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Soldiers from the 82nd Airborne Division unload relief supplies from a Navy helicopter in Port-au-Prince.

Soldiers from the 82nd Airborne Division unload relief supplies from a Navy helicopter in Port-au-Prince.

18 January 2010

Military Provides Humanitarian, Security Assistance in Haiti, January 18, 2010

By Merle David Kellerhals Jr.
Staff Writer

Washington — The security situation in Port-au-Prince and the outlying areas is not perfect, though the Haitian police and a U.N. security force are performing reasonably well after sustaining losses of personnel in the earthquake that struck January 12, U.S. Ambassador Kenneth Merten said in an interview January 18 from the embassy.

Merten, in an NBC News interview, said the Haitian police are in charge of protecting the Haitian people, “keeping law and order here. But as I said, their capabilities are limited.” They are being supported by a U.N. force, the U.N. Stabilization Mission in Haiti (MINUSTAH).

“They’ve been doing an excellent job. I want to particularly salute the Brazilian troops who are here, who’ve done a fabulous job,” Merten said. American troops “are standing by in cases where neither the Haitian police nor the U.N. troops can provide security. In most cases, the Haitian police and the U.N. forces have been able to handle the situation.”

Army Lieutenant General Ken Keen, the deputy commander of the U.S. Southern Command (SOUTHCOM) who happened to be in Port-au-Prince at the time of the earthquake and is the coordinator of operations there, said in an interview January 17 that the principal purpose of U.S. military forces in Haiti is to provide humanitarian assistance, “but the security component is going to be an increasing part of that. We do need, obviously, a safe and secure environment to continue and do the best we can with the humanitarian assistance.”

While there has been some unrest, looting and strife in a few instances, Merten said, overall relief efforts have been moving reasonably well. “There clearly have been a few instances where people are … tired and desperate, and they are reacting in … that fashion when the food and water appear.”

Merten said it is impossible at the moment to put a price on the damage. He said there are an incredible number of people left homeless, including many U.S. embassy staff.

“It’s an awful situation,” he said. “And they’re going to be starting just about from zero in Port-au-Prince.”

U.S. MILITARY IN HAITI

By January 17 the United States had sent 5,800 military personnel to Haiti, either on the ground or stationed on U.S. Navy and Coast Guard ships in and around the island nation, the White House said.

Approximately 7,500 additional military personnel are expected to arrive by January 18, the White House statement added.

Haitian President René Préval said U.S. troops were being asked to help the U.N. security force keep order while relief efforts are continuing, and to assist his overstretched police force. SOUTHCOM spokesman Jose Ruiz told reporters that the goal is to have about 10,000 U.S. troops in the area participating in the dual mission of humanitarian assistance and security assistance.

Alain Le Roy, the U.N. peacekeeping chief, told reporters that the U.N. Security Council would be asked on January 18 to approve increasing the number of U.N. troops and police in Haiti by an additional 1,250 personnel.

In one instance near a former country club and golf course estate, a group of U.S. Army soldiers from the 82nd Airborne Division set up a makeshift operating base near where about 50,000 Haitians had set up a camp. Lieutenant Colonel Mike Foster told reporters that when he and his men first tried to enter the camp and distribute relief supplies, they were nearly overrun by the desperate earthquake survivors. He and his men withdrew to their base camp. Food and water could not be distributed in the camp in that situation.

Shortly after that, several Haitian volunteers came forward to help organize food distribution and help in keeping order inside the camp, Foster said, and then the distribution process moved ahead.

“They were the ones who got all of the kids up the hill and brought them first, not us,” Foster said. “I think that’s an enormously positive step. The handful of times you may have seen a guy or two want to get rowdy, they policed those guys up themselves. I think that is very, very important to how this continues to flow,” Foster said, according to a news report from the American Forces Press Service.

Help save lives in Haiti: Visit the White House Web site for options. The International Committee of the Red Cross provides a service to help people find loved ones and the State Department has a Person Finder where people can post information about persons missing in Haiti.

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