Quick note to Gen. Aidid: Rangers won't be friendly

COMMENTARY

August 29, 1993|By ROGER SIMON

At first glance, dispatching 400 Army Rangers to Somalia does not make a lot of sense.

Rangers are an elite commando force. These are the guys who slide down ropes from helicopters and train in counterterrorism and unconventional warfare.

These were the dreaded "lurps" -- Long-Range Reconnaissance Patrols -- of Vietnam, who smeared their faces and hands with camouflage paint, crept into the jungle at night and killed in utter silence.

So what are they doing in Somalia where our mission is to feed people?

Well, this mission has proved tougher than we thought -- does that have a familiar ring to it? -- and so we have added another mission: keeping our forces alive so we can feed people.

Our chief enemy is warlord Mohamed Farah Aidid, who was supposed to be a pushover, but who has held out quite well so far against superior and better-armed forces.

There is already a 1,200 member U.S. "quick reaction force" in Somalia, plus 4,000 other U.S. troops plus 16,000 United Nations troops.

So what are a mere 400 U.S. Rangers supposed to accomplish?

According to the Pentagon they are supposed "improve the overall situation."

We can speculate on what this means:

It means the Rangers are supposed to grease Aidid.

Push his button.

Punch his ticket.

Ice the guy.

"This is not an effort to go after one man," Pentagon spokeswoman Kathleen deLaski insists.

But she also refuses to flatly rule out the possibility that neutralizing Aidid is why we are sending Rangers to Somalia.

The United States has a policy -- Executive Order No. 12333 signed by Gerald Ford and broadened by Ronald Reagan -- against assassination.

But just what is assassination?

It depends.

If you send in one guy carrying a sniper-scoped rifle to cancel Aidid's contract, that's assassination.

But if you send in 400 troops trained in "counterterrorism" and they happen just to stumble upon Aidid one day and slit his throat, well that's the fortunes of war.

Libya provides an example:

In 1986, when Muammar el Kadafi was giving us a hard time, we sent 33 jets, including eight F-111s carrying 64,000 pounds of explosives, to destroy his living quarters.

Secretary of State George Schultz said this was not an assassinationattempt, because we were merely dropping bombs on where Kadafi lived and not on Kadafi.

Kadafi didn't see much difference. Especially when we blew up his 15-month-old daughter. Kadafi survived the attack but has kept a low profile ever since.

But in 1990, having identified Saddam Hussein as our enemy -- George Bush compared him with Adolf Hitler -- we failed to go after him personally.

Instead, we sent in more than 500,000 men and women, suffered 148 deaths, spent around $7 billion and Saddam is still around.

America is rich in natural resources, and one resource we have in abundance is killers.

But we didn't send any killers in after Saddam because we drew the wrong lesson from what had happened in Panama in 1989.

There we made the mistake of announcing in advance that the removal of Manuel Noriega was our primary objective. And when he fled and it took us a long time to find him, we were embarrassed. (We did finally get him, however, and he now sits )) in an American prison.)

Bush figured we might have an even greater problem finding and killing or capturing Saddam, so we did not try.

But it now looks as if President Clinton has been studying his contemporary history and is making new judgments:

There is no need for us publicly to announce that we have sent the Rangers into Somalia to hit Aidid.

On the other hand, we are making it pretty obvious that he is our target

So even if we miss him, he, like Kadafi, may pull in his horns.

"There are indications that Aidid thinks he's doing pretty well and is causing anguish among the [United Nations] partners," a State Department official said last week. "This will be a wake-up call that we're playing for keeps."

Injecting 400 trained killers into Somalia is a wake-up call all right. One designed to ring Aidid's bell.

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