ABC News' Luis Martinez reports:
Almost five months after the deadly quake that devastated Haiti, the American military's earthquake relief mission to Haiti, known as Operation Unified Response, officially ended today as Joint Task Force-Haiti ceased its operations. Two weeks after the January 12 earthquake, the number of American military forces dedicated to the massive relief effort peaked at 22,000 — 7,000 of them based on land and the remainder aboard ships. The numbers came down gradually in the ensuing months as the need for immediate relief shifted to a long term reconstruction mission. In the last few weeks the number of forces assigned to the effort had gone down to about 500. In a blog posting yesterday on JTF-Haiti’s Facebook page, mission’s commander Maj. Gen. Simeon Trombitas said, “Although JTF-Haiti will officially stand down on June 1, the hard work and effort put forth by our service members to set conditions for Haiti’s future success does not end with us.” U.S. Southern Command (SouthCom) will maintain a coordination cell in Port au Prince that will continue to coordinate DOD efforts with the USAID Office of the Response Coordinator and the UN mission to Haiti. In a statement, his predecessor, Army Lt. Gen. Ken Keen emphasized that the effort was a collaborative effort of US and international agencies. "We could not have done our mission, however, without the collaborative support and interaction with the Government of Haiti, MINUSTAH, other agencies of our government; especially Department of State and USAID and numerous NGO’s, all of whom were dedicated to helping the people of Haiti recover from this disaster."
Among the mission’s first accomplishments was re-establishing air traffic control operations at the airport in Port au Prince which quickly became the hub for international relief flowing into the quake, but which had become chaotic situation because the quake had damaged the airport’s air traffic control tower. A team of Air Force Special Operations air controllers arrived 30 hours after the quake and established an air traffic control operation and within a half hour of their arrival. With food and water in short supply after the quake, the military helped deliver more than 2.6 million bottles of water, 2.2 million food rations, 17 million pounds of bulk food and 149,000 pounds of medical supplies into Haiti. Specialized units also repaired the damaged south pier at Port au Prince's main port facility which soon became a major hub for relief aid. With a rushed departure, the Navy hospital ship USNS Comfort arrived off Haiti’s shores a week after the quake and was soon providing medical care to quake victims. In the end, the hospital staff treated 8,600 patients, and surgeons performed more than 1,000 surgeries aboard the ship. While the active duty mission has wrapped up operations, the US military will continue providing a humanitarian presence in Haiti. For the next three months, 500 National Guardsmen will begin construction projects on the island as part of New Horizons, an ongoing U.S. humanitarian exercise to South America and the Caribbean, that will help to build schools, clinics and community centers. The Naval amphibious ship U.S.S. Iwo Jima will also make a stop in July to provide medical care as part of a previously scheduled visit to the Caribbean.
SouthCom will also fund $13 million in disaster preparedness and humanitarian assistance projects to help the Haitian government provide essential services. -Luis Martinez