American Forces Press Service
June 5, 2008 - The United States continues to extend its offer of cyclone relief support to the government of Burma, even as the USS Essex group and the 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit move away from the Burmese coast, the Marine Corps general in charge of the military's role in the effort said today. Officials announced yesterday that the four ships of the USS Essex group that had been positioned off the Burmese coast awaiting the OK from Burma's ruling military junta to deliver relief supplies in the wake of a devastating May 2 cyclone, would resume their normal operations today.
"While the USS Essex group ships are in transit, the U.S. maintains its offer to support the distribution efforts of the Burmese government and the international community," said Lt. Gen. John Goodman, commander of U.S. Marine Forces Pacific and commander of Joint Task Force Caring Response. "This distribution support includes the use of helicopters currently in Thailand, and if requested, the landing craft from the amphibious ships to assist the world community in the distribution of relief supplies to relieve suffering."
Goodman noted the value of the capabilities the USS Essex group could provide.
"As demonstrated in past humanitarian assistance and disaster relief operations, helicopters and landing craft are the most expeditious means to move relief supplies into difficult-to-reach sites without placing an additional burden on the affected region," he said.
As the United Nations and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations work to establish an air bridge for delivery to the hubs such as Rangoon, the Burmese capital, a tremendous number of Burmese cyclone victims have yet to receive any assistance, as insufficient quantities of relief are being distributed from hubs to the most critically affected regions of the Irrawaddy delta, where hundreds of thousands still await help.
Goodman said the United States has on numerous occasions offered Burma's military government the use of helicopters and surface craft to support humanitarian relief efforts in the most difficult-to-reach areas of the Irrawaddy delta. Navy Adm. Timothy J. Keating, commander of U.S. Pacific Command, made one of those offers face to face when he accompanied the first planeload of relief supplies the junta allowed to land in Rangoon.
"Following Admiral Keating's visit, Ms. [Shari] Villarosa, the charge d'affairs, and I have met twice with a ranking member of the military government in Rangoon," Goodman said. "Our offer has been without strings, and it has never included bringing U.S. Navy ships into their ports. Unfortunately, those offers of support have yet to be accepted, resulting in the ships being repositioned to the Gulf of Thailand."
In addition to continuing offers of support to the distribution efforts from the hubs to those areas where the aid will be distributed to those in need, the United States will continue to deliver relief support from Thailand, primarily using U.S. military C-130s to deliver U.S. Agency for International Development and other supplies to the hub at Rangoon, supporting U.N. and ASEAN delivery network efforts. Through today, the United States will have flown 116 flights, delivering more than 2.2 million pounds of needed relief supplies to the Rangoon hub.
(From a Joint Task Force Caring Response news release.)