To the Rescue

This is a partial transcript of "The Big Story With John Gibson," January 4, 2005, that has been edited for clarity.

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JUDGE ANDREW NAPOLITANO, GUEST HOST: The tsunami relief effort is our largest military operation in Asia since the Vietnam War (search). Well, what exactly are those 10,000 Marines doing to help? General Wesley Clark has experienced supervising relief efforts as supreme allied commander of NATO (search). He joins me now from Washington to talk about the current aid mission.

General, today's big question: What is our military's role in this tsunami crisis?

RETIRED GEN. WESLEY CLARK, FORMER SUPREME ALLIED COMMANDER, NATO: Well, I think we have three roles in this. First of all, we have reconnaissance capabilities that nobody else has. So for all those people still out there that no one's located, we can help and we can help in ways nobody else can.

Secondly, we've got logistics capacity. And we just saw with the helicopters and the ships and the fixed-wing aircraft, nobody can bring that support in like we can.

And finally, we have the ability to coordinate. We're running our tactical airlift control elements out of U-Tapao (search), Thailand. We've got other capacities in the region. We are putting the coordination and control in so that others can fall in around us. Our armed forces, we are doing one of the things we do best, which is help other people.

NAPOLITANO: You know, general, when we think of the military, we usually think, at least I do, of its role in Iraq or Afghanistan or even the role you commanded in Bosnia and Albania. But the idea of 10,000 soldiers helping in a rescue mission, does the military prepare and train for this?

CLARK: Well, in a sense we really do. Because if you look at the individual skills of the soldiers and Marines, if you look at their training and first aid, if you look at their training in communications, if you look at the way they plan and organize, they are great at these missions. No, it's not why we organize the armed forces. And we couldn't keep a force as large as our force just to do these missions, but when duty calls and we've got the capacity to help, we are always anxious to help.

NAPOLITANO: The last time we did this on a large scale, when you were in charge in Bosnia and Albania, you had people shooting at the military while they were trying to provide this aid. And much of your manpower, I think, was devoted to policing. What are our guys physically, literally doing? Are they rebuilding roads and rebuilding bridges or they mainly just getting boxes of food and blankets and medicine and water into the hands of the neediest, however they get to our helicopters?

CLARK: That's right. The first thing we have to do is deal with the immediate emergency. And what we've got are hundreds of thousands of people out there who don't have access to food and water. Everything we can do to get those supplies in there will save lives. Then if we can identify those who are critically injured, and we can get them to medical assistance, that is something we will do also.

Helping to build roads, well, if that's necessary to get the relief supplies in, yes, we can do it. But the Indonesians themselves are going to end up doing the bulk of this and the reconstruction is going to take months, if not years. This is a long-term problem for this part of Indonesia. And I think the Indonesian government recognizes it. We'll do what we can to alleviate the immediate emergency. But it's really the Indonesians themselves with international assistance who will come together to put the programs in place that will rebuild the critical infrastructure.

NAPOLITANO: Do our 10,000 Marines and airmen that are there actually work side by side with the local military? Or with military forces from other countries? Or are we the only military force physically present, delivering aid in South Asia?

CLARK: Well we are the first ones on the scene, so far as I know, except for the Indonesians themselves. And of course, we've got coordination at the top. And the way it normally works, is that you do the coordination at the top through the U.S. embassy, through joint military contacts and maybe through a joint command center. But when it comes down to doing it in the field, normally at the cutting edge, the units are operating independently of each other. So there would be an Indonesian unit somewhere, there would be a U.S. unit somewhere and hopefully there will be others who will come in there to help.

NAPOLITANO: Before I let you go, general, I want you to wear your other hat. You know what I mean. Is the type of assistance we are providing through the military going to help improve the image of the United States of America throughout the world in general, and amongst Muslims, in particular?

CLARK: Yes, it will, provided that we stay with the program, that we're consistent. And remember, now, when we do this, there are going to be people throwing rocks at us, there are going to be people trying to prevent the improvement of our image. So we've got to be steadfast in this. We've got to stay with it. We've got to stay there and help these people and we've got to be kind of impervious to some of the sticks and stones some of these other groups may try to throw at us. But yes, it will help.

NAPOLITANO: General Wesley Clark, thank you for joining us tonight. Happy New Year to you.

CLARK: Thanks.

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