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US to have up to 10,000 troops in Haiti, offshore

Published:Saturday | January 16, 2010 | 12:00 AM

WASHINGTON, D.C. (AP):Up to 10,000 United States (US) troops will be in and around Haiti by Monday to help distribute aid and prevent potential rioting among desperate earthquake survivors, the top US military officer said Friday, as President Obama pledged long-term reconstruction help to President René Preval.

Admiral Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, also said the total American presence in and around the beleaguered country could rise beyond 10,000, as US military officers determine how much assistance may be needed in the days ahead.

Obama, who had been unable to contact Preval several times this week, talked for 30 minutes with the Haitian leader, the White House said.

Obama told Preval the world has been devastated by the loss and suffering in Tuesday's 7.0 quake and pledged full US support for both the immediate recovery effort and the long-term reconstruction. Preval said that the needs in his country are great, but that aid is now making its way to the Haitian people. Preval ended the call with a message to the American people, saying "from the bottom of my heart and on behalf of the Haitian people, thank you, thank you, thank you."

public statement

Obama planned a public statement on the situation from the White House at 1 p.m.

In a joint news conference at the Pentagon with Mullen, Defense Secretary Robert Gates said the primary goal is to distribute aid as quickly as possible "so that people don't, in their desperation, turn to violence". He suggested that the US is aware of perceptions it could have too-high a profile in the ravaged country.

" ... given the role that we will have in delivering food and water and medical help to people, my guess is the reaction will be one of relief at seeing Americans providing this kind of help," Gates told reporters.

The secretary also said "there will be a lot of other people there as well," noting Brazil also has a significant presence. He said it was vital to get food and water into the country and called the security situation "pretty good", except for some isolated cases of scavenging for food and water.

The secretary said military planners have been reluctant to drop food and water packages from the air because it could lead to rioting. But bringing in supplies by sea and air have proved difficult because of Haiti's badly damaged seaport and congested airport.

P.J. Crowley, the State Department spokesman, acknowledged the limitations of the initial US effort to get water, food and other emergency requirements into Haiti. He said, for example, that the main port at Port-au-Prince, the capital, was so badly damaged in the quake that it is not useable. He likened the stream of aid, thus far, as flowing through a "garden hose" that must be widened to a "river".

The arrival off the Haitian coast of the USS Carl Vinson, an aircraft carrier laden with helicopters, essentially provides a "second airport" from which aid can be delivered to the stricken capital, Crowley said.

Gates said the United Nations peacekeeping force in Haiti has primary responsibility for security in the capital.