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This article was published in the April 2005 volume of the SWJ Magazine.

Psychological Operations in Haiti



Haiti, with a population of 6.1 million people. is the most densely populated country in the Caribbean with a population density of 182 people per square kilometer.  Haiti's capital city, Port au Prince, located in the Southern Region, is the largest city with approximately 1 million residents.  The population of Haiti is divided into an upper class, a middle class, peasants, and an urban lower class.  The upper class consists of 2 percent of the population and controls about 44 percent of the wealth and hold key positions in trade, industry, real estate, and the professions.  The middle class comprise 8 percent of the population.  The criteria for membership in the middle class include participation in a non-manual occupation, a moderate income, literacy, and a mastery of French.  Education and urban residence are the keys to upward movement for the middle class.  Peasants comprise 75 percent of Haiti's population.  The remaining 15 percent of the population consist of the urban lower class. They are the poorest strata of Haitian society and live primarily in Port au Prince in the slums of “Cite Soleil,” where citizens inhabit makeshift dwellings, rundown shacks and buildings with no potable water or electricity.  Open sewage and garbage piles fill the streets.  As elevation increases toward the west of town, there is a sharp improvement in living conditions

In 1994, Haiti was suffering under the brutal regime of General Raoul Cedras, reinforced by his henchmen in the Haitian Army, Haitian Police, and thugs who were members of an organization known as the FRAPH.  This group had seized power from legally elected President Bertrand Aristide in 1991.  From that date, until the US action in 1994, Haiti lived under a crippling economic embargo imposed by most nations in the western hemisphere.  By the summer of 1994, Haitians had begun to leave their island in considerable numbers to attempt the voyage to the Florida coast of the United States.  This potential humanitarian disaster brought our nation’s attention to the problems in Haiti, and members of Congress, under the incessant lobbying of President Aristide, clamored for US action to re-establish democracy in Haiti by overthrowing General Cedras’ illegal regime and restoring Aristide to the presidency.  In September 1994, the 10th Mountain Division received orders to conduct operations in Haiti.


There were originally two OPLANs developed for military operations in Haiti.  The first, OPLAN 2370, called for an armed intervention led by elements of the 82nd Airborne Division.  Thanks to last minute diplomacy on the part of President Jimmy Carter, Senator Sam Nunn, and General Colin Powell, General Cedras accepted an ultimatum to step down and allow US forces to enter the country to set the conditions for the restoration of President Aristide to power.  The second OPLAN (2380) called for the entry of US forces into Haiti in a permissive environment.  Specifically, the mission of US forces under OPLAN 2380 was to conduct military operations to restore and preserve civil order; protect US citizens and interests and designated Haitians and third country nationals; create a secure environment for the restoration of the legitimate government of Haiti; and provide technical assistance to the government of Haiti. At the brigade and battalion level, this mission initially boiled down to providing security by “presence” and by patrolling with US soldiers in the streets of Port au Prince. Limited patrolling began immediately upon the division’s arrival on 20 September and continued as the division expanded its lodgment in Haiti.

Those in the division and brigade who had experience in Somalia, where a humanitarian mission developed into combat operations, concluded that there would be a high possibility of armed incidents with the FAD’H (Haitian military) or the Haitian police. As a result, training over the summer focused on preparation for a combat mission and utilized some of the Somalia lessons learned.

The brigade implemented MOUT (Military Operations in Urban Terrain) training with squads and platoons focusing on roadblocks, security techniques, and crowd control.  The 10th Mountain Division prepared for all possibilities across the spectrum of operations.  At the tactical level, however, little thought was given to the integration of Psychological Operations (PSYOPS).


When the United States military arrived in Haiti to begin operations, several internal Haitian threats faced us. These included the population, the environment, the Haitian Army (Forces Armée d'Haïti or FAD’H), and the Revolutionary Front for Haitian Advancement and Progress (FRAPH).  The threat from the Haitian population included the common criminal element, large crowds and the threat of riots, and Haitian on Haitian violence.  This included retaliation and retribution by the Haitian people towards former FAD'H members.


The ultimate objective of American psychological operations is to convince enemy, friendly, and neutral nations, as well as target audiences, to take actions favorable to the US and its allies. Psychological operations (PSYOP) can promote resistance within a civilian populace against a hostile government or be used to enhance the image and legitimacy of a friendly government. When properly employed, PSYOP reduces the morale and efficiency of enemy troops and builds dissidence and disaffection within their ranks. It is US policy that psychological operations be conducted across the operational continuum. Psychological operations are conducted to influence foreign governmental and civilian perceptions and attitudes to encourage foreign actions favorable to US national security objectives and interests. Any level (strategic, operational or tactical) of PSYOP can be executed at any point along the operational continuum. The operational environment does not dictate or limit PSYOP actions or the level of PSYOP applied

PSYOP can be of tremendous utility in unconventional environments such as peace operations. The use of deadly force in peace operations is typically constrained by rules of engagement. Given that constraint, PSYOP provides peace operation forces with a combat multiplier that can be used to create favorable conditions for stability and deter potential conflict without the need to resort to violence or deadly force.

Tactical PSYOP are planned and executed in assigned objective areas in direct support of Army or joint tactical operations. All tactical PSYOP themes and products must support operational and strategic objectives. Typical tactical PSYOP objectives include lowering the opponents’ morale and combat efficiency; supporting deception operations; facilitating the occupation of opponents’ areas by delivering ultimatums and giving rallying point locations or directions for the cessation of hostilities; supporting strategic PSYOP by furnishing detailed, timely intelligence on local vulnerabilities that may be used in strategic plans and operations; or building a favorable image of US soldiers and leaders among the local population.

PSYOP forces offer the commander, regardless of the level or intensity of conflict in which he is engaged, a significant combat multiplier. PSYOP derive their maximum effectiveness from being a part of a total operation. They are not a substitute for combat forces. However, they may be employed when the use of combat forces is inappropriate.  When properly integrated with military and political actions and objectives, PSYOP forces may make the difference between success and failure.

A tactical PSYOP team (TPT) is normally attached to or in direct support of a maneuver battalion.  It consists of three soldiers (led by a staff sergeant), one HMMWV, SINCGARS radios, and both mounted and man packed loudspeaker systems.  The TPT leader acts as the PSYOP staff planner for the battalion.  There are several types of loudspeaker systems that can be mounted in helicopters, on armored or wheeled vehicles, on small boats, or carried in rucksacks.  This means that a PSYOPS TPT can operate in any environment, with any type of unit, on just about any type of mission.


Haiti offered a challenging environment for PSYOP employment. Literacy is low, and Haitian society relies on word-of-mouth communication. Official news broadcasts and publications are viewed with suspicion. Rumors are the preferred source of information, and credibility is judged by how well the listener knows the person repeating the rumor. Anyone in a uniform is to be mistrusted and even feared.  There was no rule of law, so justice was meted out in an arbitrary and violent manner.  In this environment, the PYSOP Team developed and executed an information campaign directed toward three audiences. To the Haitian military, it communicated the benefits of professionalization. To the police, it communicated the desirability of separation from the army, and to the population at large, it communicated confidence in the democratic process as well as confidence in the ability of US forces to ensure stability and peace.  This was a message that had to be reinforced, every day, through the actions of US forces on the ground.

It became contingent upon all tactical leaders at all levels to be able to communicate with local leaders in Haiti to achieve specified objectives.  Tactical PSYOP Team members are uniquely equipped to aid in this mission as they are trained to be aware of cross-cultural communication techniques and are skilled in the use of interpreters.  These skills helped on numerous occasions when the tactical commander, usually a LT or a CPT, would become frustrated with the low level of trust he would see among the Haitian population on an almost daily basis.  The Haitians were happy we were there, but were not sure if we were just replacing one totalitarian regime with another.  Uniforms and weapons still cowed them.  If a junior leader on patrol became frustrated with this outward sign of mistrust and hostility he would normally revert to his level of comfort, end the communication and write off his lack of success to any number of flaws with the Haitian people.  This usually meant the end of the communication process, just as it might have been succeeding.

Knowledge of foreign communication, debate, and bargaining techniques was invaluable in salvaging negotiations with Haiti who could potentially provide valuable information or become allies in a particular neighborhood or sector.  Tactical PSYOP teams provided invaluable experience and training in helping tactical commanders learn how to negotiate in foreign, difficult situations.  Communication is the tactical PSYOP team’s bread and butter.

As our tour of duty in Haiti progressed, the ability of our tactical commanders and soldiers to communicate on the streets led to increased credibility of US forces in the eyes of the Haitian population. This ability to communicate ran the spectrum from having linguists who could explain our actions on a one to one basis, to having a tactical PSYOP team prepared to deal with anything from a riot involving hundreds of people to simple, but sometimes deadly, Haitian on Haitian violence.

Daytime patrols were often affected by large crowds, especially early on in the operation.  Curiosity seekers would mass in numbers up to a few hundred around a platoon sized patrol.  Their presence could sometimes channel the element into the middle of the street and drive it into a file and, in doing so, heighten the tension among the patrol members.  The ability of PSYOP teams to explain to the crowd the reason for the patrol, and to literally order the crowd to back off, had a telling effect on the conduct of the Haitian people, and the anxiety of the US soldiers on the patrol.


Riots were an all too common threat in Haiti and had the potential to be massive in scope, potentially lethal, organized, and involving large numbers of women and children.  Overall, PSYOP teams helped control the activities of the different elements involved in a riot.  The first step would be to separate lethal from non-lethal elements.  Next, PSYOP teams would use their loudspeakers and linguists to communicate the consequences of certain actions.  Finally, they would give directions for subsequent actions or movement.

Tactical PSYOP teams also helped with the seeking out and capture of several known members of the FRAPH who were wanted by the joint task force headquarters for questioning.  In early October, one task force planned a series of raids on suspected locations of members of an activist political organization and other hostile individuals known as attaches.  The tactical commander decided to use a graduated response tactic that began with TPTs broadcasting surrender messages, followed by a countdown sequence.  Approximately 80% of the individuals at each objective surrendered and the rest offered no resistance when the assault team entered the building.  Not a shot was fired during the entire operation.  Again, a well planned and well executed PSYOP campaign, in direct support of the tactical commander’s mission and intent, was invaluable to the successful and safe accomplishment of the mission.

It was important to inform the local population of our activities during tactical operations, and specifically, cordon and search operations.  Most people affected by cordon and search operations were not themselves, the subjects of those operations.  The space needed to create an outer and inner cordon invariably encompassed many dwellings and large numbers of inhabitants.  We needed to understand that in the past, the arrival of heavily armed troops would have struck fear in the heart of every inhabitant in the area.  We needed to counter their fear by explaining what we were doing, who we were after, and why.

Under these conditions it was important to communicate to the inhabitants of the affected area of operations.  PSYOP teams, using vehicle mounted loudspeakers, broadcast why the search was being conducted, and who was being targeted.  They would produce signs for outer and inner cordon teams to use to help control the flow of traffic into, out of, and around the area of operations.  They pre-recorded messages to explain our presence in their neighborhood.  They also explained how the removal of a bad guy from their midst, who may have provided a modicum of security for their neighborhood, was a good thing for them.  In almost all of the above cases, it was a good thing if the operation could be followed up with Civil Affairs teams operating in the area.  We had to overcome the inhabitants fear that there would be retribution coming their way for standing by while a bad guy was taken from their midst.  It was important that tactical units continued to patrol in that area while civil affairs units engaged the population.  This combined information campaign of engendering trust was just one way in which tactical PSYOP teams helped us to effectively accomplish our mission.

Finally, one of the major programs that the infantry battalions, along with other units, were involved in was a weapons buy-back program. The intent of this program was to remove, voluntarily, dangerous weapons and munitions from the streets of Haiti, in an effort not only to protect the local population, but also to enhance force protection for the soldiers in the multi-national force.  Payment price increased according to how dangerous the item was or what operational condition the weapon was in. The better the condition of the weapon, the more money was paid to the Haitian turning it in. Although the intent of the program was worthy, it was the opinion of many that the weapon buy- back initiative was only marginally successful. Most weapons turned in were rusted and non-operational, and most explosives appeared unstable and perhaps posed a greater danger to the soldiers and Haitians handling them at the turn-in station.  Be that as it may, it was very important to involve PSYOP teams and products at these turn-ins.  Many Haitians feared what would happen to them if they turned in a weapon.  There was also the fear of getting robbed once you left the site.  Tactical PSYOP products like pre-recorded messages broadcast in the local community and at the turn in site, along with signs, could help temper these fears.  Troops patrolling the area around the weapons


Low Intensity conflict places civilians, regulars and guerrillas on the same battlefield.  LIC often requires decentralized execution.  Peace Enforcement and Peacekeeping operations require that the individual soldier know more and be responsible for more than the average soldier of 20 years ago.  This is the argument to give psychological operations assets to the lowest level possible so that they can impact the actions of those subordinate leaders in their inevitable interactions with local nationals.  It is even more important that subordinate leaders learn about the capabilities of these PSYOP assets, so that there are seamless operations in the presence of foreign nationals.

There are several things that we can do to ensure that PSYOPS are well integrated into Infantry operations:

1.      Integrate PSYOP planners in the S3 section to achieve the best results.  This is sometimes hard to do as they were the busiest soldiers in the battalion.  It would be best if they could be incorporated during CPXs, or at the National Training Centers.

2.      Allow the PSYOP planner to brief the commanders and staff.  Often LTCs are not used to being briefed by E6s.  It is always good to let the commander and staff see what the TPT is capable of, and how they approach tactical problems.

3.      Give the PSYOP planner clear guidance on the brigade or battalion mission and intent.  Let them develop their products to support the specific intent of the commander’s mission.

4.      Include the PSYOP planner early in the mission analysis process.  There exist many competing requests from brigades and battalions for PSYOP products to support their operations.  PSYOP assets can be woefully short when faced with many competing requirements, especially from planning staffs that don’t necessarily understand the capabilities of the TPTs.  Let the PSYOP planner help determine how best to use the PSYOP assets.

5.      PSYOP are critical to brigade and battalion operations during contingency deployments.  The integration of PSYOP elements in the combat training centers is a step toward gaining an understanding of their unique capabilities.  PSYOP can be expected to play an increased role in the management of foreign perceptions, attitudes, emotions, and behavior.

LTC Stephen Arata is the Head of the International Division of the Department of History at West Point.  A 1979 graduate of the United States Military Academy, he has served in the Infantry for the past 25 years.

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