A 12-member U.S. military team has arrived in Georgia to assess
humanitarian needs following the Russian attack. The team is part of a
relief effort ordered Wednesday by President Bush. VOA's Al Pessin
reports from the Pentagon.
Pentagon Spokesman Bryan Whitman confirms that the team arrived in Tbilisi late Wednesday to work with local officials and the U.S. embassy to assess humanitarian needs. The first U.S. military relief flight also arrived Wednesday carrying blankets, medicine and other supplies. A second flight is scheduled for Thursday, and beyond that Whitman says the U.S. assessment team will determine what further U.S. military aid is needed.
"The secretary will use all the capabilities of the department as he sees necessary to carry out the mission that the president has given us."
Whitman could not say whether the team would travel to the war zone in and around South Ossetia. Pentagon officials disputed a reported statement by Georgia's president that U.S. forces would take over operations of the country's airports and sea ports.
The relief efforts by the U.S. military command for Europe, based in Germany, were already underway when President Bush announced he had ordered Defense Secretary Robert Gates to lead a U.S. relief effort for Georgia.
"This mission will be vigorous and ongoing. A U.S. C-17 aircraft with humanitarian supplies is on its way. And in the days ahead we will use U.S. aircraft as well as naval forces to deliver humanitarian and medical supplies," he said.
A C-17 can carry up to 77,000 kilograms of cargo. The president said naval forces could also be used in the relief effort, but he did not provide details.
President Bush served notice on Russian authorities not to interfere with the U.S. relief effort. "We expect Russia to honor its commitment to let in all forms of humanitarian assistance. We expect Russia to ensure that all lines of communication and transport, including seaports, airports, roads and airspace remain open for the delivery of humanitarian assistance, and for civilian transit," he said.
Meanwhile, the United States has cancelled plans for a naval exercise with Russian forces that had been scheduled to begin within the next several days near the Russian port of Vladivostok. The Pentagon spokesman, Bryan Whitman, confirmed the cancellation of the exercise, which was to have also included British and French forces. "The exercise was cancelled because it simply was inappropriate, given the current situation."
Whitman noted that the United States has a strong military relationship with Georgia, and calls the country "a good ally." Georgia had two thousand troops in Iraq until this crisis required them to be called home, and the United States provided transport for them. Whitman says the U.S.-Georgian military ties will continue and the United States will look at Georgia's future needs in the wake of this conflict. There has been a U.S. military training team in Georgia for some time, which Whitman says numbers fewer than 100 troops.