US needs to learn lessons of past military interventions

US FORCES appear poised to lead an operation to remove the military regime in Haiti. But experts fear that a US attack could lead to a fiasco and possibly to unacceptable casualties if the US has failed to assimilate fully the lessons of Grenada, Panama and Somalia.

Major-General Julian Thompson, who commanded 3rd Commando Brigade in the 1982 Falklands war, said yesterday: 'I hope they've learned the lessons this time. They have to get the command and control right. It needs to be an all-amphibious operation instead of the free-for all party that Grenada was.'

Two Pentagon studies into Somalia have still not been released because they are 'politically embarrassing', according to officials familiar with their contents. They stressed the need to build public support in the US before intervening, to ensure that political and military goals are consistent, to define a realistic objective, and to pull out as soon as it is achieved.

US sources yesterday suggested, however, that the operation could take account of these lessons. They described the main 1,800-strong landing force - on board two amphibious assault ships, the USS Nashville and the USS Wasp - as a 'special purpose air-ground task force'.

It is believed that US Special Forces - so-called Sea-Air-Land Assault Teams, or SEALs - are already ashore, ready to liaise with local resistance groups and to guide landing forces.

In response to speculation that the Army's 82nd Airborne Division, based at Fort Bragg, North Carolina, was likely to participate, the Pentagon said yesterday the only army units likely to be involved were elements of the 10th Mountain Division, based at Fort Drum, New York and of the XVIII Airborne Corps (of which the 82nd is a component). General Thompson said this could mean they were subordinated to the Marine command structure.

The US lost 19 personnel in the invasion and subsequent occupation of Grenada in October 1983, and 23 in Panama in December 1989. Intervention in Somalia, which began in December 1992 and will end next week, has cost 44 US lives.

Twenty US ships carrying an estimated 20,000 personnel are cruising off Haiti at the moment, with the carrier USS America approaching from Norfolk, Virginia.

The US will play the main part in any initial assault in accordance with UN Resolution 940, which authorises members to use 'all necessary means to facilitate the departure of the military regime from Haiti and to maintain and establish a secure and stable environment'.

But following the lessons of Somalia, they are unlikely to want to stay, and the subsequent pacification of the territory could be left to troops of the Caribbean command - which British experts who are adept at peace-keeping operations are training at Camp Santiago in Puerto Rico.

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