After a series of deadly tornadoes swept through her state last weekend, Kansas governor Kathleen Sebelius said today that the war in Iraq has created gaps in the federal government’s ability to respond to natural disasters. The tornadoes caused 10 deaths, and virtually destroyed the small town of Greensburg, KS. The governor said that half of the state’s National Guard trucks are in Iraq, and the state is also missing other equipment and personnel. “I don’t think there is any question if you are missing trucks, Humvees and helicopters that the response is going to be slower,” Sebelius said. “The real victims here will be the residents of Greensburg, because the recovery will be at a slower pace.”

Maj. Gen. Tod Bunting, the state’s adjutant general said that the Kansas National Guard has 400 Guardsman on duty in Greensburg. The problem is that 850 of his soldiers are stationed in Iraq and Afghanistan right now. They are only equipped to 40% of necessary levels, which is 20% lower than when the war started. Bunting is going to have to get equipment and soldiers from other states to help with disaster clean up. Democratic Gov. Sebelius had written the Pentagon twice and talked to President Bush about getting more equipment for the state, but nothing was done. “He assured me that he had additional equipment in his budget a year ago. What the Defense Department said then and continues to say is that states will get about 90 percent of what they had,” Sebelius said. “Meanwhile, it doesn’t get any better. I’m at a loss.”

Here is what Press Secretary Tony Snow had to say about what kind of help Kansas can expect, “Well, first, take a look at whether such help has been requested. But what I would do is I would ask you to go ahead to DOD for really the specific answers about that. 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. FEMA has certainly been actively engaged, and the administration is doing whatever it can. And if there’s a need for equipment, it’s going to be arrived — it will arrive. As you know, there are prepositioning 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. But I just can’t tell you precisely how it goes. And in order to get — the best way to get an accurate response is to call DOD on that one.”

 It sounds to me like Tony was dodging that question, and trying to pass the buck to the Department of Defense. This whole thing has an eerie similarity to what happened in Louisiana after Katrina. Federal aid is slow getting to the disaster area because the White House claims that aid has to be requested and then much dragging of feet ensues. What the White House is unwilling to admit is that a National Guard does a nation no good if it is busy fighting a war overseas. The point of the National Guard is to protect the homeland, not to be off fighting a war in Iraq and Afghanistan. In my opinion, this is another example of how a terribly flawed war strategy is hurting Americans at home.

Full text of the White House press briefing

Gov. Sebelius’ website

Related AP story

Jason Easley is the editor of the politics zone at 411mania.com.  His news column The Political Universe appears on Tuesdays and Fridays at www.411mania.com/politics

Jason can also be heard every Sunday afternoon at 1:30 pm (ET) as the host of The Political Universe Radio Show at http://www.blogtalkradio.com/thepoliticaluniverse
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