Skip to Content

A foreign force was set to arrive in Haiti this week. What happened?


By Caitlin Hu, CNN

(CNN) — After months of planning and discussion, the deployment of an international force to violence-wracked Haiti has been delayed again, puncturing hopes that a vanguard of Kenyan police would arrive this week.

High-profile meetings on Thursday hinted at once-high expectations. In the Haitian capital Port-au-Prince, the country’s governing Transitional Presidential Council posted photos of its meeting with a Kenyan delegation. In Washington, US President Joe Biden and Kenyan President William Ruto touted their nations’ collaboration on the mission (largely equipped by the US) at a joint press conference.

Peace and security in Haiti are the “collective responsibility of all nations,” Ruto said, warning that Kenya will “take that responsibility along with the Haitian police” and “break the backs of gangs and criminals.”

But for now, armed groups continue to rampage in capital city Port-au-Prince, extorting residents and controlling the movement of vital fuel, food and medical supplies. On Thursday evening, a young US missionary couple were attacked by gangs at a church in the city and later killed, their family said.

Who are Haiti’s gangs?

Originally created as enforcers for Haiti’s political and business elite, Haiti’s rival gangs have in recent months formed a broad coalition known as “Viv Ansamn,” or “Live together,” and are now coordinating attacks on government institutions like police stations and prisons.

Haiti’s National Police have been battling the gangs block by block, but they are understaffed and under-equipped. Since the assassination of then-President Jovenel Moise in 2021, the gangs’ grip has expanded from an estimated 50% of the city to 80% today.

Law enforcement sources in Haiti now liken the urban battlefield to quicksand, telling CNN that they need reinforcements to hold and defend territory.

Complicating the situation is a torrent of smuggled guns and ammunition arming Haiti’s gangs, despite an arms embargo on the island.

Earlier this week, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken defended US backing for the international mission, warning a Senate Foreign Relations hearing that without foreign support, Haiti is “on the precipice of becoming an all-out failed state.”

What is the Multinational Security Support mission?

Haiti’s government has been asking for international military assistance since 2022. In October last year, the Multinational Security Support Mission (MSS) was finally greenlit by the United Nations’ powerful Security Council.

Designed to coordinate closely with Haiti’s National Police, the MSS is expected to focus on securing the city’s airport, seaport and key roads, according to people with knowledge of the mission’s planning.

Kenya, which volunteered to lead the mission, has committed 1,000 police officers. Most of those are Kenyan border police, chosen for their experience in dealing with armed non-state actors such as Al Shabaab and in operating in foreign contexts such as Somalia, Sudan and Congo, according to Bill O’Neill, the UN expert on human rights in Haiti.

According to documents seen by CNN, the mission will be helmed by a Kenyan police commissioner and a Jamaican police lieutenant, with other top posts filled by Kenyan staff. The Bahamas, Bangladesh, Barbados, Belize, Benin, Chad, and Jamaica have also promised to contribute personnel to the mission.

Although the MSS was approved more than seven months ago, it has been mired in complications, including court challenges in Kenya and political tumult in Haiti. In March, a surge of gang violence forced then-Prime Minister Ariel Henry to resign shortly after inking a deal with Kenya for the mission; Ruto’s administration has since found a new partner in Haiti’s Transitional Presidential Council, established last month.

During the Thursday press conference, journalist Ayub Abdikadir from Kenya’s Citizen TV questioned Ruto on the strategy of sending forces to a crisis in the distant Caribbean while security problems endure in Kenya’s North Rift region. “Why are you committing to Kenya when we have a problem back home?” he asked.

Kenya’s responsibility is broader than its own borders, Ruto responded, underlining that troops and police had already been deployed to “sort out the banditry problem” in the North Rift.

A UN-managed trust fund for the mission currently contains $21 million, provided by Canada ($8.7 million), the United States ($6 million), France ($3.2 million) and Spain ($3 million), according to the UN. The US and Canada have also committed more, much of it expected to take the form of equipment and other resources.

Why hasn’t the MSS begun yet? (A shortage of medevac helicopters, in part)

May 23 had been the working deadline for a first instalment of 200 Kenyan police officers to arrive, according to documents seen by CNN. Several dozen Jamaican officers were expected to arrive in Haiti by mid-June, with more trickling in through the summer.

This week, a Kenyan team including several police commanders visited Port-au-Prince to assess whether facilities were ready to accommodate a deployment.

A base for the MSS near Toussaint Louverture airport in Port-au-Prince is close to completion – boasting a medical facility and a trauma surgeon already on site – but the Kenyan delegation concluded that some equipment was insufficient. They were particularly concerned by a lack of helicopters for medical evacuations, multiple sources said, citing confusion over which nation would provide them. Kenyan authorities did not respond to CNN’s requests for comment.

Documents seen by CNN show that El Salvador had been floated as a potential provider of medevac helicopters, which Salvadoran Vice President Felix Ulloa played down as unlikely in comments to CNN.

“We would like to be part of the solution, but we would need a mandate clearly from the United Nations and the acceptance of the host country,” he said, adding that El Salvador could potentially offer its highly trained helicopter pilots and experts to oversee air operations for the MSS if called upon.

More equipment, including armored vehicles and radios, is expected to arrive in Haiti for the MSS over the coming days and weeks.

What now?

Experts on the ground say the Haitian government also has more work to do to lay the groundwork for the mission, particularly in communicating with the public – and even the gangs – about how it will work.

One source with experience in dealing with Haiti’s gangs said the Transitional Presidential Council should be developing messaging to the gangs themselves about potential “off-ramps” from outright confrontation with the MSS, potentially by turning themselves in or otherwise seeking nonviolent resolution.

Haitian police union SPNH17 meanwhile told CNN that plans for their collaboration with the international mission were too opaque and questioned why there wasn’t more focus on providing material support to the local police.

“What we’re seeing is the international community working with a few sectors with no clear plans on what they’ll do and how. We don’t even know how we will communicate with the Kenyan police officers who speaks English. We speak French and Creole in Haiti,” the union said in a statement. “We believe only the Haitian police can provide long term security for Haiti. What we need are materials and logistical support.”

Haitian anti-corruption group Nou Pap Dòmi (NPD) echoed the concern about transparency, noting that there needs to be clear mechanisms of accountability for the foreign forces’ conduct in Haiti.

“While NPD believes that international support is necessary to address the crisis, we have always advocated for an approach that focuses primarily on strengthening the Haitian National Police so that it can address these challenges with lasting effect,” the group said in a statement to CNN.

Amid the continuing uncertainty this week about when the MSS will come, NPD said: “The Kenyan mission remains a mystery to the Haitian people; no one knows what it entails and there has been no communication on the matter, despite the arrival of several US military planes in Haiti.”

™ & © 2024 Cable News Network, Inc., a Warner Bros. Discovery Company. All rights reserved.

Article Topic Follows: CNN - World

Jump to comments ↓



KTVZ NewsChannel 21 is committed to providing a forum for civil and constructive conversation.

Please keep your comments respectful and relevant. You can review our Community Guidelines by clicking here

If you would like to share a story idea, please submit it here.

Skip to content