U.S. troops seen as deliberate targets of Somalis

August 23, 1993|By Los Angeles Times

MOGADISHU, Somalia -- In the third such attack in two weeks, six U.S. soldiers were injured yesterday when a remote-controlled bomb was detonated as their supply truck passed on one of Mogadishu's busiest roads.

The explosion appeared to document what several American commanders serving in key slots of the U.N. operation here have suspected since the first attack killed four Americans Aug. 8 -- that militiamen loyal to renegade Somali warlord Mohammed Farah Aidid are deliberately targeting the American contingent in the multinational coalition authorized to restore order in Somalia.

"If you ask me, 'Are they targeting Americans?' I would say, 'Probably,' " says Army Gen. Norman Williams, deputy commander of the 4,000 American troops serving in the U.N. operation here, in an interview with the Los Angeles Times. "There's very little we can do about these attacks. It's the mines, the explosive devices, that are so hard to deal with."

But although he and other American commanders say it is virtually impossible to defend against such attacks, they insist that the dangerous patrols must continue if the United Nations is to succeed in its mission to pacify and rebuild this ruined nation.

"We have to go on those roads. We can't just sit in the compounds," General Williams said in the interview a few days before yesterday's incident, in which the six Americans were only slightly wounded.

The general, who commands the vast Army logistics operation that is delivering fuel, water and other military supplies to the coalition force of more than 25,000 troops scattered throughout the capital and the countryside, said his troops cannot abandon their mission in the face of Mr. Aidid's mounting urban guerrilla war.

"We've gone with the strategy that we can't just sit back and let Aidid do these things to stop us from doing our job," the general said.

The United Nations blames Mr. Aidid for the murder of 24 Pakistani peacekeepers in June and the continuing attacks on U.N. forces. Mr. Aidid insists that the later attacks are retaliation for U.S. air strikes on his compounds and arsenals in June and July.

General Williams and other commanders acknowledged that the attacks have hindered the United Nations' mission, forcing the peacekeepers to commute to work by time-consuming and costly helicopter shuttle flights and to confine all road trips to "mission-essential" travel. And they said that it is the U.S. troops who must carry out most of those mission-essential operations.

"Our job is to keep the fuel, the water, the field rations and equipment flowing to all the regions, plus to the contingents here in Mogadishu," General Williams said, adding that about 30 of his men have been injured since the United Nations took command of the Somalia mission from Marine commanders May 4.

"We are the front line here."

As a result, U.S. military police patrols must scout out the main supply routes in the city and countryside each day to determine their safety before the Army's transport companies roll out of their besieged warehouses on supply runs.

It was during one such patrol that Mr. Aidid's forces inflicted the deadliest single attack on American forces since the Marines landed in Mogadishu last December.

An investigation into the Aug. 8 ambush, which was initially blamed on a land mine, disclosed that Mr. Aidid's forces had packed plastic explosives into a relatively sophisticated device connected to a battery-powered detonator. The explosion left a crater 8 feet deep and blew the passing Army humvee more than a dozen feet off the road.

Although the military police have continued their patrols, their commander conceded that the first attack -- three of whose victims had arrived in Mogadishu just two days before -- had a devastating impact on the troops.

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