United Nations Secretary General Kofi Annan asked the United States this week to consider sending troops to Haiti to support a U.N. peacekeeping mission beset by mounting armed challenges to its authority, according to senior U.N. officials.
Annan told Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice in a meeting at U.N. headquarters Tuesday afternoon that he may have to ask for American "boots on the ground" in the coming months to reinforce more than 6,500 Brazilian, Chilean, Argentine and other peacekeeping forces serving in Haiti, the officials said.
He expressed hope that the United States would participate in a planned U.N. rapid reaction force, authorized by the Security Council earlier this month, that would have the firepower to intimidate armed gangs threatening the country's fragile political transition. Officials said that similar requests are being considered for other countries, including Canada and France. "We want scarier troops," one senior U.N. official said.
Annan told Rice that the Haitians "respect the U.S. military," according to a senior U.N. diplomat familiar with the closed-door meeting. Annan added that the United Nations may make a formal request for troops later, the diplomat said.
The plea from Annan comes weeks after Rice questioned the need for U.S. military intervention in Haiti, saying that it would be a "mistake" to abandon confidence in the ability of the Brazilian-led peacekeeping force to do the job. Rice provided Annan with no pledges of military support, officials said, but offered to help persuade France and Canada to contribute to the mission.
Following the meeting, Annan's office made no specific mention of his suggestion about U.S. troops. Instead, Annan's spokesman issued a statement saying that the U.N. chief had highlighted the "need for greater military support" for the U.N. mission during his talks with Rice.
The Pentagon has been weighing a request from the U.S. ambassador to Haiti, James B. Foley, and other senior U.S. officials to present an American show of force in the troubled Caribbean island nation, according to U.S. officials. The officials, who said they were not authorized to speak publicly on the issue, expressed concern that violence could spiral out of control, threatening the country's municipal and presidential elections scheduled for October and December.
U.S. and U.N. officials have begun a series of preliminary discussions about a possible U.S. military role in Haiti, including the provision of logistical and intelligence support to the planned U.N. rapid reaction force, according to senior U.N. diplomats. But the diplomats said that the United States, which currently has only four military staff officers serving in the U.N. mission, has made no formal commitment to expand its military presence.
The chief U.N. peacekeeping official, Jean-Marie Guehenno of France, declined to discuss the specifics of any military contacts with Washington. "At the moment, we are discussing a range of options," he said. "We don't exclude any options."
The Bush administration sent U.S. troops into Haiti in March 2004 to halt an upsurge of violence that culminated in former president Jean-Bertrand Aristide's flight from Haiti. A Brazilian-led U.N. peacekeeping force replaced the United States as the country's chief guarantor of security.
In Port-Au-Prince on Wednesday, hundreds of U.N. peacekeepers raided a slum filled with gangs loyal to Aristide, killing six gunmen. The largely Brazilian force suffered no casualties during the eight-hour offensive. About 300 soldiers participated in the operation. Troops detained 13 suspected criminals and turned them over to Haitian police.