U.S. Considers Sending Warships, Marines to Haiti

The United States is considering sending a three-ship group carrying U.S. Marines, headed by the helicopter carrier USS Saipan, to rebellion-torn Haiti as the Pentagon weighs a range of options to address the crisis, defense officials said on Friday.

The officials, speaking on condition of anonymity, said no deployment orders had been issued to send the Saipan group to Haiti from Norfolk, Virginia, but called that one of the options under review. It would take about two days for those ships to reach the impoverished Caribbean nation, one official said.

The other ships in the Amphibious Ready Group, which could carry about 2,000 Marines, are the dock-landing ship USS Oak Hill and the amphibious transport dock USS Trenton, the officials said. The Saipan is an amphibious assault ship that carries helicopters and AV-8B Harrier attack jets.

"They haven't received any orders and nobody has told them to go anywhere," one defense official said.

Miami-based U.S. Southern Command last week sent a four-member security assessment team to examine the safety of the U.S. Embassy in Haiti.

On Monday, Southern Command sent about 50 Marines to Haiti to protect the embassy and other U.S. facilities in the capital Port-au-Prince amid an armed revolt against President Jean-Bertrand Aristide.

Defense Department officials have not been enthusiastic about a military mission in Haiti, with some questioning U.S. strategic interests there. The U.S. military also is stretched thin by operations in Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere, although Pentagon officials said that would not prevent them from being able to mount a robust Haiti operation if necessary.

During the Clinton administration, the United States sent 20,000 troops to Haiti in 1994 to restore Aristide to power after a coup.

The Pentagon last summer sent a similar three-ship group carrying more than 2,000 Marines to the coast of Liberia amid political turmoil there. But pariah [sic]leader Charles Taylor flew into exile in Nigeria in August and most of the U.S. troops never sent foot on land.

[Source: Reuters, Washington, 27feb04]

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