A flotilla of U.S. Navy vessels, rotary- and fixed-wing aircraft, U.S. Air Force planes and thousands of servicemembers are ready to assist Burma's cyclone-stricken people, if asked, a senior Defense Department official said here today.
"We still are prepared and stand ready to provide assistance if Burma should request it and permit access," Pentagon spokesman Bryan Whitman told reporters.
Burma was hit by a powerful cyclone May 1 and 2. Officials estimate that the storm has killed as many as 30,000 Burmese, with hundreds of thousands likely injured and homeless. But efforts to persuade Burma's military council, or junta, to allow humanitarian aid to flow into the country have been fruitless thus far, according to news reports.
The Pentagon has identified a number of resources that could be tapped to assist the Burmese, including aircraft carriers and other U.S. Navy vessels that are posted in and around the region, Whitman said. U.S. Air Force cargo aircraft that can fly in food and clean water also are available, he said.
Burma is an eastern-Asian nation on the Bay of Bengal that's sandwiched among neighbors India, China and Thailand. Burma is slightly smaller than Texas, but it has nearly double the population, with nearly 58 million Burmese, compared to about 23 million "Lone Star State" residents, according to U.S. State Department and U.S. Census Bureau statistics.
The U.S. Navy has three ships in the Gulf of Thailand, including the USS Essex, which boasts 23 helicopters, 1,800 Marines and five amphibious landing craft, Pentagon Press Secretary Geoff Morrell told reporters yesterday. The USS Juneau and the USS Harper's Ferry also are in the region, Morrell noted.
The Pentagon also has some U.S. Air Force C-130 cargo aircraft in the region that could be employed in any humanitarian mission for Burma, Whitman told Pentagon reporters today.
The USS Blue Ridge, the flagship of the U.S. Navy 7th Fleet, and the USS Kitty Hawk carrier strike group and the USS Nimitz aircraft carrier also are available to provide assistance to Burma, if needed, Whitman said.
The ships and planes would provide "not an insignificant amount of resources that might be available" if Burma were to request humanitarian assistance from the United States, Whitman said.
The U.S. military has conducted previous humanitarian missions in the Pacific region, such as when Indonesia was battered by a massive tsunami in December 2005.
After that experience, the U.S. military knows it would need portable water purification systems and airfield opening and operating teams for a possible humanitarian-aid mission to Burma, Whitman noted.
"And, those [type of assets] have been tentatively identified for possible deployment should the United States military be asked to render assistance" to Burma, he said.
By Gerry J. Gilmore
American Forces Press Service