U.S. Southern Command (SOUTHCOM) established Joint Task Force-Haiti Aug. 15 to conduct U.S. military operations in support of U.S. foreign disaster assistance to the people of Haiti.
The task force is led by U.S. Navy Rear Adm. Keith Davids, commander of U.S. Special Operations Command South (SOCSOUTH).
In preparation for that mission, a 14-person SOUTHCOM Situational Awareness Team (SSAT) from SOCSOUTH arrived in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, Aug. 15, where they will work with U.S. government diplomatic and disaster-assistance personnel assessing the situation in areas impacted by a 7.2 magnitude earthquake Aug. 14.
The team will join officials from the U.S. embassy and a Disaster Assistance Response Team (DART) deployed to Haiti Aug. 14, at the direction of the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) Bureau of Humanitarian Assistance (BHA).
A U.S. Air Force C-130 aircraft transported the SSAT team from Homestead Air Reserve Base, Fla.
The team’s assessments will be used by SOUTHCOM mission planners to identify U.S. military capabilities needed and available to support U.S. foreign disaster assistance led by USAID/BHA and requested by the government of Haiti.
Additionally, the U.S. Navy is utilizing its Scan Eagle unmanned air system and P-8 Poseidon aircraft to provide aerial images of earthquake devastated areas. The images will be used by experienced disaster relief planners to determine what relief capabilities and supplies are needed immediately and where.
Two UH-60 and two CH-47 helicopters from Joint Task Force-Bravo are also en route to Haiti, where they will provide critical airlift support to ongoing relief efforts.
The U.S. military relief mission will join ongoing U.S. Coast Guard support operations in the Caribbean country.
SOUTHCOM remains in very close contact with its chain of command, the U.S. State Department, and USAID, the lead federal agency for U.S. foreign disaster assistance, and ready to provide additional support, if asked.
Historically, U.S. military capabilities are needed most in the critical early stages of a disaster relief operation, when fewer resources, capabilities and disaster-response experts are available to help victims and impacted communities. As those disaster-relief missions progress and more experienced experts arrive to aid longer-term recovery and reconstruction, U.S. military capabilities are no longer requested, and roles previously performed by military units and troops are assumed by other, more experienced relief organizations.
SOUTHCOM has supported USAID/BHA-led disaster relief missions in Haiti in the aftermath of previous disasters, most recently in 2016, after the nation was struck by Hurricane Matthew.
SOUTHCOM has also assisted Haiti in preparing for natural disasters with the construction of emergency operations centers, disaster relief warehouses, fire stations and community centers that double as shelters. The command has also previously donated search and rescue boats, as well as transport vehicles to Haitian emergency response and civil protection agencies.