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#332: U.S. troops in Haiti likely to leave next year (fwd)


U.S. troops in Haiti likely to leave next year
 By DON BOHNING Herald Staff Writer 

 Facing a May 31 funding cutoff by Congress, the permanent U.S. troop
presence in Haiti, which began with an invasion in September 1994, is
likely to end early next year, U.S. officials say. The Clinton
administration has been under pressure for months from both the
 Pentagon and congressional Republicans to get the 480-member U.S.
Military Support Group in Haiti out of the country. ``The President has
long been committed to reducing and eventually ending our
 presence there, but no final decisions have been made on when or how
that will happen,'' White House press secretary Joe Lockhart said.
 In June, the house approved an amendment to the Defense Department
 Appropriations Bill that would cut off funding at the end of this year
for a permanent U.S. troop presence in Haiti. Before going on summer
recess, House and Senate conferees agreed to extend the deadline to May
31. It is virtually assured of passage this fall. The amendment says
that no funds may be expended by the Defense Department after that date
for the ``continuous deployment'' of U.S. troops in Haiti.

 Pentagon officials declined to comment.

 Although December or January have been rumored for the likely
withdrawal, Raul Duany, spokesman for the West Dade-based Southern
Command, which has responsibility for troops in Haiti, said Wednesday
that ``we have received no official notification about any change in
Haiti, no official date.'' He added, however, that the ``plan is to
`normalize' our engagement.'' That would mean rotating reserve and
national guard units in and out of Haiti on temporary assignment, as in
other hemisphere countries, to perform the humanitarian tasks, including
school and clinic construction and medical missions, now being carried
out by the Support Group.

 Tensions in Haiti 

 The anticipated end to a permanent U.S. troop presence comes amid
growing doubts about the effectiveness of the Haitian National Police
and rising political tensions with approaching parliamentary and
presidential elections. Although it performs no security functions
within Haiti, some see the Support Group's presence in Haiti as a
psychological deterrent to instability in an increasingly uncertain
political environment and to pull it out would be sending the
 wrong signal. Of the 480 in the Support Group, about 100 are civilians
providing support services and another 150 or so are 82nd Airborne
troops providing security for the other personnel. As early as February
of this year, Gen. Charles Wilhelm, the SouthCom commander, was
expressing concerns in congressional testimony about security
 for the Support Group. And again in April, Wilhelm told the Senate
Armed Services Committee that ``though we have identified no specific
targeting of U.S. forces, the general environment on the ground has
caused us to have heightened concerns about the protection of our

 Cites arguments 

 Duany of SouthCom cites other arguments for ``normalizing'' the U.S.
mission in Haiti, including costs, extending humanitarian assistance to
remote areas of the country as opposed to concentrating it in
Port-au-Prince, the capital, where the Support Group is based, and a
broader training. It notes that after Hurricane Mitch, about $38 million
was spent on humanitarian assistance in four Central American countries
and the Dominican Republic while $20 million was being spent on support
Group operations in Haiti alone. The purpose of the humanitarian
assistance program is to train troops, he notes, and by ``sending
reservists or national guardsmen to remote areas instead of to a
 permanent established camp, the get the full extent of the training.''