Haiti commander: Airport handled 180 planes Monday, Marine battalion landing Tuesday
Published: January 19, 2010
With thousands of U.S. troops still just arriving to Haiti, the 1,400 U.S. military personnel already in country have assets and responsibilities well underway, from aid to security. But the military's job is just beginning.
No ones kidding ourselves, we have an enormous task, said Lt. Gen. Ken Keen, commander of Joint Task Force Haiti. When the quake hit, Keen was above the city on a hill and said he could hear the screaming and yelling below.
Most well-known, perhaps, is the herculean effort at the airport. The Air Force is managing air traffic control and airfield operations at the Port-au-Prince airfield, which usually handled about 30 flights per day. But the morning after the quake, the single, 10,000-foot long runway had only one forklift to help offload planes.
By Monday afternoon, however, the White House said the Air Force had the airport running at full capacity to handle 100-aircraft per day. Later that day, the USAF and FAA raised that safe limit to 120 flights. But on Monday evening, Keen said his air traffic crews had handled 180 aircraft that day, with no delays.
Meanwhile the force grows. Keen said 1,400 troops were on the ground with 5,000 at sea. They expect that number to grow 4,000 to 5,000 ground forces and another 5,000 additional afloat.
Obviously, we need to have enough people and equipment on Haiti in order to deliver the humanitarian assistance, said the general, without too large of a footprint.
On Tuesday, a landing battalion of U.S. Marines from the USS Bataan will begin their landing southwest of Port-au-Prince.
Keen told a conference call of military bloggers Monday evening that the security situation is relatively calm, and like most military commanders refused to say the Marines were landing to keep the peace. But Keens team is seeing incidents of violence everyday, but cautioned, These are pockets of violence, and we are being very vigilant to watch that closely. Military forces are in Haiti to provide humanitarian assistance first, beginning with water and rations, he said.
Providing security is an inherent part of trying to provide humanitarian assistance. You cant do that if its not a secure environment.
Haitians have been, he said, overtly welcome We have not personally experienced any of this violence in the areas where weve been.
Keen also ran down a long update of accomplishments: 12,000 lbs of medical supplies delivered, 16 water purification machines shipped in, five more to arrive Tuesay.
But the U.S. is just beginning to settle in. The island is living off bottled water. That wont work, we know that wont work, he said.