Chairman Says U.S.-Chile Relations Key to Haitian Success
By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service
SANTIAGO, Chile, March 13, 2004 Chile's role in the Multinational Interim Force in Haiti was among the topics the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff covered during a press conference here March 12.
Air Force Gen. Richard B. Myers is visiting South America to tend to U.S. military-to-military relationships on the continent.
About 2,600 troops are in Haiti from the United States, Chile, Canada and France. Chile has more than 300 soldiers serving in the troubled nation. They have been a part of the operation almost since the beginning. "Their mission right now is to provide basic security and stability in the country against criminal elements and -- I think they are best described as gangs -- that support various political factions," Myers said.
"It's important to deal with these elements so the humanitarian assistance (and) the medical assistance can continue," he added.
The chairman said the situation in Haiti is getting better each day. The forces are having an effect on the situation. Traffic is moving between Port-au-Prince and Cap Haitienne and the political process is moving along. "There is a U.N. assessment team in the country to determine what would be required for a U.N. peacekeeping mission in two or three months," he said. "My guess is that in the next 20 to 30 days that will be worked inside the U.N. to see what kind of follow-on force will be required."
The follow-on force probably will be a combination of military and law enforcement personnel, depending on the assessment the U.N. is doing, Myers said. He said he does not know the ultimate number of peacekeeping forces that will be needed in Haiti. "For the time being, the security force we have in there is likely to grow to about 3,000 or 3,500, and we think that is adequate for the initial phase of this operation," he said.
Military-to-military contacts between the United States and Chile, Myers said, have made the progress on the ground in Haiti easier. The chairman said the series of exercises the U.S. military conducts with Chile gives both sides experience in dealing with each other. "The forces in Haiti today are not strangers. They have worked together before, and this is a good thing," he said. "I think the decision by the Chilean government to go to Haiti reflects the fact that in this hemisphere, if we have an issue like Haiti, then the hemisphere ought to respond."
In answer to a reporter's question at the press conference, Myers said the status of the U.S. armed forces has not changed because of the terrorist attacks in Madrid. "Given that the United States is high on the priority list for the al Qaeda organization, we're always on high readiness and security alert in the United States," Myers said.
Still, Myers said, he is not saying al Qaeda was responsible for the attack that killed almost 200 and wounded more than 1,400. He said Spanish officials will continue their investigation.