In about-face, U.S. using airdrops to deliver aid to Haitians
By JEFF SCHOGOL | STARS AND STRIPES Published: January 20, 2010
ARLINGTON, Va. — The Air Force has begun to parachute relief supplies into Haiti.
More than 15,000 liters of water and 15,000 emergency rations were parachuted on Monday and more drops are planned, said Maj. Gen. Daniel B. Allyn, deputy commander of Joint Task Force Unified Response.
Such drops require troops on the ground to secure the landing zone and make sure the supplies are handed out orderly, Allyn said.
“We needed to wait until we had adequate forces to enable that to happen, and with that capacity building every day, we will continue to use this and every other means available to us to increase the reach of our efforts to the people of Haiti,” Allyn said.
Last week, Defense Secretary Robert Gates said conditions in Haiti were not conducive to airdrops.
“It seems to me that without having any structure on the ground, in terms of distribution, that an airdrop is simply going to lead to riots as people try and go after that stuff,” Gates said Friday.
But Marine Col. David Lapan, a Defense Department spokesman, said Tuesday that U.S. presence at the landing zones makes the drops possible. There have been no reports of violence at the landing site.
More than 2,000 U.S. troops are on the ground in Haiti including 1,000 paratroopers with the 2nd Brigade, 82nd Airborne Division, Allyn said. The rest of the brigade should arrive by Wednesday.
The 22nd Marine Expeditionary Unit established a beachhead on Tuesday morning and about 800 Marines will go ashore in the coming days to help communities west of Port-au-Prince that have been beyond the reach of relief efforts, he said.
Allyn also said two additional airstrips are being open: One in Haiti and the other in the Dominican Republic. The airstrip in Haiti should be open by Wednesday and will be used primarily to support Canadian humanitarian relief efforts.
His top priority is getting more vehicles to distribute the supplies coming into Haiti, he said.
“It’s still important for the next two to three days at least to continue to increase the delivery of water until we have a self-sustaining production capability on the ground, Allyn said.
The hospital ship USNS Comfort with 250 beds is expected to arrive off Haiti on Wednesday, Allyn said.
“By mid-day tomorrow, we expect to be able to transfer high priority patients identified by the minister of health and the medical professionals on the ground here in Haiti to ensure that those most in need of trauma care and advanced medical procedures will be able to receive those on the Comfort,” he said.