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Homeland Security

US Military Helping in Four Pacific Disasters

By Al Pessin
02 October 2009

U.S. forces in the Pacific have been deployed to help with disaster relief in Indonesia, the Philippines, American Samoa and Guam and neighboring islands.

Pacific storms and the earthquake in Indonesia have kept U.S. forces busy in recent days.

The commander of American troops in the Pacific region, Admiral Timothy Keating, says several U.S. Special Forces troops were on their way to Indonesia for a scheduled exercise when the earthquake happened. The admiral says their aircraft was diverted to the quake zone, where they joined a U.S. embassy team assessing the damage and doing relief work.

Another American military plane was sent with supplies, and a ship with helicopters capable of lifting heavy loads is on the way, at the request of the Indonesian government. The admiral says he is sending a senior officer to oversee U.S. military efforts to help the Indonesian government and U.S. civilian agencies.

Admiral Keating also reports that two U.S. Navy ships with several hundred Marines on board are off the coast of Manila, ready to help after the super typhoon passes. About 20 U.S. troops were in Manila helping after the last storm, and others have gone ashore to plan for the new storm. Keating says the Philippine government and military are leading the effort, but his troops are ready to help.

Two American soldiers were killed in a bombing in the southern Philippines earlier this week. Admiral Keating says investigators have not determined whether the troops were targeted, as the Pentagon initially reported, or whether the explosion was caused by an old land mine. But he says he has clearance from U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates to send marines ashore in Manila or elsewhere in the north for relief efforts, if the Philippine government asks for help.

The admiral spoke by phone from his headquarters in Hawaii to reporters at the Pentagon. "We're forward deployed. We've got very capable young men and women. They're very well-equipped and well-trained. And they're out there providing disaster relief," he said.

Admiral Keating says U.S. Pacific Command has flown five large cargo planes to American Samoa, carrying search and rescue teams, food, vehicles and equipment for dealing with human remains, following the tsunami that hit that area. He says more flights may go in the coming days, carrying teams and supplies from the American Red Cross. He says a U.S. Navy ship is also in the area, with helicopters that can help with search and rescue efforts. The admiral says he has not received any request for help from nearby Western Samoa.

At the same time, Pacific Command has ordered nearly all military aircraft and ships to leave the U.S. territory of Guam, where a storm is also approaching. Admiral Keating says the military is ready to help on Guam, Tinian and Saipan if the storm causes damage.

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