KATHMANDU (Reuters) - Hundreds of U.S. military personnel helping provide relief in Nepal after last month's 7.8 earthquake have finished their mission and will leave the country, U.S. and Nepali military officials said on Wednesday.
The announcement comes less than a week after the bodies of six U.S. Marines and two Nepali soldiers were recovered from the wreckage of a U.S. military helicopter that crashed in the mountains of Nepal during an aid mission after the quake.
Officials said 300 U.S. Army, Air Force and Marine personnel would start to leave Nepal on Thursday, having completed their rescue and immediate relief operation.
"The U.S. humanitarian workers are ready to return if (their) support is necessary," Lieutenant-General John Wissler of the U.S. Marines told reporters in Kathmandu.
He did not comment on whether the mission ended early due to the helicopter crash.
Nepal Army spokesman Jagdish Chandra Pokharel said the U.S. military had completed its work and was returning on schedule.
The Marines' UH-1Y Huey helicopter disappeared while it was distributing aid in a remote area of Nepal after the April 25 earthquake struck, killing, along with a second large tremor 17 days later, at least 8,624 people.
Hundreds of Nepalese soldiers and several aircraft were mobilized to search for the missing helicopter before it was located and identified on Friday.
Twenty-two nations, including the U.S., India and China, have provided aid to Nepal after the earthquakes, said Laxmi Prasad Dhakal, an official in Nepal's interior ministry.
The United States provided nearly $49 million in humanitarian assistance and equipment to Nepal after the earthquakes, and U.S. aircraft transported 110 tons of relief supplies, according to U.S. Ambassador Peter Bodde.
(Reporting by Gopal Sharma; Writing by Krista Mahr; Editing by Tom Heneghan)