Some U.S. Troops May Remain a Long Time in Somalia With AM-Somalia-Town of Terror, Bjt
MOGADISHU, Somalia (AP) _ U.S. officials said Saturday that the U.S.-led effort to bring a semblance of order to Somalia was ahead of schedule, but they admitted some U.S. troops may have to stay for months, and possibly years.
Despite the U.S. claim that law and order were being restored, the country seemed as chaotic as ever:
-Gunfire broke out Saturday night between rival groups in Mogadishu about 200 yards from a hotel used by reporters. Second Lt. Eric Olson of Macon, Ga., said as many as two dozen rounds were fired at Marines stationed nearby.
He said Marines responded with heavy machine gun fire, but no one was hurt. Reporters saw two Somali youths bring a younger boy to the Marines for treatment of a bullet wound to the shoulder.
-Earlier Saturday, bandits looted a feeding center near the hotel, and some 100 Marines seized 18 artillery pieces discovered near Mogadishu’s radio station. Six Somalis were taken prisoner.
-In southern Somalia, relief workers reported sniper attacks on U.N. forces in scattered areas. No casualties were reported.
-In the north, five women accused of adultery were stoned to death by Muslim fundamentalists, and a sixth woman was lashed 100 times while an onlooker videotaped the beating, U.N. spokeswoman Cecilia Kamau said.
When the Marines first landed in Somalia on Dec. 9, the Bush administration gave assurances that Operation Restore Hope would be a quick exercise to suppress clan wars and banditry and secure routes for famine relief. At least 350,000 Somalis died last year in the chaos and famine, and 2 million more are threatened with starvation.
The White House had set Jan. 20 as a loose target date to begin withdrawing American soldiers and handing the operation over to United Nations peacekeepers.
But U.N. Secretary-General Boutros Boutros-Ghali has urged the United States to take a much larger and prolonged role in disarming regional warlords. Relief workers predict rebuilding Somalia will be a long, complex task.
Lt. Gen. Robert Johnston, commander of the U.S.-led operation, said Friday that some of the nearly 22,000 U.S. troops in Somalia could begin going home within three weeks.
Col. Fred Peck, a U.S. military spokesman, said the number of U.S. troops ″will get a lot smaller as the months go on.″
But he also cited what he said were reports in Washington that the Americans would stay to help U.N. units. ″I’m assuming we will be here for months to come,″ he said.
A U.S. diplomat, speaking on condition of anonymity, said some government planners now believed as many as 10,000 U.S. soldiers might have to stay in Somalia for as long as two years.
Assessing the first month, Peck told reporters that the operation is ″weeks ahead of where we thought we would be. We have far exceeded our most optimistic expectations.″
He said U.S. forces have confiscated 19 tanks and armored vehicles, 33 other vehicles carrying heavy weapons, 70 mortars and artillery pieces and 1,128 smaller weapons.
He noted that U.S. forces entered eight towns targeted for use as aid distribution hubs almost without having a shot fired at them. One U.S. civilian was killed by a land mine and one Marine was wounded by friendly fire.
A U.S. congressional delegation arrives Sunday to assess the progress of the operation. The group is headed by Rep. John Murtha, D-Pa., chairman of the House defense appropriations subcommittee.
Some observers believe that Somalia’s turmoil is being heightened by a rise in Muslim fundamentalism.
Ms. Kamau, the U.N. spokeswoman, said religious leaders told her the five women in Hargeisa, in northern Somalia, had been sentenced to death by stoning because they had committed adultery. The sixth woman, accused of having illicit sex, was whipped because she was unmarried and thus was not considered to have committed adultery.
″It would seem fundamentalism is really catching on,″ she said. ″Our people are worried about their own security.″
She said U.N. representatives who tried to intervene were threatened with stoning if they left their car. She said some in the crowd videotaped the stoning after Friday night prayers and appeared to enjoy it.