In 1994 the Caribbean country of Haiti was undergoing tremendous turmoil. The dictator, General Cedras, headed a regime that had overthrown the Haitian President Jean-Bertrand Aristide in 1991. The dictator’s police forces were accused of human rights abuses and American public opinion demanded that the White House take action. President Clinton issued some ultimatums to the dictator which were rejected, so he ordered a military invasion. At the last minute the Haiti regime agreed to flee the country and the invasion was called off. However the U.S. military sent in an occupying force – spearheaded by special operations forces to restore rule of law and stability. [1] Teams from the U.S. Army Special Forces played a unique role in this occupation of Haiti in an operation named Uphold Democracy.

Map of Haiti

From a Special Operations task force base in Port-au-Prince, Special Forces Operational Detachment Alpha’s (SFODA) were dispatched to various sections of the country to restore order and create a stable environment. The teams were issued a fairly open-ended mission statement. The SF teams soon were confronted with a variety of situations across the country during Operation Uphold Democracy.

There was no government – as the national and local government cronies aligned with the previous regime fled the country or went into hiding. The Haiti police force disappeared or was forced out of their offices and off the streets by the public. U.S. conventional troops secured Port-au-Prince (the capital city) and later Cap Haitien (on the north coast of Haiti) but for the most part the remainder of the country was secured by the 12-man U.S. Army Special Forces Teams positioned in strategic locations.

Special Forces Soldier chatting with HaitianThese SF teams, operating by themselves, except one or two interpreters hired locally, found that they were soon filling the role of town administrator, medical health clinic, local courthouse lawyers, and police force.  Civil Affairs and Psychological Operations teams (usually consisting of 2 to 4 personnel with an attached interpreter) were tasked with supporting the SF teams spread throughout the country.

Conventional U.S. infantry forces at Port-au-Prince and Cap Haitien were available as quick reaction forces should a crisis occur. The conventional forces, when not responding to an emergency, would conduct ‘out of sector’ operations outside of their two principal bases. Other nations from around the world joined in the effort. Police from the countries of Jordan, Canada, and elsewhere assisted in the training and establishment of a new police force. Nations such as Pakistan [2] sent in ground combat troops to provide security and rapid reaction forces. The Caribbean Community (CARICOM) mobilized its Regional Caribbean Battalion and deployed the unit to Haiti. [3] Eventually the mission was assumed by the United Nations. [4]

Map of SFODA locations in Haiti during Operation Uphold Democracy

After several months, the initial SF teams from the 3rd Special Forces Group based at Fort Bragg, North Carolina were rotated out replaced with other active duty and National Guard Special Forces teams. The success of the SF teams in Haiti validated the intense training Special Forces Soldiers undergo through their long careers. The Haiti intervention is an excellent example of the versatility and flexibility of the U.S. Army Special Forces to rapidly deploy to a foreign nation and perform a variety of missions on short notice.