The director of USAID's Office of Foreign Disaster Assistance, Mark Ward, told ABC News in his first interview since the agency's humanitarian experts first arrived in country on Tuesday that his teams had heard reports of severe casualties and shortages in the besieged city.
Though the U.S. team has not left the rebel stronghold of Benghazi, Ward said that they have found a "permissive" environment in eastern Libya that would allow more aid to be brought in.
The Disaster Assistance Response Team members arrived in Benghazi on Tuesday along with the U.S. liaison with the Libyan opposition, Chris Stevens. The small team of humanitarian experts has since set about determining what aid is needed and how to bring it in.
Ward would not say how many American experts were in country other than to say it was a "small" team, but suggested more could soon be on the way. Those experts already in Libya have no plans to push farther west, but are authorized to do so if they see the need.
So far, Ward said, the team has found the situation in the eastern third of Libya to be "pretty good" and he said there are few concerns about security.
Gadhafi's Forces Bombarding Rebels in Misrata
Further west, where the fighting has been more intense, is another story. Ward said the U.S. is "very concerned" about the situation in and around Misrata, where forces loyal to Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi have bombarded rebel forces for weeks. Though aid groups are pre-positioned just outside the city they have not been able to enter, except for a few quick trips to drop off supplies, due to ongoing fighting. From those groups, Ward said, they hear the situation there is "dire."
In addition to heavy casualties, Ward says they've been told there are severe shortages of water, food, electricity, and medical supplies. He said the current strategy for NGOs is to pre-position the aid so that it can be sent in as quickly as possible if there is a lull in the fighting.
To that end, USAID has sent into eastern Libya 4-5 "health kits," which each contain medical supplies to stock a clinic capable of treating 10,000 people for three months. Each kit is about 3/4 the size of an SUV. Additionally the U.S. has provided several "trauma kits," which contain specialized supplies needed to perform 100 surgical operations.
The shortage goes beyond supplies, Ward warned. He said there are also not enough adequate medical professionals, particularly nurses. Most who were in the country when the fighting erupted were foreigners who have since fled. The U.S. has provided funds to the United Nation's World Health Organization to train personnel farther east so that they can contribute.
These American efforts are being made in close coordination with Turkey and Great Britain, as the three countries that have taken the lead in humanitarian operations so far. Ward said that Turkey, whose consulate in Benghazi has remained open throughout the crisis, has been a "terrific partner" and they've worked closely with the Turkish Red Crescent.