U.S. Marines Mount Largest Operation in Capital
MOGADISHU, Somalia (AP) _ U.S. forces today mounted their largest operation so far in the Somali capital, sending 900 Marines, helicopters and armored vehicles to clean out the country’s biggest weapons market.
The strong thrust to pacify the country came on the same day that 14 warring factions were to begin a truce. Because of poor communications, it could not be determined if the factions were observing the cease-fire or even if they had been informed of the agreement, reached in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.
Sunday saw some of the heaviest clan fighting in Mogadishu since the U.S.-led military intervention began Dec. 9. Three Somalis were killed by Marines and dozens were wounded in clashes between rival clans.
Maj. Ken Roberts, a military spokesman, said the Marines cordoned off a large area around the gun market at dawn today, then moved in to seize all weapons. He said no resistance had been reported to ″Operation Nutcracker.″
″We hope to get a big haul,″ said another command spokesman, Marine Chief Warrant Officer Eric Carlson.
The U.S.-led force is working to secure aid distribution routes and rescue millions of Somalis from the anarchy, disease and famine that have killed 350,000 in the past year.
U.S. envoy Robert Oakley said that Sunday’s fighting could be seen as an anomaly amid a gradual reduction of clan violence in Mogadishu.
″A month ago they were in full-scale civil war. There’s been considerable improvement,″ Oakley said. ″They are still moving toward agreements ... most of their differences will be solved peacefully.″
Oakley, a former ambassador to Somalia, was one of the main forces behind getting warring factions to the peace talks table in Ethiopia.
The cease-fire agreement that the factions reached Sunday call for them all to disarm by March 1. But the clan warlords do not have absolute control over their fighters and the agreement does not affect the free-lance bandits who have looted much of the food aid.
Oakley returned to Somalia on Sunday from Washington, where he met with officials of President-elect Clinton’s administration. New administrations in Washington often change ambassadors but Oakley said he had no indication that Clinton would replace him.
Other incidents on Sunday showed the substantial task that the forces face in pacifying Mogadishu, much less the rest of the country.
Farouk Mawlawi, the U.N. spokesman in Mogadishu, said the Irish aid agency GOAL reported insecurity at three of its feeding centers in the Mogadishu area. One Somali worker was killed Sunday at the center in Gupta, he said.
Also Sunday, seven U.S. congressmen briefly came under sniper fire as they visited a stadium serving as camp for 1,500 Marines. There were no injuries in the group, which included Curt Weldon, R-Pa.; John P. Murtha, D-Pa.; Bob Livingston, R-La.; George Darden, D-Ga.; Jack Reed, D-R.I.; Nick Joe Rahall II, D-W.Va.; and Tony Hall, D-Ohio.
Murtha, chairman of the House defense appropriations subcommittee, told reporters he’d like to see the United Nations take a greater role in Somalia so U.S. forces could leave sooner.
He has expressed concern the United States could become mired in Somalia.
Nearly 22,000 U.S. soldiers are in Somalia. Twenty other countries have so far contributed about 10,000, the core of a U.N. peacekeeping force meant to replace the Americans as leaders in the campaign.
Australian troops began initial reconnaissance in the interior town of Baidoa today, Australian command spokesman Maj. David Tyler said.
The main body of 900 soldiers from the 1st Battalion, Royal Australian Regiment, is to arrive in Baidoa Feb. 15-19 and begin taking over security tasks now carried out by U.S. Marines.
Also Sunday, the U.N. Children’s Fund said security around its Mogadishu compound had deteriorated because a thriving market in khat had appeared in the neighborhood.
The khat leaf, a stimulant, is popular with the country’s gunmen and U.S. officers say they have noted a relationship between outbreaks of gunfire and the times of day when khat is chewed.
″We can time it. They get really hopped up on the stuff around five in the evening and start shooting off,″ said Marine Commander Gen. Charles Wilhelm Sunday. ″By six the next morning they’re comatose.″