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Pentagon sends USAID search and rescue teams to Turkey

Two American emergency response teams departed for Turkey Tuesday following deadly earthquakes believed to killed more than 5,000 people.
PAUL J. RICHARDS/AFP via Getty Images

Two urban search and rescue teams from the United States headed to Turkey early on Tuesday to join local authorities and emergency workers from all over the world in recovery efforts following Monday’s deadly earthquake.

Rescue teams from Virginia Task Force-1 and the Los Angeles County Fire Department departed early this morning aboard US military aircraft from Dover Air Force Base in Delaware.

The combined teams included 161 personnel, 12 dogs and more than 170,000 pounds of equipment according to USAID, which is leading Washington’s response.

Why it matters: Monday’s 7.8-magnitude earthquake has devastated areas of southeast Turkey and northern Syria, leaving an estimated 5,000 people dead as of Tuesday morning and potentially trapping tens of thousands more.

White House National Security Council spokesperson John Kirby announced Monday that the United States would deploy the two emergency response teams “to support Turkish search and rescue efforts, to help address all the needs of all of those who’ve been hurt or displaced by the earthquake.”

The teams will join rescue and emergency response units from the European Union, Greece, United Kingdom, Russia, Ukraine, India, Israel and others.

US President Joe Biden called Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Monday to offer support. Washington’s top diplomat Antony Blinken and Pentagon chief Lloyd Austin called their counterparts on Monday as well.

What’s next: In his call with Turkish Defense Minister Hulusi Akar, Austin pledged continuing assistance as the situation develops, according to a Pentagon readout, which read, “Minister Akar thanked Secretary Austin and emphasized the positive impact US-Türkiye cooperation at Incirlik Airbase was having on relief efforts.”

"We remain in close contact with our Turkish ally to determine what assistance is needed to help those affected by the disaster," US European Command (EUCOM), which oversees the US military presence in Turkey, said in a statement emailed to Al-Monitor on Tuesday.

Know more: Thus far the United States is not sending humanitarian teams to Syria, instead working through existing aid networks on the ground.

In his call with Turkey’s Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu yesterday, Blinken pledged "to do all that we can in coordination with Türkiye to assist the victims of the earthquake in both Türkiye and Syria.”

But direct US assistance does not flow freely to areas controlled by the government of President Bashar al-Assad in Damascus.

Jordan, Iran, Algeria, Russia, Lebanon, Tunisia and Egypt have pledged to send aid to Syria.

Editor's note: This story has been updated to include a statement by US European Command (EUCOM).

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