White House Blamed for Secret Unit at Waco: Delta Force for Fighting Terrorism, Not Law Enforcement

Article excerpt

The three Delta Force commandos at the Branch Davidian compound in April 1993 were part of an elite unit the military secretly founded in 1977 to combat world terrorism.

While their use as on-scene observers was legal, a military expert is faulting the Clinton administration for putting the soldiers in a domestic law enforcement setting where innocent people died in a horrible blaze.

Said Al Santoli, a House national security aide, "Delta Force is our most sophisticated task force against terrorists and to think that Delta would be used is an abuse of their power and an abuse of their mandate. What happened in Waco was strictly a law enforcement matter."

"Delta Force is not hostage negotiating. They are action guys against terrorists," said Mr. Santoli, an aide to Rep. Dana Rohrabacher, California Republican. "They are experts who deal with the most violent and sophisticated international terrorist forces."

A Pentagon spokesman said yesterday the three Special Forces soldiers were at Waco strictly as observers in hopes of learning something new on hostage rescue.

For years, the Pentagon refused to acknowledge Delta Force's existence, even as such public failures as Desert One and Somalia came to light. Now, the military concedes there is such a 400-man unit trained in a fenced area of Fort Bragg, N.C., home to the Joint Special Operations Command. But its work still remains top secret.

Delta Force was the brainchild of two hardened Vietnam warriors, Col. Charles Beckwith and Maj. Richard Meadows. They recognized that the growing threat of global terrorism heightened the prospect that Americans would be taken hostage overseas. A special unit was needed, they argued, to rescue them.

Unfortunately, Delta Force's first notoriety stemmed from failure. Some of its members participated in the botched Desert One operation in 1979 to free 66 American hostages from the U. …