WASHINGTON (AP) — U.S. officials are laying out a massive military response to the Haiti earthquake, saying that ships, helicopters, transport planes and a 2,000-member Marine unit are either on the way or likely to begin moving soon.
Gen. Douglas Fraser, head of U.S. Southern Command, said Wednesday that one of the U.S. Navy's large amphibious ships will likely head to Haiti with a Marine expeditionary unit aboard. Fraser said other U.S. military forces are on alert, including a brigade, which includes about 3,500 troops.
Fraser said during a news conference with other U.S. officials that the Pentagon is "seriously looking at" sending thousands of Marines to assist with disaster relief efforts and security in Haiti.
President Barack Obama promised earlier Wednesday to mount an all-out rescue and humanitarian effort to help the people of Haiti overcome a "cruel and incomprehensible" tragedy."
The president said the relief effort is gearing up even as the U.S. government is working to account for Americans who were on the island nation when the disaster struck late Tuesday afternoon.
The initial contingent of 2,000 Marines could be deployed to the quake-ravaged country within the next few days to either help with emergency aid distribution or enforce law in order in conjunction with U.N. peacekeepers already there, Fraser said.
The general said that a U.S. aircraft carrier, the USS Carl Vinson, is also heading from Norfolk, Virginia, to the area and should arrive Thursday afternoon.
The dispatched troops would aim to keep the peace in the event of post-disaster unrest as part of a larger international effort overseen by the United Nations, whose peacekeeping operation headquarters was destroyed in the quake. About 100 U.N. personnel are believed to be trapped in the ruins of he building.
"It's going to be our assessments that are going to determine, in conjunction with (the U.N. mission) and the other international partners who are there, how best to deal with any security situations that come up," Fraser said.
"We don't know precisely what the situation is on the ground," he added. "So we're leaning forward to provide as much as capability as quickly as we can to respond to whatever the need is when we get there."
More immediately, Fraser's Miami-based Southern Command is also dispatching a team of 30 people to Haiti to support relief efforts in the aftermath of the earthquake and make way for additional military aid.
Officials said two C-130 aircraft were departing Wednesday for Haiti with the team of military engineers, operational planners, communications specialists and a command and control group. The Air Force is sending people to provide air traffic control and operations at the Port-au-Prince airport.
Navy hospital ship the USNS Comfort is on standby in Baltimore, but U.S. Southern Command spokeswoman Heidi Lenzini said there has been no official activation order. The Navy says it takes up to five days to increase the 70-member skeleton crew to its full complement of about 800.
Coast Guard helicopters early Wednesday evacuated four injured U.S. Embassy personnel to a hospital at the Navy base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. Southcom did not release their names.
Fraser said the military is also sending units to get Port-au-Prince's airport secured and operating again. The airport is considered "operational," he said, but the facility's tower and other operations were damaged.
Fraser appeared with U.S. Agency for International Development administrator Rajiv Shah, the official named by Obama to coordinate American efforts in Haiti.
Obama sought to show a swift and united disaster response with the United States as an assertive leader, but he said the effort must be an international one.
"We are reminded of the common humanity that we all share," he said.
"We have to be there for them in their hour of need," the president said.
Obama adjusted his Wednesday schedule, canceling a jobs event in Maryland to better monitor the situation in Haiti.