U.S. military adjusts plans to meet evolving needs in tsunami relief effort
January 8, 2005
UTAPAO, Thailand — With more assessments coming in and even more supplies going out, the overall plan for the U.S. military’s humanitarian relief mission in tsunami-stricken South Asia has altered slightly.
The military task force heading the operation, formerly Joint Task Force 536, now is called Combined Support Force 536, and it’s leading the newly dubbed “Operation United Assistance.” The United Kingdom, Australia, Japan, Thailand, Sri Lanka and Indonesia have joined forces to provide relief to the region, according to a CSF-536 spokesman.
Another change in the operations plan is to be the breakup of the Bonhomme Richard Expeditionary Strike Group, which is carrying the 15th Marine Expeditionary Unit. Marine Lt. Col. Robert Krieg, CSF-536 operations planning team member, said now just one ship from the group will head to Sri Lanka to help relief efforts there. The former plan had called for one ship to stay off Indonesia and the group’s remaining two ships to head to Sri Lanka.
After further assessment, Krieg said, “we need less in Sri Lanka than we originally thought.”
The ship will carry items including water production equipment, heavy machinery and helicopters, and transport more personnel to help in Sri Lanka.
The 15th MEU and the ships carrying it are headed to the Middle East for a combat tour. Krieg said their current schedule gave them a two-week window in which they could stop here and lend a hand.
The new ships off the Indonesian island of Sumatra will join the U.S. Navy vessels from Expeditionary Strike Group 5, which have been there since Jan. 2. Krieg said the Bonhomme Richard ships will cover Indonesia’s west coast south of Meulaboh and ESG 5 will cover the coastline north of the port city. When all ships are in place, a total of 46 helicopters will be ferrying supplies.
While forces are being realigned throughout the region, so too is how relief supplies are getting in. Krieg said some supplies now are being flown directly into areas where they’re needed. The original plan was to use Utapao as the main hub and distribute supplies from there.
“We’re tailoring our operations from the starter kit we assembled” with the units, Krieg said.
With almost 12,000 of the approximately 14,500 U.S. servicemembers in the region belonging to the Navy, Krieg said, the operation’s “focus of efforts are sea-based.”
As of Wednesday, he said, 48 tons of supplies had been delivered in Indonesia, 134 tons to Thailand and two tons to Sri Lanka, where relief operations just began. A total of 169 sorties had been flow by C-130 transport planes; 145 helicopter sorties had gone out, 113 by the H-60 Seahawk, and 32 by CH-46s.