A U.S. aircraft carrier with 5,300 sailors and Marines headed out of Indonesian waters on Thursday, the single-biggest drawdown of the American military aid effort for the Dec. 26 tsunami victims.
The USS Abraham Lincoln "is moving out of Indonesian waters tonight," said Navy spokesman Cmdr. Mark McDonald. It is expected to arrive in Singapore Friday, he said.
About 1,000 servicemen and women stood at attention on the hot flight deck during a ceremony by U.S. and Indonesian officials to thank the personnel of the Abraham Lincoln, the figurehead of the U.S. military aid effort.
"In a very short while the U.S. military will have fulfilled its part in the overall relief support being provided by the U.S. government," said Lt. Gen. Robert Blackman, the commander of the U.S. military tsunami relief in Asia, in a speech at the ceremony.
The event was attended by Indonesia's Welfare Minister Alwi Shihab, Indonesian military chief Endriartono Sutarto and U.S. Ambassador Lynn Pascoe, who arrived on a helicopter from Banda Aceh, the capital of the Aceh province that bore the brunt of the tsunami.
More than 158,000 people are confirmed to have died in the disaster, including 111,000 in Indonesia alone. The estimates of the missing range up to 142,000 region-wide.
The United States, which sent 15,000 service personnel after the tsunami, will have about 5,000 troops left in the country after the departure of the USS Abraham Lincoln. The other U.S. forces were pulled out in phases last month.
Several other countries including Australia, Japan, France, Germany, Singapore and Malaysia also sent troops and aircraft.
"I am pleased that the government of Indonesia no longer needs the full complement of forces that were originally deployed," said Shihab. "It is with deep appreciation that I say to all of you, 'Thank you for a great job. Well done.'"
The remaining U.S. troops, will continue helping with the reconstruction effort through February, a U.S. diplomat in Jakarta, speaking on condition of anonymity, said.
The helicopters and the craft will be based on the USS Essex, an amphibious assault ship, said the diplomat. The hospital ship USNS Mercy will also remain in the area.
Since the U.S. military began providing assistance, over 2,800 relief missions have been flown, over 2,200 medical patients treated and 4,000 tons of supplies have been delivered, a U.S. Embassy statement said.