Friday, March 11, 2011
US Military poised to help Japan
Despite large numbers of US troops and assets in Japan, there have been no reports of serious injury or death to US military personnel in the aftermath of a 8.9-magnitude earthquake there Friday morning, nor has there yet been any “significant damage” to ships or facilities, according to Pentagon officials.
Japan has long been one of the US military’s key base regions. There are some 38,000 US troops stationed in Japan, along with 43,000 US family members and roughly 3,000 Department of Defense civilians.
While the US Navy continues to assess the state of its fleet, it is also getting ships underway and clear of the rough coast in Hawaii and Seal Beach, San Diego to protect them from turbulent seas and possible tsunami in the wake of the earthquake that has devastated Japan, defense officials said Friday. “We’re moving things out from affected areas and getting them inland,” says Col. Dave Lapan, Pentagon spokesman.
This is expected to include submarines as well, which the Pentagon is often loath to discuss because they are equipped with strategic weapons and intelligence capabilities. In Guam, the mooring lines of two US navy submarines broke from the pier after the earthquake and had to be tugged back to port.
At the same time, ships from the US Navy’s 7th Fleet are mobilizing to provide humanitarian aid and medical relief that has been requested by Japan’s new foreign minister. These vessels are being “positioned and prepared to provide any assistance necessary,” Lapan told reporters Friday. “We are in the process of determining what the requirements are, and how we might fill them.”
UPDATE: Five U.S. Navy ships were heading to Japan, and two others were already docked in the country, according to the Pentagon. The State Department on Friday said there were no immediate reports of casualties among the tens of thousands of U.S. citizens -- tourists, military personnel and others -- in Japan.
The nuclear-powered aircraft carrier USS George Washington is in the maintenance yard in Japan and unable to get underway. Another nuclear-powered aircraft carrier, the USS Ronald Reagan in the western Pacific, is the only carrier heading to Japan.
"We currently have an aircraft carrier in Japan, and another is on the way." Obama said Friday. "And we also have a ship en route to the Mariana Islands to assist as needed."
Among the 38,000 U.S. military personnel, 43,000 dependents and 5,000 Department of Defense civilians assigned to Japan, there are no reports of loss of life and no reports of major damage to
U.S. warships, aircraft or facilities in Japan, said Pentagon spokesman Col. David Lapan.
Obama was awakened at 4 a.m. ET with news of the disaster and received a briefing from his top security and emergency response advisers at 9:30 a.m., the White House said.
In a statement, Obama sent his condolences to the people of Japan and declared that the United States stands ready to offer aid, citing the strong ties between the two nations. Obama also spoke by telephone with Kan, White House spokesman Tommy Vietor said.
Clinton pledged "immediate disaster relief assistance" and said "we are working closely with the government of Japan to provide additional help," according to a State Department statement.
Pentagon spokesman Lapan said Japan's foreign minister had formally asked the United States for help, launching the process of figuring out what is needed and what the U.S. military can provide.
The State Department issued an alert against nonessential travel to Japan because of the earthquake and tsunami. The alert said that Tokyo airports were closed and others also may be closed or restricted, and that public transportation in Tokyo and other areas has been interrupted.
The alert also said strong aftershocks were likely "for weeks" and included instructions for what to do if caught in another earthquake or aftershock. It urged U.S. citizens in Japan to contact family and friends to let them know of their well-being.
Two U.S. airlines -- Delta and American -- announced the cancellation of flights to Tokyo. It was unclear if flights to other Japanese airports also would be affected. In addition, Delta, United and Continental airlines announced they were waiving change fees for people whose travel plans involving Japan were affected by the disaster.
At the State Department, Assistant Secretary of State for Consular Affairs Janice Jacobs said a 24-hour consular task force has been set up to help Americans affected by the earthquake.
UPDATE: Humanitarian assistance from the United States began its journey to Japan Friday, as President Barack Obama extended a helping hand to the nation after it was hit by a devastating 8.9-magnitude earthquake and ensuing tsunami.
Navy personnel in Singapore began loading tons of supplies aboard the U.S. 7th Fleet command ship, the USS Blue Ridge. The vessel and its crew are scheduled to depart for Japan sometime Friday evening, CNN has learned.
The Blue Ridge is one of eight major warships either near Japan or headed for it.
The USS Essex is scheduled to leave Malaysia Friday evening carrying about 2,000 Marines from the 31st Marine Expeditionary movement.
The USS Harpers Ferry and the USS Germantown are en route to Japan from the Philippine Sea.
The USS Ronald Reagan, a nuclear-powered carrier, has been pulled from a long-planned exercise off the Korean Peninsula and is now headed for the earthquake area, accompanied by USS Chancellorsville and the USS Preble.
And the USS Tortuga has left its base at Sasebo, a port city in far southern Japan. The ship already has several landing craft on board, but it's heading to South Korea to take delivery of MH-53 cargo helicopters, which it will then carry to Japan.
Posted by Steve Douglass at 1:22 PM