Italy's top disaster official blasted the U.S.-led relief effort in Haiti as a "pathetic" failure that is turning a national tragedy into a "vanity show for the television cameras."
Guido Bertolaso, the head of Italy's Civil Protection Agency, told Italian television on Sunday that the U.S. military "tends to confuse military intervention with emergency intervention," and that despite the presence of 13,000 U.S. troops there, "no one is giving orders."
He said there is a danger that aid will be lost by the "inefficient" operation.
Bertolaso threw darts at targets ranging from former President Bill Clinton to the United Nations, which he faulted for throwing aid packages at the island and hoping for the best.
"They thought they could bring something to eat and drink and the problem would be resolved," he told a television interviewer.
Bertolaso called for the appointment of a civilian international humanitarian coordinator.
Italian Foreign Minister Franco Frattini quickly distanced the government in Rome from Bertolaso's comments and said the Cabinet-level official was not speaking in an official capacity when he lit into the U.S.
"We have lamented from the first day that there has been a lack of adequate coordination," Frattini told Italian newspaper Corriere della Sera. "But this doesn't mean that Italy has any intention of criticizing the U.S. efforts."
Speaking again Monday alongside Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Frattini told reporters in Washington of Italy's appreciation for U.S. leadership.
"I want to repeat here how highly we value the important and generous efforts of the United States to help the people in Haiti," Frattini said. "We highly value, we strongly appreciate the personal commitment of President Obama and Secretary Hillary Clinton to help people there."
Bertolaso is well respected in Italy for coordinating relief efforts after the 2009 earthquake in L'Aquila, which killed over 300 people. He showed President Obama around the area in central Italy when he visited for the G-8 summit in July.
The U.S. took over the only working airport in Haiti after a 7.0-magnitude earthquake struck on Jan. 12, killing at least 150,000 and leaving millions homeless. Dispatching 13,000 troops to the island, the U.S. has coordinated an international relief effort topping $1 billion in donations.
For its part, the U.S. has already sent nearly $184 million in aid to Haiti since the quake struck, according to the latest U.N. estimates. Italy has donated over $9 million, and like the U.S. has sent in recovery teams to help manage the living and recover the dead.
A spokeswoman for USAID, the government organization heading up relief efforts there, directed calls to the State Department, which wouldn't address Bertolaso's comments but defended U.S. work in Haiti.
"I think we have had major successes. I don't think we'll ever be happy with what has been done in a crisis of this scale," said Charles Luoma-Overstreet, spokesman for Western Hemisphere affairs at the State Department.
"The airport at Haiti is an airport that handled some 13 flights daily previously, and we're pushing it to the very limit now trying to get as many flights in and as much supplies as possible," he said, noting logistical challenges at every step, including a taxed and damaged port that made shipments difficult to bring to shore.
Secretary Clinton defended those efforts Monday, calling Bertolaso's swipes "Monday morning quarterbacking," and emphasizing the critical role of U.S. troops in the aid effort.
But Bertolaso also struck out at aid groups sending millions in relief and hundreds of volunteers to help the struggling island. He said the forces helping Haiti were often more focused on public relations than providing assistance.
"Once they've arrived on the scene of a disaster, organizations too often think about putting up a big poster with their symbol on it, to look good in front of cameras, rather than getting to work to bring aid to those who need it," he said.
Bertolaso accused those aid groups of "putting on a vanity show for the television cameras instead of rolling up their sleeves," singling out Bill Clinton, the U.S. Special envoy to Haiti, for a special thrashing.
Clinton made a show of helping with water supplies during his time in Haiti, Bertolaso said, "but went back after a day."
Yet despite the horrific conditions on the ground — exacerbated by downed communications and ruined roads — relief groups say it's remarkable that aid is reaching people who desperately need it.
"Given the extreme logistical challenges in Haiti and the scale of the devastation, the fact that aid is getting through and is flowing and is being stepped up every day — that's really good news," said Alina Labrada, a spokeswoman for CARE.
Speaking Monday to an Italian news agency, Bertolaso began backpedaling his comments, praising the "important effort from the U.S." But he still had stern words about the overall campaign, which he said was leaving "thousands of Haitians abandoned unto themselves."
Fox News' Greg Burke contributed to this report.