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Transcript: SOUTHCOM Briefing on Haiti Relief Operations

Navy NewsStand

Story Number: NNS100115-08
Release Date: 1/15/2010 2:37:00 PM

From U.S. Southern Command Public Affairs

MIAMI (NNS) -- TRANSCRIPT: SOUTHCOM Briefing on Haiti Relief Operations





GEN. FRASER: Good afternoon. I'm General Doug Fraser, the commander of United States Southern Command. With me is Rear Admiral Steve Branham, who is the commander of United States Coast Guard District 7 headquartered here in Miami, as well as the USAID liaison officer to the United States Southern Command, Ms. Kate Legates.

First, I think it's important to say that as we've watched media, as we get an understanding of the situation on the ground in Haiti, we're working feverishly and aggressively to support and provide life-sustaining capability to the citizens of Haiti. Our hearts go out to them. They've suffered a great deal over a number of years. And we're doing everything we can to mitigate that suffering.

The secretary of Defense has put the entire focus of the United States Department of Defense on providing relief to Haiti, and so the resources of the Department of Defense are available to do that, and we're making use of every asset that we have. And our focus remains very definitely, very definitively on making sure we get relief to Haiti as absolutely soon as we can get it there.

As you know, Haiti is one of the poorest nations in the world. Many people live in difficult conditions on a day-to-day basis. And so the earthquake has just served to aggravate that.

So where are we, and what are we doing? Right now, today, Lieutenant General Ken Keen, who is the deputy commander of United States Southern Command, is on the ground and is the commander of the joint task force there, and we are working very closely - (audio break) - with USAID, with OFDA, to respond to this relief effort.

On the ground, we have 329 people today. We have a group that came in a couple of nights ago to open the airfield and make sure it could operate on a 24/7 basis. We have an initial command-and-control element and communications capability, because you know communications suffered. And that's there supporting General Keen.

We have five - correction - four United States Coast Guard cutters in the vicinity of Haiti, providing support there, as well as initial helicopter support. We have a destroyer also in the shores off of Haiti, also providing helicopter support. And as you know, fuel is of a premium, and therefore they're able to provide fuel for helicopters as they provide support to Haiti.

We have a disaster relief assessment team from United States Southern Command that is actively working to survey and understand what the situation is on the ground. We have the initial company of a battalion of paratroopers from the 82nd Airborne who arrived today. We're also bringing in a command-and-control element from the 82nd Airborne Division to help provide the increased command-and-control capability for all the efforts that we have ongoing. And we're working with the first responders, the search-and-rescue folks from USAID, from FEMA, from all over the United States government and international community who are helping provide that capability.

Tomorrow morning the United States carrier Carl Vinson will arrive on station. It will bring with it a complement of 19 helicopters. It has 30 pallets of relief goods. And it will now provide the platform in which we can take care - get around the poor infrastructure in Haiti to get goods to where they need to be, most needed. And so we'll work actively to support that during that time frame.

In addition, on the 19th we will have three ships of an amphibious ready group, headed by the USS Bataan, with roughly 2,200 Marines, heavy equipment, and the ability to move that heavy equipment from ship to shore to start providing capacity and capability there. We will continue over those days to have elements of the 82nd Airborne Division arrive with approximately 1,000 - excuse me - 700 soldiers will be on the ground within the next four days. They're there to help assist in the relief efforts.

And finally, on the 22nd we'll have the United States Navy ship the Comfort. The hospital ship Comfort will arrive in Haiti. We are aggressively pursuing every action we can to provide relief to Haiti.

And with that, let me ask Admiral Branham to say a few words.

ADM. BRANHAM: Thank you, General.

As the admiral - as the general mentioned, I'm Rear Admiral Steve Branham. I'm the commander of the 7th Coast Guard district, headquartered here in Miami, and also the director of the Homeland Security Task Force Southeast as well.

I want to echo General Fraser's comments about our hearts going out to the people of Haiti and our intent -- in fact, our action - to act swiftly and promptly to bring them aid and assistance, to relieve them of the tragedy that's occurred here just two days ago.

On behalf of Secretary Napolitano of the Department of Homeland Security and Admiral Allen, our commandant of the Coast Guard, we are committed to continued response with our partners throughout the Department of Homeland Security and across the interagency - the Department of Defense, the Department of State, Health and Human Services, and many other agencies as well. And we're working very hard alongside them to respond.

Specifically, the Coast Guard, in the first 48 hours, because of our presence in the region down there routinely, we were able to be very flexible and respond promptly to supply immediate help. As the general mentioned, we have four Coast Guard cutters, what we call major cutters, in the area right around Port-au-Prince at this point, and those are 210 feet and above, equipped with helicopter platforms, helicopter decks that we can service helicopters. They are providing security in the area and also servicing helicopters that are working in the area.

Yesterday one of those cutters was able to provide air-traffic control services until the Department of Defense could bring in more capable equipment and establish or re-establish air-traffic control in the area so that we could use the airport to bring supplies in.

We do have two additional cutters, one coming from the eastern Pacific through the canal here shortly, to act as a command-and-control platform for Coast Guard assets. And in addition, one of our buoy tenders will be coming from the Southeast region here to provide heavy-lift capability that will augment the situation down there.

On the air side, we've used our fixed and rotary-wing aircraft to respond immediately with lift for supplies inbound to Port-au-Prince and also to move critically injured people, initially by helicopter, from the American embassy. We moved nine people yesterday to hospital services in Guantanamo Bay. And then our C-130 aircraft, equipped with passenger capability, were able to move 109 people out yesterday. And we are currently engaged in moving as many as another 250 or so today that need to be moved out of there immediately.

We have also used our C-130 aircraft to deliver urban search-and-rescue teams alongside our DOD brethren, transporting urban rescue teams from around the country. The one we're moving today is from right here in Miami, and they should be on the ground as we speak and begin to help with the relief down there.

One critical element with respect to the maritime element down there is the condition of the port in Port-au-Prince. And we're working with General Fraser's people to assess the damage there completely, but essentially that port has been disabled, almost destroyed, with respect to the ability to service large cargo ships that are essential to providing a robust relief effort down there.

So with DOD's capabilities to re-establish something like that on a temporary basis, we're working with them to ensure that we can reopen that port to some serviceable level to facilitate an ongoing and even stronger relief here in the coming weeks.

And that's what I have for now. Thank you for your attention to this opportunity to highlight our effort alongside our partners.

MODERATOR (?): (Off mike.)

Q General Fraser, it sounds like much of the difficulty right now is the destruction of the port, as well as the airfield, the tarmac; not enough space. You've got a lot of equipment and supplies, medical supplies, to get in there.

Number one, is distribution the major daunting task for you? And number two, if this continues to take days and days to get everything there, what's the military's response going to be if hundreds, if not thousands, of Haitians decide to get on boats and try to flee the island?

GEN. FRASER: Well, it is a major effort that we have. Distribution and logistics is the key to providing relief. The airport does have only a single runway. It has limited ramp space. And so we're really metering a lot of the flights that are coming in.

Aircraft are the ones that provide the immediate-response capability for relief efforts coming in, and so that's why the airfield is so important. And that's why we spent so much time making sure that we could operate that effectively. In fact, today we got an additional group in there that brought in aircraft-handling equipment so we could more efficiently operate the airfield and get aircraft through there more effectively.

We're going to continue to work very aggressively on getting capability from the maritime environment ashore. We understand that the port is going to be difficult, but we're working very diligently across all the capabilities that the Department of Defense has to get the right assets there to move them ashore.

One of the reasons we sent the USS Carl Vinson there is to provide an offshore staging base where we can use helicopters, we can use other capacity, to try and move relief goods from ships to shore. So we've got a lot of work to do in working that.

Security and getting those relief efforts in there is, in my mind, the key to making sure the Haitian citizens understand that we are really focused on mitigating their tragedy. And so that's where our focus is. That's what we're going to continue to do. And that's the best way we can reduce the aspect of people wanting to leave the island.

MODERATOR (?): (Off mike.)

Q General, good afternoon.

GEN. FRASER: Good afternoon.

Q They're expecting more than 20,000 bodies all over Haiti now? And also the injured, you know, they're going to be mounting in the coming days. Is - (inaudible) - plans for anything, like those bodies are going to be taken where?

GEN. FRASER: Let me make sure I understand your question. At Guantanamo, what do you mean, "those bodies"? I'm not sure I understand what you're talking about.

Q Well, the dead bodies. What are you guys going to do with the dead bodies once, I mean, they are taken out of the -

GEN. FRASER: The United Nations Stabilization Mission on Haiti right now has really taken a significant effort to address that issue. And so they're looking to address the issue on the island and not have to remove those bodies from Haiti. So we're working very diligently with them to take care of that situation.

MODERATOR (?): (Off mike) - Associated Press - (inaudible).

Q Yes, sir, I was just wondering if you could go back through and repeat the numbers of troops, military personnel that's on the ground. You said 329 today.

GEN. FRASER: Right. We have 329 there today. We will have 550 - I'm sorry - 757 on the ground tomorrow. But as the carrier arrives there, that's another 3,000, a little over that. And then you take in the Coast Guard cutters and the others. So we're up around 5,000 to 6,000 men and women already dedicated to supporting the relief effort in Haiti. And then we'll get an additional 200, 942 on the ground by Saturday, I think it is.

Q And I was also wondering if you could explain why the - you mentioned a hospital - why that's coming later than the rest of the troops.

GEN. FRASER: That ship was in --

Q Is it because it's coming from somewhere?

GEN. FRASER: Yeah, that ship was in port in Baltimore. And interestingly, just to give you an idea of what it takes to move, as soon as we found out about the earthquake in Haiti, we started looking around the DOD to find out what kind of capability we had. The Carl Vinson happened to be offshore out operating when we found out about it. So we started moving the Carl Vinson as soon as we knew that it was available and we could get it down here, within a couple of hours after the earthquake happened. And so it's taken it that long to get here.

The hospital ship was in Baltimore. It was in port. It was not ready to sail. So it's getting the ship ready to sail, getting the people on board to make sure we can provide the necessary capabilities we need, and then getting it to the region. So it's a time-and-distance issue. So we're working very aggressively, all speed, to get the capability there as soon as possible.

MODERATOR (?): (Off mike.)

Q General, taking into account a tremendous amount of people in the streets right now homeless, is the military planning to set up any shelter or camps in any military facilities, such as Guantanamo or - (inaudible)?

GEN. FRASER: We're really looking to support the efforts of the international community, the United Nations, USAID, all the organizations, relief organizations, who are coming in to provide the kinds of capability that you're doing. So there's a lot of capacity coming in. And so we'll support those efforts. But they're the ones who are leading, and we'll support their efforts.

MODERATOR (?): (Off mike.)

Q Clearly we're approaching the 48-hour mark here, and there's so much emphasis being given on the 72-hour mark to find survivors before we lose them. How frustrating is it for you and SOUTHCOM that you've got a port that's completely destroyed for ships, an airfield that's almost out of room and out of jet fuel for other aircraft to come in here, and it seems that the need is getting that desperate where we're going to be a couple of days late getting there, possibly, when you've got a hospital ship coming in within four days? A multi-day effort. It seems like the need that we're hearing from Haiti is "We need everyone here now."

GEN. FRASER: I think it's important to understand the infrastructure that we have in Haiti, and so that is limiting our ability to do that. It is an opportunity, and we're taking that opportunity. As military men and women like to do, we see obstacles as opportunities, and that's what we're doing. And we're working at all deliberate speed to get all possible capability there as soon as we absolutely can.

So the airport, we're working that as efficiently and effectively as we can and making sure we can meter the capabilities through there. We have a hard-core press on getting logistics capability there to make sure we can get supplies over the shore, as well as equipment there, because we need to get equipment in there as well. So it's the complete focus that I have day to day is getting those supplies in there as soon as we possibly can.

Q Are you hearing from your military - (inaudible) - what this compares to?

GEN. FRASER: We have faced - the question was, are we hearing from any of our military folks what this compares to? We have faced a number of disasters around the world on a recurring basis. And that's just one of the situations we deal with. So this is, as we look at it, close to home and a disaster that we're paying very, very close attention to, and again, very focused on making sure we get the right kind of support as soon as we can to make a difference.

MODERATOR (?): (Inaudible) - follow-up questions? Anyone else have any follow-up questions?

Okay, yes.

Q Do you have any information on outside four days out, five days out, two weeks ago, a month out, what you're looking at in terms of support there?

GEN. FRASER: We're really looking with the capability we have coming in there. That's why we focused on the ships. As you look at the carrier, you look at the amphibious ship and you look at the hospital ship, we realized when we started this that we had one airfield, and it was going to be difficult to move a lot of capability there through that.

We were concerned about the port when we did it, so we wanted to get a capability in that would relieve the pressure on the airfield and be able to provide capability on a broad basis and a lot of options to support the needs in the country. So that's why we've put such an effort and focus there.

So as we look into the future, there's a possibility that we can bring in another amphibious group. We need to make an assessment on whether that will be needed or not. But we're really looking to build the logistics infrastructure that will support the ships and the capability we have there so that we can really flow the goods through. And so that's the key focus that we have over the next week to 10 days.

Q (Off mike.)

GEN. FRASER: The question is, is the airport the problem now or the port? In the long term, it's the port. The airfield provides capacity for immediate relief - life-saving, life-sustaining capability. But as we look at recovery, as we look at down the road, the real number and mass of supplies comes from the maritime dimension and it comes through the ports or over the shore.

So we're looking at the other ports within Haiti. We're looking at ports in the Dominican Republic. We're looking at every option we have to figure out how to get supplies in, in whatever manner is required, to get them there as efficiently and as effectively as we can. And again, the entire effort of the United States Department of Defense is focused on supporting this effort.

Q General, currently how many food, water, and distribution points for medicine have already been set up? And what's the overall plan?

GEN. FRASER: The question is, what's the overall assessment of what are the distribution points for food/water capability there, and what is the overall plan? I don't have an answer to that right now. That's an evolving situation on the ground. And so I'll refer you to our folks on the ground there. They'll have a better sense of that.

MODERATOR (?): Last call for final questions. Anybody? Okay, I want to thank everybody.

GEN. FRASER: Thank you very much.

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