U.S. considers sending Special Forces unit into Somalia to seize warlord

August 11, 1993|By Los Angeles Times

WASHINGTON -- The Clinton administration is considering sending a small contingent of U.S. Special Forces to Somalia to help track down and seize Mohammed Farah Aidid, the fugitive warlord, a senior State Department official involved in U.S. policy on Somalia said yesterday.

The official, Ambassador David H. Shinn, who has just completed an inspection of United Nations operations in Somalia, said the move is being considered as part of an accelerated review of U.S. policy in Somalia ordered by the White House on Monday.

Mr. Shinn also told reporters that, although the purpose of the zTC review will be, in part, to pinpoint when U.S. troops might leave Somalia, the administration intends to keep U.S. soldiers there at least through 1994.

He also said that it is "questionable" whether the U.N. special representative in Somalia, retired U.S. Adm. Jonathan Howe, would be able to realize his goal of completing all U.N. operations in that country by April 1995, as Admiral Howe has predicted.

Mr. Shinn's disclosure followed revelations Monday that the White House has ordered a stepped-up review of its Somalia policy after the deaths Sunday in Somalia of four U.S. soldiers in an explosion from a remote-controlled bomb. It was the deadliest attack involving U.S. forces since they landed in Somalia in December.

Mr. Shinn and other officials cautioned that the Special Forces proposal is only an option and that the president has not decided to employ such a force. At the same time, he and other U.S. officials said that the administration is "committed to the U.N. mission in Somalia" and is "firmly committed to staying the course" until that mission is accomplished.

He said the United States hopes to withdraw most of its logistics forces by the end of this year, with all U.S. troops out of Somalia by the end of 1994.

But he hinted that plans to send the 1,400-member quick-response force home by late summer may not be achieved.

Neither Mr. Shinn nor other top officials would predict how many Special Forces troops might be sent. But they asserted that the number would be relatively small.

Analysts said a situation like the one in Mogadishu would typically call for between 500 and 1,000 soldiers, including communications, weapons, intelligence and medical specialists.

The United States has just under 4,000 troops in Somalia: 1,400 members of a quick-response force and the rest soldiers from the 10th Mountain Light Infantry brigade of Fort Drum, N.Y., who are involved mainly in logistics.

The developments came as the U.N. military command in Somalia shut down an airstrip 30 miles outside of Mogadishu yesterday, contending that it was being used by General Aidid to smuggle arms into the country to attack U.N. and U.S. forces.

Meanwhile, hundreds of U.S. soldiers in Mogadishu attended a memorial service at the major U.S. military base in the city for the four slain soldiers.

Mr. Shinn echoed the contentions of other officials that, if the only factor determining how long U.S. troops should stay in Somalia is whether the famine has been relieved, U.S. forces might have left by now.

But, he conceded, General Aidid's opposition to the U.N. presence in Somalia -- his forces killed 24 Pakistani U.N. peacekeeping troops in June -- has thwarted efforts to make Mogadishu secure and has dealt a public relations setback to the United Nations.

Moreover, Mr. Shinn acknowledged that, despite a U.N. warrant for his arrest, the warlord has eluded capture for more than a month.

Mr. Shinn said that the aim of any Special Forces units would be "to go out into an urban environment -- a totally unfamiliar environment -- and identify and arrest and bring back without a lot of bloodshed someone who lives in that area originally."

Military experts said the Special Forces likely to be sent in under such a proposal would be "counterinsurgency" and "indigenous direct action" units specially trained to try to undermine General Aidid's power inside his clan, making him more vulnerable to capture.

Experts cautioned that such operations can take months and possibly years.

Military experts said that one potential obstacle to the use of such forces is that the peacekeeping operation in Somalia is run by the United Nations, not the United States, and U.N. officials may not be willing to give the units the latitude they need to do the job.

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