Bush Sending Troops to Help Somalia’s Hungry Millions : Mission: ‘America must act,’ President says in dispatching forces for humanitarian effort. A dozen other nations also may participate.
Presenting to the nation a military mission he described as “God’s work,” President Bush said Friday that he was dispatching thousands of American troops to Somalia to save thousands of innocent people from starvation.
The President said the American people could not accept the prospect of massive numbers of Somalis dying while the food that would save them lay nearby in bursting warehouses hemmed in by marauding bandits.
“The people of Somalia, especially the children of Somalia, need our help,” Bush said. “America must act. Military support is necessary to ensure the safe delivery of the food Somalis need to survive.”
The Oval Office address was Bush’s first major statement on the crisis in the Horn of Africa, and it outlined a rationale that could have important implications for the nation in defining its future role as a superpower. Until Friday, the overarching reason for deploying American troops abroad in the post-Cold War world had been to preserve the United States’ strategic position or to protect its economy--the primary goals of the Persian Gulf deployment.
But with the United States’ role in a new world order still emerging, the President’s eight-minute televised address at midday set out one more mission: a humanitarian expedition that the nation is uniquely able to assume because its military capabilities enable it to move swiftly to provide assistance around the globe.
“We’re starting to get into the historical mode,” a senior White House official said. “There is a desire to leave principles that will stand up. This sets a precedent and tries to lay down a few rules.”
The mission, Bush said, is one “that can ease suffering and save lives.”
“I understand the United States alone cannot right the world’s wrongs, but we also know that some crises in the world cannot be resolved without American involvement, that American action is often necessary as a catalyst for broader involvement of the community of nations,” the President said.
Over the past several days, Bush has aggressively worked the telephone, lining up commitments to one degree or another of troops from more than a dozen nations.
Gen. Colin L. Powell, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said the American troops sent to Somalia will be part of a broader coalition of armed forces that will include units from Britain, France, Canada, Belgium, Pakistan, Morocco, Turkey and Egypt, among others. Americans will make up the bulk of the overall force.
Authorization for the action came Thursday night from the U.N. Security Council, which voted unanimously to authorize the U.S.-commanded force. Under provisions of the resolution, American commanders are to consult with U.N. Secretary General Boutros Boutros-Ghali as they organize and carry out the mission. The resolution also gives the United Nations power to decide when the operation should end. The resolution was passed at the urging of the United States.
The unusual mission is necessitated, the President said, by the fear that, unless order is restored to Somalia and gangs directed by rival warlords are brought under control, thousands of tons of food stored in port-side warehouses will remain undistributed and as many as 1.5 million people could starve in coming months.
Although the international community has sent millions of dollars worth of food--U.S. Agriculture Secretary Edward Madigan announced on Friday that the United States will provide $32 million in corn to Somalia and other suffering nations in sub-Saharan Africa--the disappearance of any government control has blocked its distribution as the country has dissolved into anarchy.
In the first step of the mission, dubbed Operation Restore Hope, the Pentagon said a detachment of 1,800 U.S. Marines from amphibious assault ships stationed in the Indian Ocean off Somalia will land in Mogadishu early next week. Their mission will be to establish bases and to take control of the port and harbor facilities. Other units will arrive later.
Officials said the first deployment will be followed by units from the 1st Marine Expeditionary Force at Camp Pendleton, and the Army’s 10th Mountain Division Light from Ft. Drum, N.Y. Within three to four weeks, the American presence could swell to more than 28,000.
Bush, before his Oval Office speech, summoned congressional leaders for a report on his plans, and President-elect Bill Clinton was given a private Pentagon briefing in the morning at the governor’s mansion in Little Rock, Ark. Most of the congressional leaders, Democrats and Republicans, said they supported the mission, as did Clinton.
The President-elect issued a statement, saying Bush “has demonstrated that the American people will do their part to help bring this tragic suffering to an end.”
His statement was issued in writing, rather than in person, to make it clear that he was not stepping into the President’s role ahead of schedule.
Bush presented the mission as a limited one: to create “a secure environment in the hardest-hit parts of Somalia” to allow the distribution of food from ships to the ports and from the ports overland to the countryside. Once that is accomplished, he said, “we will withdraw our troops, handing the security mission back to a regular U.N. peacekeeping force.”
“This operation is not open-ended. We will not stay one day longer than is absolutely necessary,” he said. “We have no intent to remain in Somalia with fighting forces.
“To every sailor, soldier, airman and Marine who is involved in this mission, let me say you’re doing God’s work,” Bush said.
While Administration officials have expressed hope that the troops could be home by Jan. 20, when Bush leaves office, these officials and the members of Congress with whom Bush met expressed skepticism that the goal could be met. Defense Secretary Dick Cheney said he hoped American forces could begin turning specific sectors of the country over to U.N. peacekeeping troops before the American presidential inauguration.
But he said circumstances could delay that plan. “We don’t want to be bound by an artificial deadline that is unrelated to circumstances that our troops face on the ground in Somalia,” he said.
Among those who met with Bush, only Sen. Hank Brown (R-Colo.) expressed opposition. “I think it’s a mistake to have U.S. troops involved in it,” he said of the Somali mission.
Brown said the mission was too ill-defined. And despite assurances from military leaders that the troops would be allowed to defend themselves, he said he wanted to see clearer commitments about their liberty “to return fire.”
MORE ON SOMALIA: A8-A12
U.S. PLAN FOR SECURING SOMALIA
President Bush says the aim of Operation Restore Hope is to provide security so that international relief agencies can get supplies past armed gangs. Here is how the operation will unfold, according to U.S. officials. 1. Phase One
Amphibious strike force of Marines will go ashore in Mogadishu and secure the port, the airport and the city.
Troops will then move on to secure Baidoa. At that point, Army troops move in to bolster the force. 2. Phase Two
U.S. troops branch out to secure and establish food routes to key cities to the north--Hoddur, Belet Huen, Gailalassi. U.N. forces will also begin to move in to take over the operation. 3.Phase Three
Troops secure cities to the south, including the key port of Kismayu.
U.S. Troop Commitment
Marines: At least 11,000 from Southern California
Army: 10,000 from Ft. Drum, N.Y.
Navy: 1,550 from amphibious force
Air Force: 600, mostly operating C-130 airlifts
OTHER NATIONS’ ROLES
France: 1,500 to 2,000 troops
Italy: 2,000 troops (estimate)
Belgium: 550 paratroopers
Canada: 900 troops
Pakistan: Will bolster 500 troops already there
Britain: Transport planes