what is the US military role in Haiti? And why is the task so pressing?

by Anjali Sastry on April 8, 2010

U.S. Army Lt. Col. David Doyle, left, commanding officer of the 82nd Airborne Division's 2nd Battalion, 325th Airborne Infantry Regiment, briefs Lt. Gen. Ken Keen, commanding general of Joint Task Force Haiti, on the camps for displaced residents in his area of responsibility in Port-Au-Prince, Haiti, March 16, 2010. U.S. Navy photo by Senior Chief Spike Call See more at www.army.mil

People often ask me what the role of the US military is in the Haiti relief efforts and to describe how we are working with them.

First, for more on the collaboration between MIT and our partners, take a look at this (slightly outdated) overview: MIT Haiti project overview 100317. We’ll update more as we can.

Now, about the Joint Task Force-Haiti. Here’s a statement of the mission from Maj. Gen. Simeon G. Trombitas, deputy commanding general of Joint Task Force-Haiti:

“In a traditional military mission, we can designate the enemy and do those things easily,” he said. “Here, really, the adversaries are the forces of nature and time.”
Another difference, Trombitas explained, is that instead of commanding and controlling the mission, the U.S. military has played a support role, “coordinating and collaborating” with lead agencies such as the U.S. Agency for International Development and the U.N. Stabilization Mission in Haiti, which provided security.

This image from an RQ-4 Global Hawk shows passable and obstructed roads in Haiti. This photo demonstrates the assistance Global Hawk is providing to relief and rescue organizations in Haiti. The image taken by a Global Hawk from Beale Air Force Base, Calif., and analysts from the 480th Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance Wing's 548th Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance Group at Beale AFB provided assessments of the image to assist in all aspects of recovery and relief. The 480th ISR Wing is a subordinate unit of the Air Force ISR Agency, which has its headquarters at Lackland Air Force Base, Texas. (U.S. Air Force photo)

For recent blog post updates from the military leaders including Lt-General Keen, Commander of the Joint Task Force-Haiti, check out this DoD site. These updates give a good sense of the efforts and their focus. Support and collaboration are key aspects of the JFT-H work.

Supporting decisions, assessing trends, and making sense of what we can see from incoming data are all key needs. And we are puting MIT tools and approaches to work in these areas and using our efforts to connect with and engage students, faculty, staff and others in the community.

Why is this need so great? To start learning more, make sure to watch, read the transcript of, or download and listen to this recent PBS Frontline documentary called The Quake and then check out the site for additional resources. From the introduction:

On Jan. 12, 2010, one of the most devastating earthquakes in recorded history leveled the Haitian capital, Port-au-Prince. Those responsible for handling the catastrophe, including the Haitian government and the United Nations, were among the victims. FRONTLINE correspondent Martin Smith bears witness to the scale of the disaster and takes viewers on a searing and intimate journey into the camps, hospitals and broken neighborhoods of Port-au-Prince. Featuring never-before-seen footage of the moments after the earthquake and interviews with top officials from Port-au-Prince to Washington, The Quake ultimately asks, how will the world respond?

“Beyond immediate relief efforts lies a harder task,” says FRONTLINE’s Smith. “The world has to decide whether to simply patch up Haiti now or to take on the far more ambitious goal of building a functional Haitian state.”

The Quake explores the recent history of aid efforts in Haiti and the prospects for real change, and draws on interviews with, among others, former President Bill Clinton, special envoy to Haiti; Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton; and Dr. Paul Farmer, deputy special envoy to Haiti and co-founder of Partners in Health.

Haiti has more NGOs per capita than any other country in the world. For years, foreign assistance bypassed the Haitian government, leaving it weak and vulnerable. The Quake examines how, this time, things might be done differently.

“This is an opportunity to rethink how aid works and how we, the most powerful country in this part of the world, can work with our oldest neighbor,” says Dr. Paul Farmer. “So I think all that possibility is built into this tragedy.”

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