FRANKFURT, Germany – The United States turned Thursday to its allies in NATO (search), which sent AWACs planes to patrol U.S. skies after the Sept. 11 attacks (search), to help bring in desperately needed food and supplies for the hundreds of thousands of Americans left homeless by Hurricane Katrina.
Military experts began drawing up plans for an expanded role, including the possible use of ships from the elite NATO Response Force (search) to ferry the aid. The extraordinary request comes at a time when many nations offering aid are complaining that they have received no answer from U.S. authorities.
"NATO military authorities are now going to discuss this proposal," Kurt Volker, the U.S. principal deputy assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs, said in Brussels, Belgium.
He said officials were looking at the possibility of having "elements of the NATO Response Force logistical capacity used to transport goods offered by allied countries from Europe to the Gulf of Mexico."
The last time NATO units were used in the United States was just after the Sept. 11 attacks on New York and Washington. Several AWACS crewed by NATO members helped patrol U.S. air space; duties included providing protection for the 2002 Salt Lake City Winter Olympics.
NATO officials could have a plan as early as Friday for deploying its help, including several large transport ships that can transport everything from massive trucks to containers of food, water and medicine. Final approval rests with the ambassadors from the 26 alliance nations.
Once approved, the Response Force, commanded from Lisbon, Portugal, could be moving within five to 30 days.
A spokesman for the German Defense Ministry said the country has sent 45 tons of military meals, or provisions, in three separate flights to Pensacola, Fla.
The spokesman, speaking on condition of anonymity because as a civil servant he is not allowed to give his name, added that another 75 tons of such food packets are on "on standby" should the United States request them. He said the U.S. declined Germany's offer to send a Medivac air ambulance and a hospital ship.
Marek Gieorgica, a spokesman for Poland's Interior Ministry, said his country offered 26 sniffer dogs, along with three DNA experts, but has yet to hear back.
Rep. Tom Lantos, D-Calif., criticized the Bush administration for its failure to quickly accept delivery of aid offered by several countries.
"This area is just one more example of the failures of executive agencies tasked with disaster relief in responding to this greatest natural disaster ever to confront our nation," Lantos said as the House debated a resolution thanking other nations for their assistance.
Netherlands Foreign Ministry spokesman Dirk Jan Vermeij said his country was sending three water pumps and five personnel to assist in lowering the water around New Orleans, but that the U.S. military plane that was to carry them was delayed. It is expected to pick up the equipment in Eindhoven later Thursday and fly to the United States.
Other countries changed their proposals after hearing back from Washington
Thailand Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra said the United States politely declined his country's offer of doctors and nurses, apparently because it feared malpractice claims. Instead, he said Thailand would send five forensics experts to assist in recovering and identifying the thousands of people feared dead.