Kansas disaster renews National Guard debate
OVERLAND PARK, Kansas
OVERLAND PARK, Kansas (Reuters) - Critics of the Iraq war said on Tuesday the Bush administration's failure to replenish vital National Guard equipment sent to Iraq caused Kansas to fall short in responding to last week's tornado disaster, and other states were equally vulnerable.
The White House and the Pentagon rebuffed the criticism, saying Kansas and other states had adequate resources that they could share in event of disasters like the Kansas tornado that leveled one small town on Friday and killed 10 in the area.
The debate was ignited by Kansas Gov. Kathleen Sebelius, a Democrat, who said on Monday the federal government had failed to replace state National Guard equipment deployed to Iraq and the lack of equipment was hindering rescue and recovery efforts after a weekend of violent weather in the Midwestern state.
Tornadoes on Friday and Saturday were followed by widespread flooding, exacerbating the need for National Guard resources, according to the governor.
Groups opposed to the Iraq war added their voices to the debate in a news conference on Tuesday, saying diminished domestic capabilities of the National Guard, whose 460,000 citizen-soldiers have a dual mandate to protect the nation at home and abroad, is hurting states like Kansas.
"That tornado occurred on Friday and here it is Tuesday and they're still doing search and rescue because they've had to bring in resources from out of state," Jane Bullock, a former chief of staff at the Federal Emergency Management Agency, told the news conference called by the National Security Network and Americans Against Escalation in Iraq.
Kansas emergency management spokeswoman Sharon Watson confirmed on Tuesday that the state was bringing in private contractors to help move several tons of debris from the town of Greensburg, where 95 percent of the buildings were estimated damaged or destroyed.
Watson said Kansas also was borrowing personnel and resources from Nebraska.
Sebelius has said that Kansas lacked about half the large equipment needed for recovery efforts and debris removal. She said more than 20 percent of the state's Humvees and 15 of 19 helicopters were sent to Iraq.
She was due to discuss the matter with President George W. Bush when he tours the area on Wednesday.
WHITE HOUSE WEIGHS IN
White House spokesman Tony Snow said he was aware Sebelius was complaining about a lack of National Guard resources in Kansas and linking it to the Iraq war but he said she had told federal officials she had enough resources to respond to the crisis.
Snow did say, however, that Sebelius had requested a mobile command center, an urban search-and-rescue task force, a mobile office building, 42 radios and helicopters.
"Those are the things that the state has requested that FEMA has provided," Snow said.
Pentagon spokesman Bryan Whitman also said resources were adequate. According to Whitman there are more than 83,000 Guard personnel available in Kansas and nearby states as well as hundreds of pieces of heavy equipment.
Sebelius is among a group of governors that has been asking for more than a year for the federal government to repair or replace millions of dollars worth of National Guard equipment sent to Iraq.
David Quam, director of federal relations for the National Governors Association, said that across the country, governors saw re-equipping the National Guard as "vital."
A report by the Government Accountability Office issued in 2005 in the wake of the Hurricane Katrina disaster along the Gulf Coast said the extensive use of Guard equipment overseas has "significantly reduced the amount of equipment available to state governors for domestic needs."
Maj. Gen. Melvyn Montano, former adjutant general of the New Mexico National Guard, said at Tuesday's news conference that in addition to Kansas, equipment shortfalls were significant in Michigan, Oklahoma, Florida, Oregon, New Mexico, and Colorado.
(Additional reporting by Kristin Roberts)