Gates, Mullen cite aid streaming into Haiti

  • Published
  • By Jim Garamone
  • American Forces Press Service
All Defense Department resources in the Western Hemisphere are available for assisting Haiti, Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates said today.

Gates and Navy Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, briefed reporters on the situation in Haiti.

Some 1,000 U.S. servicemembers are on the ground in Haiti today, with more on the way. "The key is to get the food and the water in there as quickly as possible so that people don't - in their desperation - turn to violence or lead to the security situation deteriorating," the secretary said. "But at this point, other than some scavenging and minor looting, our understanding is the security situation is pretty good."

This is a whole-of-government effort by the United States and also is an international effort, Gates said. U.S. soldiers and Marines will aid the 7,000-member United Nations force and about 2,000 police In providing security.

"We are clearly in a position to do more than others, partly by our proximity and partly by our capabilities," Gates said. The key is coordinating the entire effort, he told reporters, and he said the coordination among the State Department, the U.S. Agency for International Development, the Homeland Security Department, the Coast Guard and the Defense Department "has proceeded very well."

By the end of the weekend, 9,000 to 10,000 American servicemembers will in Haiti or afloat offshore. Red Cross officials said the death toll from Jan. 12's magnitude 7 earthquake could reach 50,000.

"Shortly after the devastating earthquake, [the Defense Department] mobilized to save lives and ease the suffering of the victims," Gates said.

Army and naval forces, disaster-response teams, portable hospitals, K-9 search-and-rescue teams and relief and medical supplies are streaming in from many nations, Mullen said.

"In this situation, the military is best able to supply security, search-and-rescue capabilities, potable water and medical facilities," the chairman said. The Navy's USS Higgins has joined Coast Guard cutters off Haiti to provide support.

"This morning, the aircraft carrier USS Carl Vinson arrived outfitted with 19 helicopters, 51 hospital beds, three operating rooms, hundreds of thousands of gallons of water per day production capability and a significant capacity to deliver disaster-relief supplies," Mullen said. "A company from the 82nd Airborne Division is on the ground to provide security and also distribution to meet those needs." The rest of the division's 2nd Brigade Combat Team will arrive over the weekend.

The USS Normandy and the USS Underwood also will arrive shortly, followed by the USS Bataan, USS Fort McHenry and USS Carter Hall carrying the Marines of the 22nd Marine Expeditionary Unit.

The hospital ship USNS Comfort -- with hundreds of medical personnel, medical capabilities and medical supplies -- will arrive off the coast by the end of next week, Mullen said.

These ships, aircraft and troops "also deliver hope, although it seems that supplies and security cannot come quickly enough," the chairman said.

Gates said he's not worried that the aid effort will be seen as a threat or as a U.S. power grab. "Given the role that we will have in delivering food, water and medical help to people, my guess is the reaction will be one of relief at seeing Americans delivering this kind of help," he said.

The United States also is only one of many countries sending aid and personnel to Haiti. Brazil, for example, has many personnel in Haiti and is sending a large amount of aid, he noted.