SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico -- Joint Task Force–Leeward Islands (JTF-LI), comprised of approximately 300 U.S. military members operating from Puerto Rico, is providing disaster relief support to areas in St. Martin devastated by Hurricane Irma.
JTF-LI is providing airlift capability and water treatment services as part of relief operations led by the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) to reduce human suffering and help set the stage for long-term recovery.
Working with members of the USAID regional Disaster Assistance Response Team (DART), JTF-LI installed two lightweight desalination units in the French collectivity of St. Martin Sept. 14.
If requested, the task force is also ready to provide additional support, including engineering assistance and impact assessments.
To date, the task force has evacuated 2,061 American citizens from St. Martin and Anguilla.
U.S. Southern Command (SOUTHCOM) established Joint Task Force-Leeward Islands to support a request for disaster assistance from the Governments of St. Martin.
Task force assets include eight helicopters and four C-130 Hercules aircraft. The expeditionary fast transport ship USNS Spearhead (T-EPF 1) is scheduled to arrive in the theater Sept. 16. JTF-LI includes personnel from Special Purpose Marine Air-Ground Task Force-Southern Command, Joint Task Force-Bravo and other elements of SOUTHCOM. The task force is just one piece of the U.S. response to Hurricane Irma and will remain in the affected area to support ongoing USAID/OFDA-led relief operations as long as the U.S. government deems necessary.
Historically, U.S. military capabilities are needed most in the critical early stages of a disaster relief operation, when fewer resources, capabilities and disaster-response experts are available to help victims and impacted communities. As a disaster relief mission progresses and more experienced experts arrive to aid longer-term recovery and reconstruction, U.S. military capabilities are typically no longer requested and the roles previously performed by military units are assumed by other relief organizations.
Over the last several years, SOUTHCOM has provided disaster assistance in the Caribbean, most notably in Haiti (Hurricane Matthew relief in 2016 and earthquake relief in 2010).