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WASHINGTON (AP) -- The Pentagon is spending about $6 million a day to operate the fleet of ships, aircraft and other military resources that have joined the tsunami relief effort in south Asia, a spokesman said Thursday.
Army Lt. Col. Gary Keck, a Pentagon public affairs officer, said the $6 million per day covers a U.S. contingent of about 13,000 military personnel, of which about 12,000 are aboard 17 Navy ships in the region hit by the Dec. 26 earthquake and resulting tsunami.
The U.S. military's contribution to the humanitarian effort is possibly its largest in history; it is separate from the $350 million that President Bush has pledged in U.S. government assistance.
The latest ship to join the effort was the USNS Mercy, a hospital ship that set sail Wednesday evening from San Diego. It is initially staffed to support 250 patient beds but could be expanded to 1,000 beds with additional medical staff. The humanitarian organization Project HOPE has expressed interest in providing medical staff for the Mercy, which will take about 30 days to reach south Asia.
Still en route to the area is the USS Fort McHenry, with 400 Marines and sailors and six CH-46 helicopters aboard. It is expected to arrive off the coast of Indonesia in the next several days.
The Army, meanwhile, said Wednesday that it would send several CH-47 Chinook helicopters and possibly some UH-60 Black Hawk helicopters from South Korea to serve as air ambulances. The Army also is dispatching four mortuary affairs teams from Fort Lee, Va., to help with recovery of human remains.
The biggest share of the estimated $6 million-a-day cost is for the USS Abraham Lincoln battle group, which was in port at Hong Kong when the tsunami struck and was the first U.S. Navy group to arrive on the scene last week. Adm. Thomas Fargo, commander of U.S. Pacific Command, has said it costs about $2.5 million a day to operate the Lincoln group, which has 17 helicopters aboard.
Another major force is Expeditionary Strike Group 5, led by the USS Bonhomme Richard, an amphibious assault ship that arrived Thursday off the northwest coast of Sumatra with 1,300 Marines aboard.
Also joining the Navy effort is the high-speed transport vessel HSV 2 Swift, which deployed on Monday from Naval Station Ingleside in Texas, en route to Singapore.
(Copyright 2005 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)