ARLINGTON, Va. — With emergency aid to tsunami victims largely in place, U.S. commanders will spend the next several days planning their long-range goals, according to the leader of the military’s relief effort.

“We are at a point, I believe, where we are able now to see the top of the crisis curve,” Marine Lt. Gen. Robert R. Blackman told Pentagon reporters Friday.

Speaking by telephone from Utapao, Thailand, where his Combined Support Force 536 is based, Blackman said that “the priority over the next 96 hours is to determine what our sustained requirements will be for this disaster relief on each of the three countries where we are focusing our efforts,” — Thailand, Sri Lanka and Indonesia.

However, it is still too early to get a sense of how long it will take before the U.S. military can begin considering drawing back any of the personnel or capabilities tapped for the relief efforts, Blackman said.

“We will conduct operations here as long as it takes in order to accomplish our mission of minimizing further loss of life and mitigating human suffering,” Blackwell said. “We will not stay any longer than necessary.”

Now the U.S. military’s job is to figure out how best to support the countries most hard-hit by the Dec. 26 earthquake and subsequent tsunamis in the long term, Blackman said.

“The challenge now that we’re able to better see the top of the curve,” Blackman said, “is to match up our existing capabilities here in each of these unique locations.”

Only once the individual nations, the United Nations, and international aid agencies “are in a position to sustain the necessary relief” will Blackman “make the recommendation that we begin to incrementally reduce our [military] capabilities” in the effort. And that timetable, Blackman said, “will be different in each [country] of Thailand, Indonesia and Sri Lanka.”

U.S. forces can expect to be involved in the tsunami relief efforts “for some time,” Blackman said.

For example, the USNS Mercy hospital ship, which was dispatched to the region earlier this week, will not even arrive on-station for another 30 days, Blackwell confirmed.

With more than 13,000 U.S. military personnel now in the region and working to relieve devastation and human suffering on a “truly historic … scale,” U.S. military commanders are offering those servicemembers mental health counseling, and that “earlier, rather than later,” Blackman said.

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