WASHINGTON–(ENEWSPF)–Jan. 17, 2010 – The security side of U.S. humanitarian relief operations in Haiti will take on a larger role as violence increases in the aftermath of the magnitude 7 earthquake that struck five days ago, the top U.S. commander in Haiti said today.
In the midst of the massive international relief effort there, Army Lt. Gen. P.K. Keen said some incidents of violence have impeded the U.S. military’s ability to support the government of Haiti.
“Our principal mission [is] humanitarian assistance, but the security component is going to be an increasing part of that,” he said today on ABC’s This Week. “And we’re going to have to address that along with the United Nations, and we are going to have to do it quickly.”
Keen said they would monitor closely the “increasing incidents of violence.”
“We do need, obviously, a safe and secure environment to continue and do the best we can with the humanitarian assistance,” he said on Fox News.
Haiti has been the focus of an expansive relief effort in the wake of what one official has called one of the greatest humanitarian emergencies in the history of the Americas. Original estimates by the Red Cross were that upwards of 50,000 people were killed in the quake, but other reports elevate the figure to between 100,000 to 200,000.
Despite reports of violence in the quake’s aftermath, troops from the 82nd Airborne Division yesterday delivered 70,000 bottles of water and 130,000 packages of food, said Keen, the commander of the joint task force for the Haiti relief effort that has been dubbed Operation Unified Response.
“We’re going to be able to increase that every day, but that’s only what we are doing,” Keen, speaking on Fox News Sunday, said of the distribution of provisions. “The United Nations forces are doing likewise, as well as the international community.”
The food packages, which contain some 2,300 calories designed to maintain a person’s basic nutrition needs, are a fraction of the 600,000 total rations the Defense Department will provide in addition to other support made possible through funding from the up to $20 million emergency relief the department pledged to the operation in Haiti.
Implementing these efforts for the U.S. military currently are roughly 1,000 82nd Airborne Division soldiers and some 3,000 other troops working from ships docked off the Haitian coast. Two additional companies of the 82nd are due to arrive today, in addition to Marines aboard the USS Bataan and a Marine landing battalion expected in country in coming days. Officials have estimated that some 10,000 U.S. military troops would be operating in Haiti by tomorrow.
Military efforts, which are in support of the U.S. Agency for International Development that is orchestrating U.S. government contributions to the relief mission, are focused on working with the United Nations Stabilization Mission in Haiti, international relief organizations and local responders to provide search and rescue, distribute aid and assess damage to key infrastructure, officials said.
Keen noted that domestic police forces in the Haitian capital were among those affected by the quake, which he said adds to security concerns there.
“The police that was providing security at various locations around the city of Port-au-Prince was devastated by the hurricane as well,” he said on CNN’s State of the Union. “So security is a concern. We’re paying very close attention to it.”
Keen called the earthquake a “disaster of epic proportions,” adding that the military would be available for as long as it’s needed, and underscoring the speed of its response.
“Our nation can be proud, because our Navy immediately turned a aircraft carrier south right after the earthquake,” he said of the USS Carl Vinson, which is serving as a platform for the helicopter capabilities that currently provide the military’s principal support. “And as we move other equipment in here, we’ll be able to get more ground transportation to increase our tentacles out into the countryside.”
As relief provisions continue being distributed in the devastated country, former Presidents George W. Bush and Bill Clinton have agreed to President Barack Obama’s request to lead a major fundraising push, lending their stature to the effort in hopes of sustaining international focus on the dire situation.
The addition of the two former presidents elevates the prominence of the U.S. effort, a symbol that Obama said he hopes will carry international reverberations. The official Web site of the fund, http://www.clintonbushhaitifund.org, accepts donations and contains more information on the effort.