Haiti Interim Force Rises to 3,300; Confiscates Arms

By Jim Garamone

The troop level in Haiti has risen to 3,300, and members of the Multinational Interim Force now are stabilizing parts of the troubled country beyond the capital of Port-au-Prince, Defense Department officials said here today.

Combined Joint Task Force – Haiti now has 1,800 U.S., 760 French, 330 Chilean and 340 Canadian military personnel assigned, U.S. Southern Command officials said. The operation now has a name: Operation Secure Tomorrow.

Under the command of U.S. Marine Brig. Gen. Ronald S. Coleman, troops of the force are confiscating illegal weapons as they come upon them, officials said. "(Confiscating weapons) is not one of the missions delineated by U.N. Security Council Resolution 1529," said Southern Command spokesman Lt. Cmdr. Chris Lounderman. "The mission is to return the country to stability and prepare the way for a follow-on U.N. force."

However, weapons in the hands of both rebels and the followers of former Haitian President Jean-Bertrand Aristide are a serious impediment to stability in the nation.

Disarming the illegally armed groups is a long-term process, officials explained. The force on the ground can start the process, but follow-on troops must continue it, Southern Command officials said, as gangs possess thousands of illegal weapons in Haiti.

U.N. officials have reported that markets have food, and that humanitarian relief is flowing to all regions of the country. Medical aid is most needed right now, said U.N. officials, and a long-term plan is needed to ensure the violence does not return.

United Nations officials said the U.N. assessment team has finished its look at what a follow-on force must need. The team is returning to New York today, and will make its recommendations to the Security Council shortly.