Caribbean Intervention: The United States Air Effort over Haiti

The United States have a long standing history of military interventions in the Caribbean since the early 1890s. A trend that continued during much of the Twenty Century with US operations in the Dominican Republic, Grenada, Panama and finally, Haiti. The small country of Haiti on the Island of Hispaniola has been ruled by a military dictatorship during much of its existence. It was not until 1990 and the election of President Jean-Beltran Aristide that the country enjoyed its first true contact with democracy. Unfortunately, that contact was short lived. The fragile Haitian democracy was overthrown by elements of the military within a year of Aristide’s election. What followed him was a series of weak civilian politicians and several military juntas which left the country in an even more precarious position. The last of those military dictators, General Raoul Cedras, assumed control of the country in 1993. Cedras and some of his officials negotiated a series of deals with the United Nations which would have paved the way for Aristide to comeback into power. But time and time again, Cedras neglected to meet UN conditions resulting in the Security Council Resolution No. 940. The (UN 940) authorized all member states to use force, if necessary, to restore Haiti’s legitimate president to power. With the threat of a large American military intervention, Cedras finally capitulated to UN demands and in an August accord with former US president Jimmy Carter the Haitian strongman finally permitted Aristide to return home. A date was set for the ousted President triumphant return home, the 16th of October 1994. This time, the US would not sit back and wait for Cedras to change his mind as he has so often have done before. The Americans wanted to pressure the General to live up to his word this time. Thus the threat of force was viewed by many in Washington as the only alternative to exert that pressure and restore democracy to the Haitians.

Accordingly to the UN mandate of July 1994, the United States took the lead in assembling a Multinational Force (consisting on a huge US contribution and small elements from a few Caribbean nations) to outs Cedras and restore democracy in Haiti. In early 1994, the US’ Department of Defense began preparation for an invasion of that small Caribbean nation. Two plans were carved out. The first, Operation Plan 2370 called for an overwhelming military assault from the air, sea and land against a resisting enemy. While OP 2380 envisioned a large force being deployed into the country with limited, if any, organize resistance. In the end due to the somewhat calm political situation in the country, it was a modified version of OP 2380 which was finally implemented. On September 19th, 1994 a contingency of 2,000 US ground troop, most of whom members of the US Army’s 10th Mountain Division based at Fort Drum, New York; were airlifted to ashore from US Navy warships assigned to Task Force 190 located just off the Haitian coastline. The US Army venerable fleet of UH-60s were use to ferry the troops inland while a force of AH-1 Cobra attack helicopters provided close support to the formation. All Army helicopters, fifty-strong, utilized the USS Eisenhower (CVN-69) as their main staging area during those critical early hours. The first time an Army air operation was launched from a Navy carrier since Vietnam.

The role of the US Air Force in Operation Uphold Democracy was less visible than on previous conflicts. The AF’s assets were utilized primarily as a supporting structure with a few notable exceptions. Elements of the AF air transport system such as units of C-5s stationed at Dover AFB in Delaware and at Griffiss AFB in New York; augmented by C-141s and C-130s from McGuire AFB in New Jersey; were use to transport troops and equipment from the US mainland to one of the Navy’s largest bases, Roosevelt Roads Naval Base in Puerto Rico. To monitor activity in the skies above the theater, the AF deployed E-3 Sentries from the 552nd ACW based at Tinker AFB, Oklahoma. For air cover, twenty four F-15C Eagles of the 33rd Fighter Wing were dispatched from Eglin AFB in Florida to Roosevelt Roads where they were joined by nine KC-135 refueling tankers. Because a full fledge invasion was not require, all F-15Cs returned to their home base after only four days in the theater. The rest of the AF component consisted of three EC-130E from the 42nd ACCS, 355th Wing based at Davison/Monthan AFB, Arizona. The EC-130s were use extensively to survey the battlefield. A single RC-135 River Joint aircraft was deployed to monitor electronic signals emanating from the theater. For close air support, the AF sent two pair of AC-130H Specter gunships to the area.

The workhorse of the AF’s force was its KCs tankers. KC-135s flew 297 sorties, totaling 1,129 flying hours, during the initial days of the operation. This high sortie number had not been seen in the Caribbean since the Granada operation almost ten years before. The sheer number of US troops, the initial 2,000 deployment was augmented by 15,000 more ground troops within a week, assured the stability of the country as its moved back to democracy. On March 31st, 1995, the powerful US-lead MNF transferred its responsibilities for security to a broader assemble UN Peacekeeping Force which as of today, still guarantees the security and stability of Haiti as it begins to stabilize itself.

– Raul Colon

References:
How to Make War: Fourth Edition, James F. Dunnigan, HarperCollins Publishers 2003
The Encyclopedia of 20th Century Air Warfare, Editor Chris Bishop, Amber Books 2001

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