Defense Secretary Perry: U.S. Troops Down to 6,000 by Dec. 15 With AM-Thanksgiving Rdp, Bjt
PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti (AP) _ Only 6,000 U.S. troops will remain in Haiti after Dec. 15, about one-third the level at the height of the occupation to restore elected government, Defense Secretary William Perry said Thursday.
″You have done an outstanding job,″ Perry told about 200 soldiers at the presidential palace after meeting with President Jean-Bertrand Aristide. ″You are restoring democracy to this country, and it is moving more quickly and more effectively than anyone imagined.″
The defense secretary and the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, Madeleine Albright, spent Thanksgiving with the troops, about 9,500 of whom remain here from the 20,000 who landed in mid-September.
After strongman Lt. Gen. Raoul Cedras departed to Panama, Aristide returned from exile in Washington, three years after his government was overthrown in a military coup.
A U.N. peacekeeping force is supposed to replace U.S. troops by the end of January. American soldiers are expected to be part of that force, but Perry had no details on how many will remain in Haiti.
″Much has been accomplished, but the job is not yet done,″ Perry said at the airport before heading home. ″And we will stay here ... with the necessary forces ... to ensure that the job is done properly.″
Much of the approximately eight hours Perry and Albright spent here was festive.
An obviously grateful Aristide, a critic of the U.S. government before his Dec. 1990 election, welcomed them at the palace and gave them a live turkey to mark the Thanksgiving holiday.
″Today in Haiti there is much to be thankful for,″ he said.
To U.S. soldiers in attendance he added: ″You are in a special home which is our heart. You are swimming in our love.″
Albright had a turkey dinner with troops in the southern town of Jacmel, which bore the brunt of Tropical Storm Gordon two Sundays ago. Perry flew north to the town of Hinche.
Back in the capital of Port-au-Prince, they were guests of honor at a small parade in which GIs masqueraded as Santa Claus and boxing heavyweight champion George Foreman.
Some soldiers, happy to hear they’d be going home sooner than expected, said they had accomplished their mission.
″I’d like to think we helped restore democracy in Haiti, and by a show of force, not actual combat,″ said Capt. John Cuntz of the 10th Mountain Division from Fort Drum in New York.
″We played a major role in getting President Aristide back as the rightful leader of Haiti,″ he added.
In a gesture meant to show the occupation’s humanitarian aims, Maj. Gen. David Meade, commander of the 10-nation, U.S.-led intervention force, handed 17-week-old twin boys to Albright and Perry.
The infants were rescued last week from a hospital in Jacmel and treated at a U.S. military clinic in the capital, Port-au-Prince.
Army cooks began roasting turkeys, beef and ham two days ago for Thanksgiving delivery to soldiers across Haiti.
Soldiers and police from other nations were served, too. A special lunch was prepared for Muslims from Bangladesh.