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Boxes of relief supplies wait at Villamor Air Base in the Philippines.
Boxes of relief supplies wait at Villamor Air Base in the Philippines. (Eric Guzman/Stars and Stripe)
Boxes of relief supplies wait at Villamor Air Base in the Philippines.
Boxes of relief supplies wait at Villamor Air Base in the Philippines. (Eric Guzman/Stars and Stripe)
U.S. relief supplies are easy to spot in typhoon-hit areas of the Philippines.
U.S. relief supplies are easy to spot in typhoon-hit areas of the Philippines. (Seth Robson/Stars and Stripes)
Filipinos unload boxes of relief supplies from a V-22 Osprey at a typhoon-ravaged village last week.
Filipinos unload boxes of relief supplies from a V-22 Osprey at a typhoon-ravaged village last week. (Eric Guzman/Stars and Stripes)
Sailors load relief supplies bound for the Philippines aboard a V-22 Osprey on the USS George Washington aircraft carrier last week.
Sailors load relief supplies bound for the Philippines aboard a V-22 Osprey on the USS George Washington aircraft carrier last week. (Eric Guzman/Stars and Stripes)

MANILA, Philippines — The U.S. military has played a crucial role in Typhoon Haiyan relief efforts in the Philippines but it’s unclear whether its services will be needed for much longer, the official in charge of American overseas disaster assistance said Saturday.

Jeremy Konyndyk, director of the Office of U.S. Foreign Disaster Assistance (OFDA), said Saturday U.S. officials are working with the government of the Philippines to determine reconstruction priorities in the wake of a typhoon that killed at least 4000 and damaged or destroyed more than a million homes.

“Part of that is figuring out whether and what role there might be for the U.S. military,” he said. “I don’t think we know the answer to that yet.”

Two amphibious ships, the USS Ashland and the USS Germantown, along with 900 Okinawa-based Marines from the 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit arrived in the nation in recent days.

The ships and extra Marines will add logistical capacity to forces already working in affected areas, according to U.S. and Philippine forces overseeing relief efforts.

In the first week after the disaster the U.S. military provided a crucial air bridge to bring supplies and personnel into Tacloban Airport and distribute it to outlying areas, Konyndyk said.

“Without the U.S. military the whole response effort would probably be a week behind where it is now,” he said.

However, civilian capacity — including personnel from the United Nations, non-governmental organizations and the national government — has come on-line in the past week, he said.

“What the U.S. military did was provide that crucial bridging factor,” Konyndyk said. “Now we see some of these other actors come in and start to get up to scale, that has taken a lot of the burden off the military.”

The U.S. military is stepping back, he said.

“They are still helping but they are not the long-term solution,” he said. “We are able to start to transition.”

A U.S. hospital ship that was preparing to head for the Philippines is no longer required, Konyndyk said.

Al Dwyer, principle regional advisor for OFDA, which is part of the U.S. Agency for International Development, said USAID military liaisons had played key roles the operation. The personnel, including active duty and former military officers, worked with troops in Manila, Tacloban and on the USS George Washington aircraft carrier, he said.

“Their role is to directly engage with the various parts of the military effort to talk tactics and make sure they are aware of the priorities,” Konyndyk said. Clad in grey polo shirts liaison staffers have been a common sight amongst the troops working in areas where aid has been distributed over the past two weeks.

USAID worked to improve engagement with the military based on lessons learned from the response to the 2010 Haiti earthquake, Konyndyk said.

Two USAID military liaisons are assigned to the U.S. Pacific Command and conduct humanitarian operations training for servicemembers at bases all over the Pacific, he said. “You don’t want the military coming in without that crucial guidance from disaster relief professionals.”

USAID will likely be involved in the typhoon recovery efforts for up to 12 months, he said.

Robson.seth@stripes.com

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