AFRICOM Supports U.S. and International Response to Libya Crisis

US AFRICOM Public Affairs
U.S. AFRICOM Public Affairs

DJERBA, Tunisia - Humanitarian aid from USAID is unloaded by U.S. airmen at Djerba Zarzis Airport in Tunisia on March 4, 2011. The donations included blankets, tarps and water containers to help thousands who have fled civil unrest in neighboring Libya. The air crews were from the 435th Air Mobility Squadron out of Ramstein Air Base, supporting U.S. Africa Command. (Air Force photo by Staff Sergeant Brendan Stephens)
PISA, Italy - Humanitarian aid from USAID is prepared for loading onto C-130 aircraft in Pisa, Italy on March 4, 2011. The donations included blankets, tarps and water containers to help thousands who have fled civil unrest in neighboring Libya. The air crews were from the 435th Air Mobility Squadron out of Ramstein Air Base, supporting U.S. Africa Command. (Staff Sergeant Brendan Stephens)
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STUTTGART, Germany, Mar 5, 2011 — Two U.S. Air Force transport planes delivered USAID humanitarian supplies in Djerba, Tunisia, on March 4, 2011, less than 24 hours after President Obama directed the U.S. military to support international humanitarian efforts in response to the crisis in Libya.

As of March 5, a total of six U.S. military aircraft were assigned to support humanitarian operations, using U.S. bases in Greece and Italy as hubs.

President Obama on March 3 approved a State Department and international request to provide safe transit from Tunisia to Egypt for Egyptian nationals who have fled violence in Libya. "I've instructed the Department of Defense as well as our State Department and all those who are involved in international affairs to examine ... a full range of options," President Obama told White House reporters March 3, addressing more than two weeks of violence and political unrest in Libya. " ... I want us to be making our decisions based on what's going to be best for the Libyan people, in consultation with the international community."

As of midday March 5, three C-130J Super Hercules cargo aircraft were using Naval Support Activity Souda Bay, Greece, on the island of Crete, as a hub if requested by the Department of State to return to Tunisia to provide safe transit for Egyptian nationals who have fled violence in Libya and wish to travel to Egypt. Tens of thousands of people remained massed on the Libyan side of the border with Tunisia, unable to cross. On the Tunisian side of the border, commercial and contracted flights -- including civilian aircraft contracted by USAID/ODFA -- were also evacuating Egyptians and citizens of other nationalities. The C-130 flights were coordinated by U.S. Air Forces Africa, also known as 17th Air Force, at Ramstein Air base, Germany.

In addition, two U.S. Marine Corps KC-130 aircraft at Naval Station Sigonella, Italy, on the island of Sicily, were assigned to support humanitarian evacuation and airlift.

A sixth C-130 aircraft was at Ramstein Air Base, ready to participate if required.

Under the concept of operation, after a U.S. Department of State request for military assistance, the aircraft would proceed from Souda Bay or Sigonella, would load passengers in Tunisia, carry them to Egypt, then return to Greece or Italy for crew rest and maintenance.

On March 4, Naval Forces Europe-Africa, which coordinates U.S. Navy support to U.S. AFRICOM, announced the stand-up of JTF-Odyssey Dawn. The joint task force will provide tactical command and control for emergency evacuations, humanitarian relief, and any future AFRICOM missions in support of the U.S. government response to unrest in Libya.

As of March 5, the government of Libya continued its more than two-week campaign of attacking demonstrators and rebel groups, creating an international diplomatic emergency as well as a humanitarian and migrant crisis as Libyans and foreigners residing in Libya flooded border crossings and refugee camps in neighboring countries.

President Obama's March 3 announcement took place after 7 p.m. Central European Time. Following overnight preparations, three C-130 aircraft departed Ramstein Air Base, Germany, early on March 4 to respond to the humanitarian request. Two of the aircraft flew first to Pisa, Italy, to pick up humanitarian aid supplies from the USAID Office of Foreign Disaster Assistance (OFDA) storage warehouse at Leghorn Army Depot. The OFDA donations included 2,000 blankets, 40 rolls of plastic sheeting, and 9,600 10-liter plastic water containers. The third aircraft flew directly to Naval Support Activity Souda Bay, Greece, on the island of Crete, to make preparation for possible humanitarian airlift.

The two aircraft carrying OFDA humanitarian supplies arrived at Djerba Zarzis Airport near sunset as aircraft from around the world were participating in evacuation and humanitarian missions.

"We know that there are a lot of folks that are currently displaced, that will hopefully soon be able to return to their home countries and, hopefully, we can expedite that and bring humanitarian assistance to people who need it," said Air Force Lieutenant Colonel Charles "Doc" Schlegel, commander of the 435th Air Mobility Squadron, who led the contingency response team. "This is being driven by the State Department, and we are ready to support any requests they have."

Earlier that day in Italy, Alberto Chidini, coordinator of the U.S. Army's Camp Darby humanitarian assistance program near Pisa, was on the flight line as the humanitarian cargo was loaded on the two aircraft. "I've seen the reports. Everything is lacking," Chidini said of the crisis along Libya's borders with neighboring nations. "The situation is very bad and our people are ready to react. It's important because this could happen to anyone and hopefully someone is ready to help. In this case, [it's] us."

The USAID/OFDA supplies, sufficient for up to 2000 beneficiaries, were received by the Tunisian Red Crescent Society for distribution to nearby emergency camps.

The U.S. military is playing a supporting role in the much larger U.S. government emergency response. U.S. C-130 aircraft fill a critical niche in being able to provide short-haul passenger transport.

The U.S. military aircrews have no plans to enter or transit through Libyan air space as part of the operations.

(Contributing to this report: Air Force Master Sergeant Jim Fisher in Djerba, Tunisia.)

BACKGROUND
The Government of Libya's violent response to peaceful protest movements has resulted in the widespread departure of foreigners living in Libya. As many as 2.5 million foreign nationals, many of them Egyptian, were residing in Libya before the government crackdowns began February 17. Similar protests in Libya's neighboring countries, Tunisia and Egypt, resulted in transitions to interim governments. The United States has joined the international community in condemning the Government of Libya's violent reprisals against its own citizens.

The International Organization for Migration (IOM) and the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) on March 2 appealed to governments to supply urgent financial and logistical assets, including planes, boats and expert personnel, to the Tunisian-Libyan border. UNHCR and IOM have established a joint air operations cell and have requested the following assistance from governments: Long-haul capacity to take third-country nationals to Dakar, Hanoi, Bangkok, Manila, Colombo from Tunisia; Short-haul or sea capacity between Tunisia and Egypt; and potential technical assistance for logistics, air traffic control, and other specialties). The IOM and UNHCR request for U.S. military support was unprecedented and demonstrates the urgent humanitarian needs along the Libyan border.

More than 2.5 million expatriates were believed to residing Libya, many of whom were undocumented. More than 75,000 people have crossed from Libya into Tunisia since 19 February, the vast majority Egyptian nationals. The rate of outflow on the Tunisian border on March 1 was over 1000 per hour. The Foreign Minister of Egypt made a formal request on March 2 to Secretary of State Clinton for U.S. assistance to repatriate Egyptian nationals from Tunisia to Egypt.

About U.S. Africa Command
The United States Africa Command, also known as U.S. AFRICOM, is one of nine Unified Combatant Commands of the U.S. Department of Defense (DoD). As one of six that are regionally focused, it is devoted solely to Africa. U.S. AFRICOM is responsible to the Secretary of Defense for U.S. military relations with 53 African countries. U.S. AFRICOM better enables the Department of Defense to work with other elements of the U.S. government and others to achieve a more stable environment where political and economic growth can take place. The command was created by presidential order in 2007 and was officially activated October 1, 2007. It became fully operational October 1, 2008, with General William E. "Kip" Ward serving as its first commander.

AFRICOM Mission Statement
U.S. AFRICOM, in concert with other U.S. government agencies and international partners, conducts sustained security engagement through military-to-military programs, military-sponsored activities, and other military operations as directed to promote a stable and secure African environment in support of U.S. foreign policy.


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