U.S. General Tours Earthquake Zone

Gen. John Abizaid, chief of U.S. Central Command (search), toured the earthquake devastation in Pakistani Kashmir (search) on Sunday and pledged to "do whatever is possible to help," including sending 15 more U.S. helicopters and troops to support the relief effort.

"From the air I saw devastation everywhere. Naturally, I'm sad, but we will do as much as we can," he told reporters in Muzaffarabad, the region's main city.

The U.S. military has already deployed 17 helicopters and is also sending the Army's only Mobile Army Surgical Hospital (search).

Meanwhile, two aftershocks struck eastern Afghanistan near the Pakistan border early Sunday, killing five people, Afghan Defense Ministry spokesman Zahir Azimi said. Army rescue teams were heading to the remote mountainous area, he said.

Pakistan's Seismological Center said the quakes had magnitudes of 5.2 and 4.9 and struck within hours of each other.

Also Sunday, Kashmiris welcomed Indian and Pakistani proposals to set up aid camps along the militarized border dividing the Himalayan territory the two countries have battled over for decades.

Details on the camps were still being worked out and neither side had formally agreed to the other's proposal. But it would be the first time in nearly six decades that Kashmiris would be allowed to walk across the line that divides their region.

"It is a great step," said Umar Farooq, Kashmir's top Islamic and separatist leader. "If materialized, it will tremendously help the peace process and strengthen the efforts for a final resolution" of the conflict over Kashmir.

The Oct. 8 quake flattened villages and is believed to have killed at least 79,000 in Pakistan's northwest and its part of Kashmir. India has reported 1,360 deaths on its side. More than 3 million people are homeless.

Pakistan on Saturday proposed creating five border crossing points for Kashmiris to freely carry relief goods to either side. India earlier offered to open aid camps for quake victims on its side of Kashmir.

After Pakistan submitted its proposal, Pakistani Information Minister Sheikh Rashid Ahmed told The Associated Press on Sunday: "The ball is in India's court. We hope India will make the right decision."

In a statement Sunday, Indian Foreign Ministry spokesman Navtej Sarna said India was "ready to engage in discussions between our two foreign offices on these modalities and reach an early decision."

India's proposal came in apparent response to Pakistan President Gen. Pervez Musharraf's repeated calls for Kashmiris to be allowed to cross the Line of Control, which divides the region, to help each other recover from the disaster.

Any agreement to let Kashmiris cross the frontier — long regarded as one of world's most dangerous flashpoints — would be a clear sign of mounting trust between the longtime rivals that have fought two wars over Kashmir.

"An opportunity has emerged from the tragedy. It should be availed, not frittered away," said Mohammad Rafi, a resident of Srinagar, summer capital of Indian Kashmir.

India has provided tons of relief goods for Pakistan, but opening the border is particularly sensitive for New Delhi, which has been fighting an Islamic insurgency that India claims is based in Pakistani Kashmir.

Relief operations in Pakistan have taken on increasing urgency, with the Himalayan winter closing in. The United Nations on Sunday renewed a call for more relief funds from donor countries.

"The lives of thousands are at risk and they urgently need our help," said Rashid Kalikov, U.N. coordinator for humanitarian assistance in Muzaffarabad.

He said 800,000 people in Kashmir had no shelter.