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U.S Military Plays High-Profile Role in Haiti Relief Effort

January 19, 2010 at 12:00 AM EDT
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Some 800 U.S. Marines arrived in Haiti on Tuesday, in addition to members of the Army's 82nd Airborne division. As the U.S. troop presence builds there, Jim Lehrer speaks with a pair of experts about the military's mission in the relief effort.
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JIM LEHRER: The U.S. military’s effort to move more aid into Haiti kept growing today. Some 800 U.S. Marines arrived onshore, in addition to members of the Army’s 82nd Airborne Division.

There was also word Canada dispatched 2,000 troops, including two warships, to towns southwest of Port-au-Prince. U.S. Army Major General Daniel Allyn announced plans for more airdrops of aid, and he defended the pace of operations.

MAJ. GEN. DANIEL B. ALLYN, U.S. Army: The fact is that it takes forces on the ground to secure the areas where these drops must go in, and to organize the people to avoid a chaotic distribution when those supplies come in. And we needed to wait until we had adequate forces to enable that to happen.

JIM LEHRER: For more on the U.S. military’s role in Haiti, we turn to two men with extensive experience in responding to disasters.

Retired Army Lieutenant General Jay Garner commanded the task force that provided humanitarian aid to the Kurds in Northern Iraq after the first Gulf War. He also was the director of the Office of Reconstruction and Humanitarian Assistance following the U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003.

Andrew Natsios was the administrator of USAID during the Bush administration. Two decades earlier, he served as that agency’s first director of the Office of Foreign Disaster Assistance.

General Garner, specifically, what is the job of the U.S. military in disasters like Haiti?

LT. GEN. JAY GARNER (RET.), U.S. Army: Well, I think, Jim, that the military is really the only people that can immediately respond, because you have — you have an organization that has a chain of command at every level. They have leadership at every level. They have resources. They have the skill set. They have the ability — the — the ability to move things around.

They have everything that you need. They can bring security immediately. You can’t do anything until you have security. So, the military is the one that has all the tools. So, I think it’s necessary to get them in there immediately. And they have to somewhat be in charge, I believe, when they do that.

Of course, you have to work with the host nation and have a partnership with them. But then I think that the way you bring stability immediately is bring the military in there, because, like I said, they have the entire tool set to do what they need to do. They have doctors. They have field kitchens. They have military police. They have infantry for security. They have ground transportation, air transportation. They have construction battalions, et cetera.

So, I think that’s how you — you bring stability as fast as you can.

JIM LEHRER: Do you agree with that, Mr. Natsios?

ANDREW NATSIOS, former administrator, U.S. Agency for International Development: Well, I agree, in major disasters, like Aceh or Haiti, General Garner is correct. Having the military there is very important.

But the international disaster assistance system is not based on military leadership. It’s based on civilian leadership. It’s USAID, under federal law, that has that leadership role. We worked very closely with General Garner in the Kurdish emergency. And that was very effective, actually, and I think the two of us working together, because he and I worked together in that emergency.

But there are 60 of these disasters a year that AID responds to, and no one ever hears about them because they don’t get into the news. And they’re very effectively run. And most of them, the military doesn’t get involved. It’s the NGOs, the nongovernmental organizations, the U.N. agencies, particularly UNICEF and the World Food Program and UNOCHA, which coordinates response, and the Red Cross movement, with the bilateral aid agencies, like the European Union, the seat of which is the Canadian aid, and AID.

They do most of these responses. When there’s a major emergency of this scale or like Aceh, then you get the U.S. military.

JIM LEHRER: Aceh — Aceh is what?

ANDREW NATSIOS: Is the tsunami that took place in Indonesia in the end of 2004.

JIM LEHRER: Right. Right. OK.

ANDREW NATSIOS: When it’s so massive, you need the logistic capacity and the number of troops that the U.S. military brings.

But the NGOs have thousands of workers on the ground. And they were there in Haiti, along with AID, for several decades before. I mean, they have been there a long time.

JIM LEHRER: There were 10,000 agencies, in fact, that — according to most reports, NGOs, that have been working in Haiti all this time.

But, General Garner, how do you follow that?

LT. GEN. JAY GARNER: Well, I — no, I agree with Andrew. I think — well, I was responding to your question about Haiti specifically…

JIM LEHRER: Sure. Right.

LT. GEN. JAY GARNER: … and something of that magnitude. No, I would agree with Andrew.

And I think the — probably the most skilled agency we have for dealing with this is USAID. But there’s a point when you begin these things when you have to bring all the resources to bear, and you have to have an organization to do that. And the military has that.

I think, as soon as you can, you want to hand that off to civilian — to civilian leadership in this type of thing.

JIM LEHRER: Well, how would you — I know it’s an — impossible to pinpoint it correct, you know, right on the money here, but what would you suggest, based on what you have read and heard? What’s the problem down there? Who should be in charge right now? Not — not yesterday, not tomorrow, but, right now, who should be running things, General?

LT. GEN. JAY GARNER: Well, I think they have turned it over to the U.N., but, if the U.N. isn’t doing that, I think it’s in the family of Americas, and I think we should step in and take charge, until we can sort all this out.

I think they need to establish a humanitarian operation center and bring everyone into it, bring the governmental agencies into it, bring the nongovernmental agencies into it, bring the other nations, bring the U.N., and get everything in, sort it out, get it prioritized, and start tasking missions and executing things.

JIM LEHRER: Who needs to do that, Mr. Natsios?

ANDREW NATSIOS: Well, that’s UNOCHA’s responsibility. And we have done this. General Garner did this with us in…

JIM LEHRER: Yes, but I’m talking about Haiti now. Who should be doing this now?

ANDREW NATSIOS: The United Nations has a structure for doing this. They have done this all over the world. They should be in charge of doing it.

They didn’t get there as fast. And there’s a reason for that. This is a very unusual disaster, in that it was in the capital city. Doug Coates, who was — he was a very old friend of mine. For 15 years, we worked together. And he was — they found his body in the U.N. He’s a U.N. — senior U.N. official.

Hedi Annabi, who was in charge of the U.N. I worked with in Darfur, his body was found. So, the U.N. leadership was killed in the disaster.

JIM LEHRER: Sure.

ANDREW NATSIOS: This is very unusual. I don’t remember a disaster in 20 years where you have had an earthquake right in the capital city. The ministries have collapsed. The NGOs’ headquarters, many of them, collapsed. Many NGO workers were killed. The U.N. leadership was killed.

This is — this is different than what we have seen before. So, the — the order that the U.S. military brings is very important at this point. But as soon as the people from UNOCHA come in, they should take over. The World Food Program, probably the most competent U.N. agency, typically runs airports all over the world in emergencies like this.

The U.S. military is running it because I don’t think WFP has arrived with their air traffic controllers yet to run it. But — and there are some very competent Haitians, too. So, it’s a matter — all of this is a matter of time. It takes a few days to put a vast structure of this complexity in place. There are thousands of aid workers working on this right now.

JIM LEHRER: General Garner, just back to the military, based on your experience, does the military mind doing this kind of work?

LT. GEN. JAY GARNER: Oh, I think you will get an argument at the very highest levels of the Defense Department that this — this is interrupting the deployments and other things.

But when you get down to the working level, you get down to the BCTs and the troops, the soldiers and the Marines doing that, they have a great amount of compassion for this type of thing. And they like doing this type of thing. And we should be doing this. This is — this is what we do. And we do it well. We do it better than anybody else.

JIM LEHRER: Why should we do it?

LT. GEN. JAY GARNER: Because it’s the right thing to do here. We have the proximity to Haiti, where Haiti is in the family of Americas, and they’re human beings. And if we can reach out with our military might and solve a problem like this, we ought to do that. And it’s good for the nation and I think it’s good for our image and it’s the right thing to do.

JIM LEHRER: Based on your experience, is the military — have you had some — any pushback from the military in these kinds of enterprises?

ANDREW NATSIOS: No. The troops wanted — I was a civil affairs officer for 23 years and a lieutenant colonel in the United States military doing this sort of work myself in uniform. And, so, I — I participated in the reconstruction of Kuwait after the first Gulf War as executive officer of the unit.

So, the military, the officers at the working level, they all cooperate. None of them complain. And I think they have a sense of accomplishment in this.

JIM LEHRER: Did you feel any frustration with the piece of tape where the — the Navy — U.S. Navy officer at the airport was asked by the reporter from ITN, hey, you have got all these supplies. There’s a hospital down across the road, and you can’t get those supplies to them. Why not?

And he said, I’m sorry. I don’t know — I don’t have any — we have — somebody else is deciding all of that.

ANDREW NATSIOS: There is a system…

JIM LEHRER: You going to have live with that for a while?

ANDREW NATSIOS: There is a system for deciding that. It’s called the incident response system. And AID has used it for 30 years. The U.S. military uses it. And that system has been set up. And it will function.

But it takes a few days for all that system to be put in place.

JIM LEHRER: And has that been explained well to people? I mean, I’m talking about American people, as well as the Haitian people.

ANDREW NATSIOS: I don’t think the American people have — you know, this has been explained to them. I understood it because I ran AID.

JIM LEHRER: Sure.

ANDREW NATSIOS: And General Garner understands it because we worked on this stuff together.

The incident response system, by the way, is from the U.S. Forest Service. They use it to fight forest fires. And we found 30 years ago it was very useful in other disasters in the developing world, so we adopted it. And I think FEMA has adopted it for domestic disasters as well.

JIM LEHRER: General, do you think the — if this doesn’t get any better, that some of these military commanders might take a little more leeway than they would otherwise as this thing continues to deteriorate and nobody is coordinating it?

LT. GEN. JAY GARNER: I think, Jim, that you don’t wait on leadership, that, in the absence of leadership, you take charge and you make things happen.

And then it’s a pickup game. It’s an ad hoc situation. And you get it sorted out and, as soon as you can establish the right agency, you do that. But, until then, you make things happen.

JIM LEHRER: There are 11,000 U.S. troops there now, General. Is that going to make a difference? Is that enough to make a difference? Do more have to come? What’s your reading of it?

LT. GEN. JAY GARNER: Well, the more you put in there, the faster you can make a difference. But 11,000 troops is a lot, if they’re the right kind.

What you need to do first is establish security.

JIM LEHRER: And U.S. troops can be used to do that without offending the Haitian government?

LT. GEN. JAY GARNER: I would assume that we’re working in coordination with the Haitian government.

JIM LEHRER: Yes.

Do you agree with that, Mr. Natsios?

ANDREW NATSIOS: I do. I think the critical element here, though, is to focus on the four clusters that the entire international disaster system works on: food and nutrition, emergency medical care, water and sanitation, and shelter, the two most important of which are emergency medical care and water and sanitation.

They are the things that could, if they’re not done properly, kill a lot more people in the future. We could have a cholera epidemic or a diarrheal disease epidemic if we do not focus on the most invisible part of this, which is water and sanitation.

The second most important thing after the clusters is jobs. The thing that was destroyed in that earthquake, beyond the buildings and people’s — the loss of people’s lives, was, the economy has been devastated. In the capital city, businesses have been destroyed. And people have no jobs. There’s probably 80 or 90 percent unemployment now.

Until you get the economy going, people can’t start taking charge of their own lives again. And, so, one of the things AID has been commissioned to do, as I understand it, by the president and Dr. Shah, who is the administrator, is to put a mass employment program rapidly together, $100 million program, to get as many Haitians employed in temporary — these are temporary jobs, to clean up the rubble, repair the roads, and that sort of thing.

JIM LEHRER: Yes.

But, meanwhile, General, back to you, finally, there has to be security even to do that, correct?

LT. GEN. JAY GARNER: You have to have security for everything. You — if — other — if you don’t have that, then you — it disrupts into riots and thievery and things like that. So, you can’t get started until you have security.

JIM LEHRER: All right, gentlemen, thank you both very much.

ANDREW NATSIOS: Thank you very much.

LT. GEN. JAY GARNER: Thank you, Jim.