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Pentagon Expects US Presence in Haiti to be Short Lived - 2004-03-01


Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld says U.S. forces are continuing to arrive in Haiti to take the lead in formation of an interim peacekeeping force expected to total some 5,000, but he expects the American presence to be relatively short-lived.

Mr. Rumsfeld said only a few hundred U.S. troops are in Haiti at the moment but more are on the way. Speaking to reporters at the Pentagon, the defense secretary says the number of U.S. forces could grow to between 1,500 and 2,000 depending on the security situation and the troop contributions of other nations. "First of all, it depends on the facts on the ground and, second, it depends on how fast other countries that have volunteered forces can get those forces there in a trained and organized way and a way that's equipped and supported," he said.

Mr. Rumsfeld said he believes the U.S. military role will be for only a relatively short period. He stresses the Haiti problem is not just a U.S. problem but one for the entire hemisphere. He says the U.S. military has the capability to respond quickly to crises, enabling it to take a leading role at least initially.

But in a clear reference to the U.S. military involvement in Afghanistan and Iraq, Mr. Rumsfeld said the Pentagon has other responsibilities. "We've got a lot of things we're doing and once the situation is stabilized, I think it would be appropriate to pass the lead off," he said.

Mr. Rumsfeld and the chairman of the military's Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Richard Myers, say reports from Haiti describe the situation as relatively calm. They say there have so far been no shooting incidents involving either U.S., French or Canadian forces.

General Myers says it is wrong to think of Haiti as primarily a military problem. He says well-trained police forces could handle the operation.

The Pentagon said there have been no signs of any mass migration by Haitians fleeing by sea. The U.S. Coast Guard is patrolling the area. General Myers says no decision has been made on the possible deployment of any U.S. Navy ships.