U.S. deploys Marines to protect embassy in Haiti amid violence and transition

U.S. deploys Marines to protect embassy in Haiti amid violence and transition

The United States has sent a specialized Marine unit to help secure the U.S. Embassy in Haiti as the country struggles with a power transition amid rising gang violence, officials said Wednesday.

Haiti, the Caribbean Community and the United States are forming a committee of Haitian leaders to replace embattled Prime Minister Ariel Henry and lead the embattled nation to new elections. Henry, who has faced pressure from the United States, the Caribbean Community, gangs and ordinary Haitians to step down, announced Monday that he would step down once a transitional presidential council has been formed and a replacement interim leader has been selected.

Haitian politicians rush to form new government after leader resigns

U.S. Southern Command, which coordinates U.S. military activities in the region, said on Wednesday that it had deployed a Marine Fleet Anti-Terrorism Security Team (FAST) to the embassy in Port-au-Prince, at the request of the State Department, “to maintain a robust security capability” and “provide relief operations for active Marine personnel.”

Dozens of FAST Marines based in Yorktown, Virginia, took part in the embassy deployment, a U.S. defense official said on condition of anonymity to discuss the highly sensitive ongoing mission.

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While Marines provide security for diplomatic missions around the world, the arrival of the Special Forces FAST Marines highlights the deteriorating situation inside Haiti. FAST platoons are on standby to respond to crises and can be deployed within 24 hours to secure key locations and protect U.S. personnel at risk.

According to Marine Corps documents, FAST forces are well-positioned to reinforce or evacuate embassies because they are familiar with the embassy structure and are already integrated with the State Department.

They also provide security for strategic weapons and rapid response to other forces already deployed, including counterterrorism operations, according to the Marines.

Haiti, which has suffered from decades of corruption, poverty and violence, has been in turmoil since the assassination of President Jovenel Moïse in 2021. United Nations officials estimate that armed gangs control more than 80 percent of Port-au-Prince, and gang members commit kidnappings, rapes and murders with impunity.

This month, gangs have raided two prisons, freeing thousands of criminals, as well as the international airport, a major port and at least a dozen police stations. Bodies are piling up on the capital’s streets with no government officials to remove them.

Haiti’s presidency remains vacant, with the previous lawmaker’s term expiring in January 2023. That leaves Henry, who was appointed by Moïse just days before the assassination, to run the government. Henry, a 74-year-old neurosurgeon, has been criticized for failing to contain the violence and call new elections.

The prime minister was in Nairobi to appeal for support for the UN-approved Kenyan-led security force deployed to Haiti during the recent escalation of violence. He was unable to return home and was last seen in the US territory of Puerto Rico in the Caribbean.

Haitians are shot dead in the streets and there’s no one to take away the bodies.

The Biden administration spent nearly a year searching for a country to lead a multinational security assistance mission to Haiti and drafted a U.N. Security Council resolution that would authorize the mission. The U.S. would provide logistical support, intelligence, airlift, medical assistance and $300 million in funding but would not take part in street patrols, officials said.

The State Department is investigating the Kenyan police forces being deployed to ensure they are not involved in human rights abuses.

“This week, the Department of Defense is doubling funding for the Multinational Security Assistance (MSS) mission and expediting deployments to work with Haiti, Kenya and other partners to support the Haitian National Police and restore security in Haiti,” Southern Command said. “The Department of Defense stands ready to provide effective support to the MSS, including planning support, intelligence sharing, airlift and medical support.”

The FAST deployment on Tuesday evening was the second U.S. military deployment to the embassy in Haiti in a week. Planners and logisticians were deployed on Sunday, a second U.S. defense official said. The operation was to “ensure continuity of embassy operations and the withdrawal of non-essential personnel,” Southern Command said.

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