As is usual in most international disasters, the United States of America is leading the world in providing humanitarian aid to the victims of the Haiti earthquake. And, as always, the U.S. military is spearheading such relief efforts.
The following are headlines and excerpts about some of these efforts that have appeared in various publications during the past 48 hours.
Up to 10,000 U.S. troops will be off Haiti’s shores by Monday to help distribute aid and prevent potential rioting among desperate earthquake survivors, the top U.S. military officer said Friday, as President Obama pledged long-term reconstruction help to Haitian President Rene Preval.
Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, also said the total American presence in and around the beleaguered country could rise beyond 10,000 as U.S. military officers determine how much assistance may be needed in the days ahead.
In a joint news conference at the Pentagon with Mullen, Defense Secretary Robert Gates said the primary goal is to distribute aid as quickly as possible “so that people don’t, in their desperation, turn to violence.” He suggested that the U.S. is aware of perceptions it could have too-high a profile in the ravaged country.
The arrival off the Haitian coast of the aircraft carrier Carl Vinson, a ship laden with helicopters, essentially provides a “second airport” from which aid can be delivered to the stricken capital, Crowley said.
Mullen said the hospital ship Comfort, with hundreds of medical professionals and medical support, should be off the Haitian coast by the end of next week.
Hundreds of U.S. troops and an aircraft carrier have arrived for the Haiti relief effort, and the commander on the ground said Friday that food, water, medicine and other emergency relief supplies are being rushed to victims.
Thousands more troops and sailors were en route.
The aircraft carrier Carl Vinson also arrived off Haiti’s shores overnight carrying 19 helicopters, and it started flights off its deck in the morning, officials said.
The carrier also has water-purifying equipment and three surgical operating rooms, and can do medical evacuations as well as ferry supplies and people to and from land.
The arrivals added to more than 300 military personnel who had arrived as of Thursday and amounted to the first major influx of military from the United States, which has taken the lead in world efforts to assist the devastated country.
The U.S. Southern Command said there were about 8,000 personnel from America’s armed forces either on site or on the way as of Friday morning.
Fort Bragg was sending another 800 troops Friday and will have a full brigade of some 3,500 on the ground by the end of the weekend. Another big ground force was expected late this weekend — the amphibious assault ship Bataan amphibious assault ship got underway overnight from Naval Station Norfolk, Va., and was stopping Friday to pick up Marines in North Carolina on its way.
The Navy hospital ship Comfort was to leave Baltimore on Saturday with some 250 medical staff, stop in Florida to pick up 300 more people and be off Haiti on Thursday.
When a devastating earthquake struck Haiti on Tuesday, it knocked out the control tower at Port-au-Prince airport. A team of Air Force special operators has now reopened the airport — and is working to keep things running so that more relief can arrive.
The 23rd Special Tactics Squadron, 720th Special Tactics Group, is overseeing air traffic control at Port-au-Prince airport…Air Force special operators have thus far rescued seven people from collapsed buildings…Other military assets are on their way, including a contingency response group from Air Mobility Command.
Wall Street Journal:
The first Navy ship, the USS Higgins, arrived in Haiti Thursday morning, joining a small number of Coast Guard cutters that arrived on Wednesday.
The Pentagon appointed a three-star general, Lt. Gen. P.K. Keen, the deputy director of the military’s Southern Command, to head the rapidly expanding U.S. military relief effort in Haiti, which is shaping up to be one of the biggest American humanitarian missions in decades.
Gates rules out airdropping aid for fear of riots
Stars and Stripes:
Top defense officials have ruled out airdropping food, water and medical supplies over Haiti, fearing that chaos would be the unintended result.
“It seems to me that without having any structure on the ground, in terms of distribution, that an airdrop is simply going to lead to riots as people try and go after that stuff,” said Defense Secretary Robert Gates on Friday.
A force of between 9,000 and 10,000 U.S. servicemembers is on its way to Haiti, said Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
A large portion of those troops will remain on ships off the island’s coast, but the Defense Department is “poised” to send more ground forces if the head of U.S. Southern Command and the commander on the ground feel it’s necessary, Mullen said.
U.S. troops’ primary mission will be to deliver relief supplies, not provide security, Gates said.
“The key is to get the food and the water in there as quickly as possible, so that people don’t in their desperation turn to violence,” he said.
The 2,000 Marines headed to Haiti are capable of conducting a variety of missions ranging from humanitarian relief to combat operations, said Capt. Clark Carpenter, a spokesman for the 22nd Marine Expeditionary Unit.
The Marines are expected to arrive off Haiti next week.
The U.S. military now has a 24-hour-a-day airlift underway. The White House said a large shipment of food will arrive Saturday. Three U.S. military helicopters were scheduled to fly in Thursday from the neighboring Dominican Republic loaded with water, medical supplies.
The United States dispatched a company of the Army’s 82nd Airborne Division. But the Pentagon said that only 329 U.S. military personnel were on the ground Thursday.
The USS Carl Vinson, the Navy carrier — loaded with 19 helicopters — was scheduled to arrive Friday. And the hospital ship, USNS Comfort, was preparing to get underway.
Coast Guard cutters have begun to remove people and ferry supplies, and more are steaming toward Haiti.
As of late Thursday, the Coast Guard had flown out more than 100 Americans, including injured and nonessential U.S. Embassy personnel. Eighteen other people with severe injuries — major lacerations, fractured skulls and other broken bones — were taken by helicopter.
Rumbling trucks and beeping forklifts carried supplies to the Navy hospital ship USNS Comfort Thursday as crew members hustled to get the enormous white vessel ready for a Saturday departure to earthquake-ravaged Haiti.
With its giant red cross insignia, 250 hospital beds and military medical staff of 560, the Comfort is preparing for its biggest humanitarian mission in at least 20 years, Capt. James Ware said.
The ship is expected to arrive Jan. 21 at Haiti, where it may anchor a mile or more offshore and treat patients flown in by the Comfort’s two helicopters. Workers in the ship’s four operating rooms and eight intensive-care units will be busy treating up to 200 patients a day.
The floating hospital is one of two in the Navy fleet. The USNS Mercy is based in San Diego.
Arizona Daily Star:
The airmen in the 79th Rescue Squadron were eager to help the victims of the earthquake that struck Haiti on Tuesday.Once they received their opportunity, they wasted no time making an impact.
The rescue squadron, based at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base, was on its way to the devastated country within five hours after receiving the call Wednesday afternoon.
And it was only a matter of minutes — eight to be exact— after landing in Haiti before they were in the sky heading back to the United States.
During that span, the squadron dropped off more than 13,000 pounds of military vehicles and equipment they picked up at Pope Air Force Base in North Carolina…
Within hours of the earthquake Tuesday…the aircraft carrier Carl Vinson was speeding toward Haiti with a deckfull of helicopters for ferrying relief supplies, and the Pentagon had sent in a team to take over, secure, and operate the badly damaged national airport. [The Vinson has now arrived off theHaitian coast—see an earlier excerpt]
U.S. military aircraft also were flying in emergency communications gear to bypass Haiti’s ruined telephone system and ferrying in assessment teams from the Pentagon and the U.S. Agency for International Development to figure out what’s needed and how to get it.
Air Force Gen. Douglas Fraser, who heads U.S. Southern Command, the regional military organization, said Wednesday he may ask that a task force of warships and 1,200 combat Marines, organized as a Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU), be directed to Haiti. A MEU, embarked on ships with helicopters, humanitarian supplies and construction equipment, could be a key component of reconstruction projects in Haiti.
Or the Marines could be directed to quell violence and keep order.
UPDATE I January 16
From the UPI:
Control of the Port-au-Prince airport, central hub for the huge international relief operation, has been given by Haiti to the U.S. military.
Some 4,200 U.S. military personnel have arrived in Haiti for earthquake relief efforts with 6,300 more scheduled to arrive this weekend, officials said.
Officials of the U.S. Southern Command told Pentagon news services late Friday that they have established Joint Task Force Haiti under the command of Army Lt. Gen. P.K. “Ken” Keen and are working with the United Nations Stabilization Mission in Haiti, international relief organizations and local responders to provide search and rescue, distribute aid and assess damage to key infrastructure.
They said the airfield at Port-au-Prince is now open 24 hours per day and has a capability of handling 90 aircraft per day.
Meanwhile, the aircraft carrier USS Carl Vinson and the U.S. Navy destroyer USS Higgins have arrived off the Haitian coast in support of the task force. Southern Command officials said the Vinson is hosting 19 helicopters flying airlift missions in support of relief efforts and delivering more than 30 pallets of relief supplies for distribution to affected areas.
The Pentagon also said the 22nd Marine Expeditionary Unit, with more than 2,200 Marines, is scheduled to arrive in Haiti Monday with heavy-lift and earth-moving equipment and additional medical-support capabilities.
The Washington Post, January 16:
With 1,000 troops on the ground, and more stores of food, water and equipment on the way, U.S. officials confronted the staggering and complex task of reviving the tortured nation, where the unemployment rate was 70 percent before this week’s calamity.
The State Department said that a Navy carrier arriving here was carrying 600,000 daily rations of food, and that an additional $48 million in food assistance would be made available, enough to last several months. An estimated 100,000 containers for water are being shipped in, along with four water-purification systems, and the Pentagon said as many as 10,000 troops could be deployed.
Officials said the situation at the airport — named for Haitian patriot Toussaint L’Ouverture — had improved since Thursday, when private planes would arrive unannounced and low on fuel. They had to be allowed to land because of the risk that they would crash, but other planes were waved off, said Air Force Master Sgt. Ty Foster.
“The air flow is a lot better. We have good communications now,” he said.
U.S. Air Force special forces were assisting with air-traffic control, and a U.S. military AWACS plane was overhead to help manage air traffic. Other officials said the airport could handle only up to 90 landings and takeoffs a day.
Lt. Gen. Ken Keen, deputy commander of the U.S. Southern Command, told reporters at the airport Friday that “it’s going to take a significant international effort” to help Haiti recover.
“It will take days to get help to all the particular places we need to,” he said.
Keen said U.S. helicopters from the USS Carl Vinson, which had arrived offshore, were dropping water supplies to areas of Port-au-Prince on Friday.
The author is a retired U.S. Air Force officer and a writer.