Academic journal article Military Review

FOREIGN DISASTER RESPONSE: Joint Task Force-Haiti Observations

Academic journal article Military Review

FOREIGN DISASTER RESPONSE: Joint Task Force-Haiti Observations

Article excerpt

THE DEVASTATION IN Haiti caused by the 7.0 magnitude earthquake on 1 2 January 20 1 0 prompted the longest and largest U.S. military effort in a foreign disaster relief operation. The earthquake destroyed vast areas of Port-au-Prince, the nation's capital, as well as a number of communities to the west of the capital, killing an estimated 230,000 persons and leaving thousands trapped in the wreckage and over two million without shelter. At the peak of Operation Unified Response, I February 2010, Joint Task Force-Haiti (JTF-H) consisted of over 22,000 service members, 58 aircraft, and 23 ships. With the stand-down of JTF-H on 1 June, Operation Unified Response lasted nearly five months.

This article contains our initial observations and recommendations to after action reviews and lessons that our military and interagency community should learn from as we prepare for the next foreign disaster.

The Response

Within hours of the earthquake, President René Preval sent several of his ministers on motorcycles to the home of U.S. Ambassador to Haiti, Ken Merten, to request immediate assistance from the United States. The first request was to take control and open the Toussaint Louverture International Airport, whose terminal had been significantly damaged and tower disabled. Lieutenant General PK. (Ken) Keen was with Ambassador Merten at the time, had already been in contact with Southern Command (SOUTHCOM), and was able to assure the ministers our military would respond. Runway conditions allowing, we were confident we had the capability to open the airfield.

On 1 3 January, General Keen was able to make contact with Haitian government officials at the airport and inspect the runway with UN officials. Under the direction of SOUTHCOM, elements of the Department of Defense (DOD) began to arrive on that day to assist the government of Haiti and the U.S. Embassy. The 1st Special Operations Wing reopened the international airport, while the U.S. Coast Guard Cutter and military aircraft began delivering relief and evacuating American citizens. of Defense immediately ordered the USS Vinson, USS Bataan, USS Nassau, and USS Hall to Haiti along with additional forces from the 82d Airborne Division and XVIII Airborne Corps assigned to the Global Response Force. Recognizing the need to establish a command and control element for the rapidly growing force, SOUTHCOM established Headquarters, JTF-H on 14 January to conduct humanitarian assistance and foreign disaster relief operations in support of the lead federal agency, the United States Agency for International Development (USAID).

Joint Task Force-Haiti assumed responsibility for all U.S. forces and began directing activities to assist in providing timely relief. Immediately, the XVIII Airborne Corps assault command post, 2d Brigade, 82d Airborne Division, arrived along with 58 rotary-wing and fixed-wing aircraft with elements of the amphibious ready groups. These elements, together with members of SOUTHCOM, Joint Force Special Operations Component, and the 3d Expeditionary Sustainment Command formed JTF-H, which led efforts through the emergency phase and into the relief phase of the operation. Additionally, Joint Forces Command, Northern Command, European Command, Transportation Command, and other selected units mobilized personnel to augment JTF-H with required specialties.

On 20 January, the hospital ship USNS Comfort, equipped with surgical operating teams and orthopedic surgeons, arrived in the operations area. 82d Airborne's 2d Brigade Combat Team (BCT) supported multiple interagency humanitarian aid distribution missions in the heaviest impacted areas of Port-au-Prince. By the end of January, JTF-H controlled over 22,200 troops both on the ground and offshore. Sixteen distribution sites were established to provide food, water, and medical care.

Joint Task Force-Haiti planners and leaders worked alongside their counterparts from the United Nations Stabilization Mission in Haiti (MINUSTAH), USAID, and nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) to develop plans for moving internally displaced persons at risk due to the impending hurricane season. …

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