MONS, Belgium — NATO’s military arm is about to begin a major airlift to Pakistan that would ferry supplies and personnel to the earthquake-stricken part of the country.

An announcement is expected Wednesday on details of the airlift, which would mobilize up to 16 C-130 cargo planes from the NATO Response Force, a coalition of troops and military assets from the alliance’s 26 nations.

In an interview Tuesday with Stars and Stripes, Marine Gen. James L. Jones, NATO’s military commander, said NATO leaders in Brussels were finalizing the plan so it meshed with other ongoing relief efforts.

“Islamabad is just clobbered with supplies and airplanes coming in, so we’re looking at opening up Lahore (Pakistan) as another airfield into which we can drop supplies,” Jones said.

“More than that, we need to ensure that once the supplies are there, there is a distribution system so we can get the supplies to where they’re needed.”

According to The Associated Press, more than 55,600 people are known to have died in the earthquake that shook Pakistan, India and Afghanistan, and 3 million more are believed to be homeless.

The Oct. 8 earthquake flattened entire villages in the region.

Bringing timely relief to the victims, many in remote, hard-to-reach locations, is a major challenge, Jones said.

“It’s a tough situation, tough terrain, tough weather,” Jones said. “One helicopter has already been lost on this mission. We’re working with Pakistani authorities, the United States and NATO to see what the best techniques are.”

A Pakistani army Mi-17 helicopter crashed Saturday during rainy weather while returning to its base after dropping off relief workers.

Six people onboard were killed.

The NATO planes, Jones said, are likely to be used to carry 360 metric tons of food, clothing and shelter stored by the United Nations in Eskandaran, Turkey, for such an emergency. Additional help would be brought later to Pakistan by the NATO troops.

Sign Up for Daily Headlines

Sign up to receive a daily email of today's top military news stories from Stars and Stripes and top news outlets from around the world.

Sign Up Now