Wolfowitz: U.S. Should Safeguard Tsunami Relief Successes
By Samantha L. Quigley
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Feb. 10, 2005 The United States has a vested interest in the recovery phase of the tsunami relief efforts now that the initial phase of the tsunami relief effort is nearing successful completion, Deputy Defense Secretary Paul D. Wolfowitz said here Feb. 9.
"We, having achieved an enormous humanitarian success in the early days in preventing what could have been an even larger catastrophe, now have, I think, a very large stake in making sure that that success doesn't go to waste because the subsequent recovery effort fails," Wolfowitz said during a press briefing in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building.
There were nearly 16,000 military personnel in the region focused on the relief effort, he said. In addition to the personnel, there were 26 ships, including a Coast Guard cutter, 58 various helicopters and 43 fixed-wing aircraft that were mostly used for transport.
In all, 10 million pounds of food and 400,000 gallons of water were delivered to those left in need by the tsunami.
Wolfowitz said a "thank you" is owed to the American taxpayer, "because the assets that made it possible to conduct this operation are way beyond the cost of the supplemental." The supplemental he referred to was an announcement at the briefing that President Bush will ask Congress for a total of $950 million to support areas recovering from the tsunami. That figure, according to Undersecretary of State Alan Larson, who made the announcement, includes the initial U.S. commitment of $350 million.
Those resources will be used to provide assistance and to work with the nations affected to rebuild necessary infrastructure as well as strengthen societies, Larson added.
Part of that supplemental - $101 million to date for incremental operational costs and about $12.4 million for humanitarian costs - would also go to reimbursing DoD, said Marine Brig. Gen. John R. Allen, who has coordinated the military efforts.
"Those ships and aircraft that I mentioned cost the American taxpayer some $28 billion, and if we hadn't made that investment, we wouldn't have been able to play this role," he said.
"Part of what the supplemental will do is go to pay for the military operations that we conducted, which were absolutely critical in saving probably tens of thousands of lives," Wolfowitz said. The estimated number of displaced tsunami survivors the majority in Indonesia - was about 750,000.
The other importance for not wasting the success of the U.S. relief operations is what it has done for the perception of the United States in Indonesia, the largest Muslim country in the world.
"I think it's had quite an impact that we were there and able to help and ready to help," said Wolfowitz, who is an former U.S. ambassador to Indonesia. "The whole experience, I think, was on both sides, (that) attitudes changed."
He said that normal Indonesian reluctance to accept outside help may have softened with the realization that any country would need help dealing with a catastrophe of this magnitude.
"There's a natural suspicion anywhere in the world, and in Indonesia it's quite strong, about having foreign military participate in anything," Wolfowitz said. Need overcame any doubts though, he said. "And the end result, I think, was that people saw we came, we gave help and we left. We didn't come for a military purpose."
In fact, combined support groups in Thailand and Sri Lanka have already been closed. And, Allen said, the CSG in Indonesia, as well as the combined support force headquarters in Utapao, Thailand, would be closed "in the next few days."
Despite the imminent withdrawal of U.S. forces, Wolfowitz said the military is on stand-by for reconstruction efforts that could be challenging. Those challenges include decisions about whether to put roads on the old structures or to move them, he noted. For example, in some places, the earth has subsided two to three feet and there's concern that, if simply replaced, they could be destroyed by future acts of nature.
"We stand ready to assist as appropriate, including possibly in the provision of the kind of planning resources that our military is very good at," Wolfowitz said. "One of the things we have offered assistance on is to provide both civilian and military planners to assist the Indonesian Planning Ministry in working out some of these problems."
Ultimately, he said, there is a mixture of policy decisions that only the Indonesian government can make.