Monday, March 8, 2010

US Troops Withdrawing From Haiti

ByRory Carroll
Earthquake survivors fear mass pullout of troops is a sign of dwindling international support

US army soldiers load their duffels prior to their departure from Haiti at the international airport in Port-au-Prince. Photograph: Andres Leighton/AP

Thousands of US troops are leaving Haiti in a swift scaling back of US military involvement in post-earthquake security and reconstruction.

A gradual reduction from a peak of 20,000 in early February has accelerated in recent days and by the end of this week fewer than 8,000 are expected to remain in Haiti and on offshore vessels.

"Our mission is largely accomplished," General Douglas Fraser, head of US Southern Command, which runs the Haiti mission, told reporters.

Many Haitians are not so sure. Survivors from the 12 January quake worried that the withdrawal signalled waning international support and that UN troops and Haitian police would struggle to keep security.

"I would like for [US troops] to stay in Haiti until they rebuild the country and everybody can go back to their house," Marjorie Louis, 27, a mother in a makeshift camp at the national stadium, told Associated Press.

Another family sheltering under a tarpaulin at another camp agreed. "They should stay because they have been doing a good job," Lesly Pierre, 35, said. "If it was up to our government, we wouldn't have gotten any help at all."

The 7.0-magnitude quake devastated the capital Port-au-Prince and, according to the authorities, killed more than 200,000 people and left 1.2 million homeless, about half of whom are living in squalid camps.

With basic infrastructure destroyed and the UN and Haiti's government paralysed the US military took control of ports and airports and aid distribution. The troops were welcomed by a stricken population grateful for any help.

However some aid agencies, notably Médecins sans Frontières, complained that military flights hogged the airport and diverted civilian aid aircraft to the neighbouring Dominican Republic. French and Italian officials said the US intervention was clumsy and overweening.

Leftist leaders such as Venezuela's Hugo Chávez and Cuba's Fidel Castro accused the US of conducting an imperial occupation under a humanitarian banner.

Despite widespread hunger and squalor – which could worsen with the imminent rainy season – the feared collapse in law and order did not materialise.

The situation remains potentially volatile. Last Friday crowds looted a UN food convoy travelling from Gonaïves to Dessalines. There is a question mark over the Haitian police and 10,000-strong UN force's ability to fill the gap left by dwindling US troops.

It was unclear how many US troops would remain over coming months. Of the 8,000 still on the Haiti mission about half were offshore.

Prospery Raymond, country manager for Christian Aid, said what people needed most was food, clean water and adequate shelter. "Once basic needs have been provided for, there will be no problem with security. A military presence is very costly, Christian Aid would rather see that money directed towards the needs of the Haitian people."

Source: Guardian.Co.Uk

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