American commandos were set to kidnap Haiti's military leader Lt. Gen. Raoul Cedras as the U.S. invasion force headed for the Caribbean nation, a U.S. officer says.
"They were cocked and loaded to get him," Capt. Chris Hughes, of the U.S. Army's Rangers, said Monday, confirming reports from other military sources.Members of the Special Operations Command, aided by sophisticated tracking equipment and intelligence reports, had been in Haiti for weeks and planned to capture Cedras to throw the Haitian military's high command into confusion.
A last-minute agreement between the United States and Cedras put a halt to the abduction plan, and instead of invading, the Americans peacefully occupied the country. On Monday, Cedras was no longer a kidnap target, but a partner in U.S.-led efforts to establish democracy and oversee his peaceful resignation.
Other special forces members who had been readied for the invasion included some 100 soldiers armed with sniper rifles, some with noise-suppression devices and laser sighting units. Reporters traveling with the invasion force saw the soldiers during a stop at the U.S. Naval base at Guantanamo, Cuba.
Navy SEAL commandos had also been on Haitian soil at least 10 days before the planned attack and reconnoitered the shoreline, U.S. officials said. Specialists fluent in Creole had also been ashore.
Although the unopposed arrival of the Americans went smoothly, Hughes - a veteran of the 1989 Panama invasion - and other combat-hardened troops believe their occupation of this complex, violent country may be another matter.
The soldiers' orders put them squarely in the middle of any fighting between Haitian factions.
There is widespread fear that the resignation of Cedras or the arrival of the elected president he helped to topple, Jean-Bertrand Aristide, will trigger revenge attacks by Aristide's followers against the military and its henchmen. Cedras must leave office by Oct. 15 under the terms of the accord, and President Clinton has pledged to restore Aristide to power.
"My concern is that those who were oppressed will try to get revenge," said Hughes in an interview at Port-au-Prince's airport. He spoke as hundreds of soldiers from the U.S. Army's 10th Mountain Division in Fort Drum, N.Y. - many of them veterans of Somalia - piled out of an airplane.
He said the mission was to step in to halt violence involving the army and civilians. "I think we will eventually be involved in skirmishes."
Utah Air Guard
At least one KC-135 aerial refueling tanker from the Utah Air National Guard is involved in military operations in Haiti.
Guard spokesman Lt. Scott Scharman said he is still awaiting Pentagon approval to release information about how long the Utah Air Guard has been involved and where the tanker is operating.
The tankers provide in-flight refueling for a variety of military aircraft. Their flying range and Haiti's close proximity to the United States make it likely the tanker is operating from a domestic base near the Gulf Coast.