DoD Tsunami Relief Efforts in Transition
By Samantha L. Quigley
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Jan. 27, 2005 Department of Defense tsunami relief efforts are "transitioning to something different," the assistant secretary of defense for international security affairs told a House subcommittee Jan. 26.
"A lot of what the U.S. Department of Defense has provided may not be as necessary as it was, and we're in the process of handing this over," Peter Rodman explained to the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Foreign Operations and Export Financing and Related Programs.
"The military headquarters in Thailand, for example, has stood down; the one in Sri Lanka, later this week," he said. "Of course, the effort in Indonesia, because it's bigger, will continue a little bit longer."
Rodman called the overall level of involvement "a longer-term reconstruction effort."
"There are many other capable agencies certainly in this government and internationally," he noted. "And again, the capabilities of the governments, the host governments themselves, they are increasingly ready to take on the main responsibility."
Rodman assured the subcommittee that "we will manage this transition very carefully, flexibly, (and) will be guided by what is right, whatever is still needed from us in light of circumstances on the ground."
Andrew Natsios, head of the U.S. Agency for International Development, reported that some DoD assets pulled out of Sri Lanka are now assisting in the Maldives, another South Asia tsunami-damaged island-nation in the Indian Ocean.
He said the American military was helping flush out the wells. "The biggest problem in the Maldives is no fresh water left," Natsios said. "All of the wells -- because it's 3 feet above sea level -- were completely inundated with salt water, which, of course, you can't drink. And so we're pumping out the salt water and the flushing out so that the wells can recharge themselves. That's being done with heavy support from the U.S. military, which is the request of the Maldives government."
Rodman also dispelled rumors that the U.S. military had been asked to leave Indonesia by March 26. "We've had assurances from the Indonesian government that this is not the case," he said. "Their vice president had made a comment about three months and we were told that this is a target date that they have set for themselves to be able to take responsibility. And it's not about kicking us out at all."
Upon notification of the Dec. 26 earthquake and tsunamis in the region of Southeast Asia, U.S. Pacific Command took action in anticipation of U.S. involvement in relief efforts, noted Brig. Gen John Allen, DoD's principal director for Asia Pacific Affairs.
An operational planning team formed up, followed by orders Dec. 27 to move military assets aircraft, ships and personnel to the scene.
In short order, the military moved a total of 26 ships, 58 helicopters, 43 fixed-wing aircraft and nearly 15,000 personnel into the disaster area, Rodman said.
"The figure(s) I have for what they provided include 2,200 tons of relief supplies, 260,000 gallons of water provided and, of course, the kind of logistical help that made a lot of other efforts possible," he said.
Rodman put the total operational costs for the military's involvement in the neighborhood of $90 million to $100 million, but cautioned against considering that the final cost.
House members gave DoD high praise for its contributions to the tsunami disaster relief operations. "I cannot tell you how appreciative I am of the response of our military forces," Rep. Jerry Lewis, said. "They truly have given a different picture of the fabulous work of our forces."
"I think the American people have an absolute right to go to bed every night extremely proud of our military and extremely proud of this particular operation," Allen said.
"If you stood on the beach in the northwest of Sumatra and you looked out to sea, you'd see a gray silhouette out there, which was the (carrier USS) Abraham Lincoln," he noted. "And the Lincoln and its helicopters have already passed into the legends of Indonesia because it is now known as the 'Gray Angel.' And that's very commonly known by the Indonesian people."