Press Briefing by Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General John Shalikashvili
The Briefing Room
11:00 A.M. EDT
GENERAL SHALIKASHVILI: Good morning. Thank you very much for letting me come by -- (laughter) -- talk to all of you.
Q: You're welcome any time, sir.
Q: We wouldn't have missed it.
GENERAL SHALIKASHVILI: You and your colleagues have been doing such a super job reporting on this operation since it began to unfold yesterday. But I thought it might be useful if I came.
Q: We're not used to people being nice to us.
GENERAL SHALIKASHVILI: Well, I meant it; I meant it very much.
Q: Are you feeling okay, sir? (Laughter.)
GENERAL SHALIKASHVILI: But I thought what I would do is use just two kind of simple cartoon charts to put it in perspective what it is we tried to accomplish, and how we ended up at the end of the day, and do the same thing for today -- what our goals are for today, what you ought to be seeing unfolding there, and what we think it ought to look like a the end of the day, and that might be helpful, I hope.
I don't know if you can all see that. I want to tell you that, up here in the upper righthand corner of the chart were the objectives we had set ourselves for yesterday. First and foremost, to establish contact with General Cedras before anything else happened, and that was very important to us because we needed to set that -- to relate that cooperative relationship straight from the beginning.
Your colleagues have already reported on that meeting that took place at around 10:00 a.m. The spirit was, in fact, cooperative. We informed him what we were going to do for the remainder of the day. He, in turn, told us that he thought that wherever we would go, there would be no difficulties. If there were some places that we would run into where we might encounter difficulties, he would try to let us know beforehand so we wouldn't be surprised by it. It was that kind of a relationship that existed.
The other thing that we wanted to do for the rest of the day was to establish American presence the two key notes, really, in Port-au-Prince: the international airfield and at the port. The reason that is important, the airport, particularly, that should we have started to run into any trouble in the afternoon or during the night, it was important that we had -- that we were at the airport because it is through that airport that we would have brought in further reinforcements. And the port is, of course, terribly important to ensure that our follow-on forces and our sustainment stocks would have uninterrupted access to Port-au-Prince.
So, by the end of the night, we had our presence from the established at the international airfield. We felt secure that we would not be dislodged. The same at the port, and we had at the close of the day just a few people short of 2,500 people on the ground.
Now, what is it that we are planning to do today? Again, our objectives for the day are sort of here. First of all, I think it was time to establish our presence in the next largest town in Haiti, in Cap-Haitien. Starting at around 8:00 a.m. this morning, Marines went ashore. Some 1,800 Marines went ashore in Cap-Haitien. They were met by the police up there. Again, that same sort of cooperative spirit existed, and they report absolutely no problems up there.
We are -- yesterday we brought to RO-ROs -- roll-on, roll-off ships into the port. They started unloading yesterday. They should continue and complete the unloading today. On one of those ships, we have the Bradley fighting vehicles, the armored vehicles that we think are absolutely essential to have on the ground for any kind of a reaction force that we might need so they would have that armored protection as they go help someone out in trouble And that's firmly established today.
Another RO-RO ship will be brought in, so by the end of the day we should have completed unloading at least one and continue unloading two more with our sustainment stocks.
Also, our folks will go to Camp d'Application where the heavy weapons company is located to coordinate sort of confidencebuilding measures. We think it's important that we establish our presence at that location as well. And so, we will be establishing those contacts today, and either later today or sometime tomorrow, we'll bring additional forces into that camp, which, as you know, is the camp where they keep most of their heavy weapons, all of the B- 150 armored vehicles, the air defense weapons, the Howitzers. And so, I think it is important that we be there with them at that location.
Q: And what will we do? Will we just stand there with them? Or will we take charge of those weapons?
GENERAL SHALIKASHVILI: I will tell you an interesting -- what they were doing yesterday was play volleyball. (Laughter.) We are going -- we think it would be useful if we could use that camp for one of our headquarters to operate out of.
Q: We will then have effective control of those weapons, will we, sir?
GENERAL SHALIKASHVILI: We will be able to see what it is they are doing with those weapons.
Q? Can you tell us anything about General Shelton's first meeting with General Cedras? Was Cedras -- you said he was cooperative. Did he seem nervous meeting with General Cedras, was Cedras -- you said he was cooperative. Did he seem nervous, reluctant? Did he say that he would be there every day for you, or is -- how do --
GENERAL SHALIKASHVILI: I cannot characterize, since I haven't been here, and I'd ask you to ask General Shelton. My reports from that meeting were that he was cooperative, that there was no indication at all of either walking away from the agreement or characterizing it somehow different than General Powell had characterized it to me in the discussions. So, although this is only the first day, there was no indication that there was some kind of a disconnect between what our team reported the relationship would be, and how General Cedras acted.
Now, as far as seeing him every day, General Cedras established a coordination committee, headed by a colonel, Haitian colonel, and this is where the minute-by-minute coordination is ongoing. I think, again, the information I have is that General Shelton will be meeting with General Cedras again tomorrow.
Q: General Shalikashvili, could you update us on what the pro-Aristide elements in Haiti are now up to, because we have a statement from President Aristide which is silent on the entire agreement; does not endorse it or oppose it. But his advisors say he's deeply concerned, that it has many flaws and that it may not achieve its objectives. What can you tell us about all of this?
And how much of a concern for the military is there that there could be problems between the pro-Aristide and the antiAristide forces in Haiti?
GENERAL SHALIKASHVILI: As far as what the pro-Aristide folks are doing on the ground, which I think was the first part of your question, the only experience we have had so far, that there's been some kind of a demonstration at the port -- there was one yesterday -- by pro-Aristide folks, certainly supportive of us. It was broken up -- sometimes maybe a little harshly by the Haitian police and the military -- but that's the only kind of demonstration we've run into.
Now, as far as the agreement is concerned, I am absolutely convinced that an agreement that allowed us to now be in Haiti this morning, already up into the tune of over 4,000 -- by the time the night ends, over 6,000 -- without a single shot fired up until now, without a single American having been wounded or died, or without a single Haitian being wounded and died, must be pretty good.
Now, the issue is that we can -- there's always room to argue about the finer points of it. But we must not lose sight of the strategic importance of this agreement, that it has allowed us to be there in those numbers now. I am very hopeful that we can continue this cooperative process with Cedras until he leaves. He will leave on the 15th. He will leave power on the 15th as the agreement says, of that I have absolutely no doubt. And so what we're talking about is this period between now and the 15th of October.
Q: From a point of stability -- from a point of stability, do you think that if General Cedras remains in the country that the same kind of stability you're talking about can be guaranteed when President Aristide returns? And will -- are you worried about a possible breakdown between two sides over there, possibly endangering U.S. troops on the ground?
GENERAL SHALIKASHVILI: Yes, I am worried about it. I've been, from the very beginning of this operation, very much concerned about getting our military men and women caught up in this Haitian-on-Haitian violence, that murky sort of a threat out there that's always there. And I will tell you that nothing that we have seen so far removes my concern about that, because these are sort of explosive situations that can come up at any given moment, and our soldiers have to be prepared for it physically and mentally, and we have to have given them the rules of engagement to handle themselves in these kinds of situations.
Q: General, just to follow up, would you like to see General Cedras depart, then, and think it would be best if he left the country?
GENERAL SHALIKASHVILI: I think that's what this whole exercise is about, the departure of --
Q: From the country, we're talking about. We're talking about from the country. Because if he stays, there are lots of people who worry that he may end up rallying his troops around.
GENERAL SHALIKASHVILI: I think we have always said that he must relinquish power, and as a practical matter, we think he's leave the country, but I cannot get into that.
Q: General Shali, a question about Camp d'Application --
Q: General, to that extent, isn't there some concern that the statement from President Aristide, which is certainly not at all supportive of this agreement, might undercut efforts to keep things quiet between pro-Aristide and anti-Aristide forces, and further endanger U.S. troops? Wouldn't it be more helpful if President Aristide could bless this agreement?
GENERAL SHALIKASHVILI: I certainly won't presume to speak for President Aristide. I hope that we can be -- before many more hours go by, we can go meet with him and brief him on what has happened so far and what our plans are for the days ahead to make him fully aware and feel more comfortable about how this is progressing.
Q: Do you have a plan to see him today?
GENERAL SHALIKASHVILI: I have a plan for our folks to go over there and meet with him today. If I can break away after this, I will certainly be delighted to meet with him.
Q: Are these military people?
Q: General on Camp d'Application, Aristide supporters apparently felt that they had a deal with the Pentagon to disarm the Haitian military. You say that you have just observed what is being done with the heavy weapons there.
GENERAL SHALIKASHVILI: I'm sorry, who said that we --
Q: Some of Aristide's supporters believe that was a deal with the Pentagon to disarm the Haitian military. And you say you just monitor what is being done with the weapons there. Is there a deal to -- what will be done with the armaments of the Haitian military?
GENERAL SHALIKASHVILI: I'm not sure what which deal you are talking about. Is it between us and FAHD?
Q: Apparently in discussions prior to events over the weekend, there was an understanding where Aristide's supporters claim there was an understanding that the Haitian military would be disarmed. Apparently, that is not the case. Is that correct?
GENERAL SHALIKASHVILI: No. I believe that within the context of removing weapons from the streets, we are going to not only deal with the question of buy-back of weapons -- which we want to institute almost immediately -- have follow-on discussions with General Cedras on recalling those weapons that he issued to the -- to those militia folks -- some 15,000, 20,000, 30,000 -- how many of them there are.
There are paramilitary groups that have weapons that we -- those need to be taken off the streets. And then the question of the disarming of the FAHD was discussed previously in the context of our original plan of going in, in opposition to the FAHD and immediately disarming it. I think that is an issue that we are going to have to discuss now in the next few days, so that as we go closer to the 15 October date, we, in fact, feel comfortable that only those people who are supportive of the democratic government there have weapons.
Q: General, do you --
GENERAL SHALIKASHVILI: So, I feel comfortable that we are on track on all this.
Q: What are you going to do about it?
Q: Are you comfortable with the circumstance where the United States forces will be apparently sharing the job of keeping order with the Haitian police and military? Is that how that's supposed to go?
GENERAL SHALIKASHVILI: Not at all. The task of keeping law and order in Haiti is the responsibility of the Haitian police force and the Haitian military. We are not in the business of doing the day-to-day law and order. For that matter, the resolving or quelling any demonstrations, unless these demonstrations or this level of violence becomes so great that it threatens the overall stability and the security of our multinational forces; and then we will intercede.
Q: What would occur, for example, sir, if the effort to recall weapons was not entirely successful? There are still weapons out there; you see them there on the streets. What do we do then? Do we ask the Haitian police to confiscate the weapons? Do we do so? What?
GENERAL SHALIKASHVILI: It's always been our intention from the very beginning that we would put the onus of collecting those weapons onto the Haitian police. That is still -- those are the discussions we're going to have with Cedras, that that goes on. We never intended to go on house-to-house hunts for those weapons. So I think what I'm telling you is, it's not a change of the way it was envisioned.
What I think is the difference is that now where some of those things were going to happen on a day when we made a forced entry, now that we did not make a forced entry, but we have the agreement that President Carter and Senator Nunn and Colin Powell were able to bring back, we now have a more extended period of time during which to effect some of those things. Certainly, the buy-back program can start today. The disarming of certain factions will probably take a little longer.
Q: both military factions to be very respectful of each other. Are you personally surprised at how much General Cedras and the Haitian military police are cooperating with you? Personally, are you surprised?
GENERAL SHALIKASHVILI: I am very gratified by it. But I think that as our presence there builds up, I'm not surprised. I think that what we're doing is that we're doing this in the spirit of being firm, of making sure that we inform him what we are going to do. We're not negotiating those issues. General Cedras understands that, has been helpful.
And I think to the degree that we can maintain that spirit and not pick at it so it falls apart, the more we're going to be saving ourselves trouble in the days ahead. Because I think it's important that, as we march on with this process, that we can do that in this kind of a spirit instead of look to see where we can start friction between ourselves.
Q: Do we have an agreement to disarm the paramilitary troops?
GENERAL SHALIKASHVILI: We have neither tried to gain such an agreement up to now, but it is something that we're going to start discussing with General Cedras -- first with his folks today and then with General Cedras tomorrow, certainly.
Q: So, as far as your military mission is concerned, do you now believe that it is preferable that General Cedras remain in power and that his army remain intact, at least for now, than that he has stepped down immediately, as the President initially demanded?
GENERAL SHALIKASHVILI: It was never quite that either or. It was, stay and then we have to fight, I mean, stay there and have to fight, or reach an agreement so we can negotiate these issues. So you have to put it in a context that for him to have been gone today, we most probably would have taken casualties; they certainly would have taken casualties. The fact that he has stayed for this very short interim period has prevented those casualties.
And if we do it right and if we try not to create friction, but rather try to maintain that cooperative spirit, I think that's one of our better guarantees to keep casualties low. But I must tell you, this is the first day of an awful lot of days. This uncertainty, this break-out of hostilities, of Haitian-on-Haitian violence can come at any time. So we all and the nation needs to understand that we can be taking casualties at any moment, and we need to be prepared for it.
THE PRESS: Thank you.
END 11:18 A.M. EDT
William J. Clinton, Press Briefing by Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General John Shalikashvili Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/269505