Clinton Orders 5,300 Troops to Somalia, Sets March 31 Pullout : Africa: Deployment is ‘to protect our troops and to complete our mission,’ President says, rejecting calls to ‘cut and run.’ He sends 1,700 soldiers, plus 3,600 Marines to be stationed offshore.
President Clinton on Thursday ordered 5,300 new combat troops and an aircraft carrier “to protect our troops and to complete our mission” in Somalia and at the same time announced that he will bring all American combat forces home by March 31.
He said that the objective of the new deployment--1,700 ground troops supplemented by 3,600 Marines on ships offshore--is to give the Somalis a reasonable prospect of survival in conditions of near-anarchy and factional warfare. Regardless of the success of the new mission, he vowed to end the U.S. military presence in Somalia in six months.
In the past week, 14 U.S. soldiers were killed and scores wounded in skirmishes in Somalia.
In his first public explanation of why American troops are in that lawless land and when they would be getting out, Clinton said that he had rejected calls from Congress and elsewhere to “cut and run” from Somalia because he believes that both Somali lives and American credibility are at stake.
“We face a choice,” the President said. “Do we leave when the job gets tough or when the job is well done? Do we invite the return of mass suffering or do we leave in a way that gives the Somalis a decent chance to survive?”
Clinton argued that the United States has an obligation to try to complete a humanitarian effort begun 10 months ago. “We started this mission for the right reasons and we’re going to finish it in the right way,” Clinton said.
He also said that he would not withdraw now with American soldiers in Somali hands or listed as missing. One American serviceman is known to be held by the forces of warlord Mohammed Farah Aidid, and six others are missing from an encounter Sunday in which 13 U.S. soldiers were slain.
Clinton’s 11-minute address from the Oval Office, which was carried live on the four major networks at 2 p.m. PDT, came after American television viewers were shown film of a battered and captured airman being held in Aidid’s custody and the body of a soldier being dragged through the dusty streets of Mogadishu.
Clinton’s new policy was welcomed by Democrats in Congress who had questioned the Administration’s seeming drift on Somalia and won a promise of bipartisan support from Senate Minority Leader Bob Dole (R-Kan.).
“I would urge my colleagues that this is not a time to pick a partisan fight over Somalia,” Dole said. “On this particular issue I believe the President has earned the day and deserves our support and I believe he will have broad support across the aisles.”
Despite an uneasy feeling among many U.N. officials that Washington has been blaming them unfairly for the Somalia fiasco, Secretary General Boutros Boutros-Ghali issued a statement Thursday night welcoming President Clinton’s earlier announcement.
“The secretary general is grateful to President Clinton for having highlighted the many achievements of the U.N. in Somalia,” U.N. spokesman Joe Sills said, “and for having corrected many of the misperceptions which have surfaced in the last few weeks.”
Noting that Boutros-Ghali will be traveling to Somalia and Ethiopia next week in an attempt “to promote political reconciliation,” Sills said the secretary general “is happy to be able to count on the continued support of the United States government in this effort.”
If the United States were to withdraw from Somalia now, the President said, some of the 30 other nations that have contributed to the 28,000-strong U.N. peacekeeping force also would leave. Chaos would return to the ravaged East African nation, he said, and starvation would soon resume.
Moreover, Clinton added, American resolve and its role in the world would rightly be called into question.
“Our own credibility with friends and allies would be severely damaged,” he asserted. “Our leadership in world affairs would be undermined at the very time when people are looking to America to help promote peace and freedom in the post-Cold War world. And all around the world, aggressors, thugs and terrorists will conclude that the best way to get us to change our policies is to kill our people. It would be open season on Americans.”
While emphasizing that he wants to bring U.S. troops home promptly, Clinton said that current conditions there require additional troops. Forces loyal to Aidid have become increasingly bold in their attacks on U.S. and U.N. peacekeeping troops and are threatening relief convoys trying to maintain the flow of supplies to areas outside the capital of Mogadishu.
Twelve U.S. soldiers were killed and 78 wounded in a raid on a meeting of Aidid loyalists in Mogadishu Sunday night, and one of the wounded died Thursday in a U.S. military hospital in Germany. In a separate incident Wednesday night, one soldier was killed and 14 were wounded when a mortar shell slammed into a U.S. encampment near the Mogadishu airport.
Mortar and rocket-propelled grenade attacks on U.N. positions in southern Mogadishu have become an almost nightly occurrence in the past few months, but this week’s incident marked the first time that these attacks have resulted in U.S. casualties.
A U.N. civilian spokesman in Mogadishu said that nonessential U.N. personnel are being flown out of Mogadishu to Nairobi in neighboring Kenya. He said that he does not know how many people are being evacuated.
Clinton said that the additional 1,700 combat troops will reinforce about 5,300 troops now serving on the ground in Somalia. An additional 104 tanks and armored personnel carriers will be shipped to provide greater protection for ground forces, Clinton said. He also ordered an aircraft carrier to take up position in the Indian Ocean off the Somali coast to provide air cover for military operations.
“This past week’s events make it clear that even as we prepare to withdraw from Somalia, we need more strength there,” Clinton said. “We need more armor, more air power, to ensure that our people are safe and that we can do our job.” He stressed that all would be under U.S.--not U.N.--command.
Clinton expressed sympathy for Somalia, comparing the tattered nation to a house on fire, and said that while he cannot guarantee Somalia peace or stability, he hopes to be able to provide “a reasonable chance” for it to emerge as a viable nation.
“It is not our job to rebuild Somalia’s society or even to create a political process that can allow Somalia’s clans to live and work in peace. The Somalis must do that for themselves,” the President said.
Clinton said that he would accelerate diplomatic efforts to bring reconciliation to the warring factions in Somalia and announced that he had dispatched veteran U.S. ambassador Robert B. Oakley to Africa to try to involve neighboring states in a peace effort for Somalia.
White House aides said Wednesday that former President Jimmy Carter also will be involved in mediation efforts. But Carter on Thursday said he had not been asked to participate nor had he volunteered. The former President said in a statement that Aidid had asked him to serve as mediator several weeks ago but that he had declined because “there are others more knowledgeable than I about the situation” in Somalia.
Secretary of State Warren Christopher, briefing reporters after the President’s statement, outlined a flurry of diplomatic activity to refocus the Somali operation on a political track. He said the United States is sending messages to 30 countries asking that they keep their troops in Somalia until it is secure.
Much of the activity will be focused on Somalia’s neighbors, particularly Ethiopia and Eritrea. “We’re looking to the African leaders to find an African solution to an African problem,” Christopher said.
Clinton said that his new policy has four aims:
* To protect American troops and bases in Somalia and to retaliate forcefully against those who attack them.
* To secure the roads, the port and the lines of communication necessary to the flow of food and supplies.
* To keep the pressure on those who cut off relief supplies and attack U.S. troops--chiefly Aidid and his gunmen--”not to personalize the conflict but to prevent a return to anarchy.”
* To assist in Somali efforts to reach an internal political settlement.
A senior White House aide said that, while Aidid “isn’t the focus of our mission,” U.S. forces will continue to seek to arrest or isolate him. The aide said efforts will be mounted to rescue any U.S. soldiers held captive.
The Administration wants the 3,000 U.S. troops now performing logistic missions to be replaced by local civilian contractors.
The only exception to Clinton’s decision to bring American forces home by March 31, the President said, are “a few hundred” support personnel in noncombat roles.
Times staff writer Stanley Meisler at the United Nations contributed to this report.
* ASPIN UNDER FIRE: Defense secretary faces calls for his resignation. A12
* TEXT OF CLINTON SPEECH: A14
* RELATED COVERAGE: A12-15
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