Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Gates orders additional ship, eyes more capability for Haiti

by Donna Miles, American Forces Press Service

NEW DELHI (AFNS) -- Just hours before another earthquake hit Haiti early this morning, Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates said the Defense Department is sending a port-clearing ship and evaluating additional capabilities to assist the disaster relief effort.

Secretary Gates announced that he signed deployment orders this morning to send a port-clearing ship equipped with cranes to get the port operating within a week or two to speed up aid distribution.

"We are looking at a variety of other capabilities," he said. "We are trying to look at alternative routes there might be to get bulk food and bulk supplies in there."

Secretary Gates responded to a reporter's question during a news conference in New Delhi, where he met earlier today with Indian Defense Minister A.K. Antony.

Shortly afterward, a magnitude 6.1 tremor struck northwest of the capital of Port-au-Prince, exacerbating difficulties already plaguing Haiti. The extent of the damage is unknown.

Getting around Port-au-Prince remains challenging, Secretary Gates said, expressing hope that more routes will be cleared within the next 24 to 48 hours so trucks can begin delivering more aid.

"You cannot fully meet the needs of over 2 million people using helicopters," he said.

Seeing trucks out on the road providing desperately needed supplies also will reduce the chance of people turning to violence out of desperation, he said.

Secretary Gates said he's pleased by cooperation between the U.N. peacekeeping force in Haiti, the Haitian government and U.S. commanders on the ground in supporting the relief effort.

"Everything I hear is that the three have established a good working relationship in terms of establishing priorities for what actually flows into the country," he said.

Americans should feel proud of the U.S. response, Secretary Gates said, noting the governmental agencies and nongovernmental organizations working together to assist.

The U.S. Coast Guard was on site in Haiti "literally within hours after providing limited support, and with each passing hour, more and more American forces and ships and capability have flowed into the area," he said.

While proud of the U.S. contribution in Haiti, Secretary Gates resisted saying he's satisfied with the response. "As long as 2 million people in Haiti are still struggling to get food and water, fuel and medical care, it would probably be a mistake for anyone to say they are satisfied with the level of effort," he said.

"That said," he continued, "It is hard for me to say what more the United States could make available or how we could make it available faster to deal with the tragedy there."