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U.S. Military Role In Haiti Met With Mixed Emotions

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U.S. Military Role In Haiti Met With Mixed Emotions

Latin America

U.S. Military Role In Haiti Met With Mixed Emotions

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  • <iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
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It's MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Steve Inskeep.

Haiti's slow recovery puts certain demands on the United States, which we'll hear about in this part of the program. In a moment, we'll meet Haitian students in south Florida now.

First, we'll report on the U.S. military, which sent 20,000 troops to Haiti. They've been distributing food and providing medical aid, and it's not clear how long they will be staying. NPR's Juan Forero reports from Port-au-Prince.

JUAN FORERO: It's early morning and an American military convoy is on the move, U.S. Army paratroopers who've been training for deployment in Afghanistan.

Unidentified Man #1: (Unintelligible)

FORERO: Except these soldiers from the 82nd Airborne are going to into Cite Soleil, It's a huge and notoriously violent slum, these days filled with hungry people, very hungry people.

Unidentified Man #2: (Foreign language spoken)

FORERO: Forty men from Alpha Company provide security as sacks of rice are handed out to Haitian mothers - American-grown, long grain rice, stamped with the stars and stripes. Captain Andrew Salmo is in charge.

ANDREW SALMO: A lot of the combat veterans are like, well, I'm happy here because I'm not, you know, in as much danger. And we were ready to deploy, and we were looking forward to a combat deployment. But this has been rewarding in a lot of ways.

FORERO: The shift to Haiti means that instead of treating wounded soldiers, medic Antonio Rivera helps Haitians balance the heavy bags.

ANTONIO RIVERA: It feels great, actually.

FORERO: One after the other, the women thank the tall, strapping soldier from Wisconsin.

American forces were quickly deployed after the quake. Doctors aboard a military hospital ship operated on mangled people; air-traffic controllers got the airport up and running. The global response, though, is at a new stage, focusing on housing and sanitation.

For the troops, it means handing out tarps and poles and ground coverings to get people ready for the rainy season, and helping with a U.N. effort to build latrines.

LEWIS LUCKE: all of these are absolutely critical for the next stages.

FORERO: That was Lewis Lucke talking to reporters about the U.S. military presence in Haiti. He's the U.S. coordinator for relief and reconstruction. And he says American forces have scaled down, to 7,000 soldiers on the ground and another 6,000 servicemen on ships just offshore.

Lt. Col. Ken Keen, commander of American forces here, says there are no plans to leave soon.

KEN KEEN: At the present time, there's still great need across the board, and we still remain decisively engaged, providing critical assistance to the government of Haiti.

FORERO: American military involvement in Haiti in decades past has not been free of controversy. U.S. Marines occupied Haiti for 19 years until 1934. And American forces intervened in 1994 to reinstall a president who'd been overthrown.

An analyst who closely tracks Haiti, Larry Birns, says the Obama administration needs to be mindful of that history.

LARRY BIRNS: Well, of course, there's a lot of angst on the part of Haitian intellectuals over this. I mean, they hate the idea of having the United States periodically come in. It's patronizing to Haitian history. And it's condescending attitude that after all, Haiti, unlike other countries, you can expect much less from.

FORERO: Jean Philippe Mirvil is among those intellectuals. He was rescued by American troops - pulled from the rubble after he was trapped six days.

JEAN PHILIPPE MIRVIL: (Foreign language spoken)

FORERO: He says Haitians welcome the American help, but once their work is done, Mirvil says, they'll have to leave, and Haitians will have to run their own country.

The Army has established a command center on the grounds of a university, on the edge of the city. Soldiers there monitor live video of food distribution sites across the capital.

Colonel Chris Gibson says the video is shot from unmanned Predator aircraft. That permits the U.S. to respond quickly if security is needed. The setup is elaborate. It's in a huge air-conditioned tent, one of many dotting a field. But Gibson says it can all be come down in an instant, if Washington deems the mission complete.

CHRIS GIBSON: We're all consistent with the theme that we're here to help the Haitian people in their moment of dire need. And then when that time passes, we have no intention of staying in Haiti.

Juan Forero, NPR News.

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