Somalia without Aidid Bandit chief dies: Made fools of U.S. and victims of his people.

August 05, 1996

PEACE MAY RESULT from the slaying of Somalia's faction chief Mohamed Farah Aidid. But it is not assured, though the tTC population is frightened, hungry, sick of chaos and ready for an end to civil war.

General Aidid was the principal barrier to any accord. He ruled south Mogadishu and battled with the chief of north Mogadishu, Ali Mahdi Mohamed, as well as with defectors and other clan leaders. He declared himself president. He prevented any coalition from working.

Some ragtag enemy's bullet did what the U.S. Army, Marines, Navy, Air Force, CIA and NSA could not do. It found Aidid. Days later, he died. U.S. forces went into Somalia in 1992-3 to feed the people whom Aidid's and other militia factions extorted and starved. Under U.N. auspices, their mission crept up to finding him and putting him out of business.

Aidid's men shot down two U.S. helicopters. He eluded U.S. forces with ease. His men shot U.N. soldiers. His low-tech machines sniped at U.S. high-tech hardware and his no-tech communications thwarted the most sophisticated eavesdropping. The failure to catch Aidid was, above all, an intelligence failure.

He stayed. U.S. forces left, amid much muttering about lessons learned. He emerged the greatest hero of the dispossessed who made the biggest fool of the U.S. since the bandit Pancho Villa led Gen. John J. Pershing on a fruitless 11-month chase through northern Mexico on the eve of World War I.

But aside from pulling the U.S. lion's tail, which many rogues elsewhere applauded, Aidid was no hero. He was a villain who made his people suffer for his own aggrandizement. He did not care how many he killed or impoverished or starved.

Northern Somalia, a former British colony, has gone separate and spared itself the anarchy of southern Somalia, a former Italian colony. The bandit-induced famine has not returned on its former scale, but clan rivalries have prevented national existence or civil society. Now there is a fighting chance to build a country.

Pub Date: 8/05/96

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