U.S. is firm on Somalia aid agencies assail U.N. Killing of 20 civilians raises questions

June 15, 1993|By Mark Matthews | Mark Matthews,Washington Bureau

WASHINGTON -- The Clinton administration, closing ranks behind United Nations forces in Somalia, disclosed plans yesterday to bolster existing firepower and pledged to keep Americans in the war-ravaged African nation as long as needed.

The increased U.S. commitment comes as U.N. forces confront growing discontent in the southern Mogadishu stronghold of warlord Mohammed Farah Aidid and criticism from private aid agencies.

Strains between the United Nations and Somalis, in turn, threaten to complicate the world body's efforts to add more troops to the 20,000 from various nations already there.

Pentagon officials said yesterday that the United States would send four AH-1F Cobra attack helicopters and two OH-58D helicopters, the kind previously used for surveillance in Somalia, as well as 21 crew men.

The purpose, an official said, was to provide "more mobility and more firepower." Officials also said the AC-130 Spectre gunships used in the weekend raids will remain in the region.

There were reports from Mogadishu that the most recent U.S. assault, a daylight attack on a rocket launcher that some people on the ground said already was a useless wreck, went awry and killed one nearby civilian and injured 12 others.

The administration stepped up its rhetorical support for U.N. forces, with Madeleine K. Albright, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, saying they are doing everything they can to restore law and order and labeling General Aidid a "thug."

"He said he was going to disarm. He didn't do that. He's using women and children, frankly, cravenly as shields in these crowds, and the impression that he's some kind of hero to his people is wrong. He's basically a thug," she said on ABC's "Good Morning America."

General Aidid, holding his first news conference since the new series of attacks began, said, "I'm ready for any negotiations, but first they must stop the aggression, the attacks."

Senior administration officials see the operation in Somalia as a "very important test" of limited U.S. intervention that could be followed in other world hot spots.

In the Somalian pattern, Americans launch an operation with massive force and then largely hand the operation over to the United Nations, keeping a smaller number of troops at the scene mostly in a support role.

Aim is to cripple Aidid

The current U.N. aim, another official said, is to cripple General Aidid militarily so the process of rebuilding the country and its institutions can move forward.

"We got a situation where we knew that either Aidid would find a place in the political process or have his military back broken," the official said.

Although the operation comes under the U.N. umbrella, the United States, which launched the military effort to pacify the country in December, is heavily involved.

It has 4,000 quick reaction and support troops in Somalia, and the United Nation's top civilian official and second-ranking military official are both Americans.

U.S. spokesmen and officials from other permanent members of the U.N. Security Council took pains to defend the Pakistani troops who killed 20 civilians Sunday when they fired into a crowd. The Pakistanis are doing a job few other countries want, they argued. The United Nations has been unable, so far, to assemble the full 28,000-troop complement it hoped for.

But Italy was less circumspect.

"Such episodes -- which are not at all planned -- discredit the very image of the United Nations and their role and could in the long run jeopardize current peace efforts," said Italian Defense Minister Fabio Fabbri.

Incident called 'careless'

Privately, a senior Pentagon official acknowledged that the Pakistani forces may have been "careless."

And Sen. Paul Simon, D-Ill., a strong proponent of the U.N. mission and supporter of confronting General Aidid, said the Pakistanis appear to have used "excessive force."

"Because they had been victims, you can understand their being trigger-happy," he said, referring to an incident the previous weekend in which 23 Pakistanis were killed in an ambush.

Without committing itself to exact numbers or a timetable, the United States made clear yesterday that American troops would remain in Somalia in a support capacity for as long as the U.N. deems necessary.

Joe Snyder, the State Department spokesman, said, "We certainly are committed to supporting what the U.N. is doing, and we want to see a successful conclusion to the longer-range U.N. mission. And I think we will continue to be with the U.N."

The international aid agency CARE, meanwhile, urged the United Nations to "cease all military activity and to make every effort to restore the confidence of the Somalia people."

The American-based World Vision charity, Britain's Save the Children Fund and Medecins Sans Frontieres (Doctors Without Borders) of Belgium have all voiced concern at the effect the killings will have on future relief work.

But Interaction, the Washington-based umbrella agency of private relief agencies, adopted a posture closer to that of the Clinton administration.

"There is no question that Aidid is the catalyst for undermining the relief effort in Mogadishu," said Interaction's president, Julia Taft. "We have to keep our eye on the mark that it's Aidid who started this."

But while a step in the process of nation-building, "I'm sure the U.N. has alienated some Somalis who hadn't felt that way four or five days ago," said Walter Kansteiner, a former Bush administration official who served recently as adviser to Jonathan Howe, the retired American admiral serving as U.N. special envoy in Somalia.

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