Tuesday, March 2, 2004

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.

Asked whether the Bush administration is reluctant to order military force for peacekeeping, Mr. Rumsfeld said there is a need for a global peacekeeping capability.

“I think that what we have to do is recognize that the world needs that capability,” he said. “And there are probably things that the United States can do to assist the world in developing, sustaining and funding that capability, and it doesn’t mean that it has to be us in every instance.”

Mr. Rumsfeld said the United States “stepped up” to help the transition of power in Haiti to avoid any gaps in authority.

“The judgment was made, and properly, in my view, that the gap should be very short,” he said. “And when you look around as to who can fill a gap in a very short period of time, there are not a lot of candidates. We stepped up, and the president asked the United States to do that. The United States is doing that.

“We are the lead elements of the interim force, and we would be in the lead of that force until such a time as the circumstances were such that we could pass it over to some other country. Obviously, we’d like to see some other country take that lead, and they will, eventually,” Mr. Rumsfeld said.

Col. David Berger, head of the U.S. Marine contingent, described the capital as “definitely not a hostile environment” for U.S. troops.

“Most of [Haitians] are going to welcome us. We’re glad to be here,” he told reporters in Port-au-Prince.

Asked whether the Marines in Haiti are allowed to prevent violence and looting, Air Force Gen. Richard B. Myers, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, declined to specify the rules of engagement.

“They are going to be adequately armed not just with their personal protective gear and their offensive weapons, but with the rules that allow them to do the job,” said Gen. Myers, who appeared with Mr. Rumsfeld in Washington yesterday.

A force of 200 U.S. Marines arrived in Haiti on Sunday by aircraft from Camp Lejune, N.C., and joined about 50 Marines that had been dispatched last month to protect the U.S. Embassy.

“The Marines are there to secure key sites in the Haitian capital of Port-au-Prince and to set the environment for the arrival of a following interim multinational force,” said Raul Duany, a spokesman for the U.S. Southern Command in Florida, which is in command of the forces.

Most of the Marines who arrived Sunday night were at the capital’s airport, some doing overflights in a helicopter.

U.S. officials said up to an additional 200 Marines are expected to arrive in Port-au-Prince during the next two days.

The Southern Command is in the planning stages for U.S. participation in the peacekeeping operation, which is likely to include several hundred French and Canadian troops.

Other nations are expected to participate.

Mr. Duany said the Marines are equipped with light armored vehicles and Humvees.

According to a Southern Command statement, the troops have five goals: stabilizing the Haitian capital and promoting the political process, assisting the delivery of humanitarian assistance, protecting U.S. citizens, repatriating Haitian migrants stopped at sea, and helping prepare for the U.N. forces.

Mr. Rumsfeld said violence has decreased since the ouster of Mr. Aristide.

Gen. Myers said about 1,000 Haitians who tried to flee the country were returned during the past three days and there were very few repatriations yesterday.

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