Non-governmental relief agencies working in Georgia are furious that President Bush has put the Pentagon in charge of the operation, charging that the "militarization" of the humanitarian operation puts them at risk.
The U.S. military has provided helicopters and heavy-lift cargo planes to support civilian relief efforts in previous humanitarian crises, but in such cases it is often the United Nations or the U.S. Agency for International Development that leads the effort.
But Bush, acting on Aug. 13 as he sought diplomatic footing against Russia's military confrontation with Georgia, declared that he was putting the Defense Department in charge of the humanitarian relief mission.
Sam Worthington, president of InterAction, a coalition in Washington of 178 American relief agencies, said that Bush was sending "an important political message" by injecting U.S. military forces into the Georgian crisis.
But he said having civilian nonprofit organizations involved also sends a message. "We, too, are a face of America overseas and a very positive one, and our work through civilians enables America to show a positive side of how we can help others around the world," he said.
Another senior NGO official - who is not authorized to speak to the media - said it is "unnecessary and inappropriate and poses dangers for our operations down the road" to have to work under the U.S. military.
[Excerpt of an article in the Baltimore Sun]