Press Conference with Admiral Fargo Today
Here is a link to today's press briefing with Admiral Fargo, the Commander of the US Pacific Command. Highlights: 1. JTF-536 has been renamed the Combined Support Force. In military parlance, a "combined" unit means it consists of troops from more than one country. Utapao Airfield in Thailand is indeed the headquarters for the Commander, LtGen Blackman. 2. The US is considering deploying the hospital ship AH-8 USS Mercy, though perhaps with some sort of creative staffing arrangement -- like crewing it with civilian NGO personnel. If memory serves, this vessel is kept in reserve and does not routinely deploy. Furthermore, it is usually staffed by reserve medical personnel (again, if memory serves). 3. The USS Fort McHenry and USS Niagara Falls are inbound to the area of operations. Both ships will add to the numbers of helicopters deployed in the region – and Admiral Fargo notes that these are a force multiplier. The Niagara Falls is a combat stores ship – aka a supply vessel – and will probably have a great deal of materiel on board for relief operations. 4. Of the 13,000 or so US personnel involved in the operation, 1000 are on the ground in Thailand, and 100-200 are ashore at any one time in each of Indonesia, Sri Lanka, and Malaysia. The rest are afloat. Admiral Fargo reports that the number of US forces will increase, but it is important to remember capabilities, not numbers. [Quick thought: what about Burma? The government there has been criticized by residents for playing down the extent of destruction there. Being a dictatorial regime, it is probably none to willing to accept US aid . . . Too bad for the Burmese.] 5. Admiral Fargo says he is confident that we are not creating an unmanageable risk for ourselves in Korea by deploying any of these forces. 6. This operation is the result of standing multinational standard operating procedures that have been developed over years with the cooperation of over 31 different countries. [Quick editorial aside: take that, Kofi.] 7. When asked about the seeming lack of plans to increase US naval forces around Sri Lanka, Admiral Fargo notes that the key in that country is the restoration of infrastructure and that NGO's have taken care of many distribution concerns. He says that Seabees could be a candidate for rebuilding operations on the island. [Thought: Each Naval Mobile Construction Battalioin (NMCB, or Seabees), has a company-sized Air Detachment, that is supposed to be able to deploy within 24 or 48 hours or something like that – but of course that is dependent on strategic lift capabilities, and those are probably at a premium right now, especially given the troop rotation in the Middle East.] 8. When pressed about the need to surge more helicopters to the region given their high value in these operations, Admiral Fargo says that the number of US helos will probably double from the 46 where it currently stands. When pressed further, he notes that more helos are being fielded by other nation's militaries, and that NGOs will probably contract many more in the coming days. 9. Finally, Admiral Fargo acknowledges that the MV Westpac Express, one of two of a new kind of high-speed prepositioning vessel, has been used and will continue to be used throughout this operation. They were testing these when Chester was back in Camp Pendleton. Admiral Fargo notes several times how this operation would not be possible without the investment in the military that the US taxpayers have made, or without the years of cooperative coalition exercises the US has conducted in SE Asia, like the annual Cobra Gold exercise.