NATO nations agreed Friday to use alliance ships and aircraft to rush European aid to the U.S. Gulf Coast in response to an American request for more help to cope with the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.
The United Nations also was expected to boost Katrina aid, with its humanitarian chief saying the world body's current assistance level would be increased as more international aid arrives.
"The NATO alliance is ready to do its part in the diminishing of the human suffering," NATO Secretary General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer said. Military experts from the 26 allies prepared the plans after the United States on Thursday requested extra assistance from NATO.
De Hoop Scheffer told reporters the alliance will send at least two transport ships from its elite NATO Response Force with a capacity to hold about 600 large trucks.
NATO also will use converted jetliners, normally used to train crews for the alliance's fleet of AWACS surveillance planes based in Germany, to fly in emergency aid.
The secretary general said the decision "will dramatically increase the resources available to NATO and partner countries to move their assistance to the United States."
Force never used for humanitarian cause
Deployment of its ships to the U.S. Gulf Coast will mark the first time the new NATO Response Force has been used for a humanitarian mission.
European nations have made substantial offers of food, medicine, bedding and other help to the stricken region.
The United States first asked NATO for help over the weekend, and the alliance activated its Euro-Atlantic Disaster Response Coordination Center to help oversee the flood of offers, including those from non-NATO nations, like Russia and Switzerland.
On Thursday, U.S. Ambassador Victoria Nuland requested more transportation and logistical help at a special meeting of the alliance's North Atlantic Council, which immediately ordered military commanders to draw up plans.
Meanwhile, U.N. officials said the world body's limited aid to Katrina should be increased as more international aid arrives and the United States asks it for assistance.
"All in all we expect the U.N. involvement to grow as we expect there to be a very considerable increase in the number of international relief flights to the United States from many parts of the world," said Jan Egeland, U.N. undersecretary-general for humanitarian affairs.
"We, as internationals, deal with mass natural disasters around the globe a number of times a year, so we have well-tested systems which have now been appreciated by many of these U.S. agencies," Egeland said.