The commander of U.S. forces in the Pacific says he has sent aircraft and some troops to Thailand to prepare to provide cyclone relief to Burma, if its government decides to allow such an operation. VOA's Al Pessin reports from the Pentagon.
In a VOA interview from New York, Admiral Timothy Keating said he has two senior officers and half a dozen transport planes in Thailand, and several ships in or on the way to the region, along with some Special Operations forces and relief supplies. The people and equipment were preparing to participate in an annual exercise with four Asian nations, but the admiral says they could be re-directed to a Burma relief mission.
"We have a fairly high range of capability that we could provide," he said. "And we can scale it depending on the degree of assistance requested by Burma."
But Admiral Keating says no such request has been received.
"We've been in near constant contact with the Pentagon and our headquarters in Hawaii and we have no indication that Burma will accept U.S. military relief," he added. "We're hopeful, but I don't have any indication."
Admiral Keating says humanitarian assistance is not the main mission of Pacific Command, but it is something his troops have a lot of experience with. The U.S. military has been involved in relief efforts after several natural disasters in Asia in recent years, including the tsunami in 2004, the Pakistan earthquake in 2005, last year's Bangladesh cyclone, and China's cold weather crisis just a few months ago.
But Burma is one of the world's most closed societies. The senior U.S. diplomat in the country Wednesday called the country's military rulers "a very paranoid regime." Admiral Keating says the potential for this week's storm to lead to instability in Burma is a factor in the effort to deal with the crisis.
"It's a clear factor, but it's not a determining factor in our offer of response," he noted. "It's nothing in which we would engage at Pacific Command to lead to any consideration of regime overthrow. It's much, much more, it's entirely, an interest in providing relief to the citizens of Burma."
The U.S. military assets in the area include helicopters and landing craft that could deliver relief supplies, and one large ship that has a 600-bed hospital. Officials say other ships also have medical facilities and supplies, and such things as clean water, electrical generators and water purification equipment that would be very useful in Burma's devastated areas.