Second wave of Fort Bragg soldiers arrives in Haiti

Posted January 16, 2010 8:00 a.m. EST
Updated January 16, 2010 11:35 a.m. EST

— A second wave of Fort Bragg paratroopers landed in Haiti Saturday morning as the U.S. military established a task force to oversee relief efforts in U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton described as a "race against time" for earthquake survivors.

The more than 900 82nd Airborne Division soldiers are part of 4,200 U.S. military personnel already on the ground or in ships offshore. Another 6,300 troops are expected by Monday.

The U.S. Southern Command appointed Army Lt. Gen. P.K. "Ken" Keen in command of the Joint Task Force Haiti. The task force is coordinating efforts with the United Nations, international relief organizations and local responders to help with search and rescue, distribute aid and assess infrastructure.

The Red Cross estimates 45,000 to 50,000 people were killed in the magnitude-7.0 earthquake that hit the Western Hemisphere's poorest country last Tuesday.

that the unit will move to a forward operating base from which it will be headquartered Saturday afternoon.

Before then, a small contingent of soldiers will board a U.S. Navy helicopter and fly into the capital Port-au-Prince. They will deliver water to several areas in the city.

Overall, Mims reports, the soldiers are facing fluid situation with a broad mission. After landing late Thursday, the first wave of about 100 paratroopers sent out a team of medics and provided security at the airport.

The medics went into the capital Port-au-Prince and gave primary care to quake victims, including a woman who had been burned.

A platoon was called out Friday morning to a chaotic scene with foreign nationals, some waving U.S. passports, trying to get through the airport gate Friday morning, Mims reported. About 20 soldiers went out to calm down and organize the crowd. Eventually, everyone made it into the airport.

The U.S. Air Force is running the single-runway airport, which has become key to distributing aid to the country. The capital's port was badly damaged in the earthquake.

Among other U.S. military efforts, the USS Carl Vinson is distributing more than 30 pallets of relief supplies, and a total of 24 helicopters are flying relief missions.

The Camp Lejeune-based 22nd Marine Expeditionary Unit is due to arrive Monday on the USS Bataan. The 2,220-strong unit is bringing trucks, earth-moving equipment and water-purification systems. Four other U.S. Navy ships are also sailing to Haiti.

The 500-bed hospital ship USNS Comfort is due next Thursday. It has operating rooms, digital radiological services, a laboratory, a pharmacy and CT-scan equipment, among other equipment.

On Friday, military officials told The Associated Press that the Pentagon is planning for both a short-term relief mission and the possibility of a longer-term role supporting 9,000 United Nations security forces but not supplanting them. The officials said troops are operating under adapted rules of engagement that allow for self-defense though the need for such action isn't expected.

The Obama administration has so downplayed the chance of the U.S. assuming a larger security role. Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said that any U.S. involvement in policing would depend on part on the recommendation of the American commander on the ground and on the needs of the United Nations forces.

"We very much hope to stay ... ahead of that, but recognize that there are possibilities there that we need to plan for," Mullen said.