Pentagon Positioned Extra Forces in Puerto Rico Prior to Grenada Invasion
WASHINGTON (AP) _ The Pentagon secretly moved F-15 fighters and airborne radar planes to Puerto Rico before the 1983 invasion of Grenada just in case Cuban forces tried to interfere, a new Pentagon report discloses.
As a result, the United States was prepared ″to detect and deter any Cuban aircraft flights,″ the report says, adding the operation ″vividly demonstrated″ the importance of Puerto Rico as a base for operations in the Caribbean.
The report, prepared by the chief of the Pentagon’s Atlantic Command, also says the U.S. invasion force did not do enough to suppress enemy anti-aircraft fire and thus protect its helicopters, in part out of a concern for civilian casualties, and that nighttime medical evacuation missions were hampered because Army helicopter pilots hadn’t been trained to land on ships.
Overall, the report concludes, planning for the invasion was conducted over such a short period of time that U.S. forces suffered from coordination and communication problems, but the invasion was still ″accomplished in a most successful manner.″
Those and other observations are contained in a special ″Lessons Learned″ analysis prepared by Adm. Wesley L. McDonald and submitted to the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff in February 1984. A heavily censored version of the report was obtained Monday.
Despite the censorship, McDonald’s report provides a fairly detailed look at the chronology of the Grenada invasion and some of the problems that U.S. forces encountered.
It discloses the Pentagon moved two days before the invasion to make sure Cuba couldn’t interfere. While details are not provided, the report says a special ″tactical force command″ was established by the Air Force at Roosevelt Roads, Puerto Rico, on Oct. 23, 1983.
″Tactical Air Command F-15 and AWACS (Airborne Warning and Control Systems) aircraft were positioned to provide surveillance and defense against possible interference by Cuban forces ... (and) to detect and deter any Cuban aircraft flights transiting from Cuba to Grenada,″ it says.
The report concludes the ″importance of the airfield facility at Naval Station Roosevelt Roads was vividly demonstrated, particularly in view of the present instability in the Caribbean region.″
McDonald’s synopsis also discloses the initial planning for Urgent Fury, the invasion’s code name, began as something much smaller on Oct. 14, 1983. That was one day after Grenada Prime Minister Maurice Bishop was overthrown.
On Oct. 14, the report says, McDonald received a ″what if″ phone call from the Joint Chiefs of Staff ″requesting possible options for show-of- force-presence operations in the vicinity of Grenada and possible non- combatant evacuation operations.″
On Oct. 20, the day after Bishop was killed, McDonald said he received a ″warning order for non-combatant evacuation operations,″ which prompted him to direct the carrier Independence and a Marine Corps amphibious group on the way to Lebanon to turn toward Grenada. By Oct. 22, the Pentagon had begun planning a full-scale invasion and the joint chiefs ″issued an Execute Order for Operation Urgent Fury.″ The invasion began on Oct. 25, 1983.
Under the heading ″lessons learned,″ the report adds:
-″Helicopters are highly vulnerable to well-aimed ground fire ... Rules of Engagement and concern for civilian casualties resulted in minimum suppression of enemy (anti-aircraft fire). Without the suppression of Enemy Air Defense, the risk is unacceptable.″
-″Medevac operations at night became a great concern because (Army) Blackhawk pilots had not been trained to land on sea-borne helicopter platforms and were denied permission to land. This reduced the number of Medevac helicopters that could bring wounded personnel to the USS Guam. ...″
The report also confirms previous media reports of such problems as inaccurate maps; problems with radio communication between the various forces, and the fact that military commanders overseeing the invasion - and not McDonald - made the decision to bar press coverage. It further recommends the U.S. increase the number of amphibious ships in the Atlantic fleet because without the Marine force that had deployed for Lebanon, the mission would have been much more difficult.