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
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,"
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,
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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