MOGADISHU, Somalia -- A senior Pakistani official charged yesterday that the U.S. military is leasing obsolete helicopters to the United Nations peacekeeping force the United States is leaving behind in Somalia, and he indicated to the visiting chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff that without better equipment, the entire mission could be jeopardized.
In a news conference closing his 22-hour tour of U.S. and U.N. camps in the Somalian capital, Gen. John M. Shalikashvili said he would review Pakistan's request when he returned to Washington. He also confirmed that the eight AH-1S Cobra attack helicopters that Pakistani pilots will fly over Somalia under a $40 million U.S. rental agreement came from old stock in the Hawaii National Guard.
Pakistani Foreign Minister Sardar Assef and Defense Minister Aftab Shahban Mirani also urged General Shalikashvili to provide additional air power to the U.N. forces, including scout helicopters and aerial surveillance equipment.
General Shalikashvili said Pakistani officers, who will command the largest single force after the last U.S. soldier withdraws March 25, told him that the equipment already leased would give them enough force to continue the mission.
Still, Mr. Assef's comments underscored a sense of bitterness and abandonment among the largely Third World armies that will stay behind after the United States and a dozen other Western and Middle Eastern nations withdraw their last troops from Somalia in the next two weeks.
"Are Pakistani lives worth less than those that come from the West?" Mr. Assef asked, referring to what he called the "outmoded and substandard" Cobra helicopters.
He said the American pullout, ordered after the United States suffered high casualties in a firefight in October, could open the United Nations and the West to charges of racism.
"We are very dismayed by this," Mr. Assef said of the remaining peacekeeping force, which will be almost entirely Asian and African -- among them the Pakistani force that arrived in September 1992, months before thousands of Americans landed on the beaches of Mogadishu.
"It is beginning to look like Europeans for Bosnia, and Africans and Asians for Somalia," he said, adding that it "smacked of racism."
Privately, U.N. military officers said the Somalian mission almost certainly would collapse if Pakistan, which has suffered even more casualties in Somalia than the United States has, decided to withdraw its troops.