DOD News Briefing with Ambassador Lucke and Lt. Gen. Keen from Haiti
COL. DAVID LAPAN (Director, Press Operations): Good morning. We're privileged to have with us today Ambassador Lewis Lucke, who is the U.S. special coordinator for Relief and Reconstruction; and Army Lieutenant General Ken Keen, who is the commander of Joint Task Force Haiti.
Ambassador Lucke is the former U.S. ambassador to the Kingdom of Swaziland, and he has served for more than 30 years with the U.S. Agency for International Development. General Keen is the deputy commander of U.S. Southern Command and is currently serving, as I said, as the commander of Joint Task Force Unified Response in Haiti. They both join us today from Port-au-Prince. Ambassador Lucke and Lieutenant General Keen will both make some brief opening remarks and then they will be happy to take your questions.
Gentlemen, thank you very much for joining us today.
GEN. KEEN: Thank you.
AMB. LUCKE: Thank you. I'm Lewis Lucke, U.S. response coordinator. I'm very happy to be here today with my colleague Lieutenant General Ken Keen.
I think it's fitting that we sit at this table together, because we do this every day various times a day on our joint effort here. I think it's symbolic that we are working very, very closely together, one of the most positive experiences, I think, that we have had, certainly as the lead agency, USAID, working on behalf of the -- all the representatives of the U.S. government. The cooperation with the military has been absolutely extraordinary, and we're very, very grateful for that.
This catastrophe that we're responding to is still in the -- in the relatively early stages. We've gone from an emergency response into the subsequent phases of a transition to relief. We -- early on in this response, we, of course, concentrated on the immediate provision of essential services -- food, water, medical services and so forth. And we've seen -- fortunately, we've been able to meet some of those immediate needs with all of our international partners, the United Nations, and with a lot of help across the -- across the board; transitioning into other issues such as sanitation, shelter, rubble removal and especially jobs, all of these are absolutely critical for the next stages.
We've also seen an evolution of the kind of organization and cooperation with a number of organizations in this effort. The United Nations effort has become more robust, with many, many new NGOs joining cluster groups of -- grouped around various sectors, such as water, sanitation, resettlement and so forth. And that's becoming better organized and moving in the right direction, really, every day.
There have been more and more international partners that have joined the -- joined the mix. We are seeing more and more partners like NGOs, other friendly countries to Haiti. We're also seeing some significant progress, I think, in leadership in key sectors by the -- by portions of the Haitian government, taking a real lead in such areas as shelter, sanitation, reconstruction, planning and jobs. So it's been -- it's been very satisfying for us to work with our Haitian friends and colleagues.
We've recently had the start of a number of congressional delegations, senators, congresspeople, so forth. The head of USAID -- the administrator of USAID was just here. And judging by the reaction of all of these officials, it's clear that there remains a very, very strong commitment on the part of our -- of our leadership and our -- and our government to stand with the Haitian people.
There are a lot of challenges that remain. We have a whole lot of work to do, and we wouldn't be truthful if we -- if we -- if we put it any other way. We've made some progress; we got a long way to go. But we're working well together. And if -- this -- if and when this effort succeeds, I think we will have been responsive to the -- to the leadership of the -- of the president and our -- and our government, and our commitment to bring long-term help to the government and to the people of Haiti.
And I'll turn the words now over to General Keen.
GEN. KEEN: Thank you. Thank you, Ambassador. I want to also acknowledge Ambassador Lucke's leadership here.
Our military is here in support of our lead federal agency, the United States Agency for International Development, and this has been a strong partnership from the first day, along with other partners here, the United Nations forces as well as numerous non-government organizations that we work alongside of in the streets of Port-au-Prince and throughout Haiti every day.
Just over a month ago, since the devastating earthquake struck Haiti, we've made steady progress, and -- doing this closely with numerous international organizations that I just mentioned. Since I last talked to you, much has transpired, and much progress has been made, and much has yet to be done.
Our first priority when we moved military forces here within 24 hours of the earthquake striking was to provide immediate emergency response to save lives. We did that by opening the airport within 24 hours, and the progress that's been made in that alone has been tremendous. We moved in numerous forces, which I know you're familiar with. We went from a heighth of having 20,000 soldiers, sailors, airmen, Marines and Coast Guardsmen on or about 1 February to today we have approximately 13,000, of which just 7,000 of those are boots on the ground here in Haiti.
Our focus has been, as I mentioned, initially providing medical assistance and distributing water and food. Over time, as we met those initial needs, we have seen that need transition as we work with USAID, the United Nations and non-government organizations, whether that be in supporting security requirements as we push out the humanitarian assistance through supporting distribution points throughout the city of Port-au-Prince as well as in other cities, such as Leogane and to the west of Port-au-Prince, or whether it be in assisting in distribution of shelter and other needed items.
As we see this transition occurring, we see our civilian partners increase their capabilities -- both government here in Haiti as well as the nongovernment organizations -- we see the need for our military assistance dwindling.
However, at the present time, there's still great need across the board, and we still remain decisively engaged, providing critical assistance to the government of Haiti and all the organizations that I just mentioned.
I want to just highlight a couple areas, though, where tremendous progress has been made. I mentioned the airport. Prior to the earthquake, the airport was taking in about 13 flights a day. That increased to upwards of a height of 180 flights a day, 126 fixed-wing flights, about 60 rotary wing, to today it has gone back down to between 30 to 40 flights a day. Today the Haiti air traffic controllers are controlling the airfield from 07 in the morning to 6 p.m. in the afternoon. So that transition in and of itself is taking place and is the acknowledgment of the progress that's been made.
Another area that we've seen tremendous progress is the port. In the initial days, as I know you're all familiar, the port, particularly south port here in Port-au-Prince, was not usable, and it was critical to open that up to ensure that we get the amount of bulk supplies and equipment into Haiti that's needed. And the success of that, being able to go from pre-earthquake levels of receiving about a hundred containers a day to today we're able to receive up to 500 containers -- although we have not seen that level of need arise yet, we are capable of doing that at that port today -- that has enabled the pressure to be taken off the airfield, so we're able to bring in much-needed supplies and equipment.
Also, in the area of engineers, we've seen great engineering assets be used here both in the civil sector. Engineers is an area, as we work with USAID and their U.N. partners, and we look at significant undertakings, such as rubble removal, that we have identified additional needs for technical engineers. We are working with the Department of Defense to get some additional technical assets brought in.
So as we identify where there's not a need any longer for military assets -- such as we sent home or sent back the Carl Vinson aircraft carrier or the USS Nassau Amphibious Warfare Group and the 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit -- we're identifying at the same time areas where we need additional assistance, and the Department of Defense has met those needs each and every time.
So what I'm telling you is, as we look at our military requirements in supporting USAID and the government of Haiti, we're dialing it back where unnecessary, as we right-size the force, as requirements are needed on the ground, and we're dialing it up where it's necessary, based upon the needs on the ground.
So this is a constant process, and as I mentioned, much is left to be done. And as we go forward we will be continuously assessing where we need our military to assist USAID and the partners that we're working with here.
So I think with that, I'll go ahead and opened it up for any questions that you might have.
COL. LAPAN: Mike.
Q General, it's Mike Mount with CNN. You were talking about the transition period and dialing it up and dialing it back. Maybe you can tell us a bit about what -- what's the major priorities you're doing right now to, quote, "dial it up," and the same for dialing it back, as well as where it stands right now for where the 82nd is being used. Is that being looked at as being brought back home as well?
GEN. KEEN: Well, our priorities rest with providing humanitarian assistance throughout the city. And the -- within humanitarian assistance, what we're seeing now, the principal priorities -- and I can let Ambassador Lucke elaborate on that, but it gets to shelter. Obviously, as we meet the needs, we're looking at tremendous requirements to provide shelter as the rainy season begins, but also rubble removal, which is connected to shelter, as you might imagine, and ensuring that we have locations where we can move folks to.
And it gets into how you clear those particular areas, as well as sustaining the medical needs. With respect to -- and that's where -- a determination of our needs and what we have on the ground, whether it be engineering assets or others.
With respect to the 82nd or any other unit, we are working with the U.N. forces here and it's all about how well our partners here are able to build their capacity, whether that be NGOs or the U.N. forces in the form of MINUSTAH. We are seeing those forces flow in. They are building their capacity every day.
So with respect to the 82nd, that's working principally in the heart of Port-au-Prince, and the partnerships that they have forged with all the U.N. forces, we are seeing that those forces are able to take over some of the humanitarian assistance tasks.
But it's too early to tell exactly which units may no longer be needed on the ground as we go forward. We are looking at that right now and making our assessments, again with the United Nations forces as well as with USAID, to determine what recommendations that I may give to Southern Command and the secretary of Defense in terms of redeployment of any of those forces.
But it's a constant process of right-sizing the force, and we've already done that, as I mentioned, with the aircraft carrier and 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit. And this is part of that same process, identifying the ongoing needs for all of our forces, the 82nd being one of those.
Q Hi. Phil Stewart from Reuters. Could you just give us a ballpark idea of how much money the U.S. has spent on the military side of this operation? And also, are there any kind of projections that you have right now about where we'll be in terms of force size say a month from now?
GEN. KEEN: I think others are probably better positioned to answer your question on the budget. I've heard figures that it's approached 250 million (dollars). But again, I think that those there in the Pentagon could give you a better exact estimate of what we've spent.
I can't give you an exact figure of where we'll be a month from now. What I can tell you is that we are constantly assessing. We're looking at where we think we will be a month from now and what we will continuously need. And we are making those recommendations.
But again, it will depend upon the conditions on the ground and what we encounter three to four weeks from now in terms of what forces that are needed, and making those adjustments as we go forward.
Q General, it's Al Pessin from Voice of America. There's a story in The Washington Post today that says the Marines are making good use of counterinsurgency training that they've had as well as their experience in Iraq and Afghanistan. In terms of how they deal with the local community, engaging local leaders and so on, can you talk about how important that doctrine, that training and that experience has been in this very different situation?
GEN. KEEN: I think it's been critical. I think not only the Marines, but our soldiers from the 82nd Airborne Division, our Special Operations Forces that are here, as well as our airmen and sailors, for that matter, the experiences that they have gained in other places in the world, and the -- as mentioned in that article, the counterinsurgency doctrine in terms of how you interact with the local population, how you work with civic leaders as well as religious leaders, and understanding the cultural and the dynamics on the ground are critical in any mission, and certainly in the humanitarian assistance mission we see.
And we see the successes of that every day here, and we've seen it from the first day that the first paratroopers arrived at the airfield. And I had the opportunity to meet that first company. I had the opportunity to talk to the company commander and their noncommissioned officers, and we talked about that very topic and how those experiences will be very important as they go out, interact with the populace, understand the needs and be able to reach out to them. And from that very first day, we've seen the Haitian people welcome us with open arms.
And that understanding of the cultural as well as the dynamics within each community, because if you're in Port-au-Prince in one neighborhood, such as Cite Soleil, it's different than if you're in a western city, like Leogane, so understanding those subtleties and differences even within Haiti is very important.
AMB. LUCKE: If I could add just a quick note, I saw -- I read the article in The Washington Post. And I want to say that in certainly our experience here, that kind of sensitivity on the part of the troops -- that's not an isolated case.
I mean, this is happening all over the place, all over Port-au-Prince. The interactions of the troops with the local population, for example on the distribution of food, have been very encouraging.
Their working with the local officials has been -- has been really rather extraordinary. Every case is really different. There's been an enormous amount of, I guess the best word is, sensitivity and reactions according to the need but also done in a very, very kind and collaborative way.
I was talking with one of the young soldiers with the 82nd the other day at a distribution point. And I said, this is probably not exactly what you thought you were going to be doing when you joined the Army. And he said, no, it's really not. He said, but we get together in the evening and we talk about it. And he said, we feel great about it.
Q Hi, General. Megan McCloskey with Stars and Stripes.
Now that the military is starting to pull out many of its medical facilities, and you haven't found a need for the 250-bed interim care facility as well, we've heard that February 20th, the military is going to no longer be involved with humanitarian aid distribution.
At that point, what is specifically left for the military to do? Or is the mission complete, the military portion of it, at that point?
GEN. KEEN: Well, no. I don't seen the military's mission complete on any set date.
As I mentioned, we remain engaged across the board. And I think the date that you mentioned, for food distribution, is just one phase that the World Food Program or the next phase. But clearly what happens beyond that date, with the World Food Program, is being examined.
And certainly if there's food distribution programs that will be -- go beyond that, which would not surprise me if that continues to be a requirement, there will continue to be a need for either the U.N. forces or our forces to assist in that effort, in some way, or work with the nongovernment organizations that are responsible for that, to ensure they have the capacity to continue supporting that.
From the medical standpoint, I think this is a huge success story, although the medical situation is still, you know, very intense in terms of the need on the ground.
But today, I was provided some information that the Pan American Health Organization has indicated that 50 of 59 hospital facilities, and I say facilities because that includes everything from a fixed facility to potentially a field medical site by any one of a number of nations, has surgical capability.
The USNS Comfort for example -- its hospital beds and capability has declined 78 percent, in the last 10 days, going from 378 down to 106. So we see less traumatic injuries coming in.
And so we're able to locate places within Haiti, medical facilities, to place patients that have been treated initially, on the Comfort, to other locations.
Initially as you pointed out, we thought we would need a significant capability for an interim aftercare facility. And I think I made the statement one time. Initially within the first two weeks, we thought that could be as much as 5,000 patient-bed facility.
That has not materialized, in terms of being a requirement. We did build a tent city if you will, interim aftercare facility, with the health-care providers, that could take up to 100 patients.
We were -- we never topped having more than 10 in there at one time. And at this time, all of those have been discharged. The good-news story is there that the patient load that we anticipated being needed, to go into that facility, have actually been absorbed into other medical facilities inside Haiti.
So I think the medical -- the progress we've made, in terms of treatment and care for patients, has significantly improved. That doesn't mean to say there's not -- that there does not continue to be a great need for medical assistance.
And we have a lot of NGOs here in country working extremely hard seven days a week, 24 hours a day to provide this critical care. And obviously there's care beyond that that they're looking at in terms of rehabilitation of some traumatic injuries that occurred.
So hopefully that gets at both your questions there. If not, I'll -- you can redirect me.
Q If the food distribution is taken care of, or you're still -- if the U.N. takes over on support and you're pulling back medically, I'm just wondering what specifically the military is involved in doing in Haiti.
GEN. KEEN: Well, what we will continue to be involved in doing is supporting the -- USAID and our U.N. partners here. In particular, I mentioned things like engineering assistance, logistical assistance. It gets into ensuring that the port -- capacity of the port continues to mature and that eventually we're able to hand the port over to the Haitian authorities.
Also, at the airport -- I mentioned the airport. As you -- as already has been announced, the airport will see commercial traffic starting this Friday. We need to continue to mature the capability of the government of Haiti to take over the airport at some point.
So we will continue to be involved in those two entities until they're completely transferred to either the government of Haiti or other organizations -- civil organizations, and logistically, to continue to support USAID and U.N. partners as we move many types of needs to include the area of settlement, as well as rubble clearing.
And I'll let Ambassador Lucke address those, because those remain two significant challenges for the government and indeed the international community.
AMB. LUCKE: Let me just say a couple of words about rubble removal. This is one of the areas that we, the international community and certainly the government of Haiti have started to -- (END OF AVAILABLE AUDIO DUE TO SATELLITE SIGNAL LOSS).
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