Cobras 'buzz' Aideed in show of US might

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US COBRA helicopters buzzed the residence of General Mohammed Farah Aideed in Mogadishu incessantly last night although a US spokesman denied that the task force intended becoming a police force.

Colonel Ted Peck, of the 1st Marine Division, said: 'We have no plans to go into any of the towns and become an occupying force. We are not going to do any street searches or house-to-house searches.' But he said the Cobras which roared in circles over the city last night were 'a gesture of intent'. They were sent to find 'technicals', the trucks with machine-guns mounted on the back, to chase them out of town.

Last night Cobras were constantly swooping feet above the General's home and a warehouse near by where tons of weapons are believed to be stored. It seemed to be a display of US military might designed to impress the General.

General Aideed, whose United Somali Congress forces dominate most of the south of the city, has welcomed the American presence and urged his men to stay off the streets. In his area posters began sprouting up showing the General between pictures of President George Bush and President-elect Bill Clinton. The Americans appear unimpressed.

As darkness fell shooting echoed as usual across the city but some fire appeared to come from the American troops. The 1,200- strong force of US marines landed from the sea at dawn yesterday and secured the airport and harbour after a heavy-handed assault which treated Somalia as enemy territory rather than a country where they are widely welcomed.

By late afternoon the airport had been transformed into a bustling hive of military activity. A second C141 Starlifter was unloading and several US military C130s had arrived to bring in troops and stores. A French C130 brought 120 French troops from Djibouti; 2,000 more are expected soon.

Thousands of Somalis turned out to see the Americans, crowding into the airport. Hardly any guns were seen on the streets, but optimism was tinged with regret. 'If this had happened six months ago, 30,000 lives could have been saved,' said one aid worker.

A young Somali who lives in a part of town shattered by fighting said: 'I hope the new Somalia will begin from today.'

Colonel Peck said the next stage was to take the airstrip at Baidoa, 200 miles west of Mogadishu, as a base for food distribution. That stage would involve moving more food by land, reaching small towns where people are starving.

The Colonel said that fighting at Kismayo had made southern Somalia's second port the most serious problem. Some 60 people are reported to have been killed in the past two days. Liberating Kismayo would be the third phase of Operation Restore Hope. The last would be handing over the whole operation to the UN.

Two RAF Hercules transport planes left Lyneham yesterday to join the operation in Somalia.

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