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Clinton Defends US Military Role In Haiti

David Gollust | The State Department 25 January 2010

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is defending the heavy U.S. military role in Haiti, saying the earthquake relief effort could not succeed without the early use of Pentagon assets. Clinton discussed Haiti with Italian Foreign Minister Franco Fratini before leaving for the Canadian-organized emergency conference on Haiti in Montreal.

Clinton and her Italian counterpart reaffirmed the two countries' commitment to Haiti relief efforts, including the use of military assets, in the face criticism in Italy that U.S. operations in Haiti lean too heavily on the armed forces.

The United States has, among other things, committed a U.S. Navy aircraft carrier and hospital ship, massive Air Force airlift capacity, and Army airborne soldiers in the Haiti relief mission.

Asked about criticism of the military emphasis by an Italian politician at a press event with Fratini, Clinton said there will always be second-guessing in such circumstances.

"There is always an opportunity in the face of any disaster for what we in the United States call 'Monday morning quarterbacking.' But what we see is an enormously committed and effective international effort that could not succeed without additional military assets," she said.

Clinton noted an Italian navy ship is heading to Haiti carrying helicopters and a contingent of para-military police to help keep order, and said it is just easier for U.S. military assets to reach the country sooner, since Haiti is a neighbor.

Under questioning, the secretary of state also said proposals for United States and other countries to allow more legal Haitian immigration would be considered among options for the long-term recovery of that country.

"We are looking at every option that can provide a better future for the Haitian people. This is largely, however, within the authority of individual countries. But we are certainly looking at that, and we will have more to say later," she added.

In the immediate aftermath of the earthquake, the Obama administration granted authority for Haitians in the United States without documentation to remain for another 18 months.

But it has warned Haitians who might attempt to leave the country by boat for the United States that they will be stopped and returned home.

Some foreign policy experts say increasing legal Haitian immigration would boost remittances going back to that country and lift the economy.

Foreign ministers and other officials from several Latin American countries, Spain and Japan, along with officials of the European Union and international financial institutions are among those attending the Montreal meeting, aimed at charting a long-term plan for Haitian recovery.

Leftist Latin American governments that have criticized the presence U.S. troops in Haiti, Venezuela, Bolivia and Nicaragua, are not taking part in the Montreal conference. But their foreign ministers met Sunday in Caracas to discuss their own assistance program.

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