WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The United States is sending about 50 Marines to Haiti to protect its embassy and other U.S. facilities in the Caribbean nation, where an armed revolt to unseat President Jean-Bertrand Aristide has intensified, officials said on Monday.
As armed rebels took control of the second-largest city over the weekend and vowed to move on the rest of the country, the United States evacuated its non-emergency staff and family members from the embassy in Port-au-Prince.
The U.S. military’s Miami-based Southern Command said in a statement that a Fleet Anti-Terrorism Support Team of about 50 Marines would arrive in Haiti later on Monday afternoon from Norfolk Navy Base in Virginia. The team will “conduct security operations for a handful of U.S. facilities” in Port-au-Prince, Southern Command said.
The Marines, sent at the request of U.S. Ambassador to Haiti James Foley, “will augment existing U.S. security personnel on the ground,” including a four-member military team sent last week to assess security at the embassy.
“They are to enhance security. I think it’s prudent planning,” a State Department diplomat added.
U.S. diplomats have been mediating between Aristide and the opposition.
A U.S. invasion a decade ago restored Aristide to power after a coup that prompted waves of refugees to flee to Florida from the most-impoverished nation in the Americas.
But now, with deployments in Iraq and Afghanistan stretching its forces, the United States has been reluctant to send troops into the spreading chaos.
It has so far rejected Aristide’s pleas for reinforcements for his hapless police force, which has repeatedly lost battles in fighting this month that has effectively cut the country in two.