Night attack: one scenario for invasion

July 17, 1994|By Gilbert A. Lewthwaite | Gilbert A. Lewthwaite,Washington Bureau of The Sun

WASHINGTON -- In darkness, Army Rangers, their faces blackened, parachute onto the airfield. Navy SEALs, in scuba gear, emerge from the waters around the port.

The clandestine Delta Force slips through the streets of Port-au-Prince to the homes and offices of the military dictators.

Marines leap from helicopters and landing craft to seize command and communication points in the capital. And the 82nd Airborne paratroopers descend from the night sky to join the attack.

That is how an invasion of Haiti would start, according to experts inside and outside the Pentagon.

"It's pretty much a standard package," says retired Marine Lt. Gen. Bernard Trainor, who was the Marines' operations deputy during the 1983 U.S. invasion of another Caribbean island, Grenada.

All preparations made

The Clinton administration has not taken the politically charged decision to order such an invasion. But the military, despite serious misgivings about intervention in Haiti, has made all the preparations.

It has practiced landings by special operations forces. It has rehearsed the evacuation of American civilians. It has positioned 2,000 Marines with the USS Inchon amphibious ready group off Haiti's shores.

The troops of the 82nd Airborne, using night-vision devices, were out last week practicing night jumps over Fort Bragg, N.C.

All, in the words of one Pentagon official, to "keep the razor's edge."

The USS Mount Whitney, a communications ship able to coordinate joint operations, is expected to arrive off Haiti this weekend to take over from the helicopter carrier USS Wasp as the command ship.

All that is needed for an invasion is the word "Go."

The invasion would start in the dark for two reasons: to seize the element of surprise and to minimize civilian casualties. The Rangers and SEALs would be the first ashore, for reconnaissance operations and possibly to seize invasion points the docks and the two airstrips -- one civil, one military -- near Port-au-Prince. The Marines would arrive by helicopter and landing craft to help secure them.

They would target the presidential palace and its guard, military and police command posts and barracks, the TV and radio stations, and the telephone exchange. They would also reinforce the guard at the U.S. Embassy and be ready to evacuate, or protect, the 3,500 U.S. citizens in Haiti.

At the same time, the 82nd Airborne would land in Port-au-Prince and parachute into other parts of the island, fanning out to secure roads, seize provincial towns and prevent a possible blood bath of attacks on government officials and militia by vengeful civilians.

Leaders are targeted

The Delta Force would try to grab military and police leaders and their henchmen.

"In such a situation, simply grabbing the top two or three people and top command sites would be sufficient to throw it into disarray," said Loren B. Thompson, military analyst with the Alexis de Tocqueville Institution, a moderate-conservative Washington think tank.

In Grenada, local opponents of the ousted regime tipped U.S. forces off to their hiding places. U.S. commanders hope this might also happen in Haiti.

Facing the U.S. onslaught would be 7,600 Haitian army troops and 1,200 militia, most poorly equipped, trained and led.

According to Pentagon intelligence reports, the infantry is armed with World War II-vintage M-1 carbines, and Israeli-made Uzis and Galil assault weapons.

The Haitian army has one .30-caliber, World War II-era machine gun.

10 howitzers

The single heavy-weapons company has six light armored vehicles, one of them armed with a 90mm gun, the rest with 20mm cannon.

On the rare day when its equipment is all working, the company can muster five 105mm howitzers and five 75mm howitzers.

The air force has five trainers, only one of which has been seen in the air recently. It has about a dozen small Cessna transport planes and no armed helicopters. It has no ground-to-air missiles.

The navy has four patrol boats, only two of which are usually operable. They were last seen at sea in October. The navy has no mines.

"Looked at from the standpoint of the Haitian military, they don't stand a chance, and they know it," said General Trainor, the retired Marine who now directs the national security program at Harvard University. "Some may just acquit their honor by firing a few rounds, and then give up. Most will get out of uniform."

An intelligence analysis circulating in the Defense Department predicts "no significant military resistance . . . some military hotheads."

Some military experts believe that if the invasion began before dawn, the battle would be over by breakfast. Others are more cautious.

"That assumes everything goes perfectly," said an Army official.

"It would be more prudent to prepare for the worst and hope for the best," said Chief Warrant Officer Robert Jenks, a Marine Corps spokesman. "I would never put a time frame on something like that. There's always the uncertainty and the fog of conflict."

Post-invasion problems

Once the initial invasion succeeded, the real problems would come: the possibility of riots and terrorist attacks, an outbreak of revenge killings, and the need to distribute humanitarian aid to a desperately needy population.

Noting that several thousand paid thugs are on the junta's payroll in Port-au-Prince, the Pentagon analysis warns that the "potential for mob violence poses a threat for whoever goes in."

To cope with this, the United States would quickly fly in military police and other peacekeeping troops, while putting together an international force to take over after order was restored.

U.N. Secretary General Boutros Boutros-Ghali on Friday recommended a peace-keeping force of 15,000, and asked the Security Council to back U.S. efforts to put together an inter-American force to establish order once Haiti's military leaders were out of power.

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