Uncertainty, disagreement loom around international force for Haiti

Nearly a year after proposing the immediate deployment of a multinational rapid-action force to help Haitians return to a semblance of normalcy, the United States still doesn’t agree with all of its partners on what the mission should look like and still has not secured all of the necessary support to get the mission off the ground.

And even after Kenya sent a delegation to Port-au-Prince two weeks ago to talk about its offer to lead the deployment, it is now unclear whether the Kenyans will take on the job.

Over the weekend, U.N. Secretary General Antonio Guterres visited Nairobi, where he met with Kenyan President William Ruto on the sidelines of the African Climate Summit. The two discussed Ruto’s offer to consider sending 1,000 police officers to Haiti and leading the mission.

“The Kenyan president informed the [Secretary-General] that Kenya is studying the situation on the ground in Haiti,” Farhan Haq, Guterres’ deputy spokesman, told the Miami Herald on Tuesday.

Since the Kenyan delegation left Haiti in mid-August, tensions and violence have been escalating in Port-au-Prince. Violent gangs have tightened their grip and expanded their control over neighborhoods, forcing the U.S. State Department last week to urge Americans to leave “as soon as possible” and warning employees to stay inside the embassy’s compounds. More than 70 people have been killed or injured in the carnage, the U.N. said, and over 10,000 have been forced out of their homes.

The violence, which also extends north to the Artibonite Valley, is cutting off access to healthcare, humanitarian aid and schools, as the displaced seek refuge in classrooms and school yards.

Guterres has repeatedly said that a “robust use of force” by police and military assets are needed to disarm Haiti’s violent gangs, and in his latest appeal asked countries to deploy “a non-United Nations multinational force, composed of police special forces and military support units.” White House national security adviser Jake Sullivan said on Tuesday that Washington isn’t considering a military mission.

“What we’re looking to do is to support a multinational force that is fundamentally a policing support mission, not a military mission, and one that is in support of the Haitian national police, not taking over the sovereign policing capacities from the Haitian national police,” Sullivan said at a press briefing at the White House when asked by McClatchy what kind of mission the United States is seeking to get at the Security Council.

“In terms of the precise operational elements of that — how they will operate physically in Port-au-Prince and other parts of Haiti — I’m going to defer that question, because the experts are engaging to work out what an operational plan would look like,” he added.

During their Port-au-Prince visit, Kenyan officials said that to establish their presence in Haiti they would need a minimum threshold of 2,000 officers who are ready to be deployed and they would need a resolution from the U.N. Security Council, which the United States has said it would write.

They also proposed deploying a “static protection force” whose main mission would be to protect strategic infrastructure like the seaport, airport and police academy. The plan, first made public by the Herald, has not gone over well in Haiti, where critics say they need a force to help the national police to fight armed gangs that extort, rape, kidnap and kill citizens and foreigners alike.

On Tuesday, as the violence in Haiti continued to worsen, members of the 15-member Security Council received their first draft of a resolution authorizing a multinational force. Instead of describing it as a non-U.N. multinational force, the United States, which penned the resolution and passed the leadership of the security council to Albania for September, has baptized it with a new name: Multinational Security Support Mission.

Despite the new name, some countries are still weighing whether they will support a deployment and questions linger about Russia and China. The two countries, which are permanent members of the Security Council and have veto power over any resolution, have been two of the most vocal critics of past military interventions into Haiti.

Another factor is Haiti’s ongoing political crisis, which worsened after the assassination of President Jovenel Moïse. On Monday, a so-called Eminent Persons Group from the 15-member Caribbean Community arrived in Port-au-Prince to resume political talks that stalled on Aug. 8 between Haitian Prime Minister Ariel Henry, political parties and members of civil society.

The United States, the U.N. and others in the international community have called for a broader political accord ahead of any deployment of foreign forces. But with some groups now calling for Henry’s resignation in the wake of the escalating violence, it remains to be seen if the CARICOM visit, which is supposed to last all week, will lead to an agreement.