Killing Somalis In Order to Save Them : The mission embarks on the road to another Vietnam.

<i> Alexander Cockburn writes for the Nation and other publications. </i>

“Light at the end of the tunnel” is not, so far as I know, a phrase that has yet been applied to Somalia by either the United Nations or the Clinton Administration, but expect to hear it any day now. We now have American pilots in Cobra gunships firing on women and children. So why should we be spared other reminiscences of Vietnam?

Take the story from the beginning of August. At the end of the first week we had the grotesque spectacle of the American head of the U.N. mission, Adm. Jonathan Howe, offering a $25,000 bounty for the capture of the Somali chieftain, Mohammed Farah Aidid.

Simultaneously, the Clinton Administration declares that the United States will not quit Somalia so long as Aidid’s faction remains “an obstacle.” Indeed, the U.S. mission is now to be extended from short-term relief to a lengthier effort to achieve what is termed “stability.”

Since it’s clear that the prime cause of instability in Somalia is now the U.N. force and its American commander, this statement of intent by the Administration shows that blind fixation has replaced sanity and common sense.


On Aug. 9, Madeline Albright, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, declares that we need to “stay the course.”

By now linguistic rehabilitating of the U.N. mission is complete. They are no longer “peacekeepers” but “peacemakers.” A U.N. official declares that “the humanitarian relief effort went well and it’s over. We’re into a new phase.” Truth is a casualty here. The initial mercy mission was mounted after the worst of the famine was over and has had the prime function of bankrupting Somali farmers with its imported food shipments.

By the end of August, U.N. Secretary General Boutros Boutros Ghali is saying 3,000 extra troops are needed and Clinton dispatches 400 elite army commandos. Since the Delta force and a U.S. Marine sniper unit are also deployed to Somalia, it seems an effort is being made to target Aidid personally.

Simultaneous to the U.S. Rangers and Delta force being deployed, Defense Secretary Les Aspin declares that “We went there to save a people and we succeeded. We are staying to help these same people rebuild their country.”


Three days later, the U.S. Rangers mount their first raids on two buildings, one of which turns out to be deserted and the other full of U.N. workers.

On Sept. 9 comes the appalling fruits of this new phase of “peacemaking.” U.S. Cobra helicopters and Pakistani tanks and armored personnel carriers fire cannon and rockets at a crowd of Somali men, women and children. According to the United Nations, up to 100, maybe more, are killed. One Pakistani soldier dies.

A U.S. major justifies the shooting of women and children as a “last ditch, last resort effort to protect the U.N. troops . . . We saw all the people swarming on the vehicles as combatants. If they reach our soldiers, they tear them limb from limb.”

Other efforts at exoneration are made. Women and children were “apparently caught in the cross-fire between the Cobra helicopters and the Somali militia soldiers.” Another U.N. official asserts that it’s “a common tactic” for women and children to shelter heavily armed Somali men in their midst.


Boutros Ghali expresses regret, but says the fault lies with the Somalis.

Four days after the killings, someone identified as a senior U.N. official in Mogadishu asserts, “This is a power struggle . . . All of the countries, including the U.S., have to confront what it means to engage in peacemaking.”

“Peacemaking” includes the mortaring and ransacking by U.N. forces of Mogadishu’s two main hospitals. Belgian paratroopers, returning home from the U.N. force, admit on radio terrible abuses they have committed around Kismayu and say any official U.N. estimates of Somalis killed should be multiplied by four or five.

In the aftermath of the Sept. 9 massacre, Sen. Robert Byrd (D-W.Va.) drafted a resolution that would require the Pentagon to pull U.S. forces out in 30 days unless the Administration won congressional consent to keep them there. Congress adopts a diluted version giving Clinton until mid-October to explain what he thinks the United States is doing in Somalia.


No need to wait until then. Hardly had the Cobra helicopter cannons fallen silent on Sept. 9 before Gen. Colin Powell was saying, “I don’t think we should cut and run because things have gotten a little tough. I think we have to stay there for the sake of the future.” For his part, Clinton said congressional pressure to withdraw would undercut his presidency.

Maybe Byrd and Senate Minority Leader Bob Dole can lead Congress into stopping this madness. We all know how the script goes, and we seem to be at “My Lai time” already.