PORT-AU-PRINCE – The massive US military mobilization helping provide relief in quake-stricken Haiti is adding new stress to the already stretched US armed forces, worn down by multiple tours to two distant war zones.
Hundreds of personnel attached to the US Marine's expeditionary corps arrived south-west of Haiti's devastated capital Port-au-Prince Tuesday to help distribute international aid to the survivors of last week's massive 7.0 earthquake.
They are just part of the enormous international effort underway to assist the 250,000 Haitians believed to have been injured in the disaster, which also left an estimated 1.5 million people homeless.
The US response has been immediate, with President Barack Obama swiftly pledging to use "every element" of US power to assist Haiti.
Among the military personnel dispatched were 2,200 Marines, who arrived in Haiti last week aboard the Bataan, an amphibious ship.
In all, "approximately 11,000 U.S. military personnel are currently supporting task force operations within Haiti and from US Navy and Coast Guard vessels off shore," US Southern Command said on its website Tuesday.
Military personnel are engaged in every aspect of the relief effort, from distributing food and evacuating people, to treating the wounded and helping operate Port-au-Prince's small airport.
But with 180,000 soldiers already deployed in two conflict areas -- 115,000 in Iraq and 70,000 in Afghanistan -- the Pentagon is being called upon to show flexibility to find the resources to contribute to the Haiti aid effort.
Adding to the pressure is Obama's decision to send another 30,000 troops to Afghanistan to battle a resurgent Taliban.
Providing relief in Haiti could be the final straw.
Obama on Sunday ordered the mobilization of reserve forces for the mission, which will allow medical staff to be deployed aboard the USNS Comfort as well as Coast Guard personnel to secure Haiti's seaports.
Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano on Tuesday authorized the activation of up to 900 Coast Guard reservists in a bid to boost aid efforts.
"Activating our reserve Coast Guard forces will expand our capacity to assist in aid efforts in Haiti," she said in a statement.
Other military resources deployed include the USS Carl Vinson, an aircraft carrier scheduled to sail from the US east coast to San Diego, California around the tip of South America before it was diverted to assist in Haiti.
The nuclear-powered craft brought 19 helicopters to help deliver supplies and evacuate the wounded.
"I am happy we can help, but I hope we can start sailing again once the Bataan is here," said one young enlisted man aboard the Vinson on Monday.
Also assisting is a brigade of the Army's 82nd Airborne Division -- some 3,000 soldiers being deployed as part of the "Global Response Force" that Washington maintains to respond to international emergency situations.
The massive mobilization means there is little breathing room for the military, should it be faced with another unexpected call.
"We can't do anything else," says one army officer deployed in Haiti.
© AFP 2013