abroad.

"They are in the midst of what arguably is the largest military operation ever undertaken by the Pakistani military, and they have shown a persistence in waging it, and we would want to be nothing but encouraging of them continuing to do so," Pentagon spokesman Geoff Morrell said.

"The effort to move people out of their homes and out of harm's way is about protecting them, ultimately."

'Right thing to do'
Morrell said the Pentagon is sending C-17 cargo planes loaded with food, water and tents. The aid is not sent with the intent to improve public opinion of the United States, Morrell said.

"We provide relief because it's the right thing to do," he said.

"If there is an ancillary benefit in which people can see the true colors of the United States in that region — because they've been distorted in the propaganda campaigns of the Taliban and Al-Qaida and others — and can see Americans for who we truly are, which is a caring and helpful people, that is a positive benefit, no doubt about it."

Battle rages on
The U.S. has praised Pakistan's military operation in Swat and surrounding districts, which comes amid long-standing American pressure to root out al-Qaida and Taliban hide-outs along the border with Afghanistan. Militants in those sanctuaries threaten American and NATO troops in Afghanistan and Pakistan's own future, U.S. officials warn.

On Tuesday, the army said its operation to clear Swat was "making headway as planned."

Troops were engaged in firefights in the towns of Matta and Kanju and near a strategic bridge as well as battling militants in the Piochar area, the stronghold of Swat Taliban chief Maulana Fazlullah, a military statement said.

Sixteen militants and four soldiers were killed, while 16 more troops were wounded, it said.

A separate statement from the paramilitary Frontier Corps said troops killed 13 more militants in the Mohmand frontier region. It said the dead included three Libyans and a Saudi, but gave no details about them.

Pakistan says more than 1,000 militants have been killed since the offensive began in late April, a claim impossible to verify because journalists have largely been barred from the battle zone. Officials have given no figures for civilian casualties, but refugees say they have occurred.

Whether Pakistan's will to take on militants entrenched across the northwest will falter could depend on the fate of the multitude of displaced citizens, many now stuck in the sweltering camps.

"It has been a long time since there has been a displacement this big," Ron Redmond, a spokesman for the U.N. refugee agency.

Earlier offensives had caused another 550,000 people to flee, though Ahmed said Tuesday that 230,000 people had returned to Bajur, a tribal region overrun by the Taliban and targeted in a lengthy military operation.

In trying to recall another such displacement in so short a period, Redmond said, "it could go back to Rwanda" — a reference to the 1994 massacre of ethnic Tutsis by the majority Hutus in the African country. The genocide displaced some 2 million people.

The U.N. refugee agency says it has registered 130,950 people in the camps. Many others are staying with relatives, host families or in rented accommodation.

Redmond, speaking in Geneva, said failure to help the displaced and the many thousands of families hosting them could cause more political destabilization in the country.

More on: Swat Valley | Taliban

Copyright 2009 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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