( AFP ) - Two US amphibious assault ships are bringing nearly 3,500 marines and more than 30 helicopters to help with relief efforts in Bangladesh, US military officials said Tuesday.
The government of Bangladesh has not yet asked for the help but the USS Kearsarge and the USS Essex were ordered to go there following a cyclone Thursday that left thousands dead and millions homeless.
A 23-member US military team is in the country to survey the situation, and report on what is needed, a spokeswoman from the US Pacific Command said.
The Kearsarge, which was in the Gulf region when the orders came, is expected to be near Bangladesh by the end of the week, said Lieutenant Commander Amy Derrick Frost.
The Essex, which was wrapping up an exercise in South Korea, will arrive a couple of days later, she said.
"They have personnel that can move supplies on the ground, and they can move supplies to areas of the country that have been identified by the government of Bangladesh as in need of assistance," she said.
Each vessel is carrying a 1,700-member Marine Expeditionary Unit, she said.
The amphibious assault ships are essentially helicopter carriers that can also launch air-cushioned landing craft and small boats, making it an ideal platform for a relief effort.
They typically carry a dozen CH-46 Sea Knight medium lift helicopters, and four CH-53E heavy lift Sea Stallion helicopters, as well a few smaller UH-1N Huey utility helicopters and four AH-1W Super Cobra attack helicopters.
Derrick Frost said the ships carry a small amount of humanitarian supplies, but their real value is likely to be to distribute government-owned relief supplies to stricken areas around the country.
"A lot of times, as we saw in (Hurricane) Katrina ourselves, you have supplies, you just need to move them," she said. "That's something we can assist with if they desire."
"The goal would be to use airlift or small boat assets ... and help move those supplies around," she said.