The U.S. military is providing hundreds of tons of relief supplies to victims of the cyclone in Bangladesh, much of it using a warship and helicopters sent to the region last week from duty in the Middle East. VOA's Al Pessin reports from the Pentagon.
The commander of U.S. forces in Asia, Admiral Timothy Keating, says he asked for the USS Kearsarge as soon as he realized the severity of the storm that hit Bangladesh two weeks ago. The large, helicopter-carrying amphibious assault ship was dispatched from duty nearly 5,000 kilometers away in support of U.S. counter-terrorism efforts in the Middle East. The admiral says it entered the Bay of Bengal just as the Bangladesh government made a request for assistance.
"We had a pretty good idea of how bad the storm affected southern Bangladesh," he said. "We can see some things. And we were in conversation with the embassy and our defense attaché. And the damage was assessed to be significant. I think it took a little while for the Bangladesh officials to get a comprehensive grasp of the damage."
Speaking via satellite from his headquarters in Hawaii, Admiral Keating told reporters at the Pentagon that preparations to provide help even before the request came enabled the Kearsarge to deliver supplies quickly, mainly fresh water, medical supplies and personnel and food. The admiral denied reports that Bangladeshi officials were initially reluctant to ask for U.S. military aid, saying they made the request once they realized the extent of the need, and that U.S. forces were in the best position to provide help.
The admiral himself visited Bangladesh on Friday to check on relief efforts, while on his way back to Hawaii from a visit to U.S. troops in Iraq. He assigned a U.S. Marine Corps one-star general to supervise relief efforts ashore, and a one-star admiral to supervise efforts on the ship. He says the senior officers are also capable of handling any diplomatic issues that come up with Bangladeshi officials. But he says the U.S. relief effort has received a warm welcome.
"We are attempting, as best we can, to make sure that the Bangladeshis understand it's their operation," he said. "We are in support. We will do nothing that they don't ask for. And when they are done with us we will leave."
Admiral Keating says the U.S. forces are working with 40,000 Bangladeshi troops and police officers to deliver the relief supplies.
The admiral says the 20 U.S. Marine Corps helicopters from the Kearsarge have flown dozens of missions to deliver supplies to areas where the cyclone destroyed roads, and more flights are planned in the coming days. He says the U.S. military also provided several large water purification machines. The admiral reports 25 countries have pledged a total of $4.1 billion (US) to the relief effort, including a $100 - million donation from Saudi Arabia.