Logistics Planning and Collaboration in Complex Relief Operations

By Romano, Steven J. | Joint Force Quarterly, July 2011 | Go to article overview

Logistics Planning and Collaboration in Complex Relief Operations


Romano, Steven J., Joint Force Quarterly


In the past several years, the Department of Defense (DOD) has increasingly participated in complex relief operations with other U.S. Government agencies and nongovernmental organizations in response to humanitarian crises. These operations pose significant challenges for military logisticians. Most humanitarian assistance/disaster relief (HA/DR) operations are characterized by rapidly changing circumstances and a lack of clear and accurate information; they are also distinguished by substantial pressure to quickly provide relief supplies and materiel to an affected area.

While DOD has the airlift capacity, disaster funding, critical supplies, and logistics systems to be an effective interagency partner in responding to these crises, additional efforts are needed to provide military logisticians with the appropriate capabilities, tools, and training to meet the varied challenges associated with complex HA/DR operations.

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This article focuses on the U.S. European Command's (USEUCOM's) efforts to support disaster relief operations with logistics in the country of Georgia during August and September 2008. While admittedly a relatively small operation compared to DOD's support to the Indonesian tsunami in 2004, the Pakistan earthquake in 2005, or the 2010 earthquake in Haiti, the Georgia humanitarian assistance crisis (named Operation Assured Delivery, or OAD) nonetheless provides a microcosm of HA/ DR logistics operations and challenges. Furthermore, it offers a useful framework for conducting analysis and developing recommendations for improving DOD's future response capabilities. The article shares my observations, insights, and lessons learned while supporting Georgia relief operations as Director of Logistics for USEUCOM during OAD operations. While the team of USEUCOM and its component forces--U.S. Army Europe, U.S. Air Forces in Europe, U.S. Naval Forces Europe and U.S. Marine Corps Forces Europe, the Defense Security Cooperation Agency (DSCA), the Defense Logistics Agency (DLA), the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), several nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), and U.S. Transportation Command (USTRANSCOM)--were collectively able to deliver significant relief supplies within 96 hours of the crisis, a more effective and coordinated approach to crisis logistics planning and HA/DR operations is still required.

As DOD continues to embrace complex and often large-scale HA/DR operations as a core mission during a period of declining resources, we cannot afford to conduct these types of missions in a repetitively ad hoc fashion. A more structured approach is needed that combines coordinated systems, procedures, and, perhaps most important, a common operating picture with a supporting framework for the whole-of-government crisis dialogue, planning, and information exchange.

Crisis Timeline

On August 8, 2008, Russia deployed combat troops in South Ossetia and launched bombing raids deep into Georgia in response to a large-scale Georgian military attack against South Ossetia the previous day. The conflict continued for the next several days and, by mid-August, BBC News was reporting that Moscow claimed a death toll of 2,000. According to USAID reports, an estimated 30,000 people were displaced within South Ossetia, and more than 135,000 were displaced in other parts of Georgia. An additional 35,000 South Ossetians were reported to have had fled across the Russian border into North Ossetia. The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) reported that some 127,000 people were forced from their homes throughout Georgia by the conflict, adding to an already displaced population of some 223,000 uprooted by conflicts in the early 1990s in South Ossetia and Abkhazia.

In response to the crisis, USEUCOM supported USAID's Office of U.S. Foreign Disaster Assistance (OFDA) to assist these displaced people. Housed within USAID, the OFDA is designated as the lead U. …

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