NATO prepares emergency aid to South-Asian earthquake victims

NATO ordered its military commanders Monday to draw up plans for sending emergency aid to victims of the South-Asian earthquake in response to a Pakistani request for help.

Alliance officials said help being considered could include troops and helicopters from the alliance peacekeeping mission in neighboring Afghanistan and airlift of aid from Europe.

NATO has already activated its emergency response center, which helped coordinate European aid to the Gulf Coast of the United States after Hurricane Katrina last month, the AP informs.

Officials said it was drawing up a list of aid offers from the allies to match them up with the Pakistani request.

"What I expect is military advice by the close of business today on what more could be done," NATO's Secretary General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer said.

"We cannot afford to lose time."

Alliance officials said a second special meeting of ambassadors from the 26 allies was expected Tuesday to approve plans drawn up by the military.

De Hoop Scheffer said troops from the 11,000-strong NATO force in Afghanistan could be used to help Pakistan without a formal change of its mandate.

He said Germany had already sent troops detached from the alliance's International Security Assistance Force to areas hit by the quake.

The NATO mission there is believed to have about 20 helicopters, including transport helicopters which the Pakistani authorities need to rush emergency aid to tens of thousands of survivors trapped in mountainous areas cut off by landslides.

U.S. President George W. Bush said Sunday the United States was sending eight helicopters to Pakistan to help with earthquake rescue and recovery.

A U.S.-led coalition force in Afghanistan has dozens of heavy-lift helicopters and transport airplanes in Afghanistan, many based in and around the capital, Kabul, about 500 kilometers (300 miles) from areas worst hit by Saturday's quake. The U.S. force is separate from the NATO peacekeeping mission.


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