U.S. Forces to Stay Near Haiti Through Hurricane Season
By Dialogo May 04, 2010The American military’s role in Haiti will decrease substantially after May, but the United States will maintain a scaled-down presence in the area through hurricane season, a top military commander said. Some 500 soldiers will begin a five-month exercise in Haiti starting in June, and the USS Iwo Jima will be available to provide aid should disaster again strike the island nation, Air Force Gen. Douglas Fraser told reporters. About 1,000 U.S. troops will operate in and around Haiti through May, after which some 500 soldiers with the Louisiana National Guard will deploy to Haiti for an exercise focused on helping to rebuild a country recovering from the devastating earthquake that struck in January. Haiti has been the focus of expansive international relief efforts in the wake of what is considered one of the greatest humanitarian emergencies in the history of the Americas. A crippling Jan. 12 earthquake killed an estimated 250,000 people and displaced more than a million inhabitants. At the height of the U.S. military effort there, some 22,000 forces were deployed in or around Haiti, including 7,000 land-based troops, with the remainder operating aboard 58 aircraft and 15 nearby vessels. Fraser said this response represented an ad hoc effort, not the result of contingency planning crafted before the earthquake -- the first to strike Haiti since 1860. “We did not have a plan on [the] shelf,” he said. But from June through November -- regarded as the Atlantic hurricane season -- the USS Iwo Jima, a large-deck amphibious ship, will provide medical support at locales around the Caribbean – venturing no farther than a two-day sail from Haiti. “We’ve started that practice of having a large ship in the region to be able to respond to a concern in hurricane season during that time period,” Fraser said, “allowing us to be able to respond accordingly.” As the number of U.S. forces in Haiti reduces in June, Southcom will transition to a more “traditional role” in its support to Haiti, Fraser said. The Louisiana National Guard exercise, known as “New Horizons,” will entail a $2 million series of projects to construct or rebuild Haitian schools and other infrastructure and to help Haitians prepare for possible future natural disasters, officials said.