Tue, Apr 10, 2012 - Page 5 News List

US experts help Pakistan in avalanche aftermath

PRAYING FOR A MIRACLE:At least 240 Pakistani troops and civilians were stationed at the Sichen Glacier base — 124 soldiers and 11 civilian contractors are still missing

AP, ISLAMABAD

The US sent a team of experts on Sunday to help Pakistan search for 135 people buried a day earlier by a massive avalanche that engulfed a military complex close to the Indian border.

At least 240 Pakistani troops and civilians were working at the site of the disaster at the entrance to the Siachen Glacier with the aid of sniffer dogs and heavy machinery, the army said, but they were finding it difficult to dig through about 25m of snow, boulders and mud that slid down the mountain early on Saturday morning.

Pakistani army spokesman General Athar Abbas said on Sunday evening that it was unclear whether any of the people who were buried were still alive. At least 124 soldiers from the 6th Northern Light Infantry Battalion and 11 civilian contractors are missing.

Pakistani Chief of Army Staff General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani visited the site on Sunday to supervise rescue operations.

The US sent a team of eight experts to Islamabad to provide technical assistance, the Pakistani army said, adding that it would consult with the team to determine what help is needed to expedite the rescue operation.

The avalanche in Siachen, which is on the northern tip of the divided Kashmir region, claimed by both India and Pakistan, highlights the risks of deploying troops in one of the most inhospitable places on earth.

The thousands of soldiers from both nations stationed there brave viciously cold temperatures, -altitude sickness, high winds and isolation for months at a time.

Troops have been posted at elevations of up to 6,700m and have skirmished intermittently since 1984, though the area has been quiet since a ceasefire in 2003.

The glacier is known as the world’s highest battlefield.

The headquarters that was buried was located in an area previously believed to be safe. At an altitude of about 4,500m it is the main gateway through which troops and supplies pass on their way to more remote outposts, Abbas said.

More soldiers have died from the weather than combat on the glacier, which was uninhabited before troops moved there.

Conflict started in 1984 when India occupied the heights of the 78km long glacier, fearing Pakistan wanted to claim the territory. Pakistan also deployed its troops and both armies remain entrenched despite the ceasefire, costing millions of US dollars each year.

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