Department of Defense Press Briefing by Adm. Tidd on Joint Task Force-Matthew Relief Efforts in Haiti

Admiral Kurt Tidd, commander, U.S. Southern Command


STAFF: Hi, everybody. Pleased to welcome here the head of Southern Command, Admiral Kurt Tidd, who is going to give us an update on efforts that Southern Command have been making with regard to Hurricane Matthew down in Haiti and elsewhere.

And without further ado, admiral, we appreciate very much you taking the time to talk with us. I know there are a lot of other things going on, but this is important -- our commitment to this and the efforts of your team and so thanks again for joining us.

Take your questions when the admiral is done -- (inaudible).

ADMIRAL KURT TIDD: All right. Thanks very much. I don't have prepared opening remarks. I think, as you know, we were in the process of preparing for Hurricane Matthew on the 4th of October.

By the fifth, we had helicopters in on the ground and had a build -- built up fairly rapidly the ability to provide a critical and unique military enabler, which was to -- to move humanitarian assistance, stores, food, shelter materials, medical materials out to the hardest hit area on the southwest corner of Haiti.

We've been doing that now for almost two weeks. Over a period of time the civil authorities and the nongovernmental officials organizations have been able to be out there, clear the roads, get the surface traffic moving again, and so as the amount of -- of the materials moving over the road has increased, the number of requests for us to move things has now gradually begun to decrease.

And so I -- I expect that as -- we're coming up on the point where there will no longer be a requirement for us to be able to move -- to have to move things by air as is appropriate, obviously at that point, and we'll begin to -- to pack up and redeploy our forces and have them recocked and ready to go in the -- in the event another emergency were to arise.

So the basic facts and figures on the ground at Port-au-Prince Airport, we built up from about 200 people up to a maximum of a little over 400 and that gave us the full capability to be able to download aircraft with relief supplies, breakdown the shipments into loads that would go on to the helicopters, load up the helicopters and move them out. Also to maintain liaison with all of the various NGOs.

Obviously, all of this was done in direct support of the USAID DART Teams. They were the lead -- the people on the ground, identifying what the demands were. They gave us our daily tasking that we then turn around and execute it.

We -- we're now -- we're drawing down that 400 pretty rapidly with the arrival of the USS Iwo Jima on scene. We have moved all of the air operations now from Port-au-Prince Airport out to -- to a float onboard Iwo Jima and so the number of people who were -- who -- (inaudible) -- will decrease pretty quickly until we no longer need them to -- to download aircraft or to prepare to redeploy any of the equipment.

So our footprint there will -- will disappear pretty quickly. And then when she's finished, Iwo Jima will then detach and sail back north again and she's -- will get back into her workup cycle.

So with that, let me -- let me just open the floor. I'll take questions and then we'll go from there.

STAFF: (off mic.)

Q: You made two personal trips to Haiti?

ADM. TIDD: Yes. I went down there twice. First time right after we started flight operations and then I was there again this past Saturday in discussions with our Office of Foreign Disaster Assistance regional director Jeremy Konyndyk, and with our ambassador, Mulrean, on the ground to discuss, OK, where are we in this process and are we on a glide slope?

At that point, it was pretty clear that the civil authorities were moving enough commodities over -- over ground so that we would be able to -- to transition the mission.

STAFF: (off mic.)

Q: This is -- (inaudible). You have mentioned that the U.S. military effort is going to decrease. Do you have a timeline? Can you -- can you give a sort of timeline to -- to --

ADM. TIDD: Sure. We were told to prepare for a two-week mission and I -- I think that that looks like it is going to be a pretty accurate timeline. So I -- I would expect that we will -- we're just about at the point now where we will have no further request for us to move things and at that point then we will -- we'll pack up and redeploy.

Q: That means, for instance, that you could leave tomorrow or today even --

ADM. TIDD: I think -- we have already begun, as the demand for -- for helicopter lift has decreased, those helicopters that -- that we flew in, that we self-deployed out of -- out of Honduras, we -- we are now redeploying them.

The Army helicopters that were in that first package on scene, they have now returned to Honduras. The Marine helicopters are packing up and they are -- they're leaving as well so that all of that -- the flights are being conducted by the helicopters, the Marine and Navy helicopters that are embarked on Iwo Jima.

But I would say literally the next couple of days I think -- I think we'll be finished.

STAFF: Richard Sisk

Q: Admiral do you have an estimate of when Iwo Jima will start pulling out?

ADM. TIDD: Literally, I think, within the next few days. So we'll- -- you know, we'll put that information out once it's happened. I'm just waiting for the -- the commander and the final check that he will do with the embassy to make sure that -- that we are in fact at that point.

Q: Richard Sisk, military.com, can you give us any numbers on the -- the amounts of medical supplies, food, water --

ADM. TIDD: I can give you -- not the individual breakdown of -- of loads, but as of the end of yesterday we had moved, let's see, over 255,000 pounds. So over 250 metric tons was the -- was the figure that we're working right now.

And let's see -- I'm sorry -- over 559,000 pounds, over 250 metric tons of -- of -- and mixture of supplies from (inaudible). It was food, water, shelter material, you know, plastic sheeting, that sort of thing, but also cholera kits, medical facilities treatment, you know, IV bags, that kind of thing. Critical treatment of -- some things. Cleaning supplies that -- required to -- to help deal with the aftermath.

Q: And -- how to put this -- the ability of the Iwo Jima -- the ability of your air assets to -- to get to areas that can't be reached by road still and with the -- the U.N. estimating that well above a million Haitians -- 1.4 million I think is their estimate -- still in need of urgent assistance, how can you possibly pull the Iwo out?

ADM. TIDD: I think what's critical to remember is the role that we play is to provide a unique capability that no one else can provide during a specific period in time.

What -- where we did was we -- we did the big jump start to be able to surge that initial volume of -- of -- of critical life -- life saving materials forward to get it on the ground, get it in the hands of the -- of the NGOs and the distribution networks that are the people actually out there that have been there, that will continue to be there long after. And then to basically buy time until the roads could be opened up and those -- those supplies could now begin to move over land.

But we're at the point now where -- where literally almost all of the supplies are now moving by road out to those sites. And so, it -- it -- it really is -- it's the time.

And there's the -- there the -- the recognition that this civilian authorities, the U.N., and the various other NGOs that are out there, they also have capability to -- to move things to -- by air.

But there's just not a demand for things to go by air at this point, so it's appropriate for us to -- to -- to withdraw that and -- and -- and to -- to allow the organizations that are in there, and in there for the long haul, to -- to take over the responsibility.

STAFF: Andrew?

Q: Hey, admiral. Andrew Tillman with Military Times. Just want to make sure I have a picture of -- at the peak of this operation, how many aircraft, fixed-wing rudder wing, did you have in the mix there?

ADM. TIDD: There was a transition period, and so there were initial deployment of 12 that came from -- from Honduras that was a mixture of Army and Marine aviation that -- that were deployed to Honduras that self-deployed out.

And then as Iwo Jima rolled in -- and actually some of the initial aircraft came in on -- some of the initial second wave if you will came in on U.S.S. Mesa Verde, who came in, dropped them off, and then -- and turned them over to -- to Iwo Jima when she arrived.

And so we are now at the point of about the same number of -- but it's a -- instead of Marine and Army aviation now, it's -- it's Marine CH-53s, Marine MV-22s and Navy H-60s all flying off of -- off of Iwo Jima.

Q: And any -- (inaudible) -- need for fixed-wing? Or is it all --

(CROSSTALK)

ADM. TIDD: I mean I -- I would -- I guess the -- the strat lifter you know capability that brought in -- that deployed in some of those -- the initial port-opening people, the Air Force folks who -- who were the -- I mean the -- the real critical unsung heroes that come in, that bring in the -- the -- the heavy equipment to download aircraft and to be able to break down those loads to do the critical liaison with the -- the air traffic control tower there at Port-au-Prince and to work side-by-side with them to be able to -- to control all of these helicopters around an airfield, which typically they're not -- they're not accustomed to dealing with that volume.

And so the -- the Air Force folks coming in -- and just -- they -- they bring a lot of those critical enablers that -- that -- that make a relief disaster response mission work. And they're -- in many cases they're the first ones in.

They arrive on a -- on a -- on a couple of C-17s, and they'll probably be the very last ones out, packing up the -- you know all that heavy lift equipment and -- as they head back out again.

STAFF: Carla?

Q: Thank you, sir. Carla Babb with Voice of America.

I know you're here to talk about Hurricane Matthew, but with the fight for Mosul going on, Islamic State is on all of our minds. And I'd like to get an update if you can to tell us what Islamic State is doing in your part of the world.

We've heard about --

ADM. TIDD: Yeah.

Q: -- extremist groups claiming loyalty to ISIS in Brazil. What's it like now? And are you concerned that with the fall of Mosul, there could be even more coming into your region of the world?

ADM. TIDD: You know, I -- it -- it's probably worth observing, one of -- the reasons that I'm in -- in town today, I came in for the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs, General Dunford had a -- a conference yesterday that he hosted for over 40 chiefs of defense from all around the world and specifically to look at the -- the global possibility of what happens after Mosul; what happens after the physical caliphate is reduced.

And for us to all be thinking about what are the steps that we should be taking in advance to make sure that we don't have -- that they don't squeeze out of there and go to other places. So, it literally was to put in place a global network, to be able to be mindful, watchful, talking to our regional security partners that we work with more closely. And so to be able to share that information so that they've got a good idea of exactly what the -- what the potential threat might be.

And so that's why I was here to be able to participate in that conference.

Q: Also, what -- what's your outlook?

ADM. TIDD: I think -- I think we must all be mindful of the fact that there is this -- this ideology that is -- has proven to be so damaging and destructive and created so much -- let me just say, enormous security problem in the Middle East. It's obviously, as it continues to morph and metastasize, I think all around the world we must all, you know, be mindful of where might it pop up. And by working with our security partners around the world, take steps to prevent that from happening.

Q: And if I may just ask one follow-up.

Your predecessor would kind of update us on some of the countries -- the hot spots of Islamic state. Where are you seeing the hot spots at this point?

ADM. TIDD: I think, as you recall, he -- he would talk about it, and then he got in real trouble. But -- and so, probably it's worth saying that many of our partners around the region now recognize that in the aftermath of attacks by self-radicalized individuals from -- from Brussels to Paris to Nice to Ankara, Turkey, to -- to Orlando and San Bernardino, that phenomena can pop up almost anywhere and with very, very little advance warning.

And so it is incumbent on literally all countries to recognize what the -- how that can happen, and then to be able to share information as effectively as possible, so that as we learn of potential sources of radicalization, that we take the steps that are consistent. You know, each country has different laws, but the things that we can do within -- consistent within our own legal systems to be able to keep that from happening.

Because, you know, I don't think it's -- I don't think it's safe for anybody to now say that, well, it would never happen here; it can't happen here. Because we've seen that it's a -- it's a phenomena that we're just going to have to wrestle with.

Q: Would you-- sorry, one more.

Would you add Brazil to that list of -- (inaudible)?

ADM. TIDD: I'm not going to put any names, because I think, you know, I'll let each of the countries, you know, decide for themselves whether they want to talk about it. But I would just say that we all recognize it's a phenomena that we have to -- we have to coordinate and cooperate and talk about and share information about.

So, thanks.

Q: Yes, sir, Carlo Munoz, Washington Times.

I wanted to follow up with Carla's line of questioning on that. The last time you took the podium, you mentioned that roughly 100 to 150 either actually affiliated Daesh members or those being influenced by the group were -- were moving around in your area of operations.

Now, has that --

ADM. TIDD: I think we used that number as -- that was the number of foreign fighters that had left the area to go over.

Q: Is there an update? Has there been -- have you seen an uptick of fighters coming into --

(CROSSTALK)

ADM. TIDD: I think as -- as the coalition has had significant success in Iraq and Syria, I think the outflow has been significantly curtailed. And that's just from talking with my -- my counterparts on what they are seeing arriving over there.

So I think that the outflow has probably been curtailed. But as we've seen, you know, just from reading Daesh's publication, "Dabiq," they are -- they are advocating, if you can't come over here, conduct attacks at home.

And so you know, I think that -- that trying to maintain a - you know, a very, very clear, accurate number is going to be enormously challenging for -- for any country. So that is just something that we -- you know, we got to take into consideration.

Q: And then just a quick follow-up. Some of your predecessors have also mentioned other extremist groups, particularly Hezbollah, Hamas, using countries in your area of operation sort of as a base for fund-raising, some recruiting, that sort of thing. Are you still seeing that --

ADM. TIDD: That hasn't changed.

Q: Hey, sir. Megan -- (inaudible) -- with the Naval Institute for the second time today.

ADM. TIDD: I was going to say, wait a minute, didn't we just see each other? Yeah. OK.

Q: I was wondering, back on the Haiti response, if you could kind of in practical terms talk about the command and control that you had.

I know there was a task force commander which yesterday turned over to the ESG commander.

ADM. TIDD: Right.

Q: And then what was the difference there, then who will that command go to after Iwo leaves?

ADM. TIDD: Sure. We -- we stood up joint task force Matthew as soon as we began to move forces to the -- to Haiti. The first Joint Task Force Haiti -- a Joint Task Force Matthew Commander was Rear Admiral Cedric Pringle. His normal job, he's the Deputy Commander at Joint Interagency Task Force South up in Key West, Florida.

So what -- why Admiral Pringle as opposed to -- any one of a number of other potential commanders. First and foremost, he immediately volunteered and -- and that obviously is -- is important. He has got experience. He's a former commanding officer of one of the large tech amphibs with prior experience doing humanitarian assistance disaster response.

So -- so he had the background to be able to walk into a situation that was going to be somewhat unusual working with Army and Marine aviation. The Special Purpose Marine Air-Ground Task Force that has been deployed for about six months at Sotakato the -- the commanding officer of that unit, Marine Colonel Tom Prentice, actually led the -- the aviation unit. There was a mixed Marine Army aviation unit.

And again, this is -- you know, I kind of highlight this that as a -- as a, you know, a paragon of joint operations. The fact that you fly a -- a mixed aviation detachment of Army and Marine helicopters to self-deploy all the way from Honduras to Haiti, to do it safely, literally, as they were hopscotching from -- from Honduras to Grand Cayman Island to Jamaica and then on to -- to Port-au-Prince, Admiral Pringle flew to Jamaica, joined them there and flew in by helicopter and was able to do some of the initial discussion about how they would -- would organize their initial operations on the flight with Colonel Prentice as they were helicoptering over to Port-au-Prince.

And at the same time that was happening, we had the Joint Task Force port opening, which is an element that belongs to U.S. transportation command and they are rapidly deployable, they bring with them a lot of the capability that -- again, to do that kind of -- you know, heavy airfield work that is required.

We also brought a slice also from TRANSCOM, of the -- of a core of staff officers, communications capability, JPASE people that you are familiar with from the -- to provide a strategic communications and public affairs slice.

So that when everybody arrived, they literally arrived on the ground together at Port-au-Prince, got themselves organized and -- and got right to work and -- and began to fly the next day a round of -- basically reconnaissance missions to go out and try and spot where the helo landing zones way out on the -- on the far western tip, what kind of condition were they in, would we be able to bring supplies in, what kind of shape were the -- the NGOs on the ground to be able to take those supplies and then be able to -- to redistribute 'em.

So, Admiral Pringle commanded that joint task force from a -- a facility on the -- on the airport until the arrival ultimately of Iwo Jima. And we knew -- we knew that we kind of have this -- this quick, out-the-door capability to stand up a joint task force out of hide -- out of our -- our SOUTHCOM forces.

And that's to buy time until the arrival of -- of -- of larger, other forces that are -- that are -- that are formed, and trained, and equipped to -- to -- to take on a longer term mission should that have been required.

And that's why the expedition strike group two staff under Rear Admiral Roy Kitchener -- this was a -- again, just a -- you know a -- a -- a terrific decision made by Admiral Phil Davidson, the commander in the fleet forces command before the hurricane began moving up the coast, recognized that if this -- if this hurricane tracked on up the East Coast on towards Norfolk, we could reach a point where we wouldn't be able to sort any ships out of -- out of Norfolk.

And -- and so he got ships underway with a -- a -- a load out of humanitarian assistance disaster response kit that -- on -- on board the Mesa Verde and the Iwo Jima, and started them you know way out, outside of the track of the hurricane, and started them heading south. And at that point in time, we weren't really sure would they be required, where might they be required.

We were looking literally at -- at a potential disaster response from Haiti, Jamaica, Bahamas, and on up the -- the -- the East Coast, the southern East Coast of the United States. And so the decision was made here at the Joint Staff, as we got a better sense of where the real damage was, where the asks were coming from various countries via the ambassadors in those countries, where might we best supply those forces.

And so as they were added in, then we were able to take a look at okay what's the -- is there a -- a -- a logical way to transition the mission from one commander to another commander. And it obviously Admiral Kitchener came in with a -- with a -- a much more robust headquarters, much more robust command and control that's organic to the -- to the Iwo Jima.

He had a -- the -- the whole 24th U headquarters, the commander, and their headquarters, and elements and pieces that could then go in ashore and take over some of the responsibility for the initial opening stuff that we had -- we had sent out. So, it was -- that would have been a -- you know if -- had -- had we been required to -- you know to run this thing for a -- a longer period of time, that would've been a more sustainable posture to be in.

As it is now -- as I -- I -- I was checked before coming down here. And Admiral Pringle should be on a plane leaving Haiti today and heading back to Key West and getting back to work at his -- his -- his job at Joint Interagency Task Force South.

Sorry, kind of a long-winded answer to a question. But that was -- that's how it played out.

STAFF: One more? Admiral Tidd, thank you very much. Appreciate it.

ADM. TIDD: Thanks very much, everybody. Appreciate the opportunity. Thanks for -- for coming in and caring about SOUTHCOM.