The senior officer who has been leading the U.S. military earthquake relief effort in Haiti says the formal operation will end around June 1. But Army Lieutenant General Ken Keen says American efforts to help Haiti recover from the quake will continue beyond that date.
General Keen ended his three-month assignment as U.S. commander in Haiti on Sunday, handing over command to a slightly lower-ranking officer. The change reflects the reduction in the number of U.S. troops involved in the relief operation that peaked at 22,000 in February, most of them on several Navy ships.
Now the ships are gone and just 2,200 troops remain on land. They are helping move quake refugees to safer locations and providing other logistical help to Haitian and international relief efforts for the current rainy season and the approaching hurricane season.
But Keen says as those troops leave by June 1st, and the formal relief operation ends, 500 U.S. reserve forces will move in to conduct more normal types of military exchanges with Haiti, including training medical personnel, building schools and clinics, and helping Haiti establish an emergency operations center and planning process.
"I would not say that the earthquake relief ends on any certain date because, I think, for the people of Haiti who are certainly in the displaced homeless that are in these camps, the impact of the earthquake will linger for years on their lives," said General Keen. "And the international community, as well as our own government's, response to it is providing a critical need for them today and will continue to provide that."
Keen, who is the deputy commander of all U.S. forces in Latin America and the Caribbean, says the lead for such efforts will be taken by the Haitian government and the United Nations, with help from U.S. and other government agencies and private groups.
The general says the $400-million U.S. military relief operation mostly went well. But he adds that the military needs to be able to assess needs in a disaster more quickly, and should improve its logistics and coordination abilities in such chaotic and unexpected situations.
Keen says he will continue to be involved in the long-term Haiti recovery effort. He says the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere now has a unique opportunity for progress, with world attention focused on its needs in the wake of the earthquake.