DHAKA, Bangladesh, Nov. 23 — As an American warship with more than 3,000 troops arrived off the coast of Bangladesh to help deliver food, water and medicine to the most remote corners of this cyclone-battered country, United States military officials took pains on Friday to say they would not take any steps that might seem intrusive.
Speaking to reporters, Adm. Timothy J. Keating, the commander of American forces in the Pacific, said American troops would work alongside Bangladeshi troops and make joint decisions about where American military assets would be helpful.
“This is not a U.S.-only operation; it’s in support of Bangladeshi operations,” he said at a news briefing after meeting with Bangladeshi Army officials here in Dhaka, the capital. “We are not just going to come storming ashore.”
The approach illustrated how tricky it has become for American troops to deliver even humanitarian aid to a friendly Muslim-majority nation.
The Bangladeshi Army’s chief of general staff, Maj. Gen. Sina Ibn Jamali, acknowledged that there was “sensitivity” to American military involvement in the nation’s relief operations. He said the Americans had been invited because his own military-backed government lacked the aircraft, in particular, to distribute aid swiftly to areas that needed it most.
“They will be working with us, uniform and uniform,” the general said.
The Associated Press reported that members of a small Islamist group, Hizb ut-Tahrir, protested the American military presence after Friday Prayer at Dhaka’s largest state-run mosque.
The American vessel, Kearsarge, an amphibious assault ship equipped with 20 helicopters and three landing craft that can maneuver in coastal areas, was stationed Friday about 30 miles off the southern coast of Bangladesh.
United States military officials said that only a handful of American troops would be on Bangladeshi soil at any time, with most marines and Navy personnel staying aboard the Kearsarge and coming ashore to deliver supplies. Admiral Keating said the troops would stay as long as they were needed.
A second American ship was on its way, packed mostly with supplies. The Americans said they expected to start delivering aid as early as Saturday.
The Kearsarge arrived as aid workers warned of an imminent risk of water-borne disease from the Nov. 15 cyclone and, eventually, a worsening of childhood malnutrition, which already hovers around 48 percent, according to Unicef.
Although the cyclone’s death toll was put at nearly 3,200, according to Bangladeshi Army officials, with 1,700 more people still missing, the government estimated that the storm had affected more than six million Bangladeshis by destroying homes, fields and fish ponds.
The Bangladeshi military continued to ferry food and clothing to the cyclone zone. On Friday afternoon, a Russian-made Mi-17 helicopter made its last run to a small town called Nalcity, where the cyclone had uprooted tall trees, blown off tin roofs and flattened acres of rice fields.
The birds scattered and the dust blew furiously as the helicopter descended, bearing dried dates and biscuits as well as saris and lungis, the basic clothing for Bangladeshi women and men.
After reading the above story and looking at the CIA profile of Bangladesh why might helping this grief stricken country be an issue?