Canadian Armed Forces members support MINUSTAH close-out in Haiti

A group of soldiers pose for a photo.
Royal Canadian Air Force Col Claude Desgagné (centre) serves as chief of staff for the military component of the United Nations Stabilization Mission in Haiti. He appears beside the Force Commander, Brazilian Army LGen Ajax Porto Pinheiro and other military staff officers July 6, 2017 at force headquarters, Delta Camp, Port-au-Prince, Haiti. (Photo by Sgt Faizal Kasan, MINUSTAH).

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By Lucy Ellis, Canadian Joint Operations Command Public Affairs

After 13 years of supporting stability and security in Haiti, Operation HAMLET is coming to a close.
Operation HAMLET is Canada’s contribution to the United Nations Stabilization Mission in Haiti, commonly known as MINUSTAH.

There are currently five CAF officers deployed on this mission as part of Task Force Port-au-Prince, all of whom work at the MINUSTAH force headquarters. Over the years, the number of CAF members on this operation has fluctuated and their roles have changed. Most recently, the work of these officers has focused on supporting Haiti’s 2016 presidential elections and relief operations for Hurricane Matthew.

In April, the United Nations Security Council voted to close MINUSTAH on October 15, 2017, and to replace it with a smaller mission that will not include military forces. As a result, Operation HAMLET will also come to a close in October.

“The United Nations has concluded that this is the right time for the mission to end,” said Colonel Claude Desgagné, the MINUSTAH military component chief of staff and interim deputy force commander. “We’ve made tremendous progress in the security situation in Haiti since the mission started in 2004, and for the past year, especially, Haiti, although still very fragile, has experienced a largely secure and stable environment.”

As chief of staff, Colonel Desgagné leads a current cadre of 46 international officers at the force headquarters, located at Delta Camp in Port-au-Prince, Haiti. Headquarters functions include personnel, intelligence, operations, logistics, plans, communications, civil-military coordination and many other elements. The colonel provides strategic guidance to the staff and coordinates military efforts with the office of the Special Representative of the Secretary General, which has the overall lead for the mission.

The military component, led by a Brazilian army 3-star general, currently includes five international contingents: a Brazilian combat battalion, engineering units from Brazil and Paraguay, a Bangladeshi aviation unit and an Argentinian Field Hospital. There are currently 1274 troops remaining in the military component, steadily drawn down from a high of nearly 9000 soldiers in 2011, following the earthquake that devastated the country in 2010.

In addition to providing humanitarian relief after that earthquake, over the years troops have provided humanitarian assistance to numerous tropical storms and hurricanes, have supported every Haitian national election in the past 13 years, and have conducted many projects in the community, including renovating schools, drilling wells, distributing clean drinking water, and improving public infrastructure.

As the senior Canadian officer in the mission, Colonel Desgagné is also the Operation HAMLET Task Force commander, overseeing four other CAF officers: Major Delta Guerard, Major Bryan Ouellet, Major Rick Comeau, and Major Lilly Chen.

“We have a great team here,” the colonel said. “Our Canadian officers, working side-by-side with other international personnel, have successfully taken on a huge logistical task of planning the drawdown of a very large operation.”

“From a logistics perspectives, this is very complex,” he added. “You’ve got a lot of people to support, a lot of vehicles, a lot of accommodations, a lot of camp closures, and a lot of movements: sealift, airlift, transportation. There’s no shortage of work.”

While it has been busy, there has been clear progress towards the drawdown goals.

As the military forces withdraw, the Haitian government and the remaining UN police contingents are taking over their responsibilities.

For instance, Brazilian forces had been primarily responsible for security in Cité Soleil since around 2007. On June 30, that responsibility was handed over to the Haitian National Police. The handover has been a long-term process, with great care taken to ensure that the police officers are trained and prepared.

“We have conducted joint patrols with the Haitian National Police, and UN Formed Police Units, and international police officers for many years,” said Colonel Desgagné. “Along with the UN Police component, we’ve mentored the Haitian National Police and made sure that they were capable of not only patrolling and maintaining a presence, but also reacting to incidents very quickly. I’m optimistic that the Haitian National Police will be able to maintain a positive security situation in the country going forward.”

As October comes closer, Colonel Desgagné and his team of staff officers are working tirelessly to make the mission closure as smooth as possible.

“It’s a rewarding experience to be part of the conclusion of a major UN peacekeeping mission,” he said. “I’m proud of the work the troops have done here. They can leave with their heads held high, knowing they’ve made a positive difference for Haiti.”

Image gallery

  • Two soldiers shake hands. One soldier is holding a certificate.
  • A group of soldiers pose for a photo.
  • A group of soldiers pose for a photo.
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