To shores of Mogadishu, U.S. Marines bring relief OPERATION RESTORE HOPE

December 09, 1992|By Richard O'Mara | Richard O'Mara,Staff Writer

MOGADISHU, Somalia -- This city has waited and waited for its deliverance. It went to sleep at night still waiting, but certain the Marines would come. And today they did, albeit somewhat strangely at first with all those TV lights to greet them.

Sensible of the Marines to have begun arriving before sunrise. This place is hot. The small clumps of eucalyptus and bougainvillea that thrive in its alleys and side streets are limp and torpid. But the people have been agitated by a frenetic expectation.

Most of them were ready to welcome the tens of thousands of American and allied troops assigned the peculiar mission of rescuing Somalia from itself.

The peaceful reception for the men in full battle gear showed as much.

"Ninety percent of Somalis want this to happen," said Abdullah Ahmad Ali, a Somalian interpreter.

Which is to say, not everyone.

There were those who were not on the beaches to greet the Marines, the free-lance gunmen who have kept the city in a state of perpetual terror for nearly a year and whose violence abetted this possibly worst famine in the Horn of Africa in this century.

They could make trouble eventually, despite the public welcome to the arrival of the troops by the two principal war lords who nominally employ them, Gen. Muhammed Farah Aideed and Ali Mahdi Mohammed.

General Aideed again welcomed the arrival of American troops yesterday.

But some of the relief agencies that have been struggling to feed the starving people here were not so sure and have been pulling the people out.

It was the relief agencies that finally moved President Bush to mount Operation Restore Hope. The agencies are keeping some representatives in the country, with orders to keep their heads down.

"We have been asked to stay in our compounds for the next two days," said Klaus Peters, of the German Caritas development agency.

"It's a good thing the Americans are coming," said Hamoud Abdelhassa, also of Caritas. "It would be better if we had solved our problems ourselves, but we couldn't do that."

One question circulating is why the troops were held back so long?

They could have been here last week, almost immediately following the U.N. resolution authorizing the operation.

If Somalis are still dying by the hundreds daily, why the delay? Was the reason tactical? Psychological?

Ken Hackett, the regional director for Baltimore-based Catholic Relief Services in East Africa is inclined toward the latter interpretation.

He suspects the Pentagon ratcheted up the tension level by sending jets screaming across the city Sunday and by showing in the distance the troop ship that was oddly out of sight most of the day yesterday.

The show of force gave the thugs and gunmen in the capital an opportunity to dwell on just what might come at them over the water.

Reportedly, many gunmen have headed west to Baidoa and Bardera, where, as a consequence, fighting and violence have increased over the past few days. But not all have left the capital.

Mr. Hackett is only guessing. But he suspected the Pentagon also saw a public relations problem should the troops have to fight with, or round up, large numbers of these young gunmen.

DTC "How would it look to the world? Pictures of all those black men behind a fence?" he wondered.

Only the American commanders know what their strategies are. But one thing is certain: Even though they didn't seem to interfere at dawn, these gunmen are the problem of the moment.

And what to do about them or with them, preoccupies many people here, especially those in the relief agencies which employ so many of them as guards to protect houses, supplies and agency personnel.

"It is the big problem," said Dr. Peter Kaiser, of Swed Relief. "I can't believe the U.S. forces will allow them to continue to operate. Getting rid of them is what the people want. It is what the whole operation is about."

But Mr. Ahmad Ali, the interpreter, thinks any attempt to disarm the gunmen "can be very dangerous" if it is carried out by the Americans unilaterally.

He suggested it could lose the good will the U.S. troops obviously began with this morning. This work must be done, he said, in cooperation with the Somalian police.

The Somalian police?

It turns out that though they have been conspicuously absent over the past year or so, there are still thousands of trained policemen throughout Somalia.

They were rendered ineffectual as all government and judicial structures disappeared in the chaos that came to prevail in the country.

But they are there, and Mr. Ahmad Ali believes they must be reactived by the Americans if there is to be a general disarmament.

The fearsome gunmen are called "technicals," a term that applies to them individually as well as to the Mad Max vehicles they drive about in, pickup trucks mainly, with machine guns mounted on them.

They word "technicals" was invented by the U.N. as being more acceptable in the ledgers when paying for the services of such people. Listing them as "gunmen," it was thought, would never get past the accountants in New York.

The average technical could draw a $125 a day, and in fact, on the eve of the invasion their employment opportunities increased with the arrival of the big American and foreign television networks that hired them to protect their cameramen and their gear and reporters.

Despite the surge for jobs for technicals owing to the presence of so many journalists in Mogadishu, it is obviously a dying career.

The best evidence of that is the decline in the value of the principle of the tool of the trade -- a Kalashnikov rifle. A few months ago it cost $170 in the market. Today you can get one for $30.

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