On Somalia

A Q & A

December 05, 1992

Question: Why is the United States sending troops t Somalia?

Answer: U.S. troops are leading a United Nations effort to prevent roving bands of marauders from stealing food and medical supplies earmarked for Somalis starving at the rate of 1,000 per day. The task will be to establish "a secure environment for humanitarian relief operations," according to the resolution authorizing the deployment.

Q: How did Somalia get into this mess?

A: Present-day Somalia was a British and Italian colony from the late 1800s until it became a democratic country in 1960. In 1969, Mohamed Siad Barre overthrew the government. In 1991, Siad )) Barre was forced from power by tribal clans and the country disintegrated into anarchy as rival groups fought among themselves. Drought-caused famine and civil war have killed 300,000 Somalis in the last year, relief experts say.

Q: How many U.S. troops will be sent to Somalia and who will command them?

A: Nearly 28,000 from the 1st Marine Expeditionary Force based at Camp Pendleton, Calif., and the Army's light infantry 10th Mountain Division at Fort Drum, N.Y. About 1,800 Marines already are on a three-ship strike force offshore. Marine Lt. Gen. Bob Johnston, one of Gen. H. Norman Schwarzkopf's top aides in Operation Desert Storm, will lead the troops.

Q: How long will troops be there?

A: U.S. officials would like the mission to be complete by Jan. 20, the day President Bush leaves office. But no timetable has been set and President-elect Bill Clinton could take office with troops in Somalia.

Q: How dangerous is this assignment?

A: While this is not a war effort -- there is no enemy of the United States, per se -- U.S. troops could be subject to sniper fire. But it is unlikely they will engage in battles with the rival clans unless they are fired upon. "We don't seek a confrontation," Pentagon spokesman Pete Williams said. "We're not looking to go in with guns blazing."

Q: How is this different from U.S. military operations in recent years in Panama, Grenada and Kuwait?

A: Those were designed as fighting operations. This is the largest humanitarian relief effort ever by military agencies, with U.S. troops hoping to act only as guards for food and medical distributions. The United States has little real interest in Somalia other than helping the needy.

Q: Why not send U.S. troops to other world hot spots such as the former Yugoslavia?

A: Although the United Nations has a peacekeeping force there, ethnic fighting in the Balkans is considered by Pentagon officials to be a dangerous "no-win" situation and could get the United States mired in a long, Vietnam-style conflict.

Q: Is the United Nations taking on a different role with this mission?

A: By sending multinational forces into Cambodia, the Balkans and Kurd-held areas of northern Iraq, the United Nations has expanded its post-Cold War stance of helping suffering people. This decision is the first in which the United Nations has authorized force to make the peace, not just keep the peace.

Q: Is there already enough food in Somalia?

A: No. Two million people are in danger of starvation. Marauders have been plundering food donations for months and selling them on the black market. Somalia's main port has been closed since Nov. 9 because of bitter clan fighting.

Q: Should Americans continue to donate to relief agencies?

A: Agencies say the long-term needs are overwhelming.

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