US commits $100M to Haitian assistance


Barack Obama, Robert Gates, Joe Biden, Hillary Rod
Barack Obama, Robert Gates, Joe Biden, Hillary Rod

President Barack Obama makes a statement about the earthquake in Haiti, Thursday, Jan. 14, 2010, at the White House in Washington. From left are, Defense Secretary Robert Gates, Vice President Joe Biden, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, and Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano.

Charles Dharapak/The Associated Press
Published: Thursday, January 14, 2010 at 1:22 p.m.
Last Modified: Thursday, January 14, 2010 at 1:22 p.m.

WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama said Thursday that "one of the largest relief efforts in our recent history" is moving toward Haiti as he continued to mobilize the U.S. response to the island's devastating earthquake.

As many as 5,500 U.S. soldiers and Marines will be on the ground or on ships offshore by Monday, a Defense Department official said. More than a half dozen ships, including a hospital ship with 12 operating rooms, also were heading there Thursday or preparing to get under way, said spokesman Bryan Whitman.

Obama said the U.S. government is initially directing $100 million toward the relief effort, a figure he said would certainly grow over the year. "This is one of those moments that calls out for American leadership," he said.

Meanwhile, an administration official said Obama is reaching out to former presidents George W. Bush and Bill Clinton for their assistance in the relief effort. It was Bush who tapped his father, former President George H.W. Bush, and Clinton, to assist with the tsunami response.

Their roles will be defined in the coming days, the official said, speaking on the condition of anonymity because a formal announcement had not been made.

An official close to Bush confirmed that he was joining Clinton in the relief efforts.

Amid continuing efforts to assess the disaster's cost in lives and lost property, the first U.S. Army troops from the 82nd Airborne Division prepared to leave for Haiti with arrival expected later Thursday. That is a little more than 100 troops that will find locations to set up tents and other essentials in preparation for the arrival of another roughly 800 personnel from the division on Friday and the full brigade of some 3,500 by the end of the weekend, Whitman said.

They come on top of some 2,200 Marines, also to arrive by the Sunday or Monday, as the military ramped up what Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton called a major effort to provide security, search and rescue and delivery of humanitarian supplies.

Obama said more than a half dozen U.S. military ships were also expected to help, with the largest, the aircraft carrier USS Carl Vinson, arriving Friday, and the Navy hospital ship USNS Comfort expected to arrive by Friday, Jan. 22.

Obama, evidently remembering the political cost to George W. Bush of a slow government response to Hurricane Katrina, warned preemptively that it would take hours "and in many cases days" to get the full U.S. relief contingent on the ground, because of the badly damaged roads, airport, port and communications.

"None of this will seem quick enough if you have a loved one who's trapped, if you're sleeping on the streets, if you can't feed your children," Obama said. "So today, you must know that help is arriving. Much, much more help is on the way."

As a start, the president said the U.S. military has secured the severely damaged airport in Port-au-Prince, preparing it to receive round-the-clock deliveries of heavy equipment and emergency supplies being flown in from the United States and countries around the world.

For Washington, managing its role in the crisis required a rush-mentality coupled with consideration of the implications of its role.

Sensitive to questions about whether the U.S. would need — or choose — to essentially take over Haiti's now almost-nonexistent civil and governmental structure, State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley stressed that U.S. troops sent to Haiti will be under U.S. command but there to augment and support the United Nations mission.

"We're not taking over Haiti," he said. "We are helping to stabilize Haiti, we're helping to provide them lifesaving support and materiel and we're going to be there over the long term to help Haiti rebuild."

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