Armed gang leader Jimmy “Barbecue” Cherisier and his men in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, on March 5, 2024. Armed gangs control more than 80% of the capital.

Armed gang leader Jimmy “Barbecue” Cherisier and his men in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, on March 5, 2024. Armed gangs control more than 80% of the capital. (Clarens Siffroy, AFP via Getty Images/TNS)

(Tribune News Service) — The U.S. military flew in Marines to reinforce its embassy in Haiti and evacuate nonessential personnel as heavily armed gangs continue to challenge the country’s tenuous government and turn the country’s capital, Port-au-Prince, into a battlefield.

The middle-of-the-night operation was conducted via helicopter by the U.S. military at the request of the State Department for embassy security, the U.S. Southern Command said in a statement.

“This airlift of personnel into and out of the embassy is consistent with our standard practice for embassy security augmentation worldwide, and no Haitians were on board the military aircraft,” the statement said.

Residents in the capital reported hearing an airplane flying overhead before the operation, and the sounds of a helicopter in the early hours of Sunday morning.

A National Security Council official told McClatchy that President Joe Biden personally directed the military to carry out the mission.

“President Biden approved the operation,” the official said. “He has been briefed, receives updates from his team, and is deeply concerned about the situation in Haiti.”

The airlift comes amid ongoing gang attacks in multiple locations around metropolitan Port-au-Prince, including Tabarre, where the U.S. embassy is located. Several nearby businesses have been looted and overtaken by armed gangs that today control more than 80% of the capital.

Since last Thursday, armed groups have led a coordinated attack, demanding the resignation of Prime Minister Ariel Henry and targeting key Haitian government institutions. After taking control of several police stations, they targeted the main seaport before orchestrating a mass prison break at the two largest prisons. Thousands of inmates were freed by the gangs, including several notorious gang leaders.

The gangs have also launched attacks against the international and domestic airports. Heavy gunfire around the airports has led to the suspension of international flights into the country. Henry, who is under pressure by the United States and the Caribbean Community to resign, remains outside of the country, unable to return.

In response to the attacks, Haiti recently extended a 72-hour state of emergency and curfew to a month, and deployed members of its fledgling army to assist the Haiti National Police. To help in the fight against gangs, the U.S. government recently provided the police with additional ammunition.

The U.S. embassy has limited its operations as the violence has escalated, but remains open, it said in a statement.

“The U.S. Embassy in Haiti remains open,” the statement reads. “Heightened gang violence in the neighborhood near U.S. embassy compounds and near the airport led to the State Department’s decision to arrange for the departure of additional embassy personnel. All arriving and departing passengers work for the U.S. government.”

Biden has previously ruled out sending U.S. troops to directly engage in the crisis. But in October, after a yearlong campaign by the United States, the United Nations approved a Multinational Security Support mission that would bring together reinforcements from around the world to help the Haiti National Police. Henry was in Kenya signing a security sharing agreement for the East African nation to lead the effort when the violence escalated.

Despite the agreement, the force’s deployment has been hobbled by a lack of funding. Republican lawmakers in the U.S. Congress are refusing to release a hold on funding, requested by the Biden administration, amid questions about the mission while the international community has been slow to contribute to a U.N. Trust Fund set up to finance the operation.

Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Brian Nichols told the Miami Herald that the administration remains committed to expediting the deploymemnt of the Kenyan-led mission to Haiti, and is closely monitoring the situation.

“It’s urgent,” he said of the funding needs. “Every day matters, every day the lives and welfare of ordinary Haitians. If you care about humanitarian issues around the world, there is no crisis that is worse than the situation in Haiti right now.”

U.S. Southern Command said despite the evacuations the embassy remains focused on advancing U.S. government efforts to support the Haitian people, including mobilizing support for the Haiti National Police, expediting the secuirty mission’s deployment and accelerating a peaceful transition of power via free and fair elections.

“As announced in September 2023, the Department of Defense is postured to provide robust enabling support for the MSS, including planning assistance, information sharing, airlift, communications, and medical support,” U.S. Southern Command said.

©2024 Miami Herald.


Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

Sign Up for Daily Headlines

Sign up to receive a daily email of today's top military news stories from Stars and Stripes and top news outlets from around the world.

Sign Up Now