U.S. aim in Somalia shifts from aid to police action Delta Force sent to find Gen. Aidid

August 28, 1993|By Mark Matthews | Mark Matthews,Washington Bureau Staff writer Richard H. P. Sia contributed to this article.

WASHINGTON -- Making the disarming of warlords a specific U.S. military goal, Secretary of Defense Les Aspin said yesterday that U.S. combat troops won't leave Somalia until much of the warlords' heavy weaponry has been seized, the capital is secure and police forces are set up.

While Mr. Aspin left the commitment open-ended, there were new indications yesterday of imminent action to remove what the United Nations sees as the key obstacle to Mogadishu security -- the presence of warlord Mohamed Farah Aidid.

Sources confirmed that among the 400 highly trained U.S. combat troops dispatched to Somalia this week were members of the Delta Force, an elite Army assault unit.

In the most comprehensive justification to date of the U.S. presence in Somalia, Mr. Aspin described the shift in goals from the purely humanitarian to making Somalia secure enough for political and economic rebuilding.

His speech to a Washington think tank also for the first time made seizing the warlords' heavy weapons a specific U.S. military goal, saying, "We must make real progress toward taking the heavy weapons out of the hands of the warlords."

After President George Bush sent U.S. forces late last year to quell the chaos blocking food supplies to starving Somalis, U.S. commanders rejected demands by United Nations Secretary-General Boutros Boutros-Ghali to expand their mission and disarm the warlords.

Much of this task was left until after most U.S. forces pulled out in May and the United Nations took over the command of a multinational force. The United Nations is assisted by 4,000 Americans, including a 1,200-member quick-reaction force, and now the 400 Rangers.

Since the United Nations assumed command, however, its forces have encountered continued attacks from forces loyal to General Aidid, whom the U.N. holds responsible for the deaths of several allied soldiers.

General Aidid is believed to have received money, and perhaps training and weapons from Sudan, which has close ties to Iran.

He was in Khartoum, Sudan's capital, in the spring, according to Walter Kansteiner, a former adviser to the United Nations in Somalia.

For weeks, the United Nations has been hoping to capture General Aidid, and Mr. Aspin's statement yesterday that "the security issue in south Mogadishu must be settled" was seen as code for either capturing or killing the warlord.

Mr. Aspin's third condition for ending the U.S. combat presence was that "there must be credible police forces in at least the major population centers."

"When these three conditions are met -- south Mogadishu, heavy weapons, police forces in the major population centers -- then I believe that the U.S. quick reaction forces can come back," Mr. Aspin said.

The U.S. support forces, including engineers and technicians, will be withdrawn "when the security situation in Mogadishu permits large-scale hiring of civilian contract employees to provide the support functions."

A defense official said the secretary omitted any pullout timetable because "the whole point is to move away from dates and toward goals."

U.N. officials are now discussing overall completion of their mission by early 1995.

The Army's highly-classified Delta Force is tailored for what officials consider "special missions," namely counterterrorism, hostage rescues and strikes against specific time-sensitive targets despite adverse odds.

Mr. Aspin urged other countries to send more troops to bring the U.N. force up to the planned level of 28,000 from the 23,000 there now.

He also said the United Nations must prepare a political, economic and security strategy for the country and form a core group of nations to support its work. He also said the United Nations should join with the Organization of African Unity to "bring the parties together."

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