Magazine article Washington Report on Middle East Affairs

Peacekeeping: Somalia; More at Stake Than Meets the Eye

Magazine article Washington Report on Middle East Affairs

Peacekeeping: Somalia; More at Stake Than Meets the Eye

Article excerpt

Peacekeeping: Somalia; More at Stake Than Meets the Eye

"Like it or not, the U.S. is setting an example in Somalia. Feeding starving people was a fine act, but it did not end the feuding and fighting of the Somalis. To now withdraw because matters are chaotic will set a bad precedent and be seen abroad as more confirmation of a larger withdrawal of the U.S. role in the world."

Christian Science Monitor editorial, Aug. 12, 1993

The United States did not go into Somalia eagerly. Then-President George Bush waited until after his unsuccessful re-election campaign and then intervened only under intense public pressure. By then up to 500,000 people had died of starvation, another 500,000 had fled Somalia and 600,000 were refugees within the country.

The chaos resulted from the inability of clan-based generals and warlords, who had driven out the country's long-time strong-man, Siad Barre, to agree on a government to replace him. The problem that was causing drought- aggravated starvation through much of Somalia was centered in the capital of Mogadishu. There Mohammed Farah Aidid and another leader from the same Habr Gadir clan were locked in battle, not over control of the country, but only over who would control the city through which the country's supplies flowed.

The victims were not well-fed followers of well-armed clan leaders, but the weaker aggregations of immigrants from other African countries, members of small and powerless clans, and farmers driven off their land by the anarchy.

"Operation Restore Hope"

U.S. Marines landed at Mogadishu airport on the night of Dec. 8, 1992, and U.S. military spotters in civilian clothes set up radio command posts on the fringes of remote airstrips near "feeding camps" operated by international non-governmental organizations to guide in military tranport aircraft bearing tons of food. By January, roads had been opened from the port and food was flowing freely into feeding stations all over the country.

A major decision was whether or not to disarm the rival warlords forcibly. U.S. authorities decided first to seek to reconcile them in hopes of securing their cooperation in rebuilding the national government and such institutions as the police and school system. On Jan. 14 the warlords agreed to meet. By March, all factions had agreed to negotiate a political settlement except a coalition loyal to Aidid. Even Aidid subsequently agreed, but through his radio station and in mass rallies he agitated against the foreign troops in his city.

Aided by long-awaited rains that enabled farmers to plant crops in newly pacified agricultural areas, "Operation Restore Hope" was deemed a success by May, when most refugees had left the feeding centers to return to their homes. On May 24, the U.S. handed over control of operations to the United Nations.

Where there had been 40,000 troops from more than 20 countries in Somalia at the height of "Operation Restore Hope," the number dropped to the present 22,854 under U.N. command, including 4,028 American personnel.

Another 1,269 U.S. quick-reaction troops remained in Somalia under direct U.S. command, and a combat-ready force of U.S. Marines remained on U.S. Seventh Fleet ships. Nevertheless, placing the bulk of the American military personnel under the U.N. commander, Turkish Gen. Cevet Bir, was in itself an experiment. …

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