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US experts to aid Pakistan rescue mission

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The US has sent a team of experts to help Pakistan search for 135 people buried since Saturday by a massive avalanche that engulfed a military complex in a mountain battleground close to the Indian border.

The team of eight experts sent to Islamabad on Sunday will provide technical assistance, the Pakistan army said.

At least 240 Pakistani soldiers and civilians worked at the site of the disaster at the entrance to the Siachen Glacier on Sunday with the aid of sniffer dogs and heavy machinery, the army said.

But they struggled to dig through some 25 metres of snow, boulders and mud that slid down the mountain early on Saturday morning.

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

“Miracles have been seen and trapped people were rescued after days ... so the nation shall pray for the trapped soldiers,'' Abbas said in an interview on Geo TV.

Army chief on hand

General Ashfaq Kayani, the Pakistan army chief, was personally at the site on Sunday, supervising the search-and-rescue operations.

The army has moved in heavy engineering machinery by air from the garrison town of Rawalpindi to aid in the operation.
 
A team of doctors and paramedics has also been rushed to the region, which suffers extreme weather conditions, with temperatures on the Siachen Glacier plummeting to as low as minus 70 degrees Celsius (minus 94F) during the winter.

Shaukat Qadir, a former brigadier in the Pakistani army who has been to Siachen on numerous occasions, told Al Jazeera it was the biggest casualty of soldiers on the glacier known for its treacherous conditions.

"We have fantastic accommodation for the soldiers," he said. "When you walk on this terrain you never know when it would come down, and certainly you cannot predict an avalanche."

The Siachen glacier, on the tip of the Kashmir region that both Pakistan and India claim, is home to an estimated 15,000 soldiers from both countries.

At Siachen, which rises to 6,000m above sea level, more soldiers have died near the Karakoram base from weather-related incidents than gunfire since 1984.

"The fact of the matter is that 70 per cent of the people have died because of natural causes," Qadir said, "and I think this is the time we ended this damn conflict, which has absolutely no explanation."

The US assistance comes at a tense time between the two countries and could help improve relations following air strikes in November that accidentally killed 24 Pakistani soldiers along the Afghanistan border.

Pakistan retaliated by closing its border crossings to supplies meant for NATO troops in Afghanistan.


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