Kenya police deployment to Haiti faces delay amid critical equipment shortages

A long-planned multinational security mission for Haiti led by Kenya is unlikely to deploy this week, dashing hopes in Washington, Nairobi and Port-au-Prince that the mission will begin during Kenyan President William Ruto’s official state visit to the White House on Thursday.

It is still possible the deployment could start by May 23, an unofficial deadline set for the mission to launch, coinciding with Ruto’s formal engagements with President Joe Biden. But a delay in the procurement of armored vehicles and helicopters equipped for medical evacuations could push the deployment into early June, according to a U.S. official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss sensitive details of the mission.

The official told McClatchy and the Miami Herald that Kenya, which is leading the 2,500-member security force, has agreed with the Haitian government on rules of engagement for the security personnel, who could face fierce opposition from the well-armed Haitian gangs that have taken over the country’s capital and overwhelmed local police.

But the agreement has not yet been committed to writing or submitted to the United Nations Security Council, a prerequisite for the multinational security mission, or MSS, to begin.

Aides on Capitol Hill briefed on the matter also told McClatchy and the Herald they expect the deployment to be delayed.

“The latest we’ve heard is that’s not possible” by the end of the week, said a congressional aide, who asked for anonymity to speak openly about the matter. “They are running into some stark realities in terms of equipment logistics.”

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A six-member delegation from Kenya that arrived in Port-au-Prince on Monday, the same day Ruto arrived in Atlanta, found that Haiti lacks equipment to accommodate a deployment of the police officers. Questions arose whether even the delegation itself was provided with sufficient security to assess the situation on the ground.

The Kenyan team found that the country not only lacks armored vehicles to move the foreign troops around, it also faces a deficit of radios and communications equipment. The mission still needs to procure helicopters to evacuate potential casualties from the country, where dozens of hospitals have been destroyed or looted since Feb. 29, when gangs united to topple the government.

“We’re talking about vehicles, weapons and other things they’re going to need off the bat,” the congressional aide said. “And that has not all been procured. Most of the stuff has been pulled together from a smattering of different sources.”

The U.S. official said that radio and communications equipment is on track to be delivered by the end of the month. A deployment of forces could theoretically take place beforehand, but the Biden administration would oppose it proceeding without medical evacuation procedures and equipment in place, the official said.

The goverment of El Salvador has made overtures about providing helicopters, but two sources say there remains disagreement about the offer.

The U.S. Defense Department, which has pledged $200 million to help the mission, has been leading the preparations, but critics say those efforts only began in earnest two weeks ago.

Though the mission has been branded as a Kenya-led deployment, congressional aides say it is in practice a U.S.-led mission with multiple actors. The United States, which has pledged $300 million in support and has been taking the lead in getting the troops to Port-au-Prince, is providing “the overwhelming preponderance of money,” one aide said.

That reality came into play this week when both Idaho Republican Sen. Jim Risch, R-Idaho, and House Foreign Affairs Chair Michael McCaul, a Texas Republican, who have been blocking $40 million in funding, blasted the Biden administration for using presidential emergency powers to pay for the mission.

In April, Biden authorized a $60 million military aid package using what is called presidential drawdown authority to get rifles and ammunition into the hands of the Haiti National Police, and to allow the Kenya-led force to quickly deploy.

In a May 17 letter to Secretary of State Antony Blinken, obtained by the Herald and McClatchy, McCaul and Risch called the “unprecedented use” of the drawdown for Haiti “questionable” and asked that any transfer of equipment from U.S. stockpiles be halted.

The administration, they wrote, leveraged “ a counternarcotics provision” in the law to justify shifting the funds to the mission.

“Plainly stated, the administration is rushing to fund an undefined and indefinite engagement in Haiti without congressional approval,” the letter said.

A frustrated Biden administration has been seeking $40 million out of $100 million pledged by the State Department, but McCaul and Risch have refused to release their blocks, citing concerns over the State Department’s approach. They acknowledge in the letter their block on the money.

On Tuesday, Risch continued to express his concerns about the mission, telling Blinken during a Senate committee hearing he remains ”concerned about the logistics, feasibility and costs.”

“Prior international interventions over a long, long period of time in Haiti had been dismal failures, leaving the Haitian people worse off than before,” Risch said. “We can’t use U.S. taxpayers dollars to support an open-ended, poorly conceived mission in a country plagued by extreme gang violence and political instability without some kind of assurances that things are going to be different this time.”

As a united front of armed gangs targeted key government institutions in Haiti, some Haitians in March of 2024 took to the streets in protest.
As a united front of armed gangs targeted key government institutions in Haiti, some Haitians in March of 2024 took to the streets in protest.

In Haiti, anticipation is high that the arrival of foreign forces will help loosen the tight grip by armed gangs that have forced shortages in medications and food. Without the funds, either from the U.S. or other countries, supporters fear the country will be facing not just a full gang take over, but a humanitarian catastrophe.

Earlier this month, members of Haiti’s newly installed transitional presidential council, tasked with putting together a new government, wrote to Ruto asking him to deploy Kenyan police. The cops will serve as the backbone of a force that will include officers from at least six different countries from Africa, the Caribbean and southern Asia.

Both the Biden and Ruto administrations have been tight-lipped about how many of the 1,000 Kenyans police officers would be deployed in the initial phase. The number has varied from 80 to 120, along with support staff.


Kenya has also yet to provide the U.N. Security Council with the necessary paperwork before the mission is allowed to begin.

The Kenyan government — which is responsible for submitting documentation on the structure and goals of the MSS to the council — still has time to do so before the deployment begins. But officials familiar with the plan have thus far been unable to outline some of the key parameters of the mission as required by the Security Council, such as the rules of engagement for the forces involved, the ultimate goals of the deployment and its planned end.

“We know specifically that they do not have rules of engagement established,” a congressional aide, who asked for anonymity to discuss the issue, said, disputing the U.S. official’s account.

Three officials confirmed that Nairobi had yet to file the paperwork. Kenyan officials have told the Security Council that the documentation is ready, despite failing to submit it yet, one source familiar with the matter told McClatchy and the Herald.

Ruto is scheduled to arrive in Washington on Wednesday, where he will meet with members of Congress before the official visit withg Biden.

Ahead of the visit, the head of Doral-based U.S. Southern Command, Gen. Laura Richardson, said preparations were on track for the Kenyans’ arrival. “We’ll be ready to go on the 23rd of May,” she said.

Richardson made the declaration during a discussion at the Woodrow Wilson Center in Washington. Southcom has been providing the logistics for the mission and coordinated over three dozen military flights into Port-au-Prince with construction materials and equipment for the Kenyans to be able to operate.

A United States serviceman, left, stands guard on Wednesday, May 15, 2024, as supplies are offloaded from a U.S. Air Force C-17 cargo plane on the tarmac at Toussaint Louverture International Airport in Port-au-Prince, Haiti. The plane was carrying supplies for the camp being built for Kenyan police officers who will lead a Multinational Security Support mission into Haiti.

A visit to the base’s location last week by a Herald journalist found that construction was in very early stages, and questions arose about where a contingent of Kenyans would be housed upon arrival. Both Haitians and the U.S. officials have declined to answer questions on the matter, citing security concerns.

The Security Council passed Resolution 2699 in October of last year endorsing the mission to assist the Haitian government in its battle against criminal armed groups.

The council said that the mission could not deploy until its leaders provide them with key details. Council members want the mission to adhere to international law and that rules are in place to address issues such as human rights violations and past problems that have arisen with previous foreign interventions into Haiti.

The delay in delivering a documented plan reflects broad skepticism that the mission is ready to go. U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres has repeatedly called for the deployment and for the international community to support a trust fund to support the mission that currently has only $21 million.

Since Feb. 29, a united front of armed gangs have been targeting critical government infrastructure. The gangs has attacked police stations, looted hospitals and emptied out two of the country’s largest prisons. Over the weekend, armed gunmen with the 400 Mawozo gang destroyed most of the Croix-des-Bouquets prison not far from the U.S. embassy using a bulldozer. The prison was built in 2012 by Canada, and another one north of the capital haves become targets of gangs trying to eliminate the only two modern facilities in Port-au-Prince where the multinational mission can detain people they arrest.

Human rights observers in the capital report a panic among some gang members, who are trying to keep a low profile in some areas ahead of the anticipated Kenyan arrivals. In other areas of the capital, however, they continue to press their attacks.

On Tuesday, as the Kenyan assessment team conducted meetings in Port-au-Prince, the U.N. continued to raise the alarm over the impact of the violence, which has forced the displacement of tens of thousands of Haitians and the closure of nearly 900 schools in the capital and nearby Artibonite Valley. The U.N. also noted that armed groups continue to take control of neighborhoods in the capital.

“Thirty attacks on schools have been recorded since the start of this year,” said Stéphane Dujarric, spokesman for Guterres.