Clinton administration officials say they are worried that an invasion of Haiti could set off a wave of assassinations and reprisals, and are scrambling to create a police force that would maintain law and order after any military action.
Senior administration officials said the maintenance of civil order after an invasion was the current focus of preparations and a major concern.With a likely date for an invasion fast approaching, President Clinton and Vice President Al Gore have telephoned a dozen world leaders in the last two days mainly to recruit international monitors to supervise an interim Haitian police force, an administration official said Saturday.
Although this is a crucial element of the administration's plan, American officials said other nations had so far pledged only about 200 of the 500 monitors needed, and those commitments, one State Department official said, "are carved in jello."
The Clinton administration has also differed with the Rev. Jean-Bertrand Aristide, the exiled president whom the invasion would restore to power, over an American plan to retrain and rehabilitate much of Haiti's security forces.
Gen. John M. Shalikashvili, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, met this week with Father Aristide in an effort to smooth over a dispute about how many members of the police should be drawn from the present Haitian security forces, whose loyalty to Aristide is in question.
Compounding the problem, American intelligence experts fear that the most violent wave of attacks by the Haitian military against anti-Aristide groups, as well as possible reprisals by pro-Aristide groups, would take place in the opening hours and days of the invasion, well before any Haitian police force could be trained and installed.
That would leave the American military with the job it wants least: maintaining order in a chaotic, strife-ridden nation in which rival groups would be trying to settle old scores.
In planning for the invasion, the American military is not skimping on force. The United States plans to send about 20,000 troops to restore Aristide, including Army troops, marines and Air Force AC-130 gunships and A-10 attack planes.
But top commanders said overcoming Haiti's overmatched military would be the easy part. The hard part will be keeping the peace in a volatile setting where, according to classified intelligence reports, ousted Haitian military leaders are likely to kill supporters of Aristide to alter the balance of power within Haiti and insure that they do not play a role in a transitional government.
The Clinton administration recognizes that the American troops will initially have primary responsibility for "restoring basic civil order," a senior official said. But top generals want to stop performing police functions as soon as possible and have American soldiers and military police do only specialized tasks, like protecting airports and seaports and conducting counter-insurgency missions.
"The issue has never been the invasion," an official said. "The issue is disorder right after the invasion. This could make what happened in Panama look like chicken feed." He was referring the looting and chaos that followed the United States invasion of Panama in December 1989.
Since the military ousted Aristide in September 1991, more than 3,000 Haitians have been killed, human rights groups say. Still, American experts argue that for all of the human rights abuses in Haiti, the Haitian military rulers have refrained from allowing more widespread killings in recent months for fear of triggering an American invasion and that the worst may be yet be to come.
One reason the Pentagon is planning such a large invasion force of 20,000, a senior administration official said Saturday, is to shock the Haitian into submission and to control the entire country.
"The key is not just to invade the country - it is to sit on the country," a government official said.
The Clinton administration has already received intelligence reports indicating that some local Haitian security forces have "hit lists" of local leaders they think would side with Aristide and of others they fear might lead mobs against them, administration officials said.
American intelligence has also reported that the Haitian security forces might light fires in Cite Soleil, a major slum in Port-au-Prince, and other strongholds of support for Aristide. According to one intelligence report, the security forces plan to blame American troops for the fires.
A top official said the White House and Pentagon were seriously concerned about the possibility of widespread disorder and killing.
"It could go both ways," a government official said. "You could have government types going out and trying to kill Malval and supporters of Aristide and Aristide supporters seeking retribution." He was referring to Robert Malval, the powerless caretaker prime minister appointed by Aristide.
Officials declined to discuss their plans to protect supporters of Aristide, but acknowledged that establishing order would initially be an American responsibility.
Latin leaders' ideas
Leaders from 14 Latin American countries Saturday called for the removal of Haiti's military regime through peaceful means and an end to the U.S. embargo of Cuba.
Participants in the VIII Rio Group Presidential Summit in Rio de Janeiro, which ends Saturday, called for Haitian military leader Lt. Gen. Raoul Cedras to immediately restore "authority to the legitimate and democratically elected leaders."
The document, released to the media by Argentine officials in Buenos Aires, called for "a peaceful solution to the crisis" and added that "acceptance of this call will avoid more serious situations."