Haiti: US forces may not be suited to task: Relief on all sides and plaudits for Carter as bloodshed is averted, but Aristide's supporters fear worst is yet to come

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ALTHOUGH a deal has been done with the Haitian military leadership permitting the US to land unopposed, questions remain about their suitability for protracted, complex, peace-keeping operations. They will have to be maintained until the UN force assembling in Puerto Rico is able to take over from them, probably not for several months.

The entire landing force is under the command of Lieutenant-General Hugh Shelton, US Army, commander of XVIII Airborne Corps. He commands elements of 82nd Airborne, 10th Mountain Division and the US Marine Corps. Yesterday afternoon Lt-Gen Shelton and Major-General David Meade, commanding 10th Mountain Division, were reported ashore.

In previous US operations of this type, notably the invasion of Grenada in October 1983, all four US services have striven for prominence. This time, they are all under one command, a point stressed in UN Resolution 940 which authorises 'all necessary means' to be used to evict the Haitian military junta.

The 10th Mountain Division, based in Fort Drum, New York, provided the lead troops. They flew into Port-au-Prince airport on helicopters from the aircraft carrier USS Eisenhower. The 10th was selected, US military sources said, because they were light infantry, and because they have experience of peace-keeping operations in Somalia.

The 82nd Airborne Division, due to spearhead the airborne assault which was cancelled early on Monday morning, will probably not be involved in the initial landing. The 1,800 US Marines on board the USS Nashville and USS Wasp were yesterday still reported to be offshore.

Although Lt-Gen Shelton will agree terms with General Cedras, there is no guarantee that every Haitian will comply. A few rounds could be fired by 'freelancers' and such aberrations could provoke a powerful response from the Americans.

Many of Haiti's townships are easily set on fire. The hilly terrain provides ideal cover for snipers, firing down from the forested hills, against whom the US forces have traditionally invoked overwhelming firepower: helicopter gunships and bombers. In Haiti, such methods will be unacceptable or counter-productive.

Although Haiti's regular forces only number 7,400, there could be many more irregular forces. The US may have to intervene to separate feuding factions.