Powell Pledges Continued U.S. Support for Tsunami Victims
By Donna Miles
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Jan. 6, 2005 Secretary of State Colin Powell today pledged continued U.S. support to Asian nations as the relief and reconstruction effort proceeds.
During a meeting of national leaders in Jakarta, Indonesia, Powell told leaders from the Association of Southeast Asian Nations that the many humanitarian missions he's been involved with during both his military and diplomatic careers hadn't prepared him for what he encountered during his visit this week to the tsunami-stricken region.
"I've been involved in many, many humanitarian relief operations. I've had to respond as a commander to a number of natural disasters over the years," Powell said. "But nothing in my experience prepared me for this disaster: 12 countries affected in different continents, separated by thousands of miles. It truly is unprecedented."
Powell said responding will require a continued, global response and that the United States will continue to do its part. The U.S. government has pledged $350 million for relief and reconstruction so far, he said, recognizing that more is likely to be needed as the full scope of the tragedy unfolds.
In addition, Powell said, private U.S. donations are estimated at $200 million -- a figure he said is increasingly rapidly and is expected to continue to do so as former Presidents Bush and Clinton coordinate the private-sector funding effort.
Powell said the United States began dispensing aid on the ground one day after the tsunami hit and won't abandon the region during its time of need.
Immediately after the tsunami hit, the United States dispatched a wide range of specialists from the U.S. Agency for International Development as well as the military. Today, more than 14,000 servicemembers are deployed to the region providing desperately needed support, he said.
"As a former soldier, it gives me great pride to see our soldiers, our sailors, our airmen our Marines, (and) our Coast Guardsmen working around the clock alongside our AID relief workers and other civilian members of my government," he said.
All, he said, are "working together to bring life-saving relief to desperate survivors."
Powell reported that the USS Abraham Lincoln carrier group and USS Bonhomme Richard expeditionary group are on station, providing helicopters and planes for search, rescue and disaster-relief operations. In addition, they are providing critical coordination and communications support and helicopter lift support for relief operations, he said.
Six cargo ships are en route to the region from their pre-positioned locations. Powell said these ships will provide additional relief supplies and support, as well as the capability of providing more than 90,000 gallons of fresh water every day.
In addition to these 19 naval vessels, 40 cargo and patrol aircraft and more than 50 helicopters have been dispatched to the region, Powell reported. Collectively, they had delivered more than 450 tons of food, supplies and equipment as of Jan. 5.
Powell said additional air and naval support is on the way, and that the United States hopes to double the number of helicopters it has operating in the region.
Helicopters are uniquely suited to the mission of getting supplies from major distribution points at seaports and airports and into the hands of those who desperately need them, Powell said.
He said the United States recognizes that the governments of the affected nations have the primarily role in building their countries. "But in the face of a disaster of this magnitude, international help and cooperation is essential," he said.
The United States welcomes the United Nations' coordinating role in the effort, Powell said, noting that the core group of nations initially formed to catalyze international support will now contribute to the U.N. effort.
"On behalf of President Bush and the American people, I wish to extend our deepest condolences to all of the nations who have suffered such a heartbreaking loss of life," Powell said. "The president wants you to know that the affected nations will have the full support of the United States as they go through this process of rebuilding their societies, rebuilding families, rebuilding industry, rebuilding homes and schools."