No plans to expand US police in Haiti

By Anne Gearan
Associated Press / January 19, 2010

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ABOARD A US MILITARY AIRCRAFT - US Defense Secretary Robert Gates said yesterday that the US forces in Haiti for earthquake relief can defend themselves, innocent Haitians, or foreigners if lawlessness boils over.

Gates said he does not foresee an expanded policing role for the United States, however. The United States is chiefly involved in distributing relief and will support the United Nations in providing security, Gates said.

“I haven’t heard of us playing a policing role at any point,’’ Gates told reporters traveling with him to India for talks on defense cooperation, trade, and relations between India and Pakistan.

Gates gave a fuller explanation of the rules under which US troops are operating than the Pentagon previously provided. Gates approved rules of engagement for US forces on shore and aboard nearby ships.

“Anywhere we deploy our troops they have the authority and the right to defend themselves,’’ Gates said, adding that the troops could also defend others “if they see something happen.’’

On Sunday, Lieutenant General Ken Keen of the US Southern Command said some violence has hindered rescue workers trying to help earthquake victims. He said providing humanitarian aid requires a safe and secure environment, and while streets have been mostly calm, violence has been increasing.

About 3,000 US troops are on the ground in Haiti, including 2,000 Marines who arrived yesterday. In addition, 3,000 more US troops are working from ships. More than 12,000 US forces are expected to be in the region within a week.

Fear of looters and robbers has been among factors slowing aid delivery. After last Tuesday’s 7.0-magnitude earthquake, maintaining law and order fell to the 9,000 UN peacekeepers and international police already in Haiti, even though those forces also sustained heavy losses in the disaster.

A joint statement Saturday from Haiti’s president and US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton referred to an expanded US security role.

“President Preval, on behalf of the government and people of Haiti, welcomes as essential the efforts in Haiti by the government and people of the United States to support the immediate recovery, stability, and long-term rebuilding of Haiti.’’

The statement said the United States has been asked to assist with security as needed, in conjunction with Haitian authorities, the United Nations, foreign governments, and international aid agencies.

President Obama issued an order allowing selected members of the military’s reserves to be called up to support operations in Haiti.

Signed Saturday, it lets the Pentagon and Homeland Security Department tap reserve medical personnel and a Coast Guard unit that will help provide port security.

More than 250 medical personnel from the Health and Human Services Department are in Haiti.