By Terri Moon Cronk
DoD News, Defense Media Activity
WASHINGTON, May 21, 2015 – Defense Department efforts in Nepal to mitigate future disaster impact likely lessened the scale of the humanitarian disaster following the Himalayan mountain nation’s recent earthquakes, the deputy assistant secretary of defense for stability and humanitarian affairs said on Capitol Hill yesterday.
Anne A. Witkowsky testified before the House Foreign Affairs Committee’s Asia and Pacific subcommittee on DOD’s efforts in the earthquake response, dubbed Operation Sahayogi Haat.
“[DoD] has a long history of military-to-military engagement in Nepal,” she said. DoD’s work in Nepal began well before the April 25 magnitude-7.8 earthquake there, Witkowsky told the panel, as the department had set up an earthquake-resistant blood bank, emergency operations centers and other facilities.
The U.S. military also provided training for the Nepalese military on techniques to quickly repair Nepal’s main airport runways and engaged in bilateral disaster-reduction exercises with them, she added.
DoD Responded Immediately
Just hours after the earthquake, Defense Secretary Ash Carter directed DoD personnel to respond to the crisis, Witkowsky said. Two special operations teams already in Nepal quickly began carrying out life-saving relief and medical support, she noted.
U.S. Air Force C-17 Globemaster III aircraft provided transportation for the U.S. Agency for International Development’s disaster response team and urban search and rescue teams, Witkowsky said. Meanwhile, U.S. Pacific Command deployed a 20-person joint humanitarian assessment team to provide expertise to the USAID team and frame military requirements, she said.
Damage Assessment Brought in More Help
Once U.S. military forces assessed the scale of the disaster, it was clear more support was necessary, Witkowsky said. “Rotary-wing airlift and airfield-management specialists, in particular, were needed to help in the increasingly backlogged international airport,” she told the panel.
DoD, in support of USAID and the State Department, responded swiftly to assist the Nepalese government, Witkowsky said. “The relief efforts highlight the unique capabilities the department can bring to bear in the U.S. government’s response to natural disasters and human crises,” she added.