Bush Uses Hush-Hush Military Unit With AM-US-Salvador Bjt
SUSANNE M. SCHAFER
Nov. 22, 1989
WASHINGTON (AP) _ President Bush said he was sending a message abroad with his deployment of a highly secret U.S. commando unit in El Salvador, but his public disclosure raised eyebrows at home as well among officials normally barred from acknowledging such units exist.
''We have specially trained forces. They are trained to do this kind of mission. They were put on alert. They were sent and they performed their mission and thank God they didn't have to fire a shot,'' Bush said.
''He said that?'' exclaimed one Pentagon officer, shaking his head in wonderment when told of Bush's comments. ''Well, I guess he can. He's the commander-in-chief.''
The U.S. troops Bush ordered to El Salvador did not enter the hotel tower where 12 Green Berets had been under siege by leftist rebels, and they left El Salvador without engaging in any rescue attempt, military sources said.
Bush dispatched two planeloads of special operations squads - specially trained to conduct guerrilla warfare, counter-terrorist operations and hostage rescues - and they were positioned near the hotel, one administration official said, commenting on condition he not be named.
But the soldiers never went into action because the leftist rebels left during the night, White House and other officials said.
Bush said that the hotel ''was liberated with finality'' with the help of the special unit and that it had swept the hotel for mines or lurking guerrillas. Later, however, White House spokesman Marlin Fitzwater issued a statement saying, ''Updated information showed U.S. forces did not actually enter the hotel. Entry proved to be unnecessary.''
Still, Bush said, giving prominent mention to Defense Secretary Dick Cheney, the message of the day was: ''This president, backed by our defense secretary, will stand to protect the lives of Americans where we can.''
Bush and Cheney worked hand-in-hand to plan the U.S. military action in order to avoid any of the communications glitches that occurred during the failed coup attempt last month against Panamanian Gen. Manuel Antonio Noriega, several Pentagon sources said.
''Cheney was back and forth to the White House. They were in constant touch,'' said one senior official.
After Bush's comments on the special troops, officials confirmed that the units - numbering somewhat less than 200 men - dispatched to the scene were from the U.S. Special Operations Command, which is centered in Fort Bragg, N.C.
''These are the snake-eaters. The covert operations guys,'' said one administration official familiar with their training. ''But they're not glory boys. They just do their job, and don't get the credit.''
The ''special operations'' units sometimes known to the public as the Delta Force grew out of the 1980 hostage-rescue attempt in Iran during the Carter administration. These units may use specialized Air Force transport teams and Navy divers.
Overall, the Special Operations Command set up in 1987 under a congressional mandate totals 35,000 active, reserve and national guard personnel organized in a variety of units, said Col. Tom Jones, spokesman for the command at Fort Bragg.
In contrast, the 12 men that were inside the hotel are part of the Green Berets, the ''Special Forces'' units also based in Fort Bragg.
The dozen men had been on a two-week training mission in El Salvador and were scheduled to return to the United States on Tuesday, the day the hotel was besieged by the rebels.
The mission of the Green Berets is unchanged from their days in Vietnam, when they trained troops in foreign countries to fight for themselves.
The first group was formed, and then deactivated during World War II. They found a special patron in President Kennedy, who built their numbers and authorized their specialized headgear, which had been banned in the Army.