Newspaper Reports U.S. Commando Team Rescued Ex-Haitian Officials
SAN DIEGO (AP) _ A secret U.S. commando team rescued a group of ex-Haitian officials at the same time the Bush administration was forcing thousands of Haitian boat people to return to their homeland, a newspaper reported Thursday.
Pentagon spokesman Bob Hall in Washington refused to confirm or deny such a raid took place. A White House official and a Haitian official said they had no knowledge of the raid.
The raid was conducted by SEAL Team 6, a naval counterterrorism squad, to rescue ″a handful of former Haitian officials whose lives were in danger,″ The San Diego Union-Tribune quoted unidentified Pentagon sources as saying.
The raid into Haiti, purportedly authorized by President Bush, occurred two months ago while the United States was returning thousands of Haitian boat people to their homeland. The Bush administration contends that most Haitians who attempt the journey to the United States are leaving for economic instead of political reasons.
A senior Pentagon intelligence officer with access to a classified report on the mission described it as ″no problems, big success,″ with no casualties, the newspaper said. It wasn’t known where those rescued were taken.
They are believed to have been high-ranking officials in the government of President Jean-Bertrand Aristide, who was overthrown in a military coup in September, the newspaper said.
Release of their names or titles could put their lives in jeopardy, the intelligence officer said.
The classified report on the mission was revealed to only a few top government and Pentagon officials, the Union-Tribune said.
A senior Haitian military official expressed no knowledge Thursday of a secret U.S. military mission inside his country, but wouldn’t discount the possibility.
″Maybe my chiefs knew about this, but not me,″ Col. Jean-Robert Gabriel, secretary to the army chief of staff, told The Associated Press in Port-au- Prince.
In Washington, White House spokesman Paul Clarke said, ″I don’t know or have any knowledge of that operation.″
A spokesman for the Florida-based Special Operations Command, Army Col. Jake Dye, refused to comment on the report. The command is responsible for the SEALs - the Navy’s Sea, Air, Land special commandos.
The Defense Department doesn’t acknowledge the existence of SEAL Team 6 despite numerous public accounts about it being sent on missions around the world. Its members are drawn from officially acknowledged SEAL teams headquartered in San Diego County.
Seal Team 6 and its sister counterterrorist squad, the Delta Force, are under the command of the highly classified Joint Special Operations Command based at Fort Bragg, N.C.