Biden administration overrides GOP, authorizes $109 million for Kenyan force for Haiti

After months of being blocked by Republican lawmakers from funding an armed security mission to Haiti, Secretary of State Antony Blinken has directed the State Department to proceed with $109 million in funding to help special-forces cops from Kenya deploy to Haiti to help the country’s beleaguered national police battle armed gangs.

Blinken’s decision, which has become known as the “nuclear option,” overrides a Republican hold on the funds, which along with several court challenges in Nairobi has delayed the mission’s deployment. With Blinken’s authorization, there is not only money to purchase equipment a Kenyan security assessment team has said is needed prior to the officers’ arrival in Port-au-Prince, it also sends a strong signal to other nations.

“By moving forward with the obligation of resources, the Secretary is also indicating to other countries the sincerity and seriousness of our commitment, in part to incentivize others to increase their own contributions to the mission,” a senior State Department official told the Miami Herald.

At least six other nations, including Jamaica and Benin, have told the United Nations they plan to send their own police officers as part of the the mission. Yet the countries have been slow to either provide equipment or put money in a mission trust fund managed by the U.N.

This has left the U.S., which has pledged $300 million, shouldering most of the burden. However, while the Defense Department has had no issues with securing its $200 million in funding, the State Department has hit congressional roadblocks after requesting $50 million of the $100 million it pledged.

On Capitol Hill, aides to two GOP lawmakers, Rep. Michael McCaul of Texas and Sen. Jim Risch of Idaho, have questioned the plan while their bosses have refused to lift the block on the State Department’s request. Last month, the lawmakers also blasted President Joe Biden for authorizing a $60 million military aid package using what is called Presidential Drawdown Authority to get rifles and ammunition into the hands of the Haiti National Police, and to help the Kenya-led force to deploy.

Despite those efforts, hopes for a deployment last month were dashed after a Kenyan assessment team, visiting Port-au-Prince to review the country’s readiness to receive the mission, said there were not enough armored vehicles to move the foreign troops around, and a deficit of radios and communications equipment. The team also pointed out the need for helicopters to evacuate casualties.

The State Department official said the $109 million will help cover equipment, and the U.S. government has been able to provide additional vehicles and radios through various sources to address some of the issues raised and to enable the mission to grow to its full capacity and be sustained over time. Though the mission is expected to have as many as 2,500 personnel, police officers will be deployed in phases.

Without providing specifics, the State Department official said the new funding “is critical to enable the success” of the Multinational Security Support mission, or MSS, and for the Haiti National Police to battle gang violence.

Since Feb. 29, powerful gangs have led a deadly rampage throughout Port-au-Prince, the country’s capital. They’ve taken over police stations, attacked key government infrastructure and forced more than 100,000 people to flee their homes. Though there is currently a lull in the coordinated attacks that blanketed the capital for nearly three months, over the weekend 11 people were massacred by members of an armed gang in a rural town north of Port-au-Prince in the Artibonite Valley.

“The people of Haiti cannot wait and Secretary Blinken made the necessary decision to follow through with our commitment to support the MSS mission, the personnel deploying to the mission and the HNP [Haiti National Police] in their efforts to provide security to the Haitian people,” the State Department official said. “Of course, we remain committed to close consultation with Congress.”

The repeated delays have led to doubts about whether the mission will actually happen. Though U.S. officials have declined to provide a date, citing security concerns, they insist that deployment will happen soonm , based on assurances from the Kenyan government. The government, which now faces a new court challenge over the deployment, has said the litigation should not affect the police officers’ arrival.

The Multinational Security Support mission, which Kenya first volunteered to lead almost a year ago in July, was first approved by the U.N. Security Council in October.