Academic journal article Military Review

The USS Harlan County Affair

Academic journal article Military Review

The USS Harlan County Affair

Article excerpt

FROM A BALCONY of the Montana Hotel overlooking Port-au-Prince harbor, UN Special Envoy Dante Caputo stood with his mouth agape, his breath gone. His eyes were fixed on the fleeting fortunes of the UN's diplomatic solution to the festering crisis in Haiti.1 What he saw was a simple gesture, but a powerful and pervasive one. The USS Harlan County had weighed anchor and was quietly steaming out of Port-au-Prince harbor. The haze-gray hull, so small on the horizon, carried away with it the credibility of the international effort to restore democracy to Haiti.

Haiti's experiment with democracy in the postDuvalier era had been short-lived. Less than a year after becoming the freely elected president of Haiti in 1991, Jean-Bertrand Aristide was ousted by the head of his military, General Raoul Cedras. In the months that followed, the international community labored feverishly to restore elective government to Haiti. These efforts seemed to bear fruit when, in July 1993, the Organization of American States (OAS) and UN brokered the Governors Island Accords that provided for the return of Aristide from exile, the military junta members' early retirement and the lifting of international trade sanctions. The agreement also contained provisions for US and Canadian military advisers to reform the Haitian military and retrain the Haitian National Police (HNP).

To implement the Governors Island Accords military provisions, the US Atlantic Command (USACOM) created Joint Task Force Haiti Assistance Group (JTF HAG) and placed US Army Colonel J.G. Pulley, then 7th Special Forces Group commander at Fort Bragg, North Carolina, in command.2 JTF HAG was an ad hoc group that included various subject matter experts from all services. By August 1993, its assigned personnel converged on a makeshift headquarters set up in an obscure room in the USACOM compound at Norfolk, Virginia. Equipment and material were scarce; chairs became a precious commodity: individuals arriving at the headquarters had to wait for someone to leave before they could sit down. The assembled talent was impressive, but lacking standing operating procedures for a JTF staff and any experience in working together, staff members experienced several days of complete chaos.3

Less than a week into his command, Pulley gathered his principal players at the Norfolk Naval Base Officers Club where they laid out the overarching objectives for JTF HAG:

* Separate the HNP and military.

* Reform and professionalize the Haitian military.

It was understood that the Royal Canadian Mounted Police would retrain the HNP.4

The planning challenge was formidable and implementation would be difficult. Real-world pressure was already bearing down on the JTF staff, as the National Command Authority (NCA) wanted President Aristide back in power by the end of October. It was imperative that JTF HAG be operating in Haiti before Aristide's return. Pulley had little opportunity to work matters out with his new staff. His superiors within the US and UN command structures demanded most of his time, and he found himself inundated with insubstantial guidance from all quarters. To complicate matters further, US Army Lieutenant Colonel Michael Jones, the Special Forces (SF) Battalion commander of the site survey team in Haiti, informed the JTF staff on 16 September 1993 that the Haitians wanted only equipment, not personnel, and that the UN was adamant that Haitians would not be trained in small-unit tactics.5

Despite this initial turmoil, the JTF staff persevered, producing a detailed plan that, in its final version, reflected the individual talents of each member. The first formal briefing to the JTF commander was on 23 September. After that briefing, another plan, already in existence, was discovered, a particularly frustrating occurrence for the JTF staff.6

By September's end, two US Navy tank landing ships (LSTs) were ready to transport most of the JTF to Haiti. …

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