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US Military Prepares Task Force for Quake Aid

The U.S. Defense Department has assigned a senior officer to coordinate U.S. relief efforts for the victims of the earthquake in Pakistan. According to a news release, Rear Admiral Michael Lefever will establish a Humanitarian Coordination Center in Islamabad. He will have the authority to call on assets from all U.S. military services to respond to aid requests from the Pakistani government. The first U.S. aid delivery has already arrived in the region, and more is scheduled to arrive on Tuesday.

The U.S. military sent its commanding general in Afghanistan to the Pakistani capital, Islamabad, to work with senior officials on exactly what type of assistance is needed. Already, eight U.S. helicopters have arrived to help ferry people and supplies to and from the affected area, about 150-kilometers north of the capital.

And a spokesman for the U.S. Central Command, Major Matthew McLaughlin, says the first huge U.S. military cargo plane has already delivered more than 40 metric tons of supplies - what he calls the first use of what will be an 'air bridge' between Islamabad and various Central Command facilities.

"United States Central Command right now is engaged in what will be a significant humanitarian assistance relief effort for our ally, the country of Pakistan," Major McLaughlin says. "Understand that there has been significant devastation. The totality of that devastation is still unfolding. But by nature of CENTCOM's presence within the region, we are uniquely situated to be able to provide help to our ally."

Major McLaughlin says Pakistan has asked for such standard relief items as food, water, tents and medical supplies. And he says the response is moving quickly, because Pakistan and the United States have a close diplomatic and military relationship.

"The fact that Pakistan is an ally speeds the request and speeds the relationship that can be developed. The United States Central Command is committed, and has in the past, aided countries that are our formal allies and are not our formal allies," Major McLaughlin says. "Central Command looks to provide what assistance it can to nations within its area of responsibility, and, in this case, the fact that Pakistan was an ally simply speeds our ability to deliver those supplies that the Pakistanis have requested."

Major McLaughlin says the U.S. relief effort could expand to affected areas of India and Afghanistan, and he notes that Central Command also provided help during the response to the huge Iranian earthquake two-years ago.

Central Command is the part of the U.S. military that manages the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, as well as counter-terrorism operations in the Middle East and East Africa. But Major McLaughlin says the earthquake relief effort will not conflict with those other missions.