Air Force C-17 Lands in Beirut with Relief Supplies for Devastated City

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A U.S. Air Force C-17 takes off  carrying humanitarian aid for Beirut.
A U.S. Air Force C-17 Globemaster III takes off from Al Udeid Air Base, Qatar, Aug. 6, 2020, carrying humanitarian aid supplies bound for Beirut, Lebanon. (U.S. Air Force/Staff Sgt. Heather Fejerang)

An Air Force C-17 Globemaster III landed at Beirut's airport Thursday with the first pallets of relief supplies from the U.S. after the Lebanese capital was shattered by immense explosions in the port area Tuesday, U.S. Central Command said.

The first flight by the 816th Air Expeditionary Airlift Squadron from Al Udeid Air Base in the Gulf state of Qatar brought 11 pallets of food, water and medical supplies.

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"We are closely coordinating with the Lebanon Armed Forces, and expect that we will continue to provide additional assistance throughout Lebanon's recovery effort," Marine Gen. Frank McKenzie, head of CENTCOM, said in a statement.

Two more CENTCOM C-17 relief flights are expected to reach Beirut by Friday, CENTCOM said.

At a news briefing, chief Pentagon spokesman Jonathan Hoffman said the scope of military support of relief efforts in Lebanon will be coordinated through the State Department.

Hoffman also sought to avoid speculation on what may have triggered the blast in a waterfront warehouse where more than 2,700 tons of ammonium nitrate was stored for at least six years, according to the Lebanese government.

At the White House on Tuesday, President Donald Trump said the blast may have been the result of an attack or a bomb, but on Wednesday said it may also have been an accident.

Also Wednesday, Defense Secretary Mark Esper said initial indications were that it was an accident, but added that the assessment was preliminary.

"The investigation into the explosion is ongoing," Hoffmann said. "We're going to defer to and give the Lebanese government space to complete their investigation and reach their conclusions. I'm not going to offer any conclusions from the U.S. government or from the intel community today."

He said the U.S. is prepared to work with the Lebanese on the investigation "if they ask for assistance." Lebanese officials have speculated that the blasts were caused by a fire in a nearby building that triggered the ammonium nitrate.

In Beirut -- riven by war, civil unrest, political corruption and terrorism dating back to the 1970s and now facing economic collapse -- Lebanese authorities declared it a "disaster city" and imposed a two-week state of emergency.

The death toll has been reported at 137, but that is expected to rise as hundreds are still listed as missing after blasts that were felt in Cyprus, nearly 150 miles away. At least 5,000 are believed to have been injured and about 300,000 have lost their homes, according to Lebanese officials.

French President Emmanuel Macron arrived in Beirut on Thursday to pledge that France, the former colonial power, will deliver aid. He told an angry crowd in mostly Christian East Beirut that he is backing a new "political pact" for Lebanon to address reform and root out corruption.

The crowd shouted back, "They are terrorists," referring to the existing political leadership and a government in which they have lost faith, according to CNN.

-- Richard Sisk can be reached at Richard.Sisk@Military.com.

Related: Fireworks, Ammonium Nitrate Likely Fueled Beirut Explosion

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