Admiral Thomas B. Fargo, USN
Headquarters, U.S. Pacific Command
ADM Fargo: Admiral Fargo: Good morning, aloha.
I'd like to provide you a brief update, if I can this morning, on the status of our humanitarian assistance and disaster relief operations currently ongoing in South and Southeast Asia, and of course at the conclusion of my comments I'd be happy to take your questions.
To date the world's combined relief efforts have had a very considerable measure of success, but we all recognize clearly more needs to be done. It will be done in close coordination with the leadership of the host and partner nations and the international governmental and non-governmental organizations that are playing a huge role right now in this undertaking.
We've seen a diverse and broadly capable team develop, a team that has come together quickly to best consolidate relief expertise and capability. It's fair to say that hundreds of entities are involved, each adding unique and important skills from both hard to find, imaginative, and effective ways to blend those skills and enable those talents. It's readily evident what a superb job that they're all doing.
We thank the host nations -- Indonesia, Sri Lanka and Thailand -- for the clear priorities they're provided to the Combined Support Forces, and once again, we greatly appreciate our host nations' leadership and their effective efforts.
Over the past two weeks we've built our relief efforts and added capacity from seaborne platforms and aircraft, not by creating an unnecessarily large group of U.S. military personnel ashore but by operating from a sea base. Of note, USS Abraham Lincoln and Bonhomme Richard continue relief efforts to the west coast of Sumatra which was the hardest hit area of Indonesia. Lincoln support is focusing on the Banda Aceh region while Bonhomme Richard is providing support off the coast of Ulabo [ph].
The Indonesian government is utilizing the capacity brought by these ships in close coordination with the many other support groups.
Off the coast of Sri Lanka USS Duluth has now arrived and will be incorporating additional helicopter, medical and engineering capability based on the direction of the Sri Lankan government.
It's important to recognize that the duration of U.S. military presence will be as long as required to meet the immediate relief needs that military forces uniquely provide. As civilian relief capability and capacity grows we'll reduce our presence appropriately based on the requirements of the host nation and the lead relief organizations.
I'd like to say that our service men and women are greatly honored and proud to extend a helping hand on behalf of the American people. We've experienced a warm welcome and many thanks from the Indonesians and the Sri Lankans and the Thai people. Together all participants in this noble effort are making a difference.
I want make the point that our regional partners as well as other nations around the world have responded with great speed and compassion. While we can't undo the catastrophic results of the tsunami, we can commit ourselves to a partnership providing quick relief to those in need.
In closing, I'd also like to comment briefly on another tragedy of a different dimension, the accident on board USS San Francisco. Our hearts and prayers and sympathy are with the family of the sailor lost in that accident, his shipmates, and all others injured and affected.
Since we're still gathering facts it would be inappropriate for me to speculate on the cause, but I assure you that the Pacific Fleet will conduct a rapid and thorough investigation and we'll let you know what happened once that investigation is complete.
I'll now be happy to take your questions.
Question: Craig Gima from Honolulu Star Bulletin.
You talked about the transition to civilian's relief efforts. Is there any time table at all on that? Is there any idea when the U.S. might be pulling back some assets?
ADM Fargo: I think it's difficult to predict an exact time. This will develop as the professional relief organizations provide additional capability and capacity. One benchmark you might look at, the Sea Angel operation in 1991 went about 60 days.
Question: Peter Wells, Honolulu Advertiser.
Have there been any discussions about setting up a permanent or semi-permanent U.S. infrastructure, military infrastructure there to support the effort? Have there been any thoughts about possibly deploying Hawaii-based troops to the region for any types or lengths of time to help with this effort?
ADM Fargo: I don't see any permanent infrastructure being set up at all. As I mentioned in my opening statement, we've done a great deal of this out of the sea base. We've got about 12,000 folks at sea right now on a wide variety of ships and the footprint ashore is relatively modest. I think that's the right technique, the right procedure and process here. I think that will be the most effective way to deal with this particular catastrophe and that's what we're going to do.
Question: You just came back from the region, right?
ADM Fargo: I haven't been in the region for a couple of months. I'm leaving on Friday to head to the region.
Question: When you speak to the people there, what do they say?
ADM Fargo: What I have done is I've been in contact from the outset with all of the regional leaders, my counterparts in Indonesia and of course in Singapore and Thailand and Australia, just to name a few, as well as Japan for that matter. And I've talked to all of our country teams, our ambassadors in the region. They've provided a very clear picture of the situation there. Without a doubt, the devastation in Indonesia is something like we've never seen before. In certain locations the tsunami moved as much as four miles inland, and then of course retracted and pulled all of that debris with them, so the devastation is beyond imagination, really. I think you have to see it to really understand it.
But I think what you're going to see is we'll move from the immediate relief base to a recovery phase and then a reconstruction phase. And certainly the international community has shown great compassion and resources in terms of the amount of money they have been able to raise to deal with this particular effort.
Question: What about civilian people? I know that some nurses here and -- everybody wants to help, but what can you tell them?
ADM Fargo: Well, there's a great number of both non-governmental organizations and private volunteer organizations that are participating. Certainly this kind of capability is very welcome. Tomorrow you'll see the Hospital Ship Mercy sail into Pearl Harbor. We're going to put the Mercy's manning together in a very imaginative way and we're going to take advantage of exactly those skills that you just mentioned -- private citizens and non-governmental organizations that want to make a contribution, and we think Mercy is a platform that they can be very effectively employed from.
Question: Admiral, how does having so many of PACOM's resources in one region affect PACOM's capability to respond to say another threat that could arise at any time in another part of the theater?
ADM Fargo: Certainly as you know we have a number of resources in the theater day in and day out, and of course any time we move any part of our force structure we do a risk assessment to make sure that we're not affecting the deterrence of maybe a larger issue within East Asia.
In this particular case we've taken a good look at that. I've talked to General LaPorte, for example, on the Korean Peninsula. We believe that our posture right now is very adequate. But it is a dynamic process. It's one that we continue to evaluate, and certainly I think it's worth making the point that having these forces forward and readily available for immediate employment has not only satisfied those readiness signals and deterrence signals that we send day in and day out, but provide us the assets to respond to something of this nature.
Question: Can you tell us about the Mercy ship, how folks here can go about helping out?
ADM Fargo: I certainly can. Mercy will be here for about 24 hours, maybe a little longer than that, as I said starting on Tuesday. I'm in touch with the state and local organizations. As a matter of fact I talked to Mayor Haneman [ph] today and also through our normal contacts with Major General Lee. We're going to get the word out, if you will, throughout those normal mechanisms to the organizations that might want to, for example, load supplies here in Honolulu for a further relief effort in the region. We're not going to board any people here. The different organizations that will ultimately man this ship will be brought on board in Singapore so we don't waste the time of very talented people in the transit.
Question: Tech Sergeant Barfield, the Pentagon Channel.
What's the focus, sir, over the next couple of weeks of PACOM forces forward based out there in the region?
ADM Fargo: I think the first focus is developing the coordination to make this operation as efficient as possible. That's what you're seeing General Blackman do right now. He has built the Combined Support Force. We have representatives from a great number of the nations right now that are part of this effort. In addition the leading NGOs and international organizations are also conducting coordination with General Blackman both forward in Utapao, Thailand and in the respective countries like Indonesia and Thailand. So I think that's the most important effort right now. We have the capacity in theater. We're developing the coordination to make sure that it is focused specifically on the highest priority tasks.
Question: Sir, in terms of challenges, what do you foresee as the biggest challenges ahead for PACOM forces out there today?
ADM Fargo: I think we've already talked about coordination which I think is very important. Really, I think they have all the skill sets necessary to make an impact. This is a little bit different than what we normally train for in some respects. But you know, we conduct an exercise Cobra Gold every year in Thailand where we build a joint task force, something similar to what General Blackman is running right now. An awful lot of the skill sets that are exercised in Cobra Gold, and certainly the relationships that are developed in Cobra Gold are being utilized today.
Question: Can you give us your assessment of the insurgencies in the region, how that might affect relief efforts?
ADM Fargo: Right now I don't think the insurgencies are having any impact on the relief effort. It's something we watch very carefully, of course, the GAM in Indonesia and the LTTE in Sri Lanka. These are primarily responsibilities of the host nation and the host nation is working them. Hopefully this will be an opportunity to help resolve those insurgencies in a positive way.
Any other questions?
All right. Thank you all very much.
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