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US General Sees Improvement in Coordination of Indonesian Relief Efforts

The senior U.S. military officer in Indonesia says the coordination of relief efforts in Aceh, where as many as 100,000 people perished from the December 26 earthquake and tsunami, improves daily. Brigadier General Christian B. Cowdrey said the U.S. military is working closely with aid groups and other countries' militaries involved in the disaster relief mission.

"We get better everyday," he said. "Our command and control is linked to the relief organizations, and it's all of our hopes that the coordination that we'll have here by co-locating ourselves will improve daily as we get their needs and match those needs to our capability."

General Cowdrey said a major factor complicating relief efforts continues to be the lack of infrastructure in the region. There is only one runway in Banda Aceh capable of handling aid flights. Earlier this week, the runway was temporarily shut down after a cargo plane hit a water buffalo.

To ease congestion at the airport, the bulk of U.S. aircraft refuel on U.S. ships off the coast of Indonesia. General Cowdrey said a third U.S. vessel, an amphibious vessel capable of landing supplies and troops on the beach, is expected to arrive in two days.

"It has a medical surgical company on board," he said. "It also has some Navy construction equipment, some bulldozers and earthmoving equipment. It has Marine engineers that can do some medium repair and it has some additional heavy equipment pieces loaded on board."

In the week since U.S. military personnel arrived in Indonesia, American pilots have flown 197 missions and delivered 173,000 kilos of supplies to the areas hardest hit by the tsunami.

General Cowdrey said his troops will continue to deliver food and medical supplies but they are also looking toward the future. "I think we're all kind of looking at ways to provide them with some heavier engineering assets ashore so that we can begin to give them greater capability for follow-on efforts by construction companies and those that are going to come in behind us and rebuild roads and repair some of the infrastructure," he said. "So access to that would be our next effort I think."

Much of Aceh's infrastructure was destroyed when the tsunami hit. Humanitarian aid groups estimate it could take months for heavy equipment to clear the debris it left.