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INSIGHT: Mission details for troops headed to Haiti still needed

ROYAL Bahamas Defence Force Commodore Raymond King.

ROYAL Bahamas Defence Force Commodore Raymond King.

By MALCOLM STRACHAN

THE prospect of Bahamian troops being deployed to Haiti edges ever closer – and yet we still do not really know what it is they will be doing.

What we do know is that the possibility of being sent out with no clear idea of what the mission will be while surrounded by gangs has already put some Bahamians off the idea of joining up with the Royal Bahamas Defence Force in favour of other organisations – and who can blame them?

Commodore Raymond King’s comments last week on the deployment were far from encouraging.

He said during a press briefing: “We have received our warning order from the Prime Minister that we will deploy, but we have yet to receive instructions explicitly in terms of the role or functions.”

Imagine that. Pack up your bags, we’re off to Haiti. No idea what we’re doing, but let’s go.

He told the press that there would be three platoons of at least 50 people per platoon, with a tour of duty lasting four months in Haiti.

He said: “Those persons have been selected from all of the main branches within the Royal Bahamas Defence Force: intelligence, administrations, operations, planning and communications. You need persons from all those disciplines, including interpreters, persons from our welfare unit, our chaplaincy office.”

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Police guard outside Haiti's National Police station in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, after the arrival of former coup leader Guy Philippe who was repatriated from the U.S. on Thursday, Nov. 30. (AP Photo/Odelyn Joseph)

We definitely need the chaplains, because it’s the only way we’ll have a prayer of success if the mission has not been defined.

Training had been carried out for the troops – though for what it is hard to say if the mission is so unclear – but even that is out of date now, according to the commodore.

He said initial training had been on “infantry optics” in an urban setting, but the situation, he says, has changed.

He said: “When I speak of it changing, the criminal gangs are now blocking humanitarian aid from getting to those who need it most.”

He pointed out ports being obstructed – though the gangs were doing that already more than a year ago.

Back in October of last year, the blockade of a major fuel terminal led to UN officials warning that it was causing famine to more than 19,000 people in Haiti and leading to food insecurity for four million more.

The gangs had surrounded the terminal in mid-September to demand the resignation of Haitian Prime Minister Ariel Henry and to protest the rise in gas prices after the government announced it could no longer afford to subsidise fuel costs.

That particular blockade – by the G9 coalition led by Jimmy Cherizier, aka Barbecue – was ended in November of last year with Haitian police taking control, but it is far from the only blockade carried out by gangs across Haiti.

So to say that things have changed is intriguing.

Gangs are still restricting movement between areas. Gangs are still carrying out kidnappings and demanding ransoms. Gangs are still threatening medical facilities, such as the attack last month on the Fontaine Hospital that saw bullets smashing through the windows and mothers with babies having to huddle on the floor to avoid being hit before being smuggled out by police in armoured cars. Some of the newborns had to be carried while being given oxygen. One baby died during the attack – during a breech birth because gunfire stopped medical staff from helping the mother.

After that attack, the hospital director and founder, Jose Ulysse, said that the state “had disappeared”. That attack was carried out by the Brooklyn gang, and also left dozens of homes on fire. That gang is led by Gabriel Jean-Pierre, AKA “Ti Gabriel”, who heads the gang alliance called G-Pep.

Between July 1 and September 30 this year, there have been more than 1,230 killings and 701 kidnappings – and there is a change here, in that those figures are more than double the figure reported during the same period last year.

So while the tactics of the gangs are not particularly changing, things are escalating.

Commodore King said: “In addition to the fuel, they are now creating obstructions for all of the major infrastructure in Haiti. Critical infrastructure includes electricity supply, communication, all of those required amenities society needs.”

He said RBDF officers would train with police officers in saturation patrols and anti-gang operations. Saturation patrols is an interesting thought – as there are only 9,000 active duty officers or so to police a nation of 11 million people. It is hard to saturate areas when officers are outnumbered so significantly to begin with.

If this sounds like we are going into a situation that is a hot mess, that is because it is. But we knew that. There are no elected officials to be found, the Prime Minister was an acting appointment that has prolonged without properly being sanctioned, and the police are the last men standing when it comes to stopping the gangs running completely wild.

Significant manpower is needed – and The Bahamas numbers will contribute to that alongside troops from Kenya and whoever else joins this coalition – but it remains concerning that no one seems to be saying what the goal is.

Is it to secure permanent access to fuel terminals? Is it to break up the blockades on the roads and keep travel open between parts of the country? Is it to safeguard food distribution?

What counts as a successful mission in this situation? And what constitutes the point at which the mission ends? Do we just pull out again after four months regardless? Or is there a defined goal that signals the end of our involvement? Will more troops go in after four months? Will four months become eight, 12, 16, 20, more?

The absence of discussion about what our troops will be doing if the deployment goes ahead is worrying – and the concerns can be seen by recruits voting with their boots and going to sign up elsewhere.

If Commodore King truly is having to prepare without explicit instructions on the role or functions of the force to be deployed, then he is operating with both hands tied behind his back and a blindfold on as well. He needs to be given exact details of what is required before troops are put in harm’s way. That’s not his fault – his duty is to serve as ordered, and he will do his best. But those above need to give him all the help he can get.

So send those chaplains, by all means, Commodore – because heaven help us.

Comments

birdiestrachan 7 months ago

It makes no sense someone is funding the gangs if one Defence force officer dies the Plp will rue the day, they can not change Haiti truth is they do not really want change the USA has no concern

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