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The Clinton White House and the Pentagon have telegraphed the U.S. military's preparations for an invasion of Haiti that would use overwhelming force, including an innovative plan to put thousands of U.S. Army soldiers to sea on a naval aircraft carrier.

While aimed at driving Haiti's Gen. Raoul Cedras and his cohorts from power without having to fire a shot, such preparations can be costly, both politically and financially.They carry the risk that once tens of thousands of troops are tapped for duty, President Clinton will have little choice but to follow the saber-rattling with military action or face renewed criticism for waffling.

Clinton, Vice President Al Gore and top national security advisers met Saturday at the White House to discuss Haiti, but made no final decisions, said Press Secretary Dee Dee Myers.

Any major troop movement - even the normal exercises for the nation's soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines - can take a toll, given the deadly weaponry and machines the modern military works with every day.

As one four-star officer said bluntly Friday when discussing the potential dispatch of some 20,000 troops in an invasion force, "Anybody who thinks this is a cakewalk is dead wrong."

The cost of dispatching some 12 cargo ships to send military vehicles and other supplies to Haiti is expected to run $440,000 a day, officials said.

The strategy of throwing as much force as possible at an opponent is not one that Defense Secretary William Perry is averse to, according to those familiar with his thinking.

The idea was a favorite of former chairman of the Joint Chiefs, Gen. Colin Powell, who used it in the invasion of Panama and Operation Desert Storm. It has been adopted by Perry and his top generals, those officials say, particularly to help keep combat deaths to a minimum.

Ted Warner, the Pentagon's assistant secretary of defense in charge of policy and strategy, declined last week to detail U.S. plans for Haiti but said that the United States was committed to "a stable and secure environment" in the Caribbean nation to help return ousted President Jean-Bertrand Aristide to power.

Sending the carrier USS Eisenhower into Haiti might seem laughable, given that Haiti has no air forces worth speaking of, and the leadership may have only a few Piper Cubs that U.S. intelligence officials believe might be used to flee the Caribbean nation.

But most of the 60 or so combat aircraft and fighter planes that normally give the carrier its long-distance fighting punch won't be on the vessel, with its crew of some 3,500 sailors.

Instead, several thousand troops from the 10th Mountain Division at Fort Drum, N.Y., will be on board. As light infantry, they lack the heavy tanks and artillery that are the hallmark of the Army's major fighting divisions, and are trained to move into combat rapidly.

The 10th Mountain was deployed in Somalia after the withdrawal of the Marine divisions, and has had some role in helping design the training of the multinational peacekeeping force that is supposed to restore a democratic structure to Haiti with the return of Aristide.

The move to place the Army soldiers on board the naval vessel clearly shows the involvement of two of the military's top theorists, Army Chief of Staff Gen. Gordon Sullivan and Adm. Paul D. Miller, who heads the U.S. Atlantic Command. Sullivan and Miller have worked closely to advance the use of several military services in the same operations.

The Haiti plan envisions a major role for the Army, to the chagrin of some members of the Marine Corps, which fiercely guards its role as a combat force particularly trained for amphibious invasions - moving from the sea and capturing targets on land.

However, the 1,800 Marines currently conducting highly publicized amphibious landings in the Caribbean will play a leading role in any Haiti invasion by helping take some critical ports or airfields and evacuating those Americans who might want to leave, officials said.