Helicopters from two Germany-based units will be shifted from combat operations in Afghanistan to earthquake recovery-and-relief efforts in Pakistan, U.S. military officials said Monday.

Five CH-47 Chinooks and three UH-60 Black Hawks and their crews were expected to arrive in Pakistan by the end of Monday to “provide rescue, recovery and logistics assistance,” officials said.

The Chinooks are from the 3rd Battalion, 158th Aviation Regiment, which has been deployed from Giebelstadt to Afghanistan for most of the year. The Black Hawks, from the 2nd Squadron, 6th Cavalry Regiment out of Illesheim, have also been part of the combat deployment to Afghanistan.

Sending the helicopters on the relief effort “will not degrade the Coalition’s operations” in Afghanistan, said Lt. Col. Jerry O’Hara, spokesman for Combined Joint Task Force-76.

More than 20,000 people are feared dead in the worst natural disaster to strike Pakistan since its independence, officials have said. Among the most urgent needs in international relief efforts are aircraft capable of heavy lift and rescue operations, which is where the American helicopters come into play.

Stationed across the border in Afghanistan, the choppers have been used to support combat operations against Taliban and al-Qaida insurgents still challenging the central government in Kabul. Some 19,000 U.S. servicemembers and 11,000 NATO troops are in Afghanistan conducting both combat and peacekeeping missions.

The Chinooks and Black Hawks have been workhorses for transporting troops and supplies throughout areas of Afghanistan, which like the earthquake-affected areas across the border, are only accessible by air. In addition to the helicopters, at least two C-17 cargo planes will carry blankets, tents, water and other relief supplies to Islamabad. A 23-person logistical support group from McGuire Air Force Base, N.J., has also been dispatched, the White House said.

U.S. military officials were quick to emphasize the shifting of helicopters would not hurt combat operations in Afghanistan.

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