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DOD News Briefing with Gen. Fraser from Miami, Florida

Presenters: Commander, U.S. Southern Command Gen. Douglas Fraser
January 28, 2010
                COL. DAVID LAPAN (Public Affairs): Good morning. I'm privileged to reintroduce to you General Douglas Fraser, who is the commander of U.S. Southern Command. General Fraser is joining us this morning from Miami to provide an operational update on our Operation Unified Response in Haiti. 
 
                General, to you for your opening statement, sir. 
 
                GEN. FRASER: Okay. Good morning. 
 
                Our relief efforts continue in support of the people of Haiti, the government of Haiti, in the international effort that's ongoing. And I guess I would characterize it as the situation improves day by day. The requirement is still enormous, but that relief effort is continuing to flow in.   
 
                From a United States perspective and from a Department of Defense, we now have over 20,000 men and women in the theater supporting that effort, a little over 6,000 people on the ground in Haiti. But those numbers only reflect those men and women who are actually in the theater. There's a lot of effort that's happening within Transportation Command and across the Department of Defense to support these efforts that are external to the theater. So I don't have a good, precise number for that. 
 
                We have 23 ships currently operating in the area. We have over 60 rotary wing aircraft and over 30 fixed-wing aircraft also supporting this effort. The airport continues to operate. As you've seen, we've had a little bit reduction in the demand. The demand is now down about 20 percent from what it was. So we're supporting roughly a hundred flights a day into the airport and another 80 to 100 helicopter flights operating in and out of there as we go along. 
 
                If you look on the slides to your left, in the lower left-hand corner, you'll see a picture of a temporary tower, a mobile tower that we put in there. 
 
                It's an FAA facility that is now helping operate the airport. Before that, it was individuals standing on stools with a card table, and that's what they were working on, to control that airfield. So it still operates in a very efficient manner. 
 
                From the port standpoint, the port is operating -- has a roughly 200-container-a-day capacity going through it. We suffered a loss to the south pier yesterday with some of the tremors that have continued. A pier that we had been inspecting has now been -- has had more damage to it, we think, because of those tremors. And as a result, we're not being able to use that anymore. 
 
                So we're expanding into some of the other ports right there in the Port-au-Prince area to see what we can do there. In addition to that, we'll have additional capacity coming into the port here next week that will enable us across the shore to increase the capacity to 500 containers per day. 
 
                If you look in the lower right-hand corner, you'll see the divers that go down and inspect every day what those piers look like. And that's Navy Diver First Class John Neal who's in that picture. 
 
                From a medical perspective, we still continue to concentrate on medical capacity. The Hospital Ship Comfort continues to see many patients. To date they've seen over 3,000 patients. And in fact, if you look in the upper right-hand corner of the slide there, they had their first birth ever for the Comfort during this time frame. That's Baby Esther. She was premature five weeks. She weighed in at five pounds. Her mother had both back injuries as well as leg injuries. So a very successful operation, and we're proud. And I have a little bit of a connection there because her birthday is the same birthday as my daughter's birthday. 
 
                So a lot of effort continues in the medical field. 
 
                One of the things we're finding and we're working to improve is the capacity for patients to recover. We don't have enough capacity, with the hospitals being full, and so the Joint Task Force is actively working to establish that facility. 
 
                In addition to that, we still have the 82nd -- the 2nd Brigade of the 82nd on the ground supporting efforts, relief efforts, in Port-au- Prince. The 22nd Marine Expeditionary Unit is supporting relief efforts along the northern part of the southern claw. And then the 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit is supporting relief efforts in the northern part of Haiti, as well as on the west end of the southern claw. They're operating with the MV-22, and that's given us a reach that we wouldn't have had otherwise in that area. 
 
                In addition, we've distributed lots of water, almost 19 -- or almost 2 million bottles of water. We've distributed about a -- or 1.5 million rations, if you will. And that effort continues. 
 
                We've also distributed about 43,000 radios. And I just wanted to give you an example. This is an example of those radios that we're distributing. It has a hand crank on it that has been popular. So it -- you just twist the crank, and it will operate the radio for about 45 minutes. You can charge a cell phone with it, and it has a light associated with it also. And that's been very popular with the Haitians and provided them information on where to go for distribution, as well as opportunity to listen to their favorite radio stations -- so been a very key effort. 
 
                In addition to that, going back to the port, the picture in the upper left-hand corner gives you an image of what that floating dock looks like, as you can see.   
 
                So it's fairly constrained and, but very able to meet the needs of what we're doing.   
 
                We're getting great support through the international community. And that's who we're really supporting. MINUSTAH continues to provide security throughout the nation and is working very closely with the JTF as well as the entire international community.   
 
                So the coordination improves every day. The relief efforts continue every day. The World Food Program will start a pretty big distribution effort here, which we will help support, in the next day.  
 
                So day by day, conditions continue to improve in Haiti. And we continue to focus our effort on sustaining that. And with that, I will entertain your questions.   
 
                COL. LAPAN: General, we did not receive those photos that you described before the briefing. But we will get those out to the Pentagon press corps as soon as we can. And then we'll also provide a link when we post the transcript.   
 
                So just so you know, those photos that you did describe didn't make it to the folks here. So we will get those out as soon as we can. And now to questions.   
 
                Anne.   
 
                Q     General, this is Anne Flaherty with Associated Press.   
 
                Do you have an estimate yet for the cost of military operations? And also if you could, explain why we're still hearing reports of people not getting the food and the water that the military has brought.   
 
                Are there logistical challenges still? Or do you not know where the people are? Is it an issue of security, trying to establish order in these camps? Can you give us a better idea of why that aid is not being distributed as widely as it should be?   
 
                GEN. FRASER: Sure.   
 
                First, I don't have an accurate assessment of the cost, primarily because it involves many different parts of the Department of Defense, because we're getting support from not only all the services but from the combatant commands.   
 
                So I don't have an accurate assessment of that. What I will tell you is that the president and the secretary of Defense have said, if you need something, please let us know, and we'll get it to you. And that's what we have been doing.   
 
                So the support we've needed has been there all along. And that continues. As far as aid getting out to different areas, I think what we're finding is, we have a lot of people out working this.   
 
                But we're only part of an international effort, and so it is -- and the aid that we put out there, we're still, because of the capacity in the ports -- and we're still not up to meeting the needs of the Haitian people as far as the amount of supplies that are there.  
 
                And so there have been some instances, isolated, where we -- I've been out to give distribution to citizens. There hasn't always been enough food. We haven't anticipated the demand, I guess, at each site, as we've gone out, because the Haitians have migrated around, if you will, from distribution site to distribution site. And so we're still finding pockets, if you will, of places we haven't been able to get into.   
 
                And yet in other places, there's a great economic system ongoing where there's food available, fresh fruit available. So it's a very inconsistent picture as you look across the country in trying to determining where those pockets of need are, because they could be right next to a place that has a lot of food available to it. So we're still working to find those pockets.   
 
                COL. LAPAN: Barbara. 
 
                Q     General, Barbara Starr from CNN. I wanted to follow up on all of that. What -- still, the U.S. military, even though it's part of a larger effort, is very much leading much of the effort. So what's your estimate right now on how many Haitians still in week three don't have sufficient shelter, tents, if you will, regular meals, regular water, regular shelter and access to medical care? And I ask this because in, again, week three, what are you learning from all of this that perhaps will help you do this better the next time around, better in the future, better in the days ahead? 
 
                GEN. FRASER: Well, we don't have an accurate number of exactly who needs -- still needs shelter, who needs food. And water, we think, is in pretty good shape. There's -- there doesn't seem, as our people move around, that there's a demand for water. Fuel is not a demand either. So we're still having to move around and find those pockets for food distribution. 
 
                And so it's really just a communication and a continuing effort to get out to every spot that there is in the country.   
 
                And so that's just an ongoing effort that we continue to work. And again it improves day by day. From a shelter standpoint, the same thing is happening. There's a lot of capability and capacity going out. But some of the Haitian citizens have moved to different locations.   
 
                So the challenge is that the need keeps moving around a little bit if you will. So it's always continuing to try and stay up with the need where it is. And that's an evolving issue as we work to look through it.   
 
                So as we look into the future, we'll do our assessments. We'll look to see how we can improve this better. But it's an ongoing process, because of the magnitude of the need, the difficulties as we're working through the infrastructure to meet the needs and then just getting the information flow, because there's 109 nations involved.   
 
                There's over 500 registered nongovernmental organizations. So there's a massive number of people and a massive number of communication that has to happen. And putting those links together just takes time and effort. And that's ongoing.   
 
                Q     A real quick couple follow-ups. Just is the U.S. military -- one point. Is the U.S. military still bringing in tents? And my other question is going back to cost.   
 
                Pentagon Press Secretary Geoff Morrell yesterday was asked about this. And he said, quote, "It's a very expensive operation." And he went on and said, quoting, "The meter is running."   
 
                Do you have any indication from the Defense Department or Washington that the meter is running and you only have so much money to spend on this?   
 
                GEN. FRASER: To answer your second question, no, I don't have any limit that anyone has placed on me. The focus is on meeting the needs of the Haitian people. That's where we're focused, on doing that.    
 
                We're in the process of right now going through our assessments, looking at the capacity we've brought in. As the need adjusts, we're looking to figure out how and where and what to adjust our capacity.   
 
                And then also as agencies come in that are the ones who are providing the longer-term assistance -- USAID, U.N. agencies -- we're working to understand the capacities they're bringing in, so that as we look at our capacities, we can easily transition those from what the U.S. military is assisting in doing and transition those capabilities into those more enduring capacities that will remain with Haiti for a longer time.   
 
                So that's an effort that's ongoing right now. 
 
                Q     (Off mike) -- General, and also if you could address shelter, whether we're continuing to deliver tents or any type of shelter. 
 
                GEN. FRASER: We're working with the shelter cluster within the United Nations. So we're really looking for them to tell us where the need is, how we need to do it, and go -- they're the experts in providing this. So we're providing the capacity to move shelter capacity and tents as required within that effort. So directly, we're not pushing a lot -- we, from Department of Defense, are not pushing a lot of tents in. We're relying on those other organizations that provide long-term relief, and we're working with them as needed to get shelter capacity to where it needs to be. 
 
                Q     Hi, General. Jeff Schogol with Stars and Stripes. Do you have an idea about how long the 2nd of the 82nd and the 22nd MEU can be on the ground before they need to be replaced by other units? 
 
                GEN. FRASER: That's an ongoing effort that we're assessing. Our focus is meeting the needs of the Haitian people, and that's where we'll continue to do -- and as we accomplish that mission, as we see that capacity growing within the international community as well as U.S. relief organizations, we will transition that capacity out. So that is an assessment we have ongoing. I don't have a specific need, and we're basing it on need, not on time. And so as the capacities are available and we can transition, that's the way we will work this process. 
 
                Q     (Off mike) -- the question. Both units have other things to do. How long can you keep them there? 
 
                GEN. FRASER: Again, they're -- from my standpoint and from the secretary of Defense, the focus and the pressure and the emphasis that he has put on me is looking at the needs of the Haitian people. There is not a demand, there is not a pressure on those other mission requirements. And so he's asked me to focus on the need that I have here, to tell him how that is going and when we have that capacity to transition. So that's what we're working on. There is not a specific demand that he has put on me with a timetable or a need to move those capacities in a different manner. 
 
                Q     General, this is Jim Garamone, with American Forces Press Service. In your opening statement, you talked about opening the seaport, and I guess that's really going to be key to feeding and sheltering the people, because ships can bring in a heck of a lot more than planes. How soon do you really expect to hit full operating capability at the seaport?   
 
                And then you also mentioned something about an over-the-shore capability. What is that, and when do you expect that to be up and running? 
 
                GEN. FRASER: Well, we have an over-the-shore capability right now, so the containers that we are bringing in right now are on -- from an over-to-the-shore capability, both a military capability as well as a commercially provided capability. 
 
                Right now that's 200 containers a day. Next week we will bring in some additional joint logistics over-the-shore capability that will increase that capacity to 500 containers a day.   
 
                About the middle of February, we'll bring in some additional capacity -- military capacity, joint logistics over-the-shore -- that will increase that up to around the 800 containers per day. 
 
                We're looking at the repair of the pier, the south pier, that we just had to stop using yesterday, where estimates right now is that it will take us eight to 10 weeks to be be to repair that facility. And then we're doing assessment on what it will take to restore the pier, but that's a longer-term effort. That's in the months, and I don't have a firm estimate on that right now. 
 
                Q     Would it be safe to say that the joint over-the-shore capability sort of bridges that gap until you can get the commercial piers up and running? 
 
                GEN. FRASER: That's exactly what we're doing. That's why we brought in and look for this over-the-shore capacity, because the initial assessments and views that we had was that the port was going to be a problem, we needed to get an over-the-shore capacity. So as soon as we saw that need, Transportation Command started moving all the capacities for this joint logistics over-the-shore to Haiti. 
 
                We've also looked at alternative piers within the area. There are a couple of other piers that have a capacity for about 150 containers a day. So we're currently working to see how we can use those also. So every place we can find some capacity, we're looking to enable that. 
 
                COL. LAPAN: Thank you.   
 
                Carl. 
 
                Q     General, I'm Carl Osgood with the Executive Intelligence Review. The military services have resident within them some tremendous engineering capabilities. We've heard about some of that, but I wonder if you could expand on that a little bit more, particularly in areas such as power generation. I understand that electricity is very unreliable right now in Port-au-Prince, structural types of reconstruction capabilities, things like that.   
 
                And also, can you talk a little bit about how any of what you're doing is helping to expand the capacity of the Haitian government? 
 
                GEN. FRASER: We have our engineers out doing a lot of things that you've done. They've gone out and surveyed the electrical distribution system. From what I understand right now, it remains intact and they're working to with the Haitian government, to restore the power and start the regeneration of that. 
 
                We're also looking -- again the pier has been one of our and the port has been really one of our focus areas in delivering that capacity.   
 
                There's a lot of commercial and international capacity also, engineering capacity, that is coming in. So we're trying to leverage that local capacity wherever possible, to work the engineering capabilities that we need there resident in Haiti.   
 
                The other engineering portion we're looking at is just the logistics distribution standpoint, to make sure the roads are capable, that the bridges are there. So we're out surveying those routes also, so we can ensure that easy distribution if you will throughout the country.   
 
                So that -- those efforts continue. And this is all being done in conjunction with the government of Haiti. So their engineers are out. Their folks are out with us, so that we're working this in conjunction along with the U.N. and the international community.   
 
                It's a combined international effort, everybody working together, everybody coordinating their efforts. And so it truly is that cooperative effort, everybody bringing their expertise together and leveraging that for the good of Haiti.   
 
                Q     Hi, General. This is Courtney Kube from NBC News.   
 
                What's the latest assessment on how many displaced person camps have sprung up in Haiti? I know we were hearing there were about 600 earlier this week. And then how many Haitians are now living in them?  
 
                And then if you could, talk a little bit about security in those camps. I know MINUSTAH and the Haitian police are responsible for security. But has the U.S. been brought in in any way yet, been asked to come in and help supplement in any of the camps or respond to any problems?   
 
                GEN. FRASER: I don't have precise numbers of those camps. They again move around a little bit. We've found that they tend to cluster around the distribution points.   
 
                To this point, we've had four distribution points within Port-au- Prince.  That's going to expand to 15 distribution points, as the World Food Program starts their effort. And that should start tomorrow. So that will have people move around a little bit.   
 
                So the camps are very sporadic. They're very mobile, I guess, is what I would say.   
 
                And there are hundreds of those camps. 
 
                The estimates that I have seen run anywhere from 800,000 to 1.2 million people who are displaced from their houses. Some of those people have moved up to the north. They've moved in with family, or they moved into houses that they had up there. So there doesn't seem to be an issue with shelter up in the northern part of Haiti. As you go out to the west, you'll find similar displaced camps out there. 
 
                We have not heard of any security incidents within the camps, and that really remains the responsibility of MINUSTAH and the Haitian National Police. Our focus remains on supporting the security for humanitarian assistance, the distribution of that. And that enables MINUSTAH and the Haitian National Police to then focus on the general security and stability throughout the country.   
 
                And it has remained stable throughout this period across the country, so all the indications I have is that MINUSTAH and the Haitian National Police are doing a good job, and we're just supporting their efforts to enable them to continue that job. 
 
                Q     We were also hearing earlier this week that the Haitian police and MINUSTAH were looking for about 5,000 prisoners who escaped right after the earthquake when the prison collapsed. Do you -- any chance you have any update on if any of them have been found or if what the efforts are -- how the efforts are going for that? 
 
                GEN. FRASER: Their efforts continue. I don't have specifics on whether they've recaptured or found any of those. I guess there are sporadic indications that some of them have been detained. There have been some indications that neighborhoods where gangs used to be and where criminal elements used to be have been resistant to those organizations coming back in. There are some indications that some gangs are reforming in small numbers, but it's still very sporadic throughout the country, and MINUSTAH and the Haitian National Police are keeping an eye on that, working that. But I don't have the specifics of anybody that they have captured. 
 
                COL. LAPAN: Mike.   
 
                Q     General, it's Mike Mount with CNN. Just going back to the hospital ship and the Nassau and the Bataan, how is the bed capacity doing there? There was a stretch there, we were understanding, it might have been a little stressed out. Is that still very much an open option to be bringing numerous people back out there? And are people being discharged; is there a fairly decent discharge rate, as well, coming back into the country? 
 
                GEN. FRASER: That's the issue that the Joint Task Force and the health cluster within the United Nations is working right now. The capacity of the Comfort is reaching their care limit, I guess is what I would say, not their physical bed capacity. And what we've found is some of the injuries have been more -- have required more treatment and more longer-term treatment than we anticipated. And so that's put a effort and a strain on the capability of the Comfort to handle those. Again, and "strain" is probably not the right word. It's used up the clinical capacity before we reached the bed-space capacity, if that makes sense. 
 
                And so the effort that we have ongoing right now for the discharge is looking to put together a facility where we have the ability to recover those patients and be able to provide them with that recovery space and time that they need. And that's an estimate of a facility in the 3(,000)- to 5,000-bed, to be able to do that. So that's an ongoing capacity that we're building with the health cluster right now. 
 
                So we have a -- there's a piece of land that the government of Haiti has agreed to establish this facility, and we're looking to make it a very temporary capacity right now, with just tents and cots and whatever capacity we have there, and as well as while we bring in whatever other capacity we can. So that's a -- that's an effort ongoing as we speak. 
 
                Q     Is that -- you said it was ongoing, is -- and the land was identified. Is -- are there tents and cots already set up there, or is that still something still kind of under discussion on how and when it'll be created? 
 
                GEN. FRASER: No, we're working that exactly today. So it's finding the capabilities and the resources to do it. We've heard through nongovernmental organizations that there's staffing and there's organizations who are willing to staff it and provide the medical care required. So it's putting all those things together and getting the -- and finding all the resources to build it. 
 
                So again, the Joint Task Force, the health cluster is working that today and next day in a very concerted effort to put that system together, because it will dramatically help, in my -- that's my assessment -- the capacity of the medical care being provided. 
 
                COL. LAPAN: Last question? Jim? 
 
                Q     (Off mike.) 
 
                COL. LAPAN: Okay. Luis? 
 
                Q     General, Luis Martinez, with ABC News. 
 
                A question about the -- I know you were just at the hospital location. Is it accurate to say that it's -- is it accurate to say that it's going to be about 40 acres in size? I've seen some reports that that's how big you were looking at -- how big of a space where you wanted to put tents in. Is that accurate? 
 
                GEN. FRASER: I don't have a very precise number on that. I'd have you ask General Keen. He probably has a better, precise number on that. But it's going to have to be at least big enough to handle the capacity we talked about; 3(,000) to 5,000 bed spaces is a large facility, if you will, a large area. So it will have to be large enough to handle that capacity. And that's all I can tell you right now. 
 
                COL. LAPAN: Well, General, thank you again for your time. I know that you have many things to do. So if you'd like to make any closing comments at this time, it's back to you. 
 
                GEN. FRASER: Well, this really is an international effort. And the United Sates and United States Department of Defense is really focused on continuing to support the government of Haiti, the people of Haiti, in bringing their suffering -- in alleviating that as quickly as we possibly can. And that's where our focus has been. That's where our focus will remain as we work very cooperatively, then, to understand and how we can transition this to that longer-term capacity and needs that the Haitian government will need.   
 
                So, ongoing effort. A lot of focus continues to remain that. It will remain a central focus of the United States Southern command until we've been able to meet our mission requirements. 
 
                Thank you very much for your time. 
 
                COL. LAPAN: Thank you, sir.
 
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