Monday, January 18, 2010

Pentagon: Security Incidents in Haiti Impede Relief Efforts

News in Balance

News in Balance:

WASHINGTON, Jan. 18, 2010 -- While violence in Haiti has dropped to pre-earthquake levels, security incidents in the devastated country impede efforts to deliver humanitarian assistance, the top U.S. commander in Haiti said today.

Army Lt. Gen. P.K. Keen characterized the security situation as “calm,” sounding a positive note a day after he cited increasing incidents of violence in Haiti in the midst of one of the greatest humanitarian emergencies in the history of the Americas.

In an operational update with reporters today, Keen said official U.S. sources and Haitian residents report that the number of violent incidents have declined to levels not seen since before a 7-magnitude earthquake rocked the Caribbean nation Jan. 12.

“Nevertheless, any incidents of violence impede our ability to deliver humanitarian assistance, and we have to address those, as [U.N. Stabilization Mission in Haiti] is doing in the best of their ability,” he said.

Haiti has been the focus of an expansive relief effort in the wake of the disaster, which officials believe has killed between 100,000 to 200,000 people and which the Red Cross estimates has affected some three million people.

For its part, the Defense Department has pledged up to $20 million in emergency relief funds for Haiti, and sprang troops into action following the quake, with the U.S. military footprint there expected to grow in the coming days.

About 1,700 troops, mostly from the Army’s 82nd Airborne Division, are on the ground in Haiti and that number is likely to grow to 4,000-5,000 in the coming days, with roughly the same number of Marines and other forces operating from sea-based platforms, officials said.

“We need as many troops on the ground as we can, and we've identified those numbers based upon our assessment [of the situation],” Keen said. Speaking of the capital city of Port-au-Prince, he added, “There's over 3-1/2 million people here. It's a very congested area. In order to get to all the points that are needed, in order to address the situation, we need a number of troops to do that.”

Military efforts are in support of the U.S. Agency for International Development, which is orchestrating U.S. government contributions to the relief mission. Operations are focused on working with the United Nations in Haiti, international relief organizations and local responders to provide search and rescue, distribute aid and assess damage to key infrastructure, officials said.

As of 3 p.m. today, the 22nd Marine Expeditionary Unit from Camp Lejeune, N.C., was arriving off the coast of Haiti. The Navy-Marine Corps team on the USS Bataan Amphibious Readiness Group had begun operations meanwhile to bring water, food and medicine to those in need.

The amphibious ships are loaded with helicopters, amphibious vehicles, trucks, generators and water-purification units, said Marine Maj. Gen. Cornell Wilson, commander of U.S. Marine forces operating in Haiti. He added that Marine forces bring additional flexibility to U.S. efforts.

“Marines are well known for their capabilities in combat operations,” he said. “However, they're equally capable of conducting humanitarian assistance operations. Together with our Navy counterparts, we're bringing a robust sea-based capability to this mission.”

(Report by John J. Kruzel, American Forces Press Service.)

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