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American Forces Press Service

Indonesian Minister, Wolfowitz Laud U.S. Troops' Efforts

By Kathleen T. Rhem
American Forces Press Service

JAKARTA, Indonesia, Jan. 16, 2005 -- The U.S. military has been the "backbone of the logistical operations" of providing aid to Indonesia's devastated Aceh province, that country's defense minister said here today.

"We'd like to pay tribute to the soldiers, sailors, Marines, and airmen of the U.S. forces deployed in Aceh throughout the relief effort," Defense Minister Juwono Sudarsono said in a joint news conference with visiting U.S. Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz.

Wolfowitz seconded Sudarsono's comments. "I want to pay enormous tribute to the men and women of the United States military, who stepped in with enormous goodwill," he said.

The USS Abraham Lincoln was headed back to the United States when it was diverted here, but no sailors are complaining, Wolfowitz said. "They really believe in the importance of what they're doing," he said.

The deputy secretary relayed how, a day earlier, he had witnessed sailors -- and even pilots -- unloading humanitarian items. "And if you don't know what a remarkable thing that is, you don't know what fighter pilots are like," he said.

Wolfowitz credited U.S. Pacific Command commander Navy Adm. Thomas Fargo with realizing "the minute that the word came about the tsunami that we needed to start moving the ships into place, even before we had any idea of the magnitude of the disaster."

Both Wolfowitz and Sudarsono said a widely reported late March deadline for withdrawing foreign troops from Indonesia is not set in stone. Sudarsono called it a benchmark so that by that time "the large part of this burden will be carried by the Indonesians themselves."

Wolfowitz praised Indonesia for recently executing the country's second democratic presidential election. Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono was sworn in Oct. 20. In particular, Wolfowitz said, it is a positive sign that Yudhoyono is a retired general who has received U.S. military training in the United States and understands the role of a civilian-led military force.

"Those of us who love this country have watched from a distance," he said, "seeing the progress of democracy." Wolfowitz was U.S. ambassador to Indonesia from 1986 to 1989.

He said the Indonesian government's most pressing challenge now is to prove it can be effective. "They've been presented with an even bigger challenge that anyone could have imagined with this tsunami catastrophe," he added. "And the one good thing is that the whole world has come forward and is ready to help."

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