More U.S. Troops Prepare To Leave Haiti
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After the devastating earthquake in Haiti, the first American ship to arrive with help was the USS Carter Hall. Now that Navy vessel is preparing to leave. NPR's Nicole Beemsterboer reports on what that says about aid efforts there.
NICOLE BEEMSTERBOER: Lieutenant General P.K. Keen is the�deputy commander�of the�Southern Command and the U.S. military's top official on the ground in Haiti. His very presence is enough to make young soldiers and sailors shake in their boots.
Lieutenant General P.K. KEEN (Deputy Commander, Southern Command, Haiti): Give up. Come out. OK. Come on over. I know it's hard to do that.
BEEMSTERBOER: On a recent visit to the USS Carter Hall off the coast of Port-au-Prince, he said the ship would soon be heading out.
Lt. Gen. KEEN: Right now, I anticipate this ship and these Marines as the decisions are being reviewed in Washington to be part of our downsizing of our JTF in the coming days and weeks.
BEEMSTERBOER: The JTF he's taking about here is the joint task force in Haiti. At the height of the U.S. response to the earthquake, more than 20,000 troops were deployed here. But with much of the relief work now handled by humanitarian groups, the U.S. military has to make the delicate decision of when to pull out the remaining 12,000 troops.
Unidentified Woman: (unintelligible). This is six-November.
BEEMSTERBOER: Keen sent many of the 700 men and women on this ship to the worst-hit areas to hand out food and water, pull teeth and suture wounds. He says they've laid a solid foundation.
Lt. Gen. KEEN: But it's a long road to recovery, and it's going to take an international effort for many years to help them totally recover.
BEEMSTERBOER: The earthquake gutted the Haitian government. Fourteen of 16 ministries were destroyed, making it nearly impossible to provide even basic services. And any U.S. pullout puts more pressure on the Haitian government, a reality Keen acknowledges.
Lt. Gen. KEEN: Their capacity in terms of being able to plan and put together these strategic plans has been challenged to say the least.
BEEMSTERBOER: Of the 18 U.S. ships here, 11 have already left. The U.S.S. Comfort hospital ship discharged its last patient over the weekend. And U.S. military officials say going forward, their primary mission will be that of security.
Lt. Gen. KEEN: Thank you, men. Thank you.
(Soundbite of applause)
BEEMSTERBOER: Keen steps off the USS Carter Hall and says Haiti has an opportunity to develop a plan for the future. But it has to be Haitian plan, he says, and one the international community will invest in.
Nicole Beemsterboer, NPR News, Port-au-Prince.
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