$2 Million Humanitarian Mission in Georgia to Continue
By John J. Kruzel
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Aug. 18, 2008 The U.S. military has delivered $2 million worth of humanitarian aid to Georgia in an ongoing effort to relieve the war-torn former Soviet republic that came under Russian attack 10 days ago.
In addition to 130 tons of airlifted cargo, U.S. European Command has granted the Georgian government in Tblisi access to a $1.2 million stockpile of disaster relief and medical supplies stored in Georgia.
“We are going to continue to flow in assistance,” Pentagon spokesman Bryan Whitman said today. “We have been over the weekend, and we will continue this week.”
More than 700 pallets sent by the U.S. have consisted of thousands of blankets, sheets, sleeping bags, and hundreds of cots. Another 40 pallets have contained medical supplies like sutures, needles, syringes, catheters and gauze, Whitman said.
But despite the steady flow of supplies, there remains a shortage of food, bedding, tents and other supplies in Georgia, where an estimated 80,000 people are displaced, according to U.S. Agency for International Development figures.
“There is a real need, and we’re trying to fill that need and alleviate the suffering,” Whitman said.
Sustained flights by American C-17 Globemaster III aircraft departing from Charleston, S.C., will deliver food over the next several days, in addition to twice-daily deliveries by C-130 Hercules planes leaving Germany with other supplies.
Meanwhile, a C-9 Nightingale is expected to land in Georgia today carrying humanitarian aid, and a C-17 will deliver a shipment of forklifts to aid distribution efforts.
Whitman said fewer than 125 U.S. military personnel are on the ground involved in the relief mission.
Deliveries from U.S. aircraft are handed off to personnel from about 6 non-governmental organizations responsible for delivering the supplies in Georgia, Whitman said. There have been no reports of significant problems with distribution, he added.
Meanwhile, the U.S. is looking at other options for sustaining the humanitarian operation, including sending naval vessels to the area, Whitman said. The State Department is working necessary agreements to achieve passage through the straits of Turkey and elsewhere, he added.
“Surface vessels give us the capability to provide larger amounts of relief supplies because they can obviously carry more, and they also give you platform to operate off of; they give you aerial assets, vertical lift, those kind of things,” he said.
Fighting that began in the breakaway Georgian region of South Ossetia on Aug. 8 broadened to include Russian attacks on other parts of the country, including Abkhazia, another heavily separatist region. As clashes escalated, the conflict fueled fears internationally that Moscow would attempt to depose the democratically elected government in Georgia and that Russian aggression could spread to other parts of the region.
Russian President Dmitriy Medvedev on Aug. 16 signed a French-brokered peace deal, a move that came a day after Georgia's President Mikheil Saakashvili endorsed the agreement. The plan includes a drawdown of military forces to pre-escalation levels.
Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice headed to Europe today reportedly to talk with NATO allies about what message the U.S. and its allies should send to Russia about the military intervention.
Meanwhile, a host of international partners have contributed to the U.S.-led humanitarian mission in Georgia, Whitman said.
“There is broad international support for the relief efforts,” he said.