WASHINGTON – About $92 million of the $350 million that the Bush administration pledged for tsunami relief (search) assistance has been spent so far, a U.S. government official said Friday.
The money has been provided to United Nations organizations and private relief groups, according to Tom Fry of the U.S. Agency for International Development (search), who spoke by telephone from Utapao, Thailand, with reporters at the Pentagon. The rest of the $350 million will be allocated as relief organizations submit proposals for specific projects, he said.
"When those proposals come in we review those and then if the Pentagon agrees with them, we will then fund those agencies and organizations to continue this work," Fry said.
Separately, Paul Wolfowitz, the deputy secretary of defense, told reporters during a flight to South Asia on Thursday that he hopes the U.S. military's role in the relief mission will be finished well before the end of March. He was responding to a statement by Indonesian Vice President Jusuf Kalla (search), who said all foreign troops would be out of the country by March 31.
"I would hope that we would not be needed (in the region) as a military long before March," Wolfowitz said, according to a transcript of his remarks released at the Pentagon on Friday. "Well, let me not predict," he added. "I would hope that that date would not be an issue at all."
Wolfowitz, a former U.S. ambassador to Jakarta, said cooperation with the Indonesians has been very good.
"For any country it is sensitive to have foreign troops on your territory. It would be sensitive in the United States and I can tell you that it is extremely sensitive in Indonesia," he said. "What's remarkable is that it has caused no problems to date."
Wolfowitz was visiting Indonesia, Sri Lanka and Thailand.
Fry said an assessment team is now looking at potential health problems in northwestern Sumatra, and when their evaluation is completed some additional U.S. funds will be provided to address those health issues.
Of the $92 million spent so far, about $31 million has been provided to Indonesia, about $42 million for Sri Lanka, about $13 million for the overall region, about $3 million to India and smaller amounts to the Maldives, Thailand, Malaysia, Seychelles and Somalia.
The U.S. relief funds do not count the assistance provided by the U.S. military, which has 24 Navy ships, one Coast Guard vessel and about 15,000 servicemen and women involved in the relief effort. The Pentagon has estimated that it is spending about $6 million a day in those operations.