First US troops ashore tomorrow

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The Independent Online
THE AMERICAN-LED force that is to take over key areas of southern Somalia to ensure that food reaches more than a million starving people is expected to start moving in tomorrow morning.

Robert Oakley, a former US ambassador to Somalia, has told aid workers that from midnight tonight all armed guards are to be kept off the streets and away from the port and airport and other key airstrips throughout southern Somalia. But they have also been told to work normally today. That is taken as confirmation that the Americans will begin moving in 18,000 marines and 10,000 infantry tonight.

They and a French contingent are expected to secure between five and 10 landing areas where they will peacefully or forcibly disarm any Somalis they find. They are expected to arrive by helicopter from US naval vessels off the coast and to be flown in by Starlifter aircraft. They will move swiftly and decisively in large numbers to impress Somalis that they will not tolerate any opposition and are not interested in negotiating.

Last night Mr Oakley was scheduled to hold a meeting with General Mohammed Farah Aideed, the leader of the United Somali Congress (USC), whose forces dominate southern Mogadishu and much of the south. Gen Aideed has welcomed the US initiative, but has said he wants more consultation with Somali leaders about the scale and style of the operation. Ali Mahdi Mohammed, whose forces hold northern Mogadishu, indicated yesterday that he had been in touch with the Americans. He said they should stay for four or five months and not leave by 20 January, as proposed.

Yesterday morning three US military aircraft flew over Mogadishu, and last night there were unconfirmed reports that an advance guard of US forces had landed at an airstrip some 30 miles south-west of the city.

Meanwhile at Baidoa, fighting between two factions continued for the second consecutive day as USC gunmen continued to arrive, fleeing from Mogadishu to prevent their weapons falling into the hands of the Americans. According to aid agencies, at least 30 people have died in the fighting as the USC tries to drive the other militia, the Somali Democratic Movement, from the town. Aid workers have reduced their staffs but some are unable to leave because their guards, dependent on them for a livelihood, will not allow them to, said Rhodri Wynn-Pope, team-leader of Care in Somalia.

Twelve civilians are reported to have died when an armoured car engaged in a running battle crashed into them. Fewer guns have been seen on the streets of the capital in the past few days and the atmosphere has been one of anticipation. The price of an AK-47 assault rifle has fallen to dollars 30 ( pounds 20) in the market, a fraction of the price a few weeks ago.

Most Somalis say they will welcome the Americans, but they are concerned about the Italian and Egyptian presence in the multinational force. The policies of both countries in the past, in particular their support for the Somali former president Siad Barre, has made Somalis deeply suspicious.

(Photograph omitted)

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