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January 21, 2010

Haiti Briefing - 19 January 2010 - Military Relief Efforts Under Way

This briefing is by Major General Daniel B. Allyn, deputy commander of Joint Task Force Unified Response. Previous to this assignment, General Allyn was the deputy commanding general for the XVIII Airborne Corps and Fort Bragg. On Tuesday General Allyn spoke via satellite from Haiti, with reporters at the Pentagon, providing an operational update on progress in providing relief to the suffering people of that country.

This and other videos can be seen at DODvClips. The Pentagon Channel also has videos and news stories, so visit it as well.

The transcript is at DefenseLink.

From General Allyn's opening remarks:

GEN. ALLYN: ...We are employing all of our resources as fast as we can. And we continue to make progress here every day. We do not underestimate the scope of the challenge in front of us. We are here at the request of the government of Haiti. And we are working in partnership with the United Nations and the international community.

We enjoy incredible teamwork and support with and for all contributing parties and the people of Haiti. As I stated, we are making progress daily and building our capacity to deliver more each day, to those most in need.

Key developments today and on the immediate horizon: The 22nd Marine Expeditionary Unit from Camp Lejeune, North Carolina, has arrived and will move about 800 Marines ashore beginning today to support communities west of Port-au-Prince that gravely need assistance. The 2nd Brigade Combat Team of the 82nd Airborne Division -- nearly 1,000 strong -- continue to flow into country to support relief efforts in the vicinity of Port-au-Prince. The hospital ship the United States Naval Ship Comfort will arrive offshore tomorrow morning, increasing medical support available to the people of Haiti.

In addition, yesterday afternoon, United States Air Force C-17 aircraft flew nonstop from Pope Air Force Base, North Carolina, and delivered nearly 15,000 meals and over 15,000 liters of water to citizens in northeast Port-au-Prince. This aerial delivery augments our ongoing relief efforts and continues to extend our reach to the stricken.

We currently have over 2,000 boots on the ground and over 5,000 afloat, and we anticipate we will have an aggregate strength of over 10,000 within the coming weeks, with about 50 percent of those forces directly involved in delivering humanitarian assistance ashore.

As of this morning, in support of humanitarian assistance efforts, we have delivered over 400,000 bottles of water and 300,000 rations to the people of Haiti in the past six days. Within the next several days, we'll have more than a dozen water-purification units producing water for humanitarian assistance needs across Haiti. Our ships supporting the 22nd Marine Expeditionary Unit are producing 40,000 gallons of water per day for distribution in support of humanitarian assistance efforts.

Within days, we'll approach a self-sustaining water production capacity.

On to the Q & A. Most of the questions are along the lines of "why can't we do more faster." Quite understandable given the level of suffering. I don't know enough about either the situation on the ground in Haiti or the logistics of relief efforts to provide any commentary, so this will be quite different than the usual Afghanistan or Iraq briefings. A few excerpts that make the point:

Q General, it's Anne Flaherty with Associated Press. Could you explain to us why it took almost a week to organize the C-17 airdrop that you mentioned that took place yesterday? And do you have any more airdrops that are planned? Why didn't they do this sooner?

GEN. ALLYN: Obviously, the aerial delivery of supplies is a capability that has been part of our arsenal from the outset. The fact is that it takes forces on the ground to secure the areas where these drops must go in and to organize the people to avoid a chaotic distribution when those supplies come in. And we needed to wait until we had adequate forces to enable that to happen. And with that capacity building every day, we will continue to use this and every other means available to us to increase the reach of our efforts to the people of Haiti.

Q General, it's Tom Bowman with NPR. People who are familiar with logistics say to me that, since you have a single runway at Port-au-Prince airport, it would make sense to create an unimproved runway. And they say you could do that with heavy equipment: create a dirt strip, and you could start moving in more C-130s, because they can land on just about anything. Is there any thought being given to creating that unimproved runway in Haiti?

GEN. ALLYN: There are several existing runways that are being assessed, and those that are immediately capable are being integrated into the air-flow plan. And we will begin to use two alternate aerial ports of entry within the next 24 to 48 hours, to relieve some of the pressure on Port-au-Prince.

And as you know, that you've been following this situation, the team of Air Force units and supporting units have been doing herculean work, extraordinary work, at Port-au-Prince. We have increased to over 200 sorties a day, from a capacity that on an average day, pre- earthquake, was 13 commercial aircraft into Port-au-Prince airport; so an extraordinary amount of work.

Q General, this is Dave Martin with CBS. You said the 2nd Brigade Combat Team is in Haiti 1,000 strong. The original timeline had the entire brigade being in Haiti by this weekend. So what is holding up the deployment of the full brigade? And if you can airdrop supplies, why can't you airdrop the troops themselves?

GEN. ALLYN: Yeah, that's a great question. And obviously the delivery of capability here in Haiti is a -- is a balancing act that requires troops on the ground to distribute humanitarian assistance, the supplies for them to distribute, and the mobility necessary for them to be able to reach the communities that are most stricken. And quite frankly, the earthquake did not take into account the location of drop zones when it achieved the effects that it did, and if we were to airdrop the 82nd, we then have other challenges inherent in that, and our focus becomes distribution of them from their dispersed locations to where they need to help. And suffice to say that in the ground commanders' view, we are using the best method possible to get the most forces on the ground as quickly as possible.

The insertion of the Marine expeditionary unit demonstrates one of those examples, where they will reach areas we've been unable to get to yet.

And we expect the last load of 2nd Brigade Combat Team to land here within the next 36 hours. And the adjustment in that airflow was in order to get higher priority capability on the ground, so that when those troopers arrived, they would be fully capable of disbursing the critical supplies that are needed.

Q General, it's Mike Mount with CNN. (Inaudible.) Understanding you said that, you know, the (USNS) Comfort arrives tomorrow and there are a number of field hospitals from other countries on the ground there, reports from various news organizations, including ours, on the ground there are showing a lot of Haitians desperately still needing medical attention on the ground within sometimes minutes, hours, according to some of the reports.

Is there an effort to kind of loosen that logjam on medical supplies or additional doctors or medical facilities to get in on the ground as opposed to flying people out as well, but increasing the medical capability, surgeons and other doctors, on the ground in a wider part of Haiti and Port-au-Prince?

GEN. ALLYN: Yes, absolutely. It's a great question. And that effort is ongoing.

As in all areas of our efforts here, our medical capacity has grown each and every day that we're here, as has our understanding of where the response is needed most. And obviously we are adjusting the delivery of subsequent medical capability that enters the theater to address emerging requirements that are not immediately being met.

Q General, this is Luis Martinez of ABC News. If I could go back to the creation of water, the water supply, the self-sustaining water supply that you talked about earlier, there's great interest in these giant bladders that are being produced, I guess, by the machine -- the desalination machines. Is that happening on the ground, or is that happening offshore? And how are they being delivered? And how do -- how are we ensuring that people are actually getting that water? And how long do you envision this self-sustaining water supply for?

GEN. ALLYN: Yes, and yes. It is being produced afloat and loaded into blivets that can then be slung load to the areas that it's needed. The -- there -- it is being produced in multiple areas around Haiti and distributed by a multitude of means. In some cases, it is being produced in close proximity of existing distribution points and is being pumped directly into those areas. It is being distributed by vehicle on -- in both bladders and pumping capability.

It is good to see our troops helping the people of Haiti as they are, and God bless them for their efforts.

Posted by Tom at January 21, 2010 9:00 PM

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Hey Evil American!!! Nice post Tom, I'm impressed by the quick response.

As for Haiti, well, I've donated (as I'm sure you have donated too) since I consider it my duty as a Christian, but Haiti will have to recover itself ultimately. I remember from my childhood days that it was always a hellhole. Emergency aid like this is okay, but sometimes I wonder if it wouldn't have been better if they hadn't been flooded with institutionalized aid for decades.

Nite man, and oh yeah.... I followed the events in MA with the greatest interest. That was a POLITICAL earthquake, eh?

Posted by: Outlaw Mike at January 24, 2010 6:39 PM

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