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US veterans dodge gun-wielding kids & checkpoints to save civilians from Haiti’s gangs in daring SAS-style missions

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AS Haiti descends into pure anarchy, a crack team of fearless US veterans are quickly becoming the “last hope” for foreign nationals trapped within the clutches of ruthless gangs.

Bryan Stern, 45, and his comrades are leading daring SAS-style land, sea and air missions into the heart of the lawless carnage to go where no one else dares.

Former Navy SEAL Bryan Stern is the founder and CEO of international rescue organisation Project Dynamo

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Former Navy SEAL Bryan Stern is the founder and CEO of international rescue organisation Project Dynamo
Footage Project Dynamo took on their missions inside Haiti as they rush to get US citizens and other foreign nationals out of lawless Haiti

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Footage Project Dynamo took on their missions inside Haiti as they rush to get US citizens and other foreign nationals out of lawless HaitiCredit: Project Dynamo
The fearless veteran-led rescue team have made their way through urban war zones and jungles to save those who asked for their help

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The fearless veteran-led rescue team have made their way through urban war zones and jungles to save those who asked for their helpCredit: PROJECT DYNAMO
Stern and his special ops-trained compatriots helping evacuating survivors of Hurricane Ian in 2022

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Stern and his special ops-trained compatriots helping evacuating survivors of Hurricane Ian in 2022Credit: Project Dynamo

Stern is the founder and CEO of Project Dynamo – a veteran-led, donor-funded, non-profit international rescue organisation.

In just over two years, it has led 610 missions and saved over 7,000 people from the world’s worst disaster zones – what they call “the grey space” where the US government can’t or won’t operate.

But they don’t just rescue stranded Americans. “If you’re a Brit in Haiti and I can get my helicopter on the ground, I won’t leave you behind,” the former Navy SEAL told The Sun.

Since their missions began last week, the grizzled special-ops team lost a plane in the jungle, had another make an emergency landing and have been dodging sporadic fire from machine gun-toting kids.

The straight-talking multi-tour combat vet explained: “Dynamo’s speciality is hard cases in hard places.”

Speaking from their temporary HQ in the Dominican Republic, Stern revealed that currently they’ve had over 160 evacuation requests from inside Haiti.

He couldn’t disclose how many they have saved so far for security reasons, however this highly experienced unit is famed for their ability to operate in unimaginably hostile environments.

They’ve led rescue ops in Gaza, Ukraine, Afghanistan, Sudan, flown into hurricanes and extracted hostages from behind enemy lines – but Haiti is a different ball game altogether, Stern explained.

For years, over 200 merciless gangs have helped to tear Haiti’s capital of Port-au-Prince apart, leading massacres and inflicting terror, sexual violence, torture and anarchy.

But at the end of February, the ruling gangs sparked a new dawn of violence that has left thousands dead amid widespread reports of murder, mutilation, rape, arson and kidnappings.

But as the Caribbean nation reels under a state of emergency, civilians – including several thousands foreign nationals – are caught in the crossfires.

Vigilantes set gang members on FIRE & cut victims’ hands off in ‘world’s most dangerous city’ as bodies pile up in Haiti

Yet, danger doesn’t seem to faze this battle-hardened veteran. “The nature of rescues are inherently dangerous. We are not war zone Uber.”

Hazards are everywhere, god-like, unseen, all-powerful… helicopters crash, planes run out of gas, all kinds of things happen.

Bryan Stern

Those that Project Dynamo have rescued so far from Haiti have been “absolutely terrified”, Stern said, and in desperate need of help.

“But so is every single person that we’ve ever rescued. It’s always the same story we hear. ‘I’ve called everyone, family, friends, the embassy, congressmen, senators, the state department, FBI, marines. And we’re out of ideas. We’re out of hope.’ 

“We’re never anyone’s first call. We’re their last hope.”

Thousands have been killed in the spiralling chaos and violence in Haiti as gangs attempt to expand their control

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Thousands have been killed in the spiralling chaos and violence in Haiti as gangs attempt to expand their controlCredit: Reuters
Haiti is barrelling towards the brink of collapse as gang leaders are believed to be gearing up to

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Haiti is barrelling towards the brink of collapse as gang leaders are believed to be gearing up toCredit: AFP
The Dynamo team have been swooping in on helicopters and planes to save terrified and stranded people

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The Dynamo team have been swooping in on helicopters and planes to save terrified and stranded peopleCredit: Project Dynamo
The rescuers were forced to take an unexpected boat trip after a plane suddenly ran out of fuel on a mission to Haiti

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The rescuers were forced to take an unexpected boat trip after a plane suddenly ran out of fuel on a mission to HaitiCredit: PROJECT DYNAMO

Comparing Haiti to other war zones, Stern said: “The gangs are violent and terrible and ruthless and all the things you see on TV. They are kids armed to the teeth with machine guns.”

All that unpredictability and disorder makes for a nasty concoction of hazards and their operations have been “extremely difficult”.

THE GANGS

“In conflicts like this, command and control is fractured and it becomes very hard to manage the situation,” Stern said.

Unlike terrorist groups, like Hamas – “who have a chain of command, a structure” – Stern said: “The gangs don’t necessarily have that.

“There’s clearly a leader, there’s clearly a bottom, but the middle isn’t exactly present. There’s no such thing as a captain of the gang. Not really, not in the real militaristic sense.

“So, there’s a lack of command and control and the situation is somewhere between a civil war and a protracted armed riot with a little bit more organisation.”

And kidnapping Westerners is big business for greedy gangs looking to make quick cash- which makes the need to get them out even more pressing.

“The number one revenue stream for gangs in Haiti is kidnapping for ransom and Westerners will pay,” Stern said.

“Whatever the circumstances behind any of these conflicts, at the end of the day most bad guys are capitalists.

“They’ve got their bills to pay, they’ve got soldiers to feed, gang members to arm. That’s true for Hezbollah as much as it’s true for the gangs in Haiti.”

THE MISSIONS

After the violence hit incomprehensible levels, those who could fled the capital to escape the violence.

Knowing that other rescue efforts have been “focused and fixated on Port-au-Prince”, Dynamo has been trying to reach those stuck in remote areas on the island.

Stern described rescuing groups that had escaped to the mountains or jungles and were trapped without drinking water of electricity.

And, the brave vet said that when it comes to missions in Haiti it’s not just about the machine gun-wielding gangster.

“Hazards are everywhere, god-like, unseen, all-powerful… helicopters crash, planes run out of gas, all kinds of things happen.”

And then there’s the boring stuff to think about. So far, Dynamo’s missions in Haiti have been plagued with unexpected administrative and logistical issues. 

I’m not afraid of war. I’m not afraid of guys with guns. I’m not afraid of any of that.

Bryan Stern

Tactically speaking, Stern said his team of vets can get to most places in Haiti in a 45-minute helicopter ride. “The terrain is easier, the distances….we are a two hours flight from Florida.

“But I’ll tell you, getting landing clearance from the Taliban was easier than getting landing clearance from the Haitians right now.”

He added: “There’s all kinds of challenges that are present in this conflict that usually aren’t so bad in other places.” 

Jimmy 'Barbecue' Chérizier leads Haiti's capital's most dangerous coalition of gangs and has become the figurehead for the new spiral of violence

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Jimmy ‘Barbecue’ Chérizier leads Haiti’s capital’s most dangerous coalition of gangs and has become the figurehead for the new spiral of violenceCredit: AP
Violence in Port-au-Prince has reached unprecedented levels a

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Violence in Port-au-Prince has reached unprecedented levels aCredit: AFP
Project Dynamo in action in Florida rescuing injured and trapped people from the disaster zone

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Project Dynamo in action in Florida rescuing injured and trapped people from the disaster zoneCredit: Project Dynamo
Stern wants any Brits in Haiti to know that 'I won't leave you behind'

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Stern wants any Brits in Haiti to know that ‘I won’t leave you behind’Credit: Project Dynamo

It’s part of Dynamo’s speciality to be ready for any possible problems, because as Stern said “there’s always problems”.

“Everyone talks about the kids with guns but really and truly the gangs aren’t even the worst problem that you have to worry about in Haiti,” he added.

The other day they had a plane go down in the middle of a jungle after strong tailwinds caused its engine to explode.

“Luckily there was just a pilot onboard but he had no communication, it was a very poor situation.

“That plane sat in the jungle for a day. And, how do you fix that? There’s no parts. Do you fly a maintenance crew out with parts when you already can’t find gas? What do you do?”

The pilot survived and managed to make his own way out of the jungle.

On another purely air-based rescue inside Haiti, it turned into an air, land and sea stealth mission.

Project Dynamo’s plane unexpectedly ran out of fuel in the middle of nowhere. Stern conceded: “We were in a complicated spot.”

The team found a boat to take them to land, borrowed a car and drove it eight hours across unknown terrain and through potentially gang-controlled checkpoints to get to their evacuees.

“Sometimes when there’s no music, you gotta create your own music. That’s part of what this is all about,” Stern said with the clear confidence of a man who knows how to get out of a tight spot.

“Our plan A is almost never what we actually execute. Because things change very rapidly. These situations are dynamic.

“It’s not: get on an aeroplane, fly to safety, and everything is cool. It never works that way. It’s always a free-riding circus. Rescues are always a mess.” 

WHAT NEXT?

“I’m not afraid of war,” said Stern. “I’m not afraid of guys with guns. I’m not afraid of any of that. I’ve been through a lot of war in my life.”

However, Stern is fearful as he – along with a growing chorus of aid agencies and human rights groups – cannot see a clear end to the violence in Haiti.

He said: “Generally speaking in war, it ends with a political solution. Both parties negotiate the terms of a peace deal, some sort of treaty is done and that kind of thing.

“That doesn’t really work with this.

“How do you get thousands of the most impoverished, disenfranchised kids and youths with machine guns who are having a good time using them to stop?”

The UN said that more than 33,000 have fled Port-au-Prince this month as the increasingly powerful gangs go from street-to-street and house-to-house murdering, raping and pillaging.

The armed bandits have targeted police stations, the main international airport and two of Haiti’s largest prisons, releasing more than 5,000 inmates.

Now, restless rumours are flying in the capital that the once warring but now increasingly united gang coalitions are gearing up for a coordinated attack to seize power and overthrow the government.

Port-au-Prince local Emmanuel, who has not given his real name due to security reasons, described the situation as “absolute chaos”.

He told The Sun: “Port-au-Prince is completely cut off from the rest of the country and the international world, all the services are down, people will starve.”

Emmanuel, who works with the most vulnerable in gang-controlled communities, said: “The human toll is devastating… people are scattered across the city, hiding in stadiums, churches, schools.

“Lots of the victims are just civilians who were in wrong place at wrong time.

“There is a sense of a whole level of hopelessness – every time we [Haitians] feel like we hit the bottom, it gets deeper.” 

Thousands have been killed, raped, maimed and kidnapped

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Thousands have been killed, raped, maimed and kidnappedCredit: Reuters
Stern - preparing for a mission inside Haiti - which are still ongoing as the team planes to save everyone they can

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Stern – preparing for a mission inside Haiti – which are still ongoing as the team planes to save everyone they canCredit: Project Dynamo
1.3 million Haitians are at risk of famine, the UN says

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1.3 million Haitians are at risk of famine, the UN saysCredit: Reuters
Haiti's police force is outmanned and outgunned by the powerful armed gangs

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Haiti’s police force is outmanned and outgunned by the powerful armed gangsCredit: Reuters
A body lies outside a police centre

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A body lies outside a police centreCredit: AFP
The UN said Haiti is dangling over an abyss

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The UN said Haiti is dangling over an abyssCredit: Reuters
residents in Port-au-Prince have constructed makeshift barricades made of kitchen appliances and clothes

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residents in Port-au-Prince have constructed makeshift barricades made of kitchen appliances and clothesCredit: Reuters

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