U.S. dispatch of Army Rangers to Somalia suggests an offensive White House denies policy shift

August 25, 1993|By Knight-Ridder News Service

WASHINGTON -- The dispatch of 400 Army Rangers to Somalia signals a clear shift from defense to offense for the U.S. mission there.

A fresh military goal of ending a simmering guerrilla conflict stirred by fugitive warlord Mohamed Farah Aidid has been added to the original job of feeding starving Somalis.

Publicly, the Defense Department declared yesterday that the added troops represented no change in policy. White House officials with President Clinton, vacationing on Martha's Vineyard, Mass., would not comment on the move.

"This deployment is not a policy change," said Pentagon spokeswoman Kathleen deLaski. "Feeding people, ending the violence and encouraging political reconciliation and economic development throughout the entire country remain the goals of the operation."

But privately, U.S. military sources had a different view.

"We're going from feeding to fighting," said an Army officer.

The new troops are Army Rangers, trained in small units to carry out secret warfare operations and calm disturbances. While U.S. officials said the additional forces are not being sent specifically to capture General Aidid, which is a goal of the United Nations mission, they will be available to aid in the search.

"We are there to help create structures and institutions which will allow the citizens of Somalia to take care of their own humanitarian needs," said a senior State Department official. "You can't have warlord factions running around at will disrupting civil authority."

Nonetheless, Mr. Clinton's decision to send added forces to Somalia is likely to trigger bipartisan criticism. Sens. Robert C. Byrd, D-W.Va., and Bob Dole, R-Kan., have voiced concern about the murky U.S. role in Somalia, with Mr. Byrd calling for the withdrawal of U.S. troops.

At a news conference yesterday, Mr. Dole wondered where the U.S. involvement would end. "I hope we're not on some treadmill that doesn't stop," he said.

Defense Department officials said the extra U.S. troops will reinforce the 1,200-member "quick reaction force" already in Somalia, whose mission is to ensure safe delivery of humanitarian supplies. There are also 4,000 U.S. support troops in Somalia.

The U.N. first requested the added troops more than six weeks ago.

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