Team of Marines sent to help secureU.S. Embassy in Haitian capital
ARLINGTON, Va. — A team of about 50 Marines headed to Haiti on Monday to help secure the U.S. Embassy and its personnel in the capital of Port-au-Prince from threats by rebels seeking to oust President Jean-Bertrand Aristide, military officials said.
A platoon from the Marine Corps’ Fleet Anti-Terrorism Security Team, or FAST, in Norfolk, Va., flew down after the U.S. ambassador in Haiti, James Foley, asked the Pentagon to provide added security, according to military officials.
Sunday, anti-government rebels took control of Haiti’s second-largest city, Cap-Haitien, adding to weeks of turmoil and unrest on the Caribbean island.
Norfolk’s 1st FAST company will augment security already on the ground, according to a press release from U.S. Southern Command.
The Corps has three companies, two stationed in Yorktown, Va., one in Norfolk.
On Friday, four military members of the Southern Command Situational Assessment Team arrived at the embassy to assess the facility’s security system, but the call for the FAST team came from embassy officials and not the team’s review, a Pentagon official said.
More than 70 people have been killed since the start of the rebellion, many of whom were police officers, and the U.S. Embassy closed several times due to the civil unrest caused by political tension.
Saturday, the State Department issued a travel warning to “inform American citizens that it is unsafe to remain in Haiti in view of the deteriorating security situation,” according to the agency’s Web site.
“The Department of State has ordered the departure of all family members and nonemergency personnel of the U.S. Embassy in Port-au-Prince, and continues to strongly urge American citizens remaining in Haiti to depart immediately while commercial carriers are still operating.”
There are about 30,000 foreigners in Haiti, including about 20,000 Americans, 2,000 French and 1,000 Canadians.
Aristide, a former priest, became the first democratically elected president in 1990. Opponents ousted him once during a 1991 coup. In 1994, some 20,000 U.S. troops were sent to Haiti to end the military dictatorship and restore Aristide to power.
Established in 1987, the Corps’ FAST Marines are trained for quick in-and-out and security missions and have been used for several missions.
Some of these missions were providing security against incursions on U.S. Naval installations in Panama in 1989; securing Naval assets in Bahrain in 1991 and the U.S. Embassy in Monrovia, Liberia, after a noncombatant evacuation operation; securing a U.S. mission in Somalia during Operation Restore Hope in 1994; running security after the terrorist bombing of Khobar Towers in Saudi Arabia in 1996; securing two U.S. embassies in the African nations of Kenya and Tanzania after bombings in 1998; and aiding efforts in Yemen, following the attack on the USS Cole in April 2000.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.