As U.S. troops in Afghanistan continued relief efforts, NATO dispatched a Boeing 707 from Geilenkirchen, Germany, on Wednesday to ferry supplies for victims of Saturday’s earthquake in South Asia.

The NATO plane was to pick up beds, blankets and tents in Slovenia and then have a layover at NATO’s forward base in Konya, Turkey, according to Army Col. Catherine Abbott, a spokeswoman for the alliance’s military arm, Supreme Headquarters Allied Powers Europe.

After possibly rendezvousing with a NATO team that would assess how the alliance can best help, the supply-laden plane was then to fly to the stricken area.

Despite poor weather, eight Germany-based U.S. Army helicopters deployed to Afghanistan have so far ferried at least 228 passengers and more than 32,000 pounds of relief to Pakistan, the military said Wednesday.

Heavy rains and hail grounded many of the flights Tuesday, officials said, but the helicopters were back up and flying Wednesday. The crews are from the Giebelstadt-based 3rd Battalion, 158th Aviation Regiment and Illesheim’s 2nd Squadron, 6th Cavalry Regiment. Five Chinooks and three Black Hawks have been flying the missions, crossing over high mountains into Pakistan before returning to Bagram Air Base.

The U.S. helicopters have been flying to “forward supply centers, where the Pakistan military further pushed the aid to their people in need,” Lt. Col. Jerry O’Hara, Combined/Joint Task Force 76 spokesman, said.

NATO’s Abbott said the relief was requested by the Pakistan government and needed to be coordinated with other efforts already under way.

“We want to provide what Pakistan needs when they need it,” Abbott said. “There are priorities of what kind of assistance they need and in what order.”

The Boeing 707, part of NATO’s fleet at Geilenkirchen, is not outfitted with eye-in-the-sky surveillance equipment like some of NATO’s other planes, but instead is a training aircraft that can be converted to carry cargo and/or passengers. Its crew is assigned to the NATO Airborne Early Warning and Control Force E-3A Component.

The plane was recently used to pick up beds and blankets in the Czech Republic and fly them to victims of Hurricane Katrina on the U.S. Gulf Coast, said Air Force Capt. Rob Firman, a Geilenkirchen Air Base spokesman.

“NATO has not really been in the business of humanitarian relief,” Firman said. “But in the past few weeks we’ve done it twice now. For us it’s a new mission, but it’s something we’re prepared for and can do pretty well.”

Abbott said that the Pakistani government sent a list of needs to NATO. The alliance’s North Atlantic Council then approved the request and coordinated with SHAPE and others to proceed with the relief effort.

The alliance was also preparing, if necessary, to deploy NATO Response Force tactical airlift assets and other resources to help bring supplies from donor nations to Geilenkirchen, NATO Secretary-General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer said in a statement.

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