By John J. Kruzel, American Forces Press ServiceApril 20, 2010
WASHINGTON (April 19, 2010) -- The U.S. military's role in Haiti is slated to further decrease by June, with the 2,200-strong U.S. force currently there expected to drop to about 500 members, the former top American commander in Haiti said today.
Lt. Gen. Ken Keen, who stepped down yesterday as the commander of Joint Task Force Haiti, told Pentagon reporters the military drawdown was prompted by the expanding role of civilian agencies.
"I expect us to -- on or about 1 June -- to be able to stand down the Joint Task Force," Keen said. "We will be able to do that, because of the capability that's being built up and has [been] built up by civilian organizations, ... [and] as they build up that capacity and get into more of the recovery and reconstruction phase, the need for our military diminishes."
Haiti has been the focus of an expansive international relief effort in the wake of what is considered one of the greatest humanitarian emergencies in the history of the Americas. A devastating Jan. 12 earthquake in Haiti killed an estimated 250,000 people and displaced more than a million inhabitants. At the height of the U.S. military effort there, some 22,000 forces were in or around Haiti, including 7,000 land-based troops, with the remainder operating aboard 58 aircraft and 15 nearby vessels.
Keen, who also serves as the deputy commander of U.S. Southern Command, said the current mission in Haiti continues to be saving lives and mitigating suffering.
"While over 230,000 people died, many, many were saved, thousands were saved, because of the tremendous response medically, not just on our military and other militaries," Keen said, "but the international community [and nongovernmental organizations], as I mentioned."
Today some 2,200 troops and four aircraft are operating in the area, Keen said. Starting this month, the Louisiana National Guard will begin a five-month exercise focused on helping to rebuild Haiti.
"That will have over $2 million worth of projects focused on some of these engagement activities" such as building school classrooms, and establishing emergency operations centers to help Haitians prepare for possible future natural disasters, Keen said, in describing the forthcoming "New Horizons" exercise.
In the meantime, he added, soldiers with the 82nd Airborne Division will return home next month.
The current security situation in the Haitian capital of Port-Au-Prince "remains calm," Keen said.
"While there have been isolated incidents of violence, if you will, it has not been to the degree that it has impacted at all on our ability to provide humanitarian assistance," he said.
Keen, who was succeeded as the top U.S. commander in Haiti yesterday by Army Maj. Gen. Simeon G. Trombitas, today reflected on the situation he witnessed in Haiti upon his departure.
"As I left Haiti, I saw lots of hope as I walked around the streets, particularly when you look in the faces of the children, the smiles on their faces, the gratitude that they have, certainly from our military's presence there, but the presence of the international community there," he said.
"But the proof of the ability to realize their hopes is going to be in how you're able to apply all of these donor nations' contributions," he added, "and how they've been able to build a strategic plan, and then how the government is able to lead forward, because this is about Haitians leading Haitians."