Rumsfeld: Humanitarian Missions Important to Changing U.S. Image
By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Feb. 21, 2006 U.S. servicemembers helping out around the world show America's compassion, and the missions also can help to change local attitudes about the United States and its people, Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld said here today.
At a Pentagon news conference, Rumsfeld praised American servicemembers helping at the scene of a devastating mudslide in the Philippines.
Torrential rains weakened a hill overlooking the town of Guinsaugon on Leyte Island. On Feb. 17, the hillside let go and buried the town under tons of mud and debris. At last count, 56 men women and children are dead, 1,408 are missing and 88 were injured. Only 410 people are known to have survived the disaster.
U.S. forces were already in the region, readying for an exercise called Balikatan. At the request of the Philippine government, U.S. ships and servicemembers rushed to Guinsaugon to attempt to rescue those buried by the slide.
"There is something special about a country like ours that has the skill and ability and willingness to send our finest young people to come to the aid of people all across the globe - people they have never met," Rumsfeld said.
Coming to the aid of Guinsaugon is only the latest example of America helping those struck by disaster, Rumsfeld said. The world saw U.S. servicemembers rush to Indonesia, Sri Lanka and Thailand when the Indian Ocean nations suffered the tsunami in December 2004.
American servicemembers flew thousands of missions to rescue Pakistanis when an earthquake hit that region in October. American troops also went to the aid of Guatemalans when mudslides engulfed villages in that country last year.
"These efforts are an indication of the organizational talents of the U.S. military," the secretary said. U.S. servicemembers are able "to respond to the pleas of millions across the world, at the same time fighting wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and elsewhere."
But the humanitarian missions also serve another purpose, Rumsfeld said. The war on terror cannot be won by military action alone, he said. "We need to find ways to win the ideological battle as well," the secretary said.
The humanitarian missions serve to show people around the world that the real America is not the one put forth in the enemy's propaganda. The secretary said the missions may help "to convince people who might otherwise be attracted to the message of violent extremism that there is a better way of life."
Rumsfeld said every effort DoD takes to demonstrate America's compassion and generosity is an important step in the global war on terror.
"I recall that when I was in Pakistan a few months ago to survey the U.S. military's assistance in the earthquake, I came across what might prove to be one of the most important weapons in the war on terror," he said. "It was not conventional military technology. It was the MASH unit - the clinic there - that had given treatment to so many Pakistanis and given them a very different view of America and our mission in the world." The United States last week donated that clinic to Pakistan.
American efforts to help Iraqis and Afghans build a new world should be seen in this light also, the secretary said. Helping the two countries establish governments and free economies may be as important "as was the defeat of the regimes that had threatened U.S. security," he said. "As one Iraqi leader reportedly said of his new country, 'Iraq was the North Korea of the Middle East. Now it has the chance to be the South Korea.'"