U.S. military dispatches aircraft carrier, other assets to help in Haiti

Humanitarian efforts have begun across the world in response to the devastating earthquake that struck near Haiti's capital of Port-au-Prince late Tuesday, Jan. 12. U.N. officials say an accurate count of those killed in the 7.0-magnitude quake might never be known.
By Ann Scott Tyson and Spencer S. Hsu
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, January 13, 2010; 8:14 PM

The U.S. military is urgently dispatching a Navy aircraft carrier and large-deck amphibious ship, as well as military transport aircraft and assessment teams, to Haiti to assist with the earthquake relief effort, a senior U.S. military official said Wednesday.

"We are massing our forces to provide as much support as we can as quickly as we can," said Air Force Gen. Douglas Fraser, head of the U.S. Southern Command. "We are corralling all the resources of the Department of Defense to support this effort."

Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates later told Fraser that the disaster relief effort is a "very high priority" and that he should ask the Defense Department for "anything and everything" he needs, Pentagon spokesman Geoff Morrell said.

"Personnel, equipment, lift -- he should not be afraid to ask for it," Morrell quoted Gates as telling the Southern Command chief. Gates pledged to supply the military resources "as quickly as possible."

Gates has canceled a planned trip to Australia this weekend and instead will remain in Washington to manage the Defense Department's response to the crisis, Morrell said.

Requests for military personnel to aid in the relief effort are being reviewed by the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and Gates has not yet signed any deployment orders, Morrell said.

U.S. military ground units including Marines from Camp Lejeune, N.C., and an Army brigade from Fort Bragg, N.C., are either preparing to depart for Haiti or are on alert to deploy to aid in disaster relief.

Fraser said U.S. military assessment teams arriving in Haiti Wednesday and Thursday aboard C-130 transport aircraft would include a headquarters of about 25 people, as well as about a dozen experts including engineers and medical professionals. The military will focus on establishing better communications and a command-and-control capability to assist the U.S. Agency for International Development and other government entities in the relief effort.

The military teams will also work on reestablishing the operations of the Port-au-Prince airport, where the runway is intact but the control tower has lost communications.

The Norfolk-based aircraft carrier, the USS Carl Vinson, is expected to be near Haiti by Thursday afternoon after taking on helicopters to provide air transport for relief workers, Fraser said. The large-deck amphibious ship, which provides support similar to that of a hospital ship, is expected to depart from North Carolina soon, he said. The hospital ship USNS Comfort may also be dispatched to provide relief.

A Marine Expeditionary Unit with about 2,200 troops and a 3,500-strong brigade of Army paratroopers from the 82nd Airborne Division are preparing to deploy, according to a senior military official. But obstacles exist that could limit the effectiveness of those forces, military officials said.

"If you put additional forces on the ground, how will they operate? What will their rules of engagement be?" said a senior defense official, noting in particular the need for vehicles and helicopters to move the troops around.

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