updated 9/9/2005 7:50:25 AM ET 2005-09-09T11:50:25

The United States asked NATO on Thursday to take on a bigger role transporting European aid to areas hit by Hurricane Katrina and the alliance immediately ordered military experts to draw up plans to offer more assistance.

The U.S. made the request at a special meeting of ambassadors from the 26 allies. After getting their orders, NATO military experts began discussing ideas, including the possible use of ships from the elite NATO Response Force, with the U.S. Northern Command.

They could present plans for political approval as soon as Friday, officials said.

“It is another way in which both our European allies and partners as well as NATO as an alliance is trying to act in ways to support the relief effort in the U.S. Gulf Coast, so we’re very encouraged by that,” said Kurt Volker, the U.S. principal deputy assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs.

European nations have made substantial offers of food, medicine, bedding and other help to the stricken region.

The United States first asked for NATO’s help this weekend and the alliance activated its Euro-Atlantic Disaster Response Coordination Center to help oversee the flood of offers.

Some non-NATO nations like Russia and Switzerland also have been coordinating their aid through the NATO center.

Officials said the latest offer would likely see heavy transport ships, including those with roll-on-roll-off capacity used to transport the aid across the Atlantic.

“We are extremely grateful for the generosity and the contributions being offered by countries in Europe and countries throughout the world,” Volker told reporters after talks at NATO headquarters.

Aid to be phased in
Some European nations have expressed surprise that the United States has not reacted quicker to take up their aid offers. Volker said time was needed to evaluate some of the longer-term help.

“We are doing our best to deal with the immediate humanitarian needs of the people,” he said. “There are a number of offers which are more advanced in a sense that they are in a later phase in the effort such as pumping equipment and generators, we’ll be responding to those offers in due course.”

Deployment to the U.S. Gulf Coast would mark the first time the NATO Response Force has been used for a humanitarian mission.

The force began operations last year as part of a drive to modernize the alliance in response to new threats from terrorism and regional instability. The 20,000-member force unites land, sea and air units under a single command and is designed to respond to crises within days.

In first deployments, Italian troops from the force were used to provide protection during last year’s Afghan elections and special forces were sent to Greece to provide counterterrorism protection for the Athens Olympics.

Horror at New Orleans chaos
The global mobilization has been accompanied by widespread surprise at the mayhem in New Orleans. People around the world have been shocked by the images of the devastation, and by the looting and disorder that followed and the perceived shortcomings in the response by U.S. authorities.

China’s main Communist Party newspaper, the People’s Daily, said Washington had been negligent and looters showed the dark side of American life.

“In the face of the hurricane, Americans accepted the challenge but failed to beat it off,” the newspaper said in an editorial on its English-language Web site this week.

“This is really a shame on the United States,” it said. “New Orleans has become Baghdad.”

Officially, the Chinese government has expressed its sympathy to Katrina’s victims, sending the U.S. a $5 million donation plus tents, bedding and electricity generators.

The Communist Party often expresses more pointed views than government spokespeople, though the party holds a monopoly on power and dictates official policy.

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