Anti-War Groups Blame Iraq War for Kansas Tornado Response
July 7, 2008 - 8:23 PM
(CNSNews.com) - Cleanup of the damage caused Friday when an F-5 tornado tore through the Kansas town of Greensburg has been slowed because National Guard resources are in Iraq, according to a group of anti-war activists and the Kansas governor.
The White House fired back, pointing to what it said was the failure by Kansas Democratic Gov. Kathleen Sebelius to ask for cleanup equipment that is available from other states and the federal government.
But after absorbing so much criticism for the way it handled Hurricane Katrina in 2005, the Bush administration is once again under attack following a natural disaster.
"Here we are looking at Tuesday, and they're still doing search and rescue because they've had to bring in support" from other states, Jane Bullock, chief of staff to former Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) Director James Lee Witt, said in a conference call with reporters Tuesday.
"What is most disheartening is the fact that we now lack the equipment needed to clean up and go in and help the citizens ... because they were shipped over to Iraq," Kansas Democratic State Sen. Donald Betts said during the call sponsored by the National Security Network and Americans Against Escalation in Iraq.
The groups argue that National Guard troops and resources that could be used in rescue and cleanup efforts for natural disasters have been used and depleted in Iraq. They called on the Bush administration to bring troops home and re-equip the National Guard and Reserves.
"We can spend $2 billion a week taking care of another country," Betts said of the war in Iraq, "but we don't have the resources to take care of our own states."
He called for greater federal response to natural disasters, adding that National Guard readiness should be restored because "we need to secure Kansas for the future."
A spokesman for Sebelius told Cybercast News Service that there wasn't an official statement on the availability of the National Guard, but Sebelius told the Associated Press: "I don't think there is any question if you are missing trucks, Humvees and helicopters, the response is going to be slower."
In a round of interviews on network and cable news shows Monday evening, Sebelius said the National Guard equipment shortage is "something that governors across this country have talked about to the president, to the Department of Defense, really for well over two years, and it's happening every place in the country."
"When a Guard unit is deployed, the equipment goes with them," Sebelius told CNN. "It doesn't come back, and it isn't replaced."
President Bush on Sunday declared the tornado-affected areas of Kansas disaster areas, authorizing federal funding for relief efforts.
White House Press Secretary Tony Snow on Monday deflected Sebelius' criticism about Guard resources being tied up in Iraq and implied that Sebelius had not taken the necessary steps to request heavy equipment from other states or the federal government.
"Well, first, take a look at whether such help has been requested," Snow said in a press briefing. "But there's been an enormous amount of help on the scene already, frankly, when it comes to what's been going on with the tornado."
He said the Bush administration is "doing whatever it can. And if there's a need for equipment ... it will arrive." Snow said there are "pre-positioning points throughout the country for National Guard and other equipment in the case of emergency. So some of those plans, again, if called upon, are going to be put into motion."
The Kansas National Guard has 88 percent of its forces and between 60 and 85 percent of its equipment on hand, according to National Guard Bureau Public Affairs Officer Randal Noller.
In a statement Monday, Noller said Kansas has 400,000 guardsmen from other states available to assist in recovery. "However, Kansas has not yet requested assistance from other states."
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