U.S. deploys Marines anti-terrorism team to Haiti to secure embassy amid gang violence

The United States has sent a Marines anti-terrorism team to Haiti to protect the U.S. Embassy in Port-au-Prince, where widespread gang violence has led to the resignation of the country's prime minister. File Photo by Johnson Sabin/EPA-EFE

March 13 (UPI) -- The U.S. Marines has sent its anti-terrorism security team to Haiti to protect the U.S. Embassy in Port-au-Prince, where widespread gang violence has consumed the capital, days after the country's prime minister announced his resignation.

A Marine Fleet Anti-Terrorism Security Team, or FAST, unit is currently on the ground in Port-au-Prince, according to a statement Wednesday from U.S. Southern Command, which did not specify when the team arrived.

The U.S. State Department made the request that FAST go to Haiti, where the team "is prepared with a wide range of contingency plans to ensure the safety and security of U.S. citizens in Haiti."

The command says the U.S. Embassy remains open, but in limited capacity, after U.S. military airlifted non-essential personnel to safety.

According to the independent ACAPS humanitarian analysis nonprofit organization, 80% of Port-au-Prince currently is under gang territorial control.

Heavily armed gangs have attacked government sites and prisons, leading to the escape of more than 3,500 inmates. Escalating gang violence also has forced the closure of businesses and schools, and it has displaced 15,000 people from their homes.

"For more than a week, our county has seen an increase in acts of violence against the population. Assassinations, attacks against law enforcement, systemic looting, destruction of public and private buildings," Prime Minister Ariel Henry of Haiti said earlier this week, as he announced his resignation.

Henry announced Monday that his government would "immediately" step down following the installation of a transitional presidential council.

Henry's announcement came hours after U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Caribbean leaders met in Jamaica to discuss the creation of a transnational council in an effort to quell Haiti's escalating crisis. Blinken announced the Pentagon would double its support for a United Nations security mission to Haiti from $100 million to $200 million. He also promised Haiti $33 million in humanitarian assistance.

In response to the violence, the Dominican Republic has tightened its borders against undocumented Haitians as many, seeking to flee the bloodshed, are being turned away.

"People living in the capital are locked in, they have nowhere to go. People fleeing cannot reach family members and friends in the rest of the country to find shelter," Philippe Branchat, the International Organization for Migration's chief in Haiti said in a statement Saturday.

"The capital is surrounded by armed groups and danger. It is a city under siege."