Clinton orders more troops into Somalia President pledges March 31 deadline to bring them home

October 08, 1993|By Carl M. Cannon | Carl M. Cannon,Washington Bureau Karen Hosler of the Washington Bureau contributed to this story.

WASHINGTON -- President Clinton, attempting to rally a reluctant nation, announced yesterday that he is doubling the U.S. military presence in Somalia, but pledged to bring all the combat troops home within six months.

"We started this mission for the right reasons," Mr. Clinton said in a nationally televised address from the Oval Office. "We're going to finish in the right way."

The president said the U.S. presence has spared a million lives in that East African country and argued that leaving might undo it all and severely damage U.S. credibility around the world. Mr. Clinton likened the Somalis to a family in a burning house that the United States had set out to save.

"We've nearly put the fire out, but some smoldering embers remain," he said. "If we leave them now, those embers will reignite into flames and people will die again. If we stay a short while longer and do the right things, we've got a reasonable chance of cooling off the embers and getting other firefighters to take our place."

Cooling things off means beefing up forces immediately in the wake of Sunday's attack on U.S. Rangers by Somalian warlord Mohamed Farah Aidid, which killed 13, wounded 77 and left at least seven others missing or captured. Another attack Wednesday night killed another U.S. soldier and wounded 12 others.

In addition to the 650 troops sent Monday, Mr. Clinton said he was dispatching some 1,700 ground troops and 104 military vehicles -- backed by some 3,600 U.S. Marines off-shore. That brings the total number of U.S. troops to 10,000. The president also -- for the first time -- clearly enumerated their mission:

* First, to protect U.S. troops and our bases. "We did not go to Somalia with a military purpose," Mr. Clinton said. "We never wanted to kill anyone. But those who attack our soldiers must know they will pay a very heavy price."

* Second, to keep open and secure the roads, the port and the lines of communications needed by relief workers to prevent starvation.

* Third, to keep the pressure on those who cut off relief supplies and attack U.N. troops. "Not to personalize the conflict," Mr. Clinton said in a reference to General Aidid, "but to prevent a return to anarchy."

* Fourth, to create an environment in which the Somalian people, working with their African neighbors, can rebuild their country's political structure.

Ultimately, the president emphasized, the solutions to Somalia's deep problems cannot be solved by military force. And to help give some muscle to negotiations, he said, special envoy Robert B. Oakley was being dispatched to Africa.

Clouded mission

Although Mr. Clinton did not mention General Aidid by name, his speech contained a tacit admission that the forces in Somalia had allowed their pursuit of him to cloud the original mission in Somalia. The United Nations forces in Somalia -- which took over command of the operation from the United States in May -- shifted their focus to arresting General Aidid after his forces ambushed and killed 24 Pakistani peacekeepers in June.

In a meeting with congressional leaders earlier in the day, however, Mr. Clinton left no doubt that he agreed with congressional critics on this point.

"The president indicated that one important mistake that was made was this extraordinary U.N. preoccupation with seeking out Aidid," said Rep. Ronald Dellums, chairman of the House Armed Services Committee.

Mr. Clinton was careful not to criticize the U.N. effort in his speech. Nonetheless, he stressed that the combat troops he was sending to Somalia would be under U.S., not U.N., command.

One consistent congressional critic of U.S. involvement in Somalia, Sen. Robert Byrd, said he remain unconvinced that more troops are needed and expressed a desire for a speedier withdrawal.

The West Virginia Democrat is expected to introduce an amendment next week to reduce the number of troops and move up the withdrawal date.

Mr. Clinton's speech capped an intense five-day period at the White House in which the president's attention was yanked from the passage of health care reform and the North American Free Trade Agreement to two foreign policy crises thousands of miles away.

The first was an attempt by opponents of Russian President Boris N. Yeltsin to launch a revolt in the streets of Moscow. The second came when a U.S. raid to flush out General Aidid and his supporters Sunday ended in disaster.

Congressional furor

Although White House officials believed that the crisis in Moscow constituted a far greater threat to America's long-term security, it was the events in Somalia, fueled by graphic photographs of captured pilot Michael Durant and the body of a dead U.S. soldier being dragged through the streets, that fired ,, the public's indignation and ignited a furor in Congress.

Trying to head off congressional momentum to just abandon Somalia, Mr. Clinton conducted an extraordinary, sometimes contentious two-hour meeting at the White House yesterday morning with congressional leaders from both parties.

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