Safety concern rises as Australian troops to aid Pakistan unarmed

11:02, August 26, 2010      

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An Australian defense health team heading into flood and insurgency-ravaged Pakistan will be unarmed and relying on the Pakistani military for security, the defense said on Thursday.

The team, which will eventually total 150 defense personnel and 30 civilians, started deploying at the weekend with the initial 51 members arriving on Tuesday.

The full team will be in place by the middle of next week, establishing a medical facility near the city of Kot Adu in the Punjab's Muzaffargarh District of Pakistan, which is a region hard- hit by the disastrous floods with an estimated 27,000 people displaced and now facing the threat of water-born disease.

But it was also located close to Pakistan's Federally Administered Tribal Areas, the seat of Pakistan's insurgency.

The statement said there would be no Australians carrying weapons on this mission, and Australian defense declined to discuss its security assessment.

"Given that the Pakistan military will provide force protection and the humanitarian nature of the mission, there is no requirement for the ADF (Australian Defense Force) to be armed," the statement wrote.

"The ADF is satisfied that the Pakistan military is able to provide an appropriate level of security and force protection to the Australian Task Force."

The Australian team is expected to be in place for up to three months.

Meanwhile, Australian Strategic Policy Institute analyst Raspal Khosa said Pakistan was obviously a dangerous place.

But a 140-member Australian Defense Force (ADF) health team deployed there following the disastrous 2005 earthquake, operated without incidents in the dangerous region near the Kashmir Line of Control.

"The Pakistani people, who are largely peace-loving, truly appreciate the sort of assistance we are providing," Khosa told Australian Associated Press on Thursday.

"At the same time there is an insurgency going on inside Pakistan.

"There could be potential for our personnel to be targeted by opportunistic elements."

Khosa said Pakistan had a more than capable military and force protection would be a priority to ensure protection of international aid groups.

He said it was not known whether terror groups might see this as an opportunity to conduct some sort of attack.

"At the same time the international community can't just stand to one side and let that country suffer because it plays into the narrative of the terrorists," he said.

U.S. intelligence thinktank, Stratfor, has earlier warned of worrying signs of social and political unrest in Pakistan.

Source: Xinhua


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