Somalis Suitably Impressed by U.S. Might
MOGADISHU, Somalia (AP) _ It had a touch of Hollywood, but today’s Marine landing projected American might and determination into a desperate, lawless nation.
The Marines’ job is to keep a massive amount of donated food out of the hands of looters and put it into the mouths of the millions who need it most - women and children, the poor, weak and defenseless.
Omar Faki, a 60-year-old former policeman, said he was delighted the Marines had arrived.
″We have been waiting for them a long time,″ he said. ″If there is no security, there is no food. If there is no security, you can’t go out where you want to go. You can’t do anything.″
Like many Somalis, he believes the Marines are going to disarm the bandits, even though Marine commanders have said that is not their top priority. Faki said he had seen Marines take an M-16 from an 18-year-old near the port.
From the start, the Marines showed they meant business, although there was some concern their tactics might alienate some of the Somali leaders whose cooperation they seek.
Within minutes of their landing, the Marines had rounded up about 15 Somalis found on the airport, six of whom were sleeping in an unused hangar. They were treated correctly but none too gently.
The six were forced to lie on the ground with automatic rifles pointed at their backs until they were marched away at gunpoint and subsequently released.
It turned out they were airport employees who had permission to live in the hangar from the Pakistani U.N. battalion that has been camped at the airport since Sept. 25.
Brig. Gen. Imtiaz Shaheen, the Pakistani commander, was visibly upset by the incident, a scowl painting his face as paced the airport grounds later.
Asked if it would sour relations between Somalis and the U.S. troops, he replied: ″Misunderstandings can be avoided. We still have a chance to mend fences.″
Although they did not expect to have to slug it out with the thousands of armed young men who roam Mogadishu’s streets, the Marines clearly were leaving nothing to chance.
They operated swiftly, stealthily and with a massive display of firepower - helicopter gunships sweeping back and forth overhead and a warship prowling so close to the shore a good golfer might have hit it with a 3-wood.
Most of the action occurred before dawn and few Somalis saw it.
But the British Broadcasting Corp. airs a widely heard half hour of news in the Somali language at 6 a.m. and most of Mogadishu appeared to have gotten the message.
Virtually every vehicle on the streets of the capital normally carries a complement of gunmen to protect it from looting by other gunmen. Even the few battered old private vans and buses that serve as public transportation go nowhere without their guards.
But as Mogadishu began to stir this morning, not a gun was in sight.
Robert Oakley, the new U.S. special envoy to Somalia, told reporters on Tuesday that he had at least three reasons to feel optimistic about the American mission.
First, he said, the Somali people are fed up with what they’ve been doing to each other.
Secondly, America enjoys a good reputation in Somalia.
And lastly, added, Somalia’s militiamen and brigands have a keen awareness of what happened during Desert Storm.