Main U.S. Marine Contingent Goes Ashore in Somalia
MOGADISHU, Somalia (AP) _ U.S. Marines swept ashore onto Mogadishu’s beaches early Tuesday, this time not to save starving Somalis but to protect U.N. peacekeepers retreating from the country’s chaos.
After a massive intervention that took more than two years, cost $1.66 billion and took the lives of 42 Americans and more than 100 peacekeepers, the United Nations is pulling its last troops out of Somalia.
The 2,400 Pakistani and Bangladeshi peacekeepers are all that remains of a U.N. force that once numbered 38,000 and included 21 nations.
Despite their best efforts, the Horn of Africa nation is no closer to democracy than when American troops first landed in the capital under the glare of media lights in December 1992.
Somalia has no government, and its warring clans are preparing to battle for the city’s spoils _ the air and sea ports _ once the U.N. withdrawal is complete.
Although they arrived with the precision of a combat invasion, the Marines did not land on a hostile beach. Instead, they were greeted by friends.
The airport and nearby sea port are controlled by U.N. peacekeepers. For days, they have been keeping away children, scavengers and the curious.
The first amphibious wave was met on the beach at one minute after midnight by its own commanding general and about 150 Pakistani peacekeepers backed by tanks. All were expected to be ashore within a few hours.
One U.S. Air Force AC-130 gunship flew over the area to provide armed support.
``The first wave has hit the beach,″ Lt. Col. Mike Sovacool of Akron, Ohio, announced in the command center, where senior officials monitored the landing. ``Everything is quiet out there. Everything is going to plan.″
About 18 hours earlier, a vanguard of about 150 Marines landed on the beach at the city’s seaside airport to set up a command headquarters and landing routes for the 1,800 Marines and 500 Italian soldiers following them.
Commanders of the seven-nation U.S.-led forces did not expect a direct confrontation with Somali militia, though they prepared for the possibility.
Instead, the biggest threat may be stray bullets, mortars and rocket-propelled grenades fired by rival militias warring among themselves.
Commanding the operation was Marine Lt. Gen. Anthony C. Zinni, a top planner of the first U.S.-led intervention in Somalia.
``Coming in, I don’t see any real threat or problem,″ Zinni said earlier Monday. ``Going out, of course, there’s nothing behind us. We are the last units out and that’s probably a few days away.″
The United States and its Italian, French, British and Malaysian allies assembled 14,000 troops, more than half Americans, to protect the peacekeepers’ withdrawal. The force spent the past week on 32 ships off Somalia, preparing for the amphibious retreat.
Mogadishu seemed relatively calm Monday, a day after warring Somali militias battled outside the main gate of the airport.
Stray rounds fell at the airport Sunday, and one Somali policeman was slightly wounded. Another clan fight broke out Monday farther from the port and airport. Shots and explosions could be heard, but far fewer stray rounds appeared to be striking near U.S. and U.N. positions.
``Yesterday was a typical Somalia day _ a little shooting, but it wasn’t aimed at us,″ said Army Col. John Latimer of Rock Hill, S.C. He has been in Mogadishu for five weeks heading an advance team.
``My wife probably thinks she’s going to collect my insurance, but she won’t,″ he said.
American Marines first came to Somalia on Dec. 8, 1992, as part of a military coalition sent to alleviate war and famine. The country had been without a government since former dictator Mohamed Siad Barre was overthrown in January 1991.
An estimated 350,000 Somalis had died, and the United Nations said a million more could perish if banditry and militia fighting were not halted so food could be delivered to the starving. The United States and its allies largely completed that task, saving tens of thousands of lives.
Washington turned over the humanitarian mission to the United Nations in March 1993 and the emphasis shifted to reconstruction, with the hope of establishing a democratic government.
That effort failed, mired in mismanagement and the intransigence of Somali warlords. The humanitarian effort degenerated into a low-grade war between clan militias and U.N. forces.
U.N. Secretary-General Boutros Boutros-Ghali sent five special representatives to Somalia in four years, each with policy shifts and changes. An internal investigation last year indicated that many of the U.N. funds for Somalia were spent with little oversight and accountability.
The United States withdrew its soldiers from the U.N. mission in March 1994, five months after it lost 18 men in a street battle with the militia of Gen. Mohamed Farrah Aidid, the country’s main warlord. Later, the body of a dead American soldier was dragged through the streets of Mogadishu.
Last November, the U.N. Security Council voted to end the mission by March 31 because Somali leaders had failed to provide security for humanitarian aid.
Secretary of State Warren Christopher said Monday that the Somalia operation, despite its ambiguous ending, was conducted in the best tradition of the United States.
Christopher said the mission saved hundreds of thousands of lives and gave Somalis a chance at reconciliation.
``It’s important to recognize the positive aspects of our mission there,″ Christopher said in Washington.