U.S. military expects quick end to tsunami relief efforts in Indonesia
Published February 6, 2005
BANDA ACEH, Indonesia - The U.S. military is likely to wrap up relief efforts for tsunami victims in Indonesia this month, a Navy commander said Saturday, a move that would end the biggest American military operation in Southeast Asia since the Vietnam War.
The aircraft carrier USS Abraham Lincoln already has left the waters off Sumatra, where at least 112,000 people were killed in the Dec. 26 tsunami. The ship spent one month leading a massive helicopter relief mission in villages on the island's western coast.
Rear Adm. William Douglas Crowder, the commander of the Lincoln's battle group, said 4,000 to 5,000 U.S. military personnel remain deployed, mostly offshore, as part of the multinational relief effort.
Speaking on the flight deck of the Lincoln after it docked at Singapore's Changi Naval Base for a visit, Crowder said he expected those forces to end their missions "in a couple of weeks," but would not give an exact date.
Other countries, including Australia, France and Japan, also sent military forces to help in the aid effort. The U.S. contingent was the largest, at one stage numbering up to 15,000 people.
Indonesia welcomed the foreign help but has said it will be ready to take control of the relief operation by late March, when the foreign troops should leave. The presence of foreign forces is sensitive because of a rebel conflict in the province of Aceh.
Meanwhile, Spain's first confirmed death in the tsunami was a reminder of the disaster's global scope and the slow pace of tallying the victims.
Even as recovery efforts entered their seventh week, workers in Aceh were recovering 500 to 1,000 bodies daily.
Spain's Foreign Ministry announced that forensic doctors had identified the body of a Spanish man who disappeared from the Thai island resort of Phuket.
The death toll from 11 tsunami-hit nations ranged Saturday from 159,976 to 178,100.
In Washington, President Bush announced plans to send two former presidents - his father and Bill Clinton - on a goodwill visit to Indonesia, Sri Lanka, Thailand and the Maldives Feb. 19-21.
[Last modified February 6, 2005, 00:23:11]
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