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Rumsfeld: Military Can Handle Iraq & Storm Relief

U.S. Military Can Handle Iraq and Storm Relief, Rumsfeld Says

Belief Iraq deployment hindered Katrina response "flat wrong," says Myers

Washington -- The U.S. military has "the forces, the capabilities and the intention" to fight the global War on Terror and simultaneously deal with the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld says.

"We can and will do both," Rumsfeld told journalists at a Pentagon briefing September 6.

Air Force General Richard Myers, who briefed with Rumsfeld, was equally as emphatic. Asked to respond to critics who say that involvement in Iraq "somehow hindered" the U.S. military's ability to deal with the humanitarian crisis caused by the hurricane, he answered, "That's just flat wrong." Rumsfeld added that "anyone who's saying that doesn't understand the situation."

Myers, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said that journalists who predict a changed U.S. military stance in Afghanistan because of the need to provide domestic humanitarian assistance also are wrong.

"The plan that we've had in effect will stay in effect. Those that need to deploy are deploying. The troop levels are going to be what the commanders wanted and what they've asked for, so nothing has changed," Myers said.

He said military personnel from Louisiana and Mississippi who were deployed in Iraq have been located and contacted, and those with serious family problems are being brought back to the United States to handle their personal situations.

In response to several questions implying that the military response to Katrina's aftermath seemed slow, both officials contested the perception. Rumsfeld said the Defense Department does not have the lead among federal agencies in domestic natural disaster situations, but rather assists the new Department of Homeland Security. He said many of the first relief workers in and around New Orleans were themselves victims of the flooding, which started a full day after the hurricane had veered away from the city.

Both Rumsfeld and Myers said the Defense Department began meetings and discussions of what it might be called on to provide even before the storm struck.

Asked why the hundreds of military helicopters and other aircraft now flying thousands of supply and other missions weren't provided a day sooner than they were, Rumsfeld said "the first thing that one does when a hurricane is approaching is to move assets -- aircraft, helicopters, all those kinds of capabilities that can be destroyed in a hurricane -- away from the area…. So, there was a substantial movement of things away from the hurricane by private people, by military people. … And that's a very normal pattern. As the situation evolved, they were brought back, and very rapidly."

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