Archive for July 14, 2010
Military Mission Shrinking in Haiti (Adds background)
Six months after a magnitude 7.0 earthquake shattered Haiti, the U.S. military is still assisting relief efforts in the impoverished Caribbean country.
But U.S. military presence on the island of Hispaniola has shrunk markedly since the initial response. U.S. Southern Command, which oversaw the massive relief effort, officially ended its mission in Haiti’s capital of Port-Au-Prince on June 1.
In the weeks after the Jan. 12 quake, elements of the Army’s 82nd Airborne Division, the Marine Corps’ 22nd Marine Expeditionary Unit, Air Force combat air controllers and cargo lifters, Coast Guard cutters, the aircraft carrier USS Carl Vinson, and other Navy vessels, Navy Seabees and Army engineers and numerous other units took part in rescue, recovery and humanitarian aid operations.
At its peak, the U.S. military effort included 22,000 personnel — 7,000 based on land and the remainder operating aboard 58 aircraft and 15 nearby vessels, according to Southcom.
Now only about 600 soldiers, sailors and airmen, assigned to Joint Task Force New Horizons, are engaged in engineering and medical missions in Haiti. Most are scheduled to return to the U.S. in September. The New Horizons program began in the 1980s to conduct joint and combined humanitarian exercises that Southcom holds annually in Latin America and the Caribbean.
In a Defense Department bloggers roundtable this week (July 13), Army Col. Michael Borrel, the task force commander, explained that engineers are constructing or re-building four schools while medical personnel have treated more than 20,000 Haitian patients.
But most of that is going on in the Gonaives area, outside the quake damage zone. Borrel, who is in the Louisiana National Guard, as are most of the Army personnel, said the Haitian government had requested assistance in Gonaives – about 90 miles north of the capital, Port-au-Prince – where thousands of earthquake refugees have strained local government services, including an additional 20,000 school children.
Air Force Col. Thomas Steinbrunner, commander of the most recent medical operation – a 10-day medical readiness and training exercise mission in the northern town of Ennery – says specialists in family medicine, internal medicine, pediatrics and women’s health, as well as dentists and optometrists are part of the 30-person team, most of them from the 56th Medical Group at Luke Air Force Base in Arizona.
Army Maj. Chuck Hudson, in charge of the engineering missions, says reinforced concrete design along with a steel framed-corrugated steel roof should make the school buildings more resistant to hurricanes. Army engineers and Navy Seabees are also making electrical and water supply improvements at the four sites.
While the efforts of U.S. military have been heroic in the aftermath of the quake – reopening the Port-au-Prince airport and port, removing rubble, tending the injured, building refugee camps and supplying food and water – the current mission (as crucial as it is for local residents) seems like a drop in the bucket when the scale of the quake’s devastation is considered: more than 200,000 people were killed, thousands more were injured. More than 1 million Haitians remain homeless, living in tent cities or makeshift shacks. Compounding the problem, all but one of the government buildings in the capital were destroyed and 20 percent of the government’s workers were killed, according to CBS News.
The lack of progress in moving Haiti forward appears to be a combination of Haitian government bureaucracy – most rubble is still being removed by hand – and a lack of transparency and accountability by some relief groups, says NPR. Also most of the nations that promised aid to Haiti have not fully delivered on their commitment, and most charities and aid groups have spent less than half of what they took in for Haitian relief in donations, according to a chart compiled by NPR.
On the plus-side, says Haitian President Rene Preval, there have been no large outbreaks of disease or violence since the quake, but many Haitians remain dissatisfied — and in need.