Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Marine Unit Headed for Afghanistan Now Rerouted to Haiti

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Marine Unit Headed for Afghanistan Now Rerouted to Haiti

Article excerpt

The 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit, set to deploy to support the mission in Afghanistan, is now headed to Haiti first. It's a sign of the depth of the humanitarian crisis.

The Pentagon announced Wednesday that it would send a second Marine unit to Haiti to support what has become an expanding relief effort for the Defense Department, deepening the American military's role there.

About 4,000 marines and sailors from the 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit, Camp Lejeune, N.C., who were scheduled to leave for Afghanistan this week, will instead steam to Haiti to support humanitarian relief operations. The unit will still continue on to the Arabian Sea for its scheduled deployment in the coming weeks.

But the decision to re-route the Marines points up the depth of the need for humanitarian assistance in Haiti, which experienced a severe aftershock Wednesday. It also presents the Pentagon with a delicate balancing act, since the already-overstretched US military can ill afford to get mired in a security-and-stabilization mission.

The US must do as much as it can while taking care not to create a false expectation, says Tony Cordesman, an analyst at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, a think tank in Washington.

"There are strong reasons not to deploy US forces to Haiti because if you do, you get a mission of dependency," says Mr. Cordesman. "We have to be very, very careful about our rhetoric; amidst a crisis, you want to assure people we will do what we can, but we cannot do what we can't."

Avoiding a long-term entanglement

Military officials recognize the need to stay out of Haiti for the long-term, especially as they manage two wars that have already taxed their vast resources.

"We'll be there only as long as necessary," said a senior military official at the Pentagon Wednesday. "But between being there as quickly as possible and staying as long as necessary, a lot of those things will be conditions-based, as opposed to time- based."

The official, who spoke at a briefing by agreement without being named, said it is still too soon to tell if the military's stay will be weeks, months, or longer.

But while other countries and relief organizations are providing much help, the capabilities of the American government may make it difficult for President Obama to extract the military from Haiti, which has long suffered from enduring poverty, instability, political corruption, and debilitating class divisions. …

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