82nd Airborne helps desperate Haitians

Posted January 17, 2010 9:38 a.m. EST
Updated January 17, 2010 10:44 p.m. EST

— The 82nd Airborne Division continued to distribute aid in Haiti Sunday, while the task force commander predicted that security could become a larger part of the United States military's mission in the country hit by a devastating 7-magnitude earthquake five days ago.

Soldiers with Fort Bragg's 82nd Airborne flew out on helicopters over the capital city Sunday morning, WRAL's Bryan Mims reported.

The soldiers are assessing where to make water and food drops, Mims said, and scouting out locations to add to the 14 distribution points for food and other supplies established by the Haitian government.

As of Sunday afternoon, about 1,000 82nd Airborne Division soldiers are on the ground in Haiti and 3,000 other troops are working from ships docked off of the Haitian coast, according to the American Forces Press Service.

Last night, paratroopers flew into a hillside golf course, where perhaps 50,000 people were sleeping in a makeshift tent city. The soldiers set up a base and handed out water and food.

So far, the 82nd has delivered more than 70,000 bottles of water and 130,000 packages of food, said Army Lt. Gen. P.K. "Ken" Keen, commander of the Haiti mission. The food packages contain about 2,300 calories, enough to maintain a person's basic daily nutritional needs.

"This mission could not happen without the 82nd Airborne Division," Keen told WRAL News on Sunday.

The military expects to hand out 600,000 rations all together, funding by $20 million in emergency funds the Department of Defense has alotted for the mission.

Food has also been handed by the United Nation, which officials say is feeding feeding 40,000 and hopes to feed 2 million within a month.

However, Keen said, some incidents of violence have impeded the U.S. military's ability to support the Haitian government.

"Our principal mission [is] humanitarian assistance, but the security component is going to be an increasing part of that," he said today on ABC's "This Week." "And we're going to have to address that along with the United Nations, and we are going to have to do it quickly."

The Associated Press reports that Haitians seem increasingly frustrated by their seemingly invisible government, the pace of aid distribution and looters.

Scuffles broke out in a soccer stadium when U.S. helicopters dropped boxes of military rations and Gatorade

Two suspected looters were beaten to death in the Delmas neighborhood. Some residents said the men had been attacked by angry viligantes; others said that police beat them.

A hospice administrator said that the prospect of coming through Place de la Paix, an impoverished neighborhood where a makeshift tent city has formed a tense maze of hungry, thirsty people, has kept aid workers away from the home's elderly residents.

Jean Emmanuel, 27, sought to assure workers they wouldn't be in danger. "I'm pleading for everyone to understand that there's a truce right now; the streets are free, so you can come through to help us," said Emmanuel.

The hospice is also near President Rene Preval's temporary headquarters at a police station, yet residents felt deserted by their government. Preval hasn't made a broadcast address to the nation or been seen at any disaster site.

"The government is a joke. The U.N. is a joke," said 71-year-old Jacqueline Thermati, who lay in the dirt at a damaged old-age hospice.

Downtown, groups of young men shouted slogans calling for Preval's ouster and the return of former President Jean-Bertrand Aristide, who was ousted by a rebellion in 2004.

Keen noted that domestic police forces in the Haitian capital were among those affected by the quake, which he said adds to security concerns there.

"The police that was providing security at various locations around the city of Port-au-Prince was devastated by the hurricane as well," he said on CNN's "State of the Union." "So security is a concern. We're paying very close attention to it."