NATO said it was expanding its airlift of relief supplies to Pakistan on Tuesday, but acknowledged its humanitarian role has limits as it attempts to step up its response to the south Asian earthquake. "There are other organizations in the front line to do humanitarian relief work," said alliance spokesman James Appathurai. "NATO is not, nor does it see itself, to be a high-end relief organization."
However, he said alliance cargo planes were starting to ferry hundreds of tons of U.N. tents and blankets from Turkey to Pakistan.
Military commanders are also drawing up plans that could see units of the alliance's elite NATO Response Force, including air traffic controllers, engineers and medics, deployed to quake-hit parts of Pakistan.
NATO began airlifting aid from Europe to Pakistan last week, but is still debating the use of other assets from its military arsenal almost two weeks after the quake left hundreds of thousands in desperate need of food, medicine and shelter.
"NATO is doing its best," said Appathurai, but he added plans for more assistance needed to go through the approval procedure by political and military authorities in the 26 allies. He expected an agreement by Friday on the extra aid.
"Once a political decision is taken, almost immediately military movement will take place," he said.
A NATO cargo plane carrying seven tons of blankets, tents and camp stoves from Bulgaria and Lithuania was due in Pakistan Tuesday, the third such flight in a week. A giant C-17 cargo plane carrying Danish and German aid is due to leave Wednesday.
Smaller C-130 planes from at least three NATO nations are due to start shuttling supplies from the U.N. refugee agency in Turkey to Pakistan on Tuesday.
Appathurai said it was too early to say if NATO would be providing helicopters, which Pakistani authorities say are essential to get aid to mountain areas cut off by the Oct. 8 quake and the mudslides it triggered.
"This is an appropriate moment for caution," he told reporters. "We should not raise expectations beyond where we are now."