DoD Boosts Humanitarian Assistance to African Nations (corrected copy)
By Paul Stone
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, March 2, 2000 The Pentagon announced today that it’s boosting assistance to African nations recently devastated with flooding by sending in helicopters to aid search and rescue operations.
Two or three MH-53 helicopters are expected to be loaded aboard C-5A transport planes and depart Royal Air Force Base Mildenhall, England, this weekend, arriving in Africa early next week, according to Pentagon spokesman Ken Bacon. A second group of two or three is expected to follow later. Bacon said MH-53 helicopters are particularly well suited for search and rescue operations because they have heavy lift capabilities and can fly in all types of weather. The helicopters will be manned by special forces personnel, including Navy Seals.
In addition, DoD is diverting some medical and command and control personnel from a medical exercise in Cameroon to the humanitarian assistance effort. In all, Bacon said the boosted effort will involve 600 to 900 military personnel, with most coming from the European Command’s 86th Contingency Response Group, based in Germany and England. DoD’s effort has been dubbed “Operation Silent Promise.”
The added assistance comes as desperation is building across southern Africa -- including Mozambique, South Africa, Zambia, Zimbabwe and Botswana -- where flooding has left more than 100,000 people stranded. Thousands are reported to be weak from hunger, clinging to trees and rooftops and or waiting for helicopters or boats to rescue them. Bacon said flooding in mid-February was worsened by Cyclone Eline, which hit southern Africa Feb. 22. Another cyclone, Gloria, is expected to hit the region this weekend.
Bacon said a Humanitarian Assistance Survey Team has been operating in Mozambique and South Africa since Feb. 21 and has already coordinated the shipment of needed supplies, including tents, blankets, food and plastic sheeting. He said it is still uncertain where U.S. forces will set up a headquarters, but indicated a likely location will be somewhere in South Africa.
Air Force Maj. Gen. Joseph Wehrle Jr., commander of the 3rd Air Force at Mildenhall, has been named task force commander for the operation.