Elite Marine security team deploys to Haiti amid gang crisis

by Vern Evans

An elite Marine security team has deployed to Haiti because of a deteriorating security situation there, according to a defense official.

The fleet antiterrorism security team’s deployment to Haiti ― which is in the middle of a power struggle between gangs and the prime minister ― occurred sometime this week, said the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to discuss the sensitive issue publicly.

The Marines were deployed at the request of the State Department, according to the defense official. Marine Corps Times asked the State Department for further details Thursday and didn’t receive a response within a few hours.

Haitian Prime Minister Ariel Henry is struggling to stay in power as he tries to return home, where gang attacks have shuttered his country’s main international airport and freed more than 4,000 inmates in recent days.

Henry remained in Puerto Rico as of midday Wednesday. He landed in the U.S. territory on Tuesday after he was barred from landing in the neighboring Dominican Republic, where officials closed the airspace to flights to and from Haiti.

In 2023, more than 8,400 people in Haiti were reported killed, injured or kidnapped, more than double the number reported in 2022. The U.N. estimates that nearly half of Haiti’s 11 million people need humanitarian assistance, but the 2024 humanitarian appeal for $674 million has received just $17 million — about 2.5% of what’s needed.

On Wednesday, the U.S. embassy in Haiti urged Americans in the country to depart as soon as possible and said it would be on limited operations Thursday.

“Embassy operations may be further affected during the week because of gang-related violence and its effects on transportation and infrastructure,” the embassy said in the security alert.

The Corps’ fleet antiterrorism security teams, often known as FAST, are deployed around the world for limited periods of time to reinforce or recapture U.S. assets.

FAST Marines receive specialized training on noncombatant evacuation operations, close-quarters battle, military operations in urban terrain, convoy operations, shipboard operations and specialized security operations, according to a page on the Defense Visual Information Distribution Service.

The teams are part of the Yorktown, Virginia-based Marine Corps Security Force Regiment.

In 2019, fleet antiterrorism security team Marines embarked a U.S. merchant vessel to provide security as it transited the Strait of Hormuz, located between Oman and Iran.

In 2010, after a devastating earthquake struck Haiti, they were sent to assist the Marine security guards who already had been guarding the U.S. embassy in the capital Port-au-Prince.

At a press conference Wednesday, Karine Jean-Pierre, the White House press secretary, denied that the United States was considering sending U.S. forces to Haiti.

Jean-Pierre said noted that Kenya had agreed to send police officers on a security mission to Haiti.

“So, that was recently signed, and that’s going to move forward,” she said. “But there is no plan to bring U.S. forces into Haiti.”

In 2021, President Joe Biden sent Marines from the Marine Security Guard Security Augmentation Unit to the Port-Au-Prince embassy “out of an abundance of caution” following the assassination of the Haitian president but insisted sending U.S. forces to stabilize the country was “not on the agenda.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Irene Loewenson is a staff reporter for Marine Corps Times. She joined Military Times as an editorial fellow in August 2022. She is a graduate of Williams College, where she was the editor-in-chief of the student newspaper.

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