The World's Most Tempting Targets YANKEE GO HOME! It's Not Easy Being The World's Only Remaining Superpower

October 17, 1993|By RICHARD O'MARA

Recent events in Somalia and Haiti suggest the unhappy conclusion that U.S. troops are becoming unsuitable for further high-profile United Nations peacekeeping operations.

It is not because they are incompetent, ill-equipped, untrained or psychologically unfit for this kind of work.

Rather, it is because they are becoming the targets of those who desire to frustrate U.N. initiatives.

That was never more evident than last Monday in Port-au-Prince when those trying to prevent the United Nations from restoring Haiti's elected President Jean-Bertrand Aristide urged the Haitian military to fight the Americans in the peacekeeping force preparing to land from the ship Harlan County anchored offshore.

There were no reports of these Haitian "patriots" calling for the blood of the Canadian troops aboard the ship.

By their very nature, peacekeeping missions are dangerous. Uniformed peacekeepers put themselves between opposing armed groups. What protects them, to some degree, is their cloak of neutrality, the acceptance of it by both sides.

If it is lost or squandered, and the peacekeepers are drawn into the conflict, their effectiveness is obviously lost.

In Somalia, it has been suggested that U.S. commanders have virtually thrown away their neutrality by vigorously pursuing Gen. Mohamed Farah Aidid, one of a number of clan and militia leaders. This accusation may have some validity, even though General Aidid is in need of pursuing. He is suspected of having organized an ambush in June that left 24 U.N. Pakistani peacekeepers dead; he has repeatedly sent his guerrilla fighters against U.S. troops, with some success.

But the all-out pursuit of General Aidid is fairly recent. When Operation Restore Hope was first launched last December, the U.S. troops put ashore at Mogadishu seemed to have a clear idea what their mission was. Officers and enlisted men interviewed on the beach spoke of it as a rescue mission. They came to protect food deliveries, not to deploy against or attempt to disarm the militias. Restraint was evident in their manner.

By contrast, the French Foreign Legionnaires on the mission were a trigger-happy lot, blasting several Somalis almost immediately after arriving.

Somewhere along the way two things happened. The United States grew overtly aggressive, and General Aidid learned that fighting the Americans had a payoff for him, especially when clashes produced a lot of Somali casualties, as they nearly always did. It also helped him when they yielded a lot of U.S. casualties, as the one on Oct. 3 did -- 18 Americans dead, scores wounded, a helicopter pilot captured (he was released Thursday).

Such outcomes galvanized Somalis in a way nothing had before. As the U.S. commanders tried to demonize the fugitive clan leader, he, through his considerable radio and print propaganda apparatus, painted them as invaders of Somalia. The evident glee on the faces of Somalis in Mogadishu holding shards of wreckage from downed U.S. helicopters proved the effectiveness of his campaign.

That he was succeeding was at least evident by the rapidity with which the Clinton administration, facing a suddenly rising clamor at home for withdrawal from Somalia, softened its tones toward the Somali warlord. One day he was a hunted fugitive, the next Washington was talking about his participating in a political solution in Somalia, possibly heading the next government, if one is ever formed.

There seems to be little doubt that the lesson learned by General Aidid was quickly picked up by the hard-liners in Haiti. They threatened to turn their own country into "another Somalia" if necessary to keep the Americans from helping fulfill the U.N.-brokered settlement of restoring Father Aristide.

And there is no telling where or when it will happen next.

There are a great number of U.S. peacekeepers around the world. They take part in U.N. and non-U.N. missions.

In all, there are slightly more than 60,000 troops deployed around the world under the U.N. flag. The largest U.S. deployment is the 660 troops in former Yugoslavia. Almost half of them are in Macedonia, the others in Croatia and Bosnia.

There are also small groups of U.S. troops standing between Israeli and Syrian troops on the Golan Heights, and groups in Lebanon, Kuwait, the Western Sahara and Cyprus, about 120 in all.

Other U.S. peacekeepers, deployed under non-U.N. auspices, serve in northern Iraq to protect the Kurds from Saddam Hussein's forces. There are 521 in the Sinai supporting the Israeli-Egyptian peace treaty.

But most of these locations are not currently inflamed. It is in places like Somalia, Haiti and Lebanon as it was a decade ago, where U.S. troops, for all their undoubted prowess, logistical and tactical capabilities, may be too vulnerable to serve as peacekeepers.

Why is this so?

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