March 4, 2011 / 5:45 PM / 7 years ago

U.S. flies aid to Tunisia, plans refugee airlift

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The U.S. military was flying aid supplies to Tunisia on Friday and will return there on Saturday to evacuate refugees who fled violence in neighboring Libya, the Pentagon said.

Colonel David Lapan, a Pentagon spokesman, said two C-130 transport planes were bringing 4,000 blankets, 40 rolls of plastic sheeting and almost 10,000 water containers from U.S. facilities in Europe to the Tunisian city of Djerba.

Many foreign nationals have already been evacuated from Libya, where Muammar Gaddafi’s forces are battling rebels on several fronts and unrest has erupted in the capital Tripoli.

An organized international airlift has started to help some of the tens of thousands of foreign workers who have fled into Tunisia.

Lapan said the U.S. aircraft left a U.S. air base in Germany before picking up supplies from a U.S. Agency for International Development warehouse in Italy.

“They will drop off supplies, depart and, at this point, we are expecting them to return sometime tomorrow to move refugees,” Lapan said.

As the Obama administration pressures Gaddafi to end his 41-year rule, speculation is mounting about whether the United States will back the use of military force.

The Pentagon has moved two amphibious assault ships into the Mediterranean and brought 400 Marines to a naval station in Greece. But it has not yet brought the USS Enterprise, an aircraft carrier now in the Red Sea, into the waters off the coast of Libya.

On Thursday, President Barack Obama offered the use of U.S. aircraft to help move Egyptians stranded at the Libyan border with Tunisia and to help move refugees from other nations who are fleeing Libya.

Reporting by Missy Ryan; Editing by Paul Simao

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