Marines Take on Haitian Peacekeeping Mission
By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, March 1, 2004 More than 200 Marines from Camp Lejeune, N.C., have landed at Port-au-Prince airport and are setting up to provide security in the Haitian capital, Defense Department officials said today.
U.S. Southern Command officials said U.S. Coast Guard cutters also are near the island nation.
The Marines began arriving after nightfall Feb. 29. President Bush had ordered them earlier in the day to deploy following the resignation of Haitian President Jean-Bertrand Aristide. More Marines will flow into the island, said DoD officials. The 8th Marines are providing the bulk of the U.S. forces, local officials said.
The U.N. Security Council unanimously approved a request from acting President Boniface Alexandre for urgent international support in restoring peace and security in Haiti. Alexandre was the chief of the country's Supreme Court before Aristide's resignation.
U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan called on the Haitian people to remain calm, and said the Multinational Interim Force shows the world has not forgotten about Haiti. The force is authorized for three months.
The U.S. Marines are the lead force in the multinational unit. DoD officials said events on the ground and the number of troops from other countries will determine the size of the U.S. contribution.
During an interview this morning on NBC's "Today", Secretary of State Colin Powell said he didn't have a specific U.S. troop number to give out, but "it's in the hundreds, maybe a little more than a thousand or so. But it is not a large force -- joined by forces from a number of nations that have already indicated they want to make a contribution."
Powell stressed the U.N. operation is a peacekeeping effort. "I think the nature of the presence will shift from combat troops increasingly to police monitors, gendarmerie, those sorts of international forces present to help the Haitian people, and not combat forces of the kind that would be engaging in direct combat," he said. "I think this is mostly a stability operation, as opposed to a combat operation."
Powell said French and Canadian troops will arrive in Haiti shortly. He said he also expects troop contributions from Latin American and Caribbean nations. The interim force will provide stability in the Haitian capital, and help in the delivery of humanitarian supplies, he said.
U.S. Southern Command officials said the newly deployed Marines joined with a forward area security team that deployed to Haiti Feb. 23. The team, from Norfolk, Va., has provided security at the U.S. embassy in Port-au-Prince.