U.S. Military Relief Effort in Mozambique Winds Down
By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, March 27, 2000 Operation Atlas Response is starting to wind down, DoD officials announced March 24.
U.S. European Command put together Joint Task Force Atlas Response to provide humanitarian assistance to Mozambique where hundreds of thousands of residents were driven from their homes by floods.
U.S. humanitarian assistance teams arrived in the area on Feb. 18. March 6 saw the establishment of Task Force Atlas Response. DoD allocated more than $37 million to pay for the military relief effort.
U.S. forces in the operation dropped from a high of 700 to about 645, said Air Force Lt. Col. Thomas Dolney, spokesman for the operation.
Pilots for the task force flew about 600 sorties, he said. This included about 970 tons of cargo and 1,200 passengers.
“The most recent cargo we moved is seed,” Dolney said. “March 25, we moved more than 50 tons of agricultural seed out of the 60 tons we moved that day.
“That’s a critical cargo at this point,” he continued. “If the Mozambicans can get the seed planted, it will ensure they will have food later in the year. The flooding ruined much of the crop in the ground already."
About 500 U.S. personnel are based at the South African air force base in Hoedspruit. Another 30 U.S. personnel are at Mozambique's capital, Maputo, with 115 in Beira, Mozambique, just north of the affected region.
Dolney said the area is at end of rainy season now. “There are thunderstorms each day,” he said. “This made the flying somewhat difficult. The other days the MH-53 helicopters had to navigate around storms all the way from Hoedspruit to Maputo.”
But progress has been made, UN officials said. Road repair is progressing well and most cargo can now be shipped by truck, local officials said. Mozambique in conjunction with the United Nations agreed that air traffic control should be turned over to civilian authorities. U.S. military aerial operations ended March 26. All U.S. personnel will be back at their home bases by April 4.
One U.S. service member died during the relief effort. Airman Basic Jeffrey Costa fell into the Lisbon River, March 24, hit his head and was swept over Lisbon Falls. His body was found later in the morning.
European Command officials said the effort was truly a joint effort. The U.S Air Force provided C-130 support from the 86th Airlift Wing, based at Ramstein Air Base, Germany. Two HH-60 helicopters involved in the effort were diverted while on their way home to Moody Air Force Base, Ga., after duty in Turkey with Operation Northern Watch. The helicopter crews are from Moody's 41st Rescue Squadron and the 56th Rescue Squadron from Keflavik, Iceland.
Four MH-53 helicopters assigned to the 352nd Special Operations Group also participated.
In addition, U.S. Army engineers advised Mozambique on dams and provided civil affairs personnel to help coordinate disaster relief. U.S. Navy teams provided medical help and U.S. Marines provided communications assistance.
The U.S. government provided more than $50 million in relief to Mozambique.
U.S. civilian assets, through the U.S. Agency for International Development's Office of Foreign Disaster Assistance, will remain in Mozambique. This includes 14 aircraft chartered under USAID grant and plans for an expanded air support capability until emergency road repairs are completed.