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Captain Rodger Welch, USN
Tsunami Relief Spokeperson, U. S. Pacific Command

U.S. Military Relief Efforts for Tsunami Victims
Camp H. M. Smith, Hawaii
January 6, 2005

 

Captain Welch: Good morning again, ladies and gentlemen. We are now in the 11th day of providing disaster relief and support to the governments and the people of the affected region. We continue to work together with numerous other nations who have responded in earnest to meet the many challenges of this disaster relief effort.

The host nations of Indonesia, Thailand and Sri Lanka continue to provide direction and specify the requests for the relief desired. Our role is to support this effort by responding to these requests from these nations.

Our mission remains to minimize the loss of life and to mitigate human suffering.

I want to start with international cooperation this morning. The current multinational support efforts are considerable and significant. Currently 12 other countries -- to include Australia, Japan, Malaysia, Germany, New Zealand, France, India, Korea, Pakistan, Singapore, China and the United Kingdom -- are contributing anywhere in the neighborhood of 46 fixed wing aircraft, 56 helicopters, and 36 naval vessels (Factsheet). Additionally, 18 medical teams, one logistic team, and a couple of engineering teams are either en-route or there. In addition to these assets the countries continue to open their airports as hubs and they sent field hospitals, provided relief supplies, medical personnel, et cetera. This is a terrific team effort. Every country is involved in contributing in a positive way.

As an example of this cooperation it was determined yesterday that a hospital in the vicinity of Banda Aceh was without power. That facility's power was provided by a diesel generator. Mechanics from the USS Abraham Lincoln flew ashore and joined with the other mechanics from four to five other countries to make an assessment of the problem and send a repair list, if you will, back to Lincoln. The parts that were needed were in fact built on Lincoln and sent back out to the hospital facility and that diesel generator was up and operating within hours.

Another example of the military cooperation was shown when USS Duluth helicopters picked up supplies from a Singaporian naval vessel and delivered them ashore.

The Combined Support Force remains in Utapao, Thailand and the Combined Support Groups remain as I briefed you yesterday, in Colombo, Sir Lanka; in Phuket in Thailand; and in Medan, Indonesia with a forward base in Banda Aceh.

Some new developments include that we now have capacity to take C-5 and C-17 flights into Medan. That will increase the supply stockpile there as well as the throughput. In Sri Lanka the Combined Support Group is now coordinating with French and Indian forces to also improve that through-put.

The number of personnel that are assigned to the Combined Support Force are about 12,000. There are about 21 naval vessels either on station or on the way, and 91 aircraft are flying assessment, supply, or medevac sorties.

Supplies delivered in the last 24 hours, about 29,000 pounds of relief; and the total to date, about 640,000 pounds. About 80 people were moved yesterday for medical and relocation purposes; and handbills were distributed throughout the helicopter landing zone so as to increase the safety of those events.

So in summary, not only is the multilateral cooperation continuing and growing, but also the UN has arrived and has joined up with this effort. Once again, I need to emphasize that all these countries are contributing in some form or fashion. Each country has a different requirement, and each country is providing different assets and relief to the various requirements as stated by the host nations.

I'd now like to turn the podium over to Mr. Phil Wilhelm, from USAID's Office of Foreign Disaster Relief.

Mr. Wilhelm: Thank you, Captain.

Good morning, ladies and gentlemen.

The United States Agency for International Development is currently conducting a massive humanitarian response in order to save lives, mitigate human suffering, and reduce the economic impact of this disaster. On December 26th, within hours of the disaster we had people and assets moving to accomplish this mission.

As the lead federal agency to coordinate the U.S. government's response to disasters we would like to recognize and thank the thousands of men and women throughout the Department of Defense and the United States Pacific Command who have heroically stepped up to the plate to assist the people of Thailand, Sri Lanka, Indonesia and the Maldives. The people of the United States should be proud of the phenomenal effort of the soldiers, sailors, airmen, coast guardsmen and civilians that are assisting these host nations affected by this horrible disaster.

The Department of Defense has given outstanding support to USAID since the beginning of the operation. We're fully engaged in coordination with our brothers and sisters in uniform at every level, from interagency coordination in Washington, the United Nation representatives here at PACOM, and at each location throughout the region.

What you're seeing is the result of a longstanding relationship between the U.S. Agency for International Development and the Department of Defense we've had in education, training, and exercise participation that have been accomplished over the last few years.

As I said, within hours of this disaster USAID was mobilizing our staff to respond as quickly as possible. We currently have Disaster Assistance Response Teams, or DARTs, in every affected area conducting assessments and coordinating the relief effort between the host nation government, the United Nations, international organizations, non-government organizations, participating nations and of course the U.S. military.

In addition to providing relief supplies we have provided much-needed support to our implementing partners such as the World Food Program, International Federation of the Red Cross and Red Crescent, and UNICEF, just to name a short few of the many organizations we are working with to help the victims of this disaster.

The U.S. Agency for International Development has provided to date $44.6 million in relief to the area out of the $350 million pledged to date.

One thing that's important, a message to get through, this is just the beginning. There will be a long-term rehabilitation and reconstruction process. Some of these countries will need a large amount of assistance for a long time after this emergency phase. We have already deployed personnel from USAID's Office of Transition Initiatives, and along with people from our permanent USAID missions we have in each country we are beginning planning for a long-term rehabilitation program to the region.

That concludes my prepared statement. We're ready for questions between the Captain and I.

Q: Captain Welch, this is Will Dunham with Reuters.

Can you tell me what's the situation with the prepositioned ships? Have any of them arrived in a position to start delivering assistance? And is drinking water equipment the most significant thing they're carrying?

Captain Welch: The answer to the first question is yes, I think the first one came on station today. We're making an assessment on where to put it and what to do with it. The supplies are available and the equipment is available, so we're just determining the best use of that.

The answer to the second question is it depends on what you're talking about. The ships have arrived in fact in the Indonesian area and there is a requirement for water there, so I suspect that very shortly some of that water-making capability will be used from those NPS ships.

Q: Just to follow up, do you think that one of the prepositioned ships has arrived, or how many arrived today and where?

Captain Welch: I would defer you to the web site. I think one arrived late yesterday, another one today, and others are on the way. You're going to see them stream into the area over the next two to three days. I think the final one was due to arrive about the 9th or 10th of January.

Q: Where did they arrive? I'm sorry.

Captain Welch: They came basically from Northeast Asia and they are coming through the Straits of Malacca.

Q: This is Jim Manion from AFP.

Admiral Fargo talked about using NGOs to staff the [Marsden]. I was wondering if that is something that has been worked out that you could describe what's going on with that.

Captain Welch: Sure. As you know, the Hospital Ship Mercy's deployment was announced yesterday and she deployed last night. Lots of different planning is going on for that ship as far as who's going to be on it and what it's going to do. One of those plans includes putting NGOs and other government agencies on board to do exactly as you said. I think that that will develop over time.

Q: This is Corporate Vadt from AFN News.

I was wondering, when we first started doing the press conferences you were talking about our limited capabilities as far as flying helicopters at night. Have our capabilities gotten better with radar?

Captain Welch: That's a good question. It's not our limited capabilities. It's more the capabilities of the countries without radar and/or radio controlled approaches in some of these airfields. We've always had the capability to fly via goggles, et cetera.

The answer to the second part of your question is yes, it has improved and we have been flying night sorties actually for several days on the goggles and as air traffic controllers arrive and as those air spaces become more and more organized, a good majority of the equipment is moving at night.

Q: Gary Hunter from KDVTV.

The wire service is reporting the Pentagon says we're spending about $6 million a day. Is that an accurate figure?

Captain Welch: I would defer you. We are reporting our actual costs to DoD and I would defer you to the DoD public affairs crowd. That's a dynamic number.

Feel free to ask Phil questions, too. He's standing right here.

Q: Okay. Craig Humind from the Holland Star Bulletin.

Will the military play a role with either short term or long term reconstruction or rehabilitation in some of these countries?

Mr. Wilhelm: I'll defer that to the Captain. (Laughter). We have already begun the reconstruction effort with our missions in the country, and like I said, we've deployed people from the Office of Transition Initiatives out to begin to do that. They will look at the assessments. They will see what the needs are and then take it from there. USAID's role is to lead, to be able to do that development in the long term. We'll look at those requirements and make decisions from that.

Captain Welch: I'll say that you continue to talk about assets and forces and I didn't specifically talk numbers today very definitively because we are really looking at capabilities required. So rather than number of forces and number of ships and assets, it's what capability is needed.

So as we continue to flow in other government agencies and other country support, international, et cetera, you're going to see various capabilities arrive and you're going to see less and less of a requirement, for example, for some of the military capabilities.

As I mentioned a couple of days ago, what we bring to the effort is speed of response and capacity of that initial response. As those capacities are replaced, then our role diminishes some.

Q: Do you know, are there private helicopters or companies that are moving in? Is that starting to happen now?

Captain Welch: Absolutely. There are folks on the ground that are making an assessment to contract aircraft out, to move stuff from some -- I mentioned 12 and 13 countries involved, but some 40 or 50 countries all over the world actually have come forward with some sort of assistance. So how do you move that? Is the U.S. military the best way or is contract the best way, et cetera? Not all of this assistance is military assistance.

Mr. Wilhelm: One thing I can add to that, the three pillars of what OFDA does, besides saving lives, mitigating human suffering, the third one is very important, is reduce the economic impact. So one of the most important things we do is get the economic system stood back on its feet in the affected area. Once we get the infrastructure worked out so the airports and the seaports can get opened up and get the commercial sector back involved so they can do the stuff that they do every day, and get the retail system back up and running, we can start enabling that to happen and then let the people in the host nation do what they do best, and that's get on with their lives and get on with livelihoods. It's a very important part of what USAID does.

Captain Welch: Any other questions?

Okay, that concludes our press conference today. Thank you very much.

(END)



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