(Click here for a map with details of the U.S. military's relief effort in Asia.)

UTAPAO, Thailand — The U.S. military’s support of humanitarian relief efforts in South Asia continues to grow, with more than 16,500 troops converging on the region to lend a hand.

More than 10,800 are on the ships of the Navy’s Expeditionary Strike Group 5 and Bonhomme Richard Expeditionary Strike Group, which is carrying the 15th Marine Expeditionary Unit. The remainder of U.S. forces are spread throughout Sri Lanka, Indonesia, Thailand and Malaysia, according to Lt. Col. Robert Krieg, Combined Support Force 536 operations planning team member.

With relief missions just beginning in Sri Lanka, Krieg said the United States is moving equipment into Galle and has delivered water cans, hygiene items and plastic sheeting to Ampara. Beach and hydrographic studies also are under way to determine whether amphibious landings will be possible to deliver supplies to shore. Sri Lanka had received nine tons of relief supplies as of Friday.

Krieg said the U.S. military’s Disaster Relief Assessment Team traveled from Sri Lanka to the Maldives, along with assessment personnel from the U.S. Agency for International Development.

While efforts are just under way in Sri Lanka, efforts elsewhere are in full swing. Indonesia has received 14,000 gallons of water, 94 tons of food and 24 tons of supplies, and the United States has treated 46 patients since relief operations began there. Thailand has received 2,400 gallons of water, five tons of food and 297 tons of supplies, and 61 patients have received care.

Delivering supplies isn’t the only task being performed by the U.S. military. A civil affairs team in Thailand found three isolated camps where tsunami victims were living in unsanitary conditions. Krieg said the information was turned over to the World Food Program, which worked to assist those living in the camps.

A forensics team made up of both servicemembers and civilians is helping with the deceased in Phuket, Krieg said. They are collecting DNA samples from thousands of bodies at the Disaster Victims Identification Operations Center.

The Navy is helping to recover bodies. Several riverine special warfare boats are being used to search for and retrieve the dead from rivers and coastal waters, Krieg said.

The military continues to provide support throughout the affected region — as of Friday there had been 219 helicopter sorties, 197 C-130 flights, 112 strategic airlifts and 33 reconnaissance flights, Krieg said.

Though many things can go wrong with such a large operation, Krieg said, things so far have gone as planned.

“I think we went into this problem with very little information and we made some assumptions, which we were wrong on some,” he said. “But had we waited until we got all the information in, we wouldn’t be providing aid now. It’s very gratifying … especially knowing that we are really making a difference in people’s lives.”

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