U.S. Troops to Safeguard U.N. Evacuation From Somalia


President Clinton agreed Friday to send U.S. troops to Somalia early next year to cover the withdrawal of the remaining U.N. peacekeeping forces and to safeguard the removal of dozens of American tanks and other heavy weapons now in storage in Mogadishu.

Clinton made his decision Thursday in response to a longstanding request from the United Nations to provide American protection in the face of increasing harassment of U.N. forces by Somali militiamen. The United Nations has announced plans to remove all its forces by March 31.

Deputy Defense Secretary John M. Deutch told reporters that the U.S. evacuation force would consist of 3,000 Marines, a four-warship Navy amphibious ready group and several Air Force AC-130H gunships. Several hundred Marines would go ashore, while the rest would remain on their ships.


Deutch said Clinton had decided that the United States has an obligation to help safeguard the withdrawal of U.N. troops from countries such as Pakistan, India, Malaysia, Egypt and Bangladesh because they had gone into Somalia in 1992 at U.S. urging.

“In his (the President’s) words, it’s the right thing to do,” Deutch said of the U.S. pledge to help protect the U.N. force.

There are now 15,000 U.N. peacekeeping troops in Somalia--the remaining portion of a 25,000-troop Third World force that has been gradually withdrawing for more than two months. Only about 2,500 are expected to be there when the Marines go in.

The United States also has a sizable arsenal of armor and heavy weapons--including M-60 tanks, OH-58 helicopters and armored personnel carriers--that U.S. forces left behind for U.N. troops when the Americans departed last spring.

The U.N. request for help has become more urgent as Somali militia have begun challenging the authority of U.N. forces. U.N. officials have reported several incidents over the last few weeks in which U.N. forces have been blocked or shot at.

Officials said Somali clan leader Mohammed Farah Aidid also has let it be known that he regards the U.S. equipment as his now. Deutch said Friday that the Administration fears that the weapons “would destabilize the country if they fell into the wrong hands.”



The United States sent troops to Somalia in December, 1992, to help open humanitarian relief routes after civil war erupted between rival factions following the fall of Somali President Mohamed Siad Barre in 1991, preventing food from reaching starving Somalis.

U.S. forces successfully restored food supplies throughout the country only to see the situation deteriorate after the United Nations took over the mission in 1993. Security ultimately became so lax that U.N. peacekeepers were attacked by militiamen loyal to Aidid.

U.S. troops pulled out in March after an October, 1993, gunfight between Aidid supporters and U.S. troops left 18 Americans dead and 67 wounded.

Pentagon officials said the amphibious ready group carrying the 3,000 Marines would be sent to the waters off Somalia well in advance of the March 31 withdrawal deadline for U.N. forces and would remain in the area in case U.N. troops found themselves in danger.

The Marines will be part of the 13th Marine Expeditionary Unit, which includes special operations forces skilled in extracting hostages and prisoners of war.

The amphibious ready group will be headed by the amphibious assault ship Essex.