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Marines In Haiti Could Reach 2,000
By Sandra Jontz
Stars and Stripes
European Edition

March 2, 2004

ARLINGTON, Va. The U.S. military presence in Haiti could reach 2,000 troops as the Caribbean island nation struggles to rebuild its government, Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld said Monday.

On Sunday, President Bush sent in a contingent of U.S. Marines to be the "leading element of a multinational interim force" until the United Nations establishes a peacekeeping force.

The initial contingent of Marines, from Camp Lejeune, N.C., made their way Sunday night to the Haitian capital of Port-au-Prince to secure key U.S. sites, such as the U.S. Embassy and the city's airport.

The influx of Marines augment a platoon of about 50 from the Marine Corps' Fleet Anti-Terrorism Security Team, or FAST, from in Norfolk, Va., who arrived Feb. 23 after U.S. Ambassador James Foley asked the Pentagon to provided added embassy security.

In the coming days, Rumsfeld said, Camp Lejeune's initial infantry component will be augmented by "for the sake of argument, about 1,500 to 2,000 [more Marines], maybe less."

The Marines are expected to be in country for roughly three months, said a Marine Corps official.

The total foreseeable international force likely needed to bring stability to Haiti could number some 5,000 peacekeepers, Rumsfeld said.

How long U.S. forces will stay in country depends on how the country's security and stability, how quickly an effective government can be established, and how quickly the other nations who have pledged support can ante up their forces, Rumsfeld said.

"We are the lead element of the interim force and will be the lead until circumstances are as such that we can pass the lead to another country," Rumsfeld said.

The Corps is sending to Haiti an ACM, or Air Contingency MAGTF, the latter short for Marine Air-Ground Task Force. The ACM is an on-call, combat-ready force that can be tailored in size of troop and air assets to fit any crisis situation, Marine officials said. The Marines typically can deploy within 18 hours of notification.

"They are a force very rapidly deployable and able to move quickly from their base in the United States to overseas areas," said Lt. Col. Bryan Salas, a spokesman with Marine Forces Atlantic.

Because of the sensitivity of missions and the fact that troops still are deploying, Salas did not want to provide any specifics such as the size of the ACM or the length of their deployment orders.

Pentagon leaders have yet to decide if naval assets will deploy to the island, said Gen. Richard Myers, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

"We'll be briefing [Secretary of State Colin Powell] on that today," he said during a Monday news conference with Rumsfeld.

The Marines' first order of business was to secure the airport in Port-au-Prince, Army Sgt. Maj. Ruben Maestas, a spokesman for U.S. Southern Command, said of the first 200 Marines.

"They're setting up the environment so follow along forces can come into Haiti," Maestas said. "In other words, they are securing the transportation facilities, that way we can bring follow-on forces in safely.

"They now are in the airport, but as more forces come in, they will be able to continue to do security in the airport and other areas that might need it."

An example is aiding the Coast Guard to "repatriate Haitians who might have been interdicted at sea," he said.

In the past several weeks, roughly 1,000 Haitians have been repatriated, Myers said.

Both he and Myers refused to discuss whether the Marines will protect Haitians or their property from looters or from Haitian-on-Haitian crimes, such as revenge killings.

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This article is provided courtesy of Stars & Stripes, which got its start as a newspaper for Union troops during the Civil War, and has been published continuously since 1942 in Europe and 1945 in the Pacific. Stripes reporters have been in the field with American soldiers, sailors and airmen in World War II, Korea, the Cold War, Vietnam, the Gulf War, Bosnia and Kosovo, and are now on assignment in the Middle East.

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Copyright 2004 Stars and Stripes. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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