Rules of Engagement Shift in Haiti

U.S. Rules of Engagement Shift in Haiti

U.S. Marines sent to quell violence in Haiti have received new orders to seize guns from Haitians they encounter on patrol and to open fire, if necessary, to prevent further killings, the senior American commander in the region said yesterday.

The formal rule changes are designed to deter violence and protect 2,500 foreign peacekeeping troops from gunmen waging a brutal power struggle in the aftermath of President Jean-Bertrand Aristide’s resignation, said Gen. James T. Hill, chief of the U.S. Southern Command.

“These gunmen posed a threat to our forces,” Hill told reporters at the Pentagon. “Any loss of life is regrettable, but we will simply not tolerate acts of violence against our multinational forces or innocent Haitians.”

Hill outlined a more aggressive approach than the Pentagon first signaled when President Bush dispatched troops last week to help restore order to the scarred Caribbean nation. U.S. commanders, hopeful the presence of U.S. troops in battle gear would calm the city, had declined to say whether Marines would try to control street violence.

But the violence, including revenge killing and looting, has continued since the Marines landed. Hill said U.S. troops on patrol have been fired upon “a handful of times.” Three attacks occurred Tuesday night, when Marines killed two Haitians who had fired at them, a military spokesman said.

Ongoing bloodshed and the assertive tactics outlined by Hill illustrate the perils faced by the White House in a military mission that did not exist two weeks ago when Secretary of State Colin L. Powell was still trying to persuade Aristide and the democratic opposition to accept a power-sharing arrangement.

One wonders what the previous ROE were; I’ve never heard of sending Marines in with orders that they’re not allowed to return fire. Perhaps it’s just the confiscation of weapons? If so, that’s not really an ROE issue.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.