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Thursday, January 14, 2010

US Military Responds to Haiti Disaster

"When the freedom they wished for most was the freedom from responsibility, then Athens ceased to be free and was never free again." -- Edith Hamilton (1867-1963), USA

President Obama and our military have begun humanitarian ops in Haiti, and roughly 10,000 troops will be stationed in the area by Monday. While the strain on forces and milfamilies needs to be relieved (and this isn't going to help), we must respond.

David Martin, CBS News:

In extended, preserving a few press reports related to the military's humanitarian work in Haiti right now. The first entry is especially stat and data rich.

In educational interest, article(s) quoted from extensively.

Press conference with General Douglas Fraser of the US Southern Command on the Haiti relief plan, U.S. Southern Command Headquarters in Doral:

Mark Thompson, Time:

While U.S. officials weren't issuing estimates of casualties from Tuesday's strong 7.0 earthquake, there was growing concern that pancaked buildings in Port-au-Prince, home to some 2 million people — and Haiti's inability to quickly rescue those who are trapped — could lead to thousands, if not tens of thousands, of fatalities.

The U.S. response began with a Navy P-3 Orion based at Comalapa, El Salvador, which flew over the Haitian capital gathering photographic and other intelligence on the extent of the damage. Officials at the Miami-based U.S. Southern Command began using that information to guide U.S. and international rescue efforts. At first light on Wednesday, a Coast Guard helicopter evacuated four critically injured U.S. embassy staff and took them to a hospital at Naval Station Guant√°namo Bay, Cuba, for treatment. Elements of the Air Force First Special Operations Wing deployed on Wednesday to the international airport at Port-au-Prince to provide air traffic control capability and airfield operations. ...

Pentagon officials said an initial team of 30 people arrived in Haiti on Wednesday to join the 63 U.S. soldiers who are permanently stationed there. The team includes military engineers, operational planners, communication specialists and a command and control group. They'll work with U.S. embassy staff as well as Haitian, U.N. and other officials on the ground to assess the situation and coordinate rescue and recovery efforts. The Navy aircraft carrier U.S.S. Carl Vinson is on the way and is expected to arrive off the coast of Haiti on Thursday, where it will be joined by additional Navy vessels that are under way.


Yochi J. Dreazen, Wall Street Journal:

The Pentagon appointed a three-star general to head the rapidly expanding U.S. military relief effort in Haiti, which is shaping up to be one of the biggest—and most challenging—American humanitarian missions in years.

Lt. Gen. P. K. Keen, the deputy director of the military's Southern Command, has been tapped to lead a new joint task force devoted to Haiti. Gen. Keen, who is already in the country, will be charged with managing the half-dozen large ships and roughly 8,000 military personnel who will soon be in or near Haiti, which was devastated by a 7.0-magnitude earthquake that may have killed tens of thousands of people.

Gen. Keen will take his orders from Kenneth Merten, the American ambassador in Port-au-Prince. State Department officials said the U.S. troops that are deploying to Haiti will work closely with the 9,000-member United Nations security force there but remain solely under American command.

President Barack Obama named former presidents George W. Bush and Bill Clinton to serve as co-chairs of the U.S. relief efforts in Haiti. The assignment to lead private-sector fund-raising and build awareness of Haiti's plight marks Mr. Bush's re-emergence into the public spotlight since leaving office a year ago. In a joint statement, the two former presidents praised Americans' "long history of showing compassion and generosity in the wake of tragedy." ...

Military officials said the pace of the relief effort will accelerate markedly in coming days. The USS Carl Vinson, a large aircraft carrier, is set to arrive off the Haitian coast on Friday with 14 helicopters and relief supplies. The USS Bataan, an amphibious ship carrying 2,200 Marines, will arrive there next week with a pair of smaller ships. The USNS Comfort, a floating hospital with 12 operating rooms, is set to reach Haiti next Friday.

The U.S. is also mobilizing a large contingent of ground troops. The Pentagon said an initial contingent of roughly 100 troops from the 82nd Airborne Division would arrive in Haiti later Thursday to start building the infrastructure of a temporary military base on the ground there. The rest of the brigade's roughly 3,500 soldiers should arrive in Haiti by Sunday night.

Military officials said the ground forces will be used to clear debris, repair Haiti's shattered infrastructure, and help provide security in case political instability or widespread looting erupts after the quake.

View CNN Video>>


U.S. military air traffic controllers are scrambling to keep earthquake aid flowing into Haiti's main entry point, its airport. They're trying to do this without the use of an airport control tower or radar, and amid struggles over fuel, tarmac space and even staircases to access the planes.

The space crunch left some two dozen planes circling for more than two hours yesterday. Many of them had to be diverted to Santo Domingo or Florida. Thursday's arrivals were dominated by rescue crews leading search dogs and military operations toting supplies and communications equipment.



Military relief flights to Haiti are being coordinated at Scott Air Force Base in Illinois. Commanders are dealing with a heavily damaged airport in Port-au-Prince that can't handle the military's biggest transport planes. Still, they expect to fly in relief crews and ferry some of the most critically injured to the U.S. for treatment.

The facility managing the U.S. military's rescue effort to Haiti is the 618th Tanker Airlift Control Center at Scott Air force Base outside St. Louis. At the airlift control center inside Air Mobility Command headquarters on Thursday, it looked like a scene out of the movie War Games or NASA's Mission Control in Houston. On one very large wall, a projection screen displayed a map of the world with little colored airplanes. At the moment, about a dozen purple ones pointed toward Haiti.

The room is filled with 100 controllers sitting in front of desks watching multiple flat screen TVs. Thursday they will track more than 950 military flights around the world, including a new theater of operations, the rescue of the Haitian people.

"Air mobility command is responsible for worldwide airlift, refueling and medical evacuation. And the 618th TACC plans, tasks and executes those mission," Capt. Justin Brockhoff says.

Brockhoff concedes the shattered infrastructure in Haiti is a challenge to the relief mission. But he says operating in suboptimal environments is not a problem for them.

"Keep in mind our operations aren't always in a robust infrastructure-type area like an airport. We have folks on the road every day. We land on dirt strips in Afghanistan, dirt strips in Africa. We're taking the show on the road," Brockhoff says.

Tents, medication, food and water will fly in and the badly injured will fly out with other personnel. It is an intricate ballet of very large aircraft and hundreds of airmen and soldiers. Col. Brian Reno is a contingency response element director. It is his job to set up the entry point; in this case, the damaged but usable Port-au-Prince airport.

Read more>>

Howard LaFranchi, Christian Science Monitor:

The marines are about to hit the shores of Port-au-Prince – an arrival that would almost certainly send shivers up spines anywhere else in Latin America.But amid the Haitian earthquake relief effort – in a country that has no military of its own and has hosted an international peacekeeping force since 2004 – the arrival is unlikely to cause many ripples among locals.

Yet the dispatch of some 2,200 marines – as well as 3,500 soldiers from the 82nd Airborne Division – is raising some command and assignment questions.

When the troops arrive, perhaps this weekend, who will be in charge, given that the Haitian government is almost disintegrated and the 9,000-strong UN peacekeeping force, MINUSTAH, is dealing with its own losses?

Will the 5,500 US military personnel be part of an international, or an American, security effort?
Who's the boss?

“It’s fully desirable that all these forces should be coordinated with the UN MINUSTAH commander there,” UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon said Thursday.

US officials, on the other hand, say that while the US may “coordinate” with the peacekeeping operation’s leadership, US troops will be under American command.

“We’ll be under US command supporting a UN mission on behalf of the Haitian government and the Haitian people,” said State Department spokesman Philip Crowley, when asked Thursday to clarify the command structure for what is expected to be a three-month deployment of US forces.
Learning from the tsunami

The command question may cause some initial confusion, but it is likely to be quickly ironed out – especially given the recent experience the US has in dispatching the military to disaster zones, say US security and international relief experts.

“We sent 8,000 marines to Indonesia after the tsunami, and that intervention stands out as one of the best examples of use of the US military in a disaster,” says Lawrence Korb, a former assistant secretary of defense who is now an analyst at the Center for American Progress in Washington.

Not only did the Marines accomplish significant humanitarian objectives, Mr. Korb notes, but America’s image in Indonesia – the world’s largest Muslim country – shot up as a result. “The use of the military in this way really undermines the Al Qaeda narrative,” he says.


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