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Relief vs. Afghan fight

The US military is looking beyond Afghanistan for other resources to bring to the Pakistani quake relief effort.

In the light of early morning, the crew of Miss Behavin', a Chinook from Bagram Air Base in Afghanistan, left behind their hide-and-seek fight with the Taliban to lend a hand in Pakistan, where their new foes - injury and deprivation - were overwhelmingly visible.

The crew dropped off supplies at Rawalakot, a Pakistani base at the center of relief operations following Saturday's devastating earthquake. There, the six-man crew picked up some of the injured and ferried them to the capital, Islamabad. Then it was off to Muzaffarabad, close to the epicenter, with a 23-member Russian disaster relief team. Within minutes of landing at a sports field the chopper was packed with some 30 severely injured survivors, with more trying in vain to get on board.

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"With two Chinooks we brought back 60 [people], just a drop in the bucket of what's really out there," says Chief Warrant Officer Mark Jones, a pilot from Seattle.

With all major cities reached, and rescue teams and personnel arriving from 22 countries, the relief effort is now in full swing. The scope of the task is daunting: The quake left an estimated 23,000 dead, 51,000 injured, and affected some 3.3 million people.

US officials, including Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice who arrived Wednesday, said that more US resources are on the way. For now, much of the personnel and material have been drawn from Afghanistan.

But the conflict in Afghanistan shows no signs of slacking, with this year the deadliest yet for US soldiers. Mindful of the high demands on both fronts, the US military is already looking to transition the relief effort over to a US Navy team based in Bahrain.

"Eventually the US Army will go back to Afghanistan," says spokesman Col. James Yonts. "They've got to get back to that mission."

Colonel Yonts said that a handover of the relief command from Lt. Gen. Karl Eikenberry, head of US operations in Afghanistan, to a Navy admiral was initially planned for Wednesday, but was pushed back.

"We are taking a look back into Europe and the USA and getting more helicopters from there," General Eikenberry told the Monitor. His aide, Col. Donald McGraw, says 21 helicopters had been found, and will be operating in Pakistan by Oct. 22.

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"We took what we could out of Afghanistan, but there are some bad guys there who are taking advantage of this," says Colonel McGraw. "But we are willing to take some risk in Afghanistan to start up relief operations here."