The Pentagon disclosed Friday that it has dispatched combat troops from the Fort Bragg, N.C.-based 82nd Airborne Division to Haiti.
The action follows an increase in tensions since two men went on trial last month for the shooting of former Justice Minister Francois Guy Malary in 1993, when the country was ruled by a military junta. The two, who were acquitted on Wednesday in a jury verdict that outraged Haitian officials, are awaiting a retrial.
The 175 soldiers, drawn from elements of the 504th Parachute Infantry Regiment, are the first U.S. combat personnel to be reassigned to Haiti since American forces were removed from the Caribbean nation in February when United Nations peacekeepers took over.
Only a 220-man U.S. construction engineering unit was left behind to help with infrastructure projects.
None of the congressional committees with an oversight role in U.S. military activities in Haiti was informed of the reintroduction of combat troops, according to spokesmen.
Spokesmen for the Pentagon and the 82nd Airborne said the U.S. paratroops and their equipment were flown to Haiti in C-5A jumbo cargo jets Wednesday night as "Task Force 1-504" to take part in Exercise Fairwinds _ an "engineering, medical and security force training" exercise "designed to ensure various military forces are prepared to deploy and conduct their respective missions while remaining self-sustained."
They said the soldiers would likely return within "a week to 10 days."
Sources on congressional intelligence committees, however, reported numerous sightings Thursday of 82nd Airborne paratroopers armed with machine guns patrolling throughout the capital city of Port-au-Prince in Humvee combat vehicles.
The Haitian Embassy in Washington said the paratroopers were dispatched to provide "protection" for "Exercise Fairwinds."
Rep. Porter Goss, R-Fla., of the Intelligence Committee asked from the House floor Friday that the administration explain why troops were in Haiti again.
"I suspect (the administration) is more concerned about covering up the failure of what was supposed to be the crown jewel of its foreign policy efforts," he said. "We ought to be informed when American troops are being sent in harm's way to ride around in Humvees _ not as (U.N.) blue hats but as American combat soldiers _ to maintain law and order."
A spokesman for the House International Relations Committee said repeated requests for information from the National Security Council remained unanswered.
A spokesman for the NSC said it had no knowledge of the troop movement, calling it "a Department of Defense matter that ultimately could become an NSC matter."
In recent months there have been recurring incidents of violence in Haiti.
President Rene Preval, a protege of former Haitian leader Jean Bertrand Aristide, blamed the violence on an opposition plot to destabilize Haiti politically, but critics of Preval's administration charged the violence was in response to Haiti's deteriorating economy.