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American Forces Press Service

On-Ground Reality Drives Combined Support Force

By Samantha Quigley
American Forces Press Service

UTAPAO, Thailand, Jan. 9, 2005 - The global effort based here to help pick up the pieces in the tsunami-devastated region of Southeast Asia continues to respond to ever-pressing needs.

Initially the responsibility of a U.S. joint-service task force, the job of picking up the pieces was turned over to a combined support force comprised of the United States and 12 other countries - Australia, Austria, China, France, Germany, India, Japan, Korea, Malaysia, New Zealand, Pakistan and Singapore. The force as of Jan. 8 totaled 18,354 personnel.

Typically a combined support force operates with a command structure and all nations reporting to one individual. This is not the case in Utapao, Lt. Col. Robert Krieg, lead planner for mobilization operations, said today.

"This is a very unique organization here in that it's more of a cooperative arrangement," Krieg said. "It's not a command structure."

The nations comprising the CSF are pooling their resources to support Operation Unified Assistance, the name given the post-tsunami relief efforts focused on Indonesia, Sri Lanka and Thailand.

"We're really approaching it as almost three separate operations," Krieg said.

To work these operations, diplomats from the three countries are communicating their nations' needs through CSF liaisons, who in-turn divvy up the tasks according to the country with the greatest capabilities. The requests are then relayed to the operational base at Utapao Thai Royal Naval Air Base here for action.

Through this method, the individual governments are acting as their own coordinating body. This allows for relief tailored to each country's needs.

In most need is Indonesia, the worst hit by the earthquake and the resulting tsunamis. It lost its main coastal road and most of its bridges along the coast, which has isolated the population and made it difficult for the residents to get to less affected areas. Getting supplies inland has also been slow as everything has to be flown in, including clean-up equipment.

Fresh drinking water and food have been the greatest needs in this area, Krieg said. The USS Abraham Lincoln carrier group and the USS Bonhomme Richard expeditionary strike group, both in the area, are able to produce fresh water from seawater.

The combined support force reported that 2.1 million pounds of relief supplies had been delivered to the region as of Jan. 8. This included more than 16,000 gallons of water, 434,000 pounds of food and 1.4 million pounds of nonmedical supplies, officials said.

Currently 16,465 sailors, airmen, soldiers, Marines and Coast Guardsmen are involved in the support mission, nearly 12,000 of them afloat aboard 19 Navy ships and one Coast Guard cutter, officials said. Servicemembers are also on the ground providing support in Thailand, Sri Lanka, Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore and Diego Garcia.

More U.S. military forces are on the way, Krieg said. "We still have helicopters to be moved. We still have headquarters folks to come in. We have a lot of capability yet that hasn't been employed or hasn't deployed to the theater here."

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