U.S. Military Aid Begins Arriving in Haiti

Air Force C-130
An Air Force C-130 cargo plane deliveres aid supplies to Port-au-Prince, Haiti.

President Obama says that the U.S. relief effort following Tuesday's devastating earthquake in Haiti will be one of the largest in recent history. And the U.S. military is leading the way with ships, air deliveries and thousands of troops, as CBS News correspondent David Martin repots.

By Monday there should be close to 10,000 American military personnel in Haiti or on ships just off shore. But in Haiti, Monday must seem like a lifetime away.

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"We're working at all deliberate speed to get all possible capability there as soon as we absolutely can," said Gen. Douglas Fraser, the head of the U.S. Southern Command, who has been put in charge of relief efforts on the ground in Haiti.

The fastest way in is by air, but Fraser is handcuffed by that single runway at Port-au-Prince airport which is constantly on the verge of gridlock. The Air Force had scheduled about two dozen flights for today but some of them are still holding on the ground in the U.S.

"The airport does have only a single runway it has limited ramp space and so we're really metering a lot of the flights that are coming in," Fraser said.

An early contingent of 125 paratroopers from the 82nd airborne division flew in today and an entire 3,500-man brigade is scheduled to be on the ground this weekend to provide security.

But Friday morning's arrival of the USS Vinson aircraft carrier with 19 helicopters on board may provide the biggest break in the bottleneck.

"One of the reasons we sent the USS Carl Vinson there is to provide an offshore staging base where we can use helicopters, we can use other capacity to try and move relief goods from ships to shore," Fraser said.

The Vinson also has three operating rooms and the capability to make fresh water. By Sunday or Monday, a three-ship amphibious task force with helicopters, landing craft and 2,200 marines on board will provide another offshore base - critical to a country which lost its main port in the earthquake.

"Essentially that port has been disabled, almost destroyed with respect to the ability to service large cargo ships that are essential to providing a robust relief effort down there," said Coast Guard Rear Adm. Steve Branham.

The hospital ship USS Comfort with 12 operating rooms and 250 beds is about to get underway from Baltimore, but it won't reach Haiti for another week.

More ships and helicopters will almost certainly be sent, but time and distance are enemies the U.S. military can not defeat.

  • David Martin

    David Martin is CBS News' National Security Correspondent.