U.S. sends crisis-response Marines to Haiti to protect embassy

U.S. Marines watch from the roof of the U.S. Embassy in Port-au-Prince in 2004 as Haitians demonstrate in support of then-President Jean-Bertrand Aristide. (Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

By Matthew Hay Brown & Alex Horton, The Washington Post, March 13, 2024

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

Haiti, the Caribbean Community and the United States are setting up a committee of Haitian leaders to take over for embattled Prime Minister Ariel Henry and lead the beleaguered nation to new elections. Henry, under pressure to resign from the United States, the Caribbean Community, the gangs and ordinary Haitians, said Monday that he will step down once a transitional presidential council is in place and has chosen an interim leader to replace him.

U.S. Southern Command, which coordinates U.S. military activity in the region, said Wednesday that it had deployed a Marine Fleet-Anti-terrorism Security Team, or FAST, “to maintain strong security capabilities” at the embassy in Port-au-Prince and “conduct relief in place for our current Marines” at the request of the State Department.

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

Marines provide security at diplomatic missions worldwide, but the arrival of the specialized FAST Marines underscores the deteriorating situation within Haiti. FAST platoons are on constant standby to respond to crises, with a mission to deploy within 24 hours to secure sensitive sites and defend U.S. personnel at risk.

FAST units are well situated to reinforce or evacuate embassies because they are familiar with embassy structures and already integrate with the State Department, according to Marine Corps service documents.

They also provide security for strategic weapons and rapid response to other units already deployed, including anti-terrorism operations, according to the Marine Corps.

Haiti, which has struggled for decades with corruption, poverty and violence, has descended into chaos since the still-unsolved 2021 assassination of President Jovenel MoïseArmed gangs control more than 80 percent of Port-au-Prince, U.N. officials have estimated, and gang members kidnaprape and kill with impunity.

This month, gangs attacked two prisons, freeing thousands of criminals, and assaulted the international airport, the main seaport and at least a dozen police stations. Bodies have accumulated in the streets of the capital with no government workers to take them away.

The Haitian presidency remains vacant, and the last lawmakers’ terms expired in January 2023. That has left Henry, who was appointed by Moïse days before his assassination, to run the government. The 74-year-old neurosurgeon has drawn criticism for failing to control the violence or hold new elections.

The prime minister was in Nairobi to rally support for a U.N.-approved, Kenya-led security force for Haiti when the violence recently intensified. He has been unable to return. He was last seen in Puerto Rico, a U.S. territory in the Caribbean.

Haitians shot dead in the streets and there's no one to take the corpses away

The Biden administration spent nearly a year searching for a country to lead the Multinational Security Support mission to Haiti, and wrote the U.N. Security Council resolution that authorized it. The United States will provide logistics, intelligence, airlift and medical support, and $300 million in funding, officials say, but won’t join in street patrols.

The State Department is vetting the Kenyan police units to be deployed to make sure they have not been involved in human rights violations.

“This week, the Department of Defense doubled our funding for the Multinational Security Support (MSS) mission, and we are working with Haitian, Kenyan, and other partners to expedite its deployment to support the Haitian National Police and to restore security in Haiti,” Southern Command said. “The Department of Defense is postured to provide enabling support for the MSS, including planning assistance, information sharing, airlift, and medical support.”

The FAST deployment Tuesday evening was the second U.S. mobilization in a week for the embassy in Haiti. On Sunday, planners and logistical personnel were dispatched, a second U.S. defense official said. That operation was to “allow our Embassy mission operations to continue, and enable non-essential personnel to depart,” Southern Command said.


Posted March 20, 2024