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RELIEF EFFORT

Georgians get US aid but prefer troops

By Matti Friedman
Associated Press / August 15, 2008
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TBILISI, Georgia - Some of the first tangible American support for Georgia was visible yesterday in a storeroom at a grim Tbilisi hospital: a dozen crates of medical equipment marked with Stars-and-Stripes stickers and the words "USA: Operation Provide Hope."

But at the capital's airport, a Georgian army captain watching a US Air Force cargo jet unload more syringes, bandages, and tents commented that while US aid was good, American troops would be better.

The first US aid reaching hospitals and refugee camps came from eight truckloads of emergency gear that had been stored in Georgia before fighting with Russia erupted last week.

More was being flown in at Tbilisi International Airport. The big, gray Air Force C-17 disgorged 18 pallets of medical gear, tents, cots, sleeping bags, and other supplies.

Commanded by Major Ryan Vander Veen, of Grand Rapids, Mich., the C-17 followed another plane with a similar payload that landed Wednesday evening. In total, the aircraft brought emergency gear worth $1.28 million, according to USAID, the international aid arm of the US government.

The second American jet landed yesterday after a smaller Lithuanian cargo plane and a Red Cross flight. Countries across the world have sent aid or have pledged money to help Georgia recover from the violence.

"As the United States, our role in the world is to help out others that can't do anything for themselves, not that they're unable, but maybe at that time incapable," said Vander Veen, who said his crew normally flies supply missions into Iraq and Afghanistan.

Standing on the tarmac outside Vander Veen's jet, a burly Georgian captain who gave his name only as George said he had served alongside American troops for three years in Iraq as part of Georgia's contingent there.

He said he appreciated the aid, but added that he and many other Georgians had expected more forceful support in his country's bloody quarrel with Russia.

The shipments being delivered by air will begin going to hospitals and refugee camps today, said Guram Gurashvili of the US organization Counterpart International, which is in charge of distributing some of the American aid.

At Tbilisi's Hospital No. 1, a cluster of crumbling buildings with dark hallways and spartan rooms, the emergency supplies are badly needed, said Dr. Gocha Ingorokva, who heads the neurosurgery ward. The hospital is usually undersupplied but has been further tested by the 100 wounded soldiers and civilians being treated, he said.

One victim being treated from South Ossetia, Alexei Tuayev, said the only American help he wanted was in making peace and getting him back to his village. "I need your help in returning to my home, not here," the farmer said.

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