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Pentagon defends response time of Haiti aid efforts

Military jets have begun delivering relief supplies as part of Haiti aid efforts in the wake of the earthquake, but it will take another week for a US Navy hospital ship to reach there. Parachute drops have been ruled out for now, for fear of riots.

By Gordon LuboldStaff writer / January 15, 2010

The Navy hospital ship USNS Comfort is shown at its home port in Baltimore. The Comfort, which has 250 hospital beds and 12 operating rooms, is expected to arrive in Haiti by Friday, Jan. 22.

Rob Carr/AP



Defense Secretary Robert Gates says the initial response time of the US government to the disaster in Haiti was about as good as it can be.

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Mr. Gates said earthquake relief was the first priority of the American military “in this hemisphere” as military jets begin routine deliveries of relief supplies and the aircraft carrier USS Carl Vinson arrives, three days after the 7.0 magnitude earthquake rocked the impoverished country.

“I don’t know how this government could have responded faster or more comprehensively than it has,” Gates said at the Pentagon Friday. “There are just some certain facts of life that affect how quickly you can do some of these things.”

Katrina relief commander says US could do better

But retired Army Lt. Gen. Russel Honoré, who served as the task force commander for relief efforts following Hurricane Katrina in 2005, said Thursday evening in an interview that he believes the American government could do better.

“I thought we had learned that from Katrina, take food and water and start evacuating people,” Honoré says. “I think this will get better over the next couple days, but I thought we could have had a faster start.”

The initial Defense Department response on Wednesday seemed to be focused on making initial assessments, instead of getting relief supplies and personnel on the ground. Local search and rescue teams, including one from Virginia and another from California, were able to get on the ground relatively quickly and begin using their equipment to pull people from fallen buildings and debris.

Aid from China arrived before US

Contributions from other countries, such as China, arrived earlier than the US. The media were also able to get there quickly and provide some of the first images of the disaster.

“It’s astonishing to me that the media can beat the US military in there,” Honoré says. He said he believes that the American government’s bureaucracy still stands in the way and that it must be changed to allow the Defense Department to act quicker instead of getting entangled in red tape.

But other disaster relief experts say the US military has responded as quickly as possible, and that those initial assessments are critical to responding effectively.