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DOD News Briefing with Gen. Fraser from Miami, Florida

Presenters: Commander, U.S. Southern Command Gen. Douglas Fraser
January 21, 2010

                 MODERATOR:  Good morning, everyone.   Joining us again today -- although today via satellite rather than here in person -- is Gen. Fraser, the commander of U.S. Southern Command.  And he's going to provide an update on Haiti relief operations.  General, over to you, sir, for your opening statement.

 

                GEN. FRASER:  Thank you very much.  Good morning.  As you know, our efforts from the DOD continue in support of USAID-led efforts on the part of the United States government to support aid efforts for the victims of the earthquake in Haiti.  Based on that earthquake, roughly 3 million people are estimated to be impacted.  So what I'd like to do this morning is, is give you a bigger picture, if you will, of the overall U.S. military efforts that are being taken to aid those victims.

 

                First, if we look at the airport, because that's the place that we first focused our attention, while we were moving other capability, the airport, now, supports roughly 120 to 140 flights a day and has received over 840 flights during the time that it's been open.  Because of the size of and the magnitude of the assistance required, we have a waiting list of over 1400 flights waiting to get into that small airport. 

 

                So as we have also looked at the region, we have opened up three other airports:  one at San Isidro Base in the Dominican Republic; another one at Maria Montez, which is in Baharona, in the southern part of the Dominican Republic just across the border from Haiti; and then down in Jacmel, which is south of Port-au-Prince.  Those are growing in their capacities in an effort to relieve that capacity as we look to improve the air flow into all the airports that are in Haiti and the surrounding area.

 

                In addition to that, we now have 20 ships that are in the Port-au-Prince area, ranging from an aircraft carrier to an amphibious-ready group, to Coast Guard cutters, to a various number of ships, to include the hospital ship Comfort.  Those are important because they provide us an offshore basis, so we have an alternative to the capabilities on the airfield.  And the United States Navy has set up a logistics field in Guantanamo Bay that supports the bigger ships in the region so that they act as lily pads to support the efforts on shore. 

 

                Based on all those capabilities and the ones on shore, we now have 63 helicopters in the region.  And because we were uncertain, when we were moving here, what the capacity was to be able to move around the city and move around the country, those helicopters are providing airlift support for distributions of goods throughout Port-au-Prince and, where required, throughout the rest of the country. 

 

                And in addition to that, then, we've moved on to the ground -- the 2nd Brigade of the 82nd Airborne Division.  They are still in the process of closing.  And they are providing humanitarian assistance to the people of Haiti, and supporting MINUSTAH, who is responsible for the overall security and stability within Haiti as part of a United Nations mission.  They are -- the 2nd of the 82nd is supporting those efforts and providing security for humanitarian assistance where those requests are required. 

 

                In addition, we have the 22nd Marine Expeditionary Unit that has come ashore to the west and southwest of Port-au-Prince, down in Petionville, out to the Saint Guare (ph)-Petit Goave area in southern arm of Haiti, providing assistance where there has been a lot of larger destruction in that area.  So our efforts are working around the clock to support the Haitians in that manner.

 

                To date, we have distributed 1.4 million bottles of water, over 700,000 meals, and roughly 22,000 pounds of medical supplies.  In addition to that, we've been focused efforts through Transportation Command to build the capability at the port.  And starting today, with the arrival of a landing craft yesterday with port-opening capabilities, we'll have a small capability to move roughly 150 containers a day through the port today, growing with the arrival of a commercial vessel, tomorrow, of 250 containers per day.  And that capacity will remain relatively constant until about the middle of February, when we bring in another capacity called a Joint Over-the-Shore Logistics capability.  That will increase the capability to about 800 containers per day. 

 

                So those are the efforts around the clock that we've been taking to support the earthquake victims in Haiti, to support the U.S. government and USAID efforts, in conjunction with the United Nations -- all the international partners in the region -- and the government of Haiti.  It has been a very much lean-forward effort.  We've gotten the support of all the part of the Department of Defense from around the nation and around the world.  So every effort we can take, we're making so that we can help support those 3 million people.  And with that, I'd like to take your questions.

 

                Q     General, Tom Bowman with NPR.  We talked with a couple of senior military officers here yesterday, and they were talking about that southwest of Port-au-Prince, there's a huge swath of area with hundred of thousands of people that really, no one's been to yet.  Can you give us a better sense today of what's going on in that area -- the destruction and loss of life and relief efforts in that area?

 

                GEN. FRASER:  Well, that is the area in which the 22nd Marine Expeditionary Unit is working.  So they've been working over the last few days -- two to three days -- to provide relief supplies into there.  The indications that we have there -- and it varies with where, in the proximity to the epicenter, you go -- varying levels of destruction within the cities, from 800 -- or 80 percent of the cities destroyed to 60 percent -- the farther west you go, a little less than that. 

 

                The earthquake we had yesterday did a little more damage in that area because it was focused a little more to the west.  I still don't have clear estimates of what that is and I can't give you a good estimate, overall, of what the overall death tolls have been throughout the region.  So I would ask you to look to discuss that with USAID and the international community.  I think they might have a better estimate.

 

                Q     Hi General, this is Courtney Kube from NBC News.  If I could just ask for a couple of clarifications from some of the statistics you gave us.  The bottles of water, meals, and medical supplies delivered -- just to be clear, those are delivered to the people, and not just delivered into country, right -- those have been actually distributed out to people in need?

 

                GEN. FRASER:  Yes.  Our whole effort has come in to support whatever relief effort we had.  So whatever organization has water or food or medicine that needs to be moved, we will move that to distribution points.  The United Nations and the government of Haiti have set up four distribution points. 

 

                And so our helicopters go out and provide supplies to those distribution points, and then from there, they go to other distribution points.  So overall, there's a total of 100 different points.  And so we're moving supplies from the airfield to those distribution points, moving back and forth the entire day.

 

                Q     Also, you mentioned that there are more than 1400 flights that are still waiting to get into Haiti.  How -- our understanding is that the government of Haiti is saying what they need and it's sort of trickling down.  But can you give us a little more clarity on how those flights are prioritized -- who gets in?  And if you have any sense of what types of flights are still waiting -- is it supplies, personnel?

 

                GEN. FRASER:  The way the process works for managing the airfield is, the government of Haiti, the United Nations mission there in Haiti, give us a list of priorities that they are looking for to move equipment into the region, and supplies, and people.  And we use that through, then, requests in a phone-in bank -- we're working to get to a Web-based capability -- where people make the flights known specifically with the capacity, who it is, and register themselves for a slot time, is what we're calling it -- a time on the airfield. 

 

                And then we look to have them arrive at Haiti -- to make that slot time.  They land; they offload their cargo and then depart.  And so that's the way it has been working:  we've been making every effort to meet the priorities, as set by the government of Haiti and the United Nations there.  Now, what has happened in some cases is, as the cargo's being unloaded, it doesn't get unloaded as quickly as we had forecast.  There could be an aircraft problem.  And so in some cases, we've had to divert aircraft just because there was not space available on the airfield. 

 

                And we've tried to make that airfield operate absolutely as efficiently as possible.  And in fact, because of that, we're going to have to reduce the number of slots because we're just finding we're having too many problems with having to turn some airplanes away.  We've just constrained it too much.  And so we continue to adjust on that.  So as airplanes arrive at the location, we're looking for them to have a specific call sign, and that matches with a slot time there.  And if it doesn't, then some airplanes have been diverted because information hasn't been precisely as it related to us in the first place. 

 

                So we're trying to facilitate everyone who gets in there and try and make it as efficient as we possibly can.  And we just ask for everybody's support in realizing that we don't have any room to take aircraft that are not part of that program.  It's just too tight, and if we do that, it just ruins the rest of the flow going into the airport for that day.  And I have to emphasize, that airfield is running 24/7, so there is no empty space, unfortunately, in that flow.

 

                Q     General, it's Justin Fishel with Fox News.  Do you have any idea how much this effort has cost, so far, in terms of dollars?  And can you say how long there might be a military presence in Haiti?

 

                GEN. FRASER:  I don't have precise estimate.  The estimate that I have right now is it's, to date, run over $100 million, and so I don't have the precise numbers of that yet.  How -- we will stay until the needs of the Haitian people are met, where we can meet the needs associated with that humanitarian assistance as a result of the disaster. 

 

                And we will look for the opportunities to transition that care and that capability to the agencies and the organizations who do a much better job and are committed to the long-term support of the people and the government of Haiti.  And so as we get through this initial crisis, as those other organizations bring up their capacity, we will work with all those organizations to determine when the right time is to transition our capabilities out of Haiti.

 

                Q     Morning, General.  This is Jeff Schogol with Stars and Stripes.  You have several civilian aid groups and the military working together; there's always the possibility of duplication of efforts.  How do you determine what capabilities the military needs to focus on and what should be left to civilian aid groups?

 

                GEN. FRASER:  Most of our effort has been focused really on the logistics support for humanitarian assistance, and then providing the capability to get that out and get it right to the people as best we can, from a manpower standpoint, if you will, and then to facilitate the logistics flow and the capacity coming in, in the initial phase of this. 

 

                Our Joint Task Force Haiti on the ground coordinates very closely with the United Nations missions there, with all the groups that are associated with it.  They have meetings on a daily basis where everybody discusses what their focus is.  USAID is the lead U.S. agency -- they focus our efforts in the locations that they need. 

 

                So every effort is being made to make sure we are not duplicating effort.  And so that coordination capability is growing, but it is a very deliberate effort to make sure that we get to as many people as possible as quickly as we can.  And we support the needs of the government of Haiti, the United Nations, and respond to where they need us to go.

 

                Q     What capabilities do you bring to the table that civilian aid groups simply don't have?

 

                GEN. FRASER:  The capability we've brought in the immediate portion is a couple of things -- as I described, that capability offshore. So with all the helicopters we have, we're not putting a demand on the low fuel capabilities that there are right now in Port-au-Prince. 

 

                So we can use the ships offshore to gain fuel, to be able to support our crews, so we don't put an additional stress on the limited supplies that there are in Port-au-Prince.  We also, because we didn't know the capability -- that's why the helicopters have become so important, because we had the mobility to get around to places and get those distribution capabilities there quickly. 

 

                And then as you see, because the port has been damaged, we have the ability to bring in capacity to help open that port, before we can reconstruct it, to get larger number of supplies in across the shore.  So it is all those capabilities working together that help us get as much support and aid support as quickly as we can, to affect the people of Haiti, while other aid organizations are able to grow their capacity and then continue that effort on into the future.

 

                Q     General, it's Mike Mount, with CNN.  Understanding that there is the Comfort in the region and you've got the carrier and the ARG there, all with hospital capability, there is still a good need for, for lack of better phrase, direct point-of-service care for Haitians on the ground in Haiti -- ones that may not be able to be flown out or ones where troops aren't able to get to.

 

                There are, I think, seven -- maybe a little more -- field hospitals that other countries have brought in.  The U.S. military also has that field hospital capability.  We were told yesterday that it's essentially up to USAID or Haiti to request these field hospitals.  Is this something that you, as the head of SOUTHCOM, are looking at, evaluating whether these field hospitals should be brought in from the military and put into areas that are just not seeing medical service?

 

                GEN. FRASER:  Yes, we're constantly evaluating that as we look at -- we look to bring in as much capacity as we could, and that's why you see the hospital ship Comfort there; that's why the other ships are there, again, for the very reason of we knew we were going to have trouble getting supplies in, just because of the limited infrastructure we knew were going to have to deal with.  And we didn't know what the ability to move around on the ground was, so we wanted to keep as much capability initially as we could offshore and then go back and forth to do that.

 

                We're still trying to get a very good handle on what the medical situation is on the ground so we can adjust to that and bring in additional capability, if required.  So we'll be working with USAID, with the international community, to determine whether or not that requirement is needed, and bring it in if required.

 

                Q     General, Tom Bowman again, with NPR.  Have you looked into the possibility of setting up an unimproved runway at the Port-au-Prince airport?  Some people have mentioned that you could at least relieve the pressure on the C-130s trying to get in, because as you know better than anyone, those things can land almost anywhere.

 

                GEN. FRASER:  They can. We've focused on Port-au-Prince primarily because that was where the capacity was able to get to easiest.  And one of the things, as you look at those alternatives, is we can get into an unimproved airfield, but now it's how do you get capability through those airfields? 

 

                So from our initial estimates with our focus and knowing we were going to be able to get port capability in -- and we didn't have any engineering equipment to be able to construct a field like that because our efforts have been focused on water and food and those kind of capabilities.  With the limited capacity that we had there, we chose to focus on that, because bringing in that heavy equipment would have diverted capacity from food and water and medicine, and we just didn't have the ability to do that. 

 

                So we chose to bring in those other capacities and focus on getting those out as quickly as possible, and using the other capabilities we had around.  So we've considered it, but because of the length of time, because of the effort required to do it, and because we weren't certain how much capacity we would really realize there, we have not pursued that.

 

                Q     Along the lines of the airports, talk about the challenges of moving people and equipment and aid from the two airports you mentioned in the Dominican Republic and the one at Jacmel -- getting, again, people and equipment to the people who need help.

 

                GEN. FRASER:  Well, there are long roads.  The roads that come from the Dominican Republic -- there's a single road; it's a two-lane road; it's narrow in some places.  It's -- what I'm being told -- taking eight to 10 to 12 hours to transit through from Santo Domingo through to Port-au-Prince.  As we open up Baharona in the southern part, as I talked about, we'll have -that will, in fact, congest the road a little bit more.

 

                As we look to Jacmel and capability there, we'll still have to airlift some of it.  And the roads, because that was in an earthquake-damaged zone, are not as accessible, if you will, not -can't handle as much capacity coming through them.  So there's still limitations on the road infrastructure as we come into other locations to move equipment and people across those lines of communication, as we call them.

 

                Q     You get around that by using helicopters?

 

                GEN. FRASER:  We would do that from Jacmel, because it's close enough.  We don't have the capacity to do that from those locations in (inaudible) in the Dominican Republic; they're just too far away. They would take away from our ability to move water and food and supplies to distribution points within Port-au-Prince.

 

                Q     Hi General, it's Courtney Kube from NBC again.  Justin's question -- you said that even though the numbers are still fluid and early, the $100 million to date -- is that specifically for U.S. military operating costs, or does it also include -- is it basically, that's just U.S. military, or does it include USAID?  Can you give us a little bit more clarity on that?

 

                GEN. FRASER:  I really can't give any more clarity on it.  That is still a number that I'm still trying to get my arms around, and so I really can't give you any more clarity on that number right now.

 

                Q     Can I just ask one other thing from your opening statement?  You mentioned the 82nd Airborne is going to be supporting MINUSTAH on security.  Have there been any incidents, any security incidents, that the 82nd has been called in to support, yet, that you're aware of?

 

                GEN. FRASER:  No, the security situation remains calm.  You see isolated instances of criminal activity -- of looting, of some violence.  But overall, the situation remains calm.  I was in Haiti a couple of days ago.  I talked to the special representative to the secretary general of the United Nations.  His estimate remains -- the commander of MINUSTAH has the same estimate; that's what our estimates see. 

 

                So a lot of the security is involved with making sure that distribution points and capability vehicles going there, because of the need of the population, don't get a lot of people around them and cause a chaotic situation.  All the aid organizations want to have calm, measured -- and that's what we've found in all of the places -- so that we get food to as many people as possible while we do those distributions. 

 

                So we have had no incidents.  Our focus, again, is supporting humanitarian assistance, and the United Nations mission, MINUSTAH, has the role of providing overall security and stability within the region.  Our efforts are very coordinated, very close, and they continue to do a magnificent job of providing capability across the country, because MINUSTAH is responsible for providing that not only in Port-au-Prince, but for the entire country.

 

                Q     All right, General.  Jeff with Stars and Stripes again.  I understand the Comfort brings a lot of capability, but it took a couple days to get there.  And if you watch the news, it shows people wasting away in what passes for medical facilities in Port-au-Prince.  Why isn't the military making a greater effort to establish hospitals in Haiti to help people on the ground?

 

                GEN. FRASER:  The Comfort unfortunately took a lot of time.  It was not ready to sail, so we had to man it, we had to get people there -- the Navy did -- and then take time to get it down.  So it's a lot of capacity, but it takes time to get there.  And as you look at the logistics capability, there were a lot of other nations who have provided capacity for the medical realm. 

 

                So we didn't look at this as only a United States mission to provide that medical care.  We were supporting a United Nations mission, an international mission, and we were going to all work this capacity together and give that capacity where it made the most sense.  And so as we were going into this -- again, focusing on the difficult and the narrow nature of the capabilities we had to get into country through the airfield there -- we chose to focus on that capability. 

 

                Now, the Department of Health and Human Services has a capability on the ground.  And they have mobile teams who are out providing care, medical care throughout the region.  So this is a concerted United States effort, not just a United States military effort.

 

                Q     General, if you could answer this question -- we're all being asked this by our editors. How many U.S. ground troops are in Haiti now, and how many do you expect by the weekend?

 

                GEN. FRASER:  Right now there are 2,000 -- let me make sure of this number-2,676 U.S. military personnel on the ground in Haiti.  There's a little bit more than that if you look at the 22nd MEU.  They're not all in that because not all of them are ashore all the time.  So that's a flexible number, if you will.  And by the weekend, we expect to have 4,600 personnel on the ground in Haiti.

 

                Q     Does that include the 24th MEU as well?

 

                GEN. FRASER:  No, that does not include the 24th MEU.  They'll be arriving the next day.  And we're still looking where the specific requirements are that we need them.  Again, the security environment is calm, remains stable, but we're getting a demand to escort humanitarian assistance to various parts, and so we were uncertain of what the demand was going to be, and so I asked for that capability just so I was prepared to meet the demand. 

 

                So we're still evaluating that situation and seeing what kind of capability we're going to really need from the 24th.  They do bring, though, increased capability with MV-22 and CH-53 helicopters.  So they give us an increased capacity to move humanitarian supplies throughout the country.

 

                Q     You say they'll be coming "the next day."  What day is that?

 

                GEN. FRASER:  That's on Sunday.

 

                Q     General, it's Jonathan from Fox.  Can you say how many today are afloat?

 

                GEN. FRASER:  Yes. There are 10,000 -- let me make sure -- 10,445.

 

                MODERATOR:  All right, General, we're complete on this end, if you'd like to make any closing remarks?

 

                GEN. FRASER:  Well, thank you for the time.  This has been a very concerted effort that we're undertaking.  We see the need as great; we're not satisfied with the capacity that we've been able to achieve to suit the need of the people of Haiti.  But it's not because we haven't tried, we haven't been leaning forward. 

 

                Every capacity, everything we could move towards Haiti as quickly as we could get it has been moving in that direction.  And so that capacity will continue to grow in the future and will make a huge difference, I think you'll see, here in the coming weeks.  Thank you very much for your time.

 

                MODERATOR:  Thank you, General.

 

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