U.S. soldiers seize 4 in raid in Somalia

August 16, 1993|By Los Angeles Times

MOGADISHU, Somalia -- With loudspeakers blaring and weapons drawn in a pre-dawn raid that jolted this jittery city awake yesterday, more than 300 U.S. soldiers in full combat gear fired tear gas and concussion grenades into a small block of homes in southern Mogadishu, injuring no one but taking four Somalis prisoner.

Officially, it was billed as a routine "cordon-and-search" weapons sweep by the multinational peacemaking force attempting to disarm and rebuild Somalia -- notable, perhaps, only for the large HTC force deployed, United Nations military spokesman Maj. David Stockwell said.

But as news of the raid spread through Mogadishu even before the sun rose yesterday, residents of this war-ravaged city instantly reached a conclusion of their own:

The U.N. raid was a trial run, a rehearsal for "the big one."

Such is life in a nation anxiously awaiting retaliation, a much-expected U.N. counterstrike to punish the Somalian clan believed to be responsible for the Aug. 8 lethal ambush of a U.N. patrol.

In fact, every day since the remote-controlled land mine killed four U.S. Army soldiers -- the largest single loss of American lives since U.S. troops arrived in Somalia in December -- the capital's residents have braced for the worst, "just waiting," as one put it, "for the other shoe to drop from the sky."

It happened that way two months ago, when the massacre of 24 Pakistani peacekeepers by Somalian gunmen brought the United Nations' military wrath.

After seven days of talking and waiting, a squadron of U.S. AC-130 Spectre gunships answered the June 5 assault by attacking four arsenals and a radio station owned by the warlord blamed for the attack, Gen. Mohamed Farah Aidid.

Again last month, the United Nations ordered U.S. Cobra attack helicopters to assault a Mogadishu villait identified as General Aidid's command-and-control center, which the renegade warlord allegedly used to evade capture and coordinate a continuing hit-and-run terror campaign against U.N. troops throughout the city.

The United Nations said the July 12 raid killed more than a dozen of General Aidid's top military advisers, although the Red Cross reported as many as 54 civilian casualties.

Now, the U.N. secretary-general's representative in Somalia, retired U.S. Adm. Jonathan Howe, has added the Aug. 8 attack on the U.S. soldiers to the list of General Aidid's crimes. And with the former Somalian general still on the loose -- reportedly in hiding somewhere in Mogadishu -- many expect a U.N. counterattack at any moment.

"At night, when you go to sleep, you never know what it will be in the morning," said Amina Haji Abdullahi, a prominent Somalian intellectual who is a founding member of a national women's group. "Just everyone is hiding, waiting, worrying."

In a weekend interview, Admiral Howe, who is in charge of all U.N. civilian and military operations in the country, said: "We're not anxious to use military force. We think it should be used in a very careful, responsible way, in a way that minimizes losses to civilians and innocents.

"But we're not hesitant to use it where it makes sense. . . . The use of force is, unfortunately, appropriate under certain circumstances, as I felt it was after June 5. Until this problem is solved . . . all options are open."

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