In September 1991, Hatian President Jean-Bertrand Aristide, a charismatic Roman Catholic priest, was overthrown by dissatisfied elements of the army and forced to leave the country. It is estimated that between 300 and 500 Haitians were killed in the days following the September coup, and 3,000 in the following three years. The coup created a large-scale exodus from the country. The U.S. Coast Guard rescued a total of 41,342 Haitians from 1991 to 1992, more than the number of rescued refugees from the previous 10 years combined. A multiservice response was required when these Haitian immigrants were intercepted by US Coast Guard cutters in the Windward Passage and brought to Cuba.
USMC forces assumed primary responsibility for emergency HA to Haitian refugees at Naval Base Guantanamo. The commanding general, 2d Force Service Support Group (FSSG) BG G.H. Walls, Jr., USMC) was the commander of the Operation Able Manner/Safe Harbor joint task force (CJTF). Initially, the USS Tortuga (LSD 46) provided temporary messing, berthing, and medical support for up to 1,000 immigrants. As the JTF came on line, Army CA units, Navy Seabees, and Army engineer units established five holding camps to process and administer the Haitian immigrants. The 2d FSSG provided the nucleus for the JTF HQ, and the total force exceeded 1,200 personnel (300 Marines, over 700 Army, 150 Air Force, and local personnel from the Navy Base and Marine Barracks).
With interdiction by the US Navy and with Coast Guard assistance, Haitians began to flow into Guantanamo Bay and were housed in a tent city. On 16 December 1991, 300 Marines from the 8th Marine Regiment deployed from Camp LeJeune to Guantanamo to join 400 other military personnel. At peak, the temporary camps at Guantanamo held over 12,500 Haitians. While their legal status was being determined, the JTF continued to provide security, food, medical care, and all aspects of public administration for the camps.
In November 1991, the XVIII Airborne Corps established a humanitarian support center at Guantanamo Naval Base, Cuba. The mission was to receive, transport, detain, control and process Haitian migrants. The Corps quickly began the massive task of building and supporting a humanitarian center for more than 12,000 Haitian migrants. By early December, the Corps had deployed over 2,000 soldiers to the Guantanamo Naval Base. This operation officially ended in June 1993.