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American Forces Press Service

Wolfowitz Views Indonesia's Devastated Aceh Province

By Kathleen T. Rhem
American Forces Press Service

JAKARTA, Indonesia, Jan 15, 2005 -- Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz returned to Indonesia today and found a country much changed since his tenure as U.S. ambassador here nearly 20 years ago.

When Wolfowitz was ambassador, from 1986 to 1989, Indonesia was not a democracy and, of course, a tsunami hadn't destroyed vast swaths of the country's seafront communities.

The deputy secretary arrived in Banda Aceh, Indonesia -- provincial capital of the Aceh province, which was hit harder than any other area in the Dec. 26 tsunami -- aboard a U.S. Air Force C-17 Globemaster III cargo plane loaded with pallet upon pallet of humanitarian rations.

Because of his previous posting here, Wolfowitz is very popular in Indonesia. Dozens of local media representatives were waiting when he stepped off the plane at Sultan Iskandar Muda Air Force Base. A crowd swarmed around him, seeking photographs and handshakes.

After arriving in Banda Aceh, Wolfowitz immediately was whisked off on a helicopter tour of some of the damaged areas.

From the SH-60B Sea Hawk helicopter, the devastation was clearly visible for miles. Near the coast, parcels of land the size of several city blocks have been swept clean of all that stood there -- entire villages literally washed from the island of Sumatra.

A short distance away, the pattern of destruction changes. The roofs of a few scattered structures jut out above piles of rubble. Boats lay on their sides far from the coast.

At a news conference later in the day, Wolfowitz said he's glad to be back in Aceh and glad the U.S. military has been able to help. "The scale of this is so enormous," he said, "I can't imagine any country that could handle this on its own."

He added that this disaster "gives a new horrible meaning to what it means to be a survivor."

The Pentagon's No. 2 man assured the Indonesian people that the United States has no desire to have a long-term presence in Indonesia. "The goal is for Indonesia to be self-sufficient, or at least as self-sufficient as possible," he said. "And the goal from our point of view is to be able to free up our people for other missions.

"But let me emphasize the most important goal is to make sure the survivors here are properly taken care of," he added. "I think that's what everybody agrees has to be done."

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