The Pentagon will dispatch up to 2,000 Marines to Haiti to restore order in the country before an international peacekeeping force takes over.
“Certainly, the number of people that need to be involved in a peacekeeping operation in Haiti is relatively small,” Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld told reporters at the Pentagon, noting that a large number of countries have volunteered to send forces.
Yesterday, U.S. Marines and French troops secured key sites in the capital, Port-au-Prince, as rebels rolled into the city to the cheers of hundreds of residents celebrating the ouster of President Jean-Bertrand Aristide.
When the rebels arrived at a plaza outside the National Palace and a nearby police station, thousands of Haitians converged on the square, shouting “liberty” and “Aristide is gone.”
A half-dozen Marines in combat fatigues and rifles were on the grounds of the National Palace. The rebels and the Marines did not immediately approach each other.
Mr. Rumsfeld said that between 1,500 and 2,000 U.S. troops are available to take part in a force in Haiti that will help control the country after Mr. Aristide’s departure Sunday and the assumption of a new president.
Up to 5,000 international troops, including U.S. forces, will make up the interim stability force, he said.
“We’ll have what’s needed, and as additional forces come in, we’ll be able to size it and determine what makes the most sense, and that will be subject to the recommendations of the commanders,” Mr. Rumsfeld said.
The defense secretary also said it is “an open question” whether U.S. troops will take part in the U.N. peacekeeping operation.
How long troops will stay in the country also is undecided, he said, because the United Nations is still organizing the effort.
“The U.S. will take on the initial leadership of the multinational interim force in Haiti,” Mr. Rumsfeld said. “The leadership of the follow-on U.N. force will be determined in the period ahead. Indeed, the leadership of the interim force might very well pass even before the U.N. force arrives.”
A senior Bush administration official said several countries in the region, including Brazil, are set to participate in both the interim force and the U.N. peacekeeping force.
The dispatch of Brazilian troops could be announced soon, defense officials said, and will augment additional U.S., French, Canadian and Brazilian troops, as well as others from unidentified countries.