Somalia: Anatomy of a Disaster

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At 5 p.m., Clinton went before the cameras in the Oval Office and proclaimed the policy: he is sending 1,700 more crack troops to Somalia, plus 104 tanks and Bradley fighting vehicles (essentially personnel carriers) and four Cobra attack helicopters. They ought to be able to handle Aidid, at least in open combat. But if not, an additional 3,600 Marines will be waiting offshore ready to go in. Altogether the available force will be about doubled to 10,000. And that does not count another 10,000 or so aboard the ships of a carrier battle group that will steam around offshore. There are not many targets in Somalia for the F/A-18s aboard the U.S.S. Abraham Lincoln to bomb and strafe, though U.S. officials threatened to take out Aidid's arms caches in the countryside if he made more trouble in Mogadishu.

Clinton intends to downgrade, though not officially call off, the hunt for Aidid. The President dispatched Oakley to try to bring together rival clan leaders and warlords for what amounts to a peace conference. Aidid's acceptance of a nonexistent cease-fire offer from the U.S. on Saturday may have been simply an attempt to wedge himself into the negotiations. "Oakley has not been sent out to negotiate with Aidid," a senior Administration official told TIME. "We'll judge him by what happens on the ground."

Clinton and Christopher also sent pleas to African leaders to join in promoting a peaceful settlement. Whether or not these efforts work, though, the American troops will be out no later than March 31. Period. Supposedly, U.N. troops from other nations will remain; in fact, the White House sent messages to 30 countries asking them to increase their forces to take over from the Americans (fat chance).

The early-departure policy had one immediate success: it calmed the revolt in Congress. Whatever doubts they might retain, lawmakers generally welcomed a firm deadline for withdrawal -- and what they took as a sort of declaration of independence from the U.N. and Boutros-Ghali. The new U.S. troops will be under American, not U.N., command, and Oakley will operate as an American, not a U.N., representative. Republicans in particular have long suspected Boutros- Ghali of taking a dictatorial line; they delight in quoting him as once having said U.S. troops would be withdrawn from Somalia "when I say they can come out." Republican Senate leader Bob Dole exulted that Clinton's orders meant the U.S. will be doing "what we were going to do, not Boutros-Ghali."

Such sentiments will hardly make for smooth U.S.-U.N. cooperation in future peacekeeping operations. Boutros-Ghali, in an interview with Time, chose to turn the other cheek. Said he: "I am a super beggar" who can operate only with the contributions of troops and money that member nations make and the conditions they set. But members of his staff were understandably furious at the U.S. attitude.

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