Raid fiasco focuses US doubts over role in Somalia

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The Independent Online
A BUNGLED assault by United States troops on a United Nations building in Mogadishu, which they wrongly believed to be held by hostile forces, is increasing pressure on President Bill Clinton to reduce the US commitment in Somalia.

During the attack, 50 soldiers shinned down ropes dangling from a dozen helicopters under cover of darkness, then tied up and took away eight UN employees inside the building, including an Irishman and a Canadian.

The fiasco is likely to crystallise the feeling in Washington that the US and the UN are achieving nothing in Somalia and should not have moved beyond their original intention of providing humanitarian relief.

The intelligence failure also underlines how far the UN is failing to control the situation in the Somali capital.

The attack was made early yesterday morning by soldiers from the US Army's elite Quick Reaction Force and men from a 400-strong force of US Rangers which arrived in Mogadishu last week.

Their overall mission is to curb the power of General Mohamed Farah Aideed, the Somali warlord, and his militia.

Apparently believing that they had identified two buildings held by the general's forces, the assault group descended from the air.

That may explain why they missed a large notice at the entrance to one of the buildings under attack which clearly said that it was occupied by the UN Development Programme.

An Egyptian woman working for UNDP told journalists that she was left behind alone in the house because she asked the soldiers for time to dress and they said they were in too much of a hurry. She added that the US soldiers tied her up along with other UN employees and told them to lie on the floor.

She said: 'They just told us to behave properly, to keep flat on the floor. Then we started telling them who we are and they said it would be all right, don't worry, but we have to do our thing and that's it.'

Three of her colleagues - a Canadian, an Irishman and a Belizian - were taken away by the raiding party, as were five Somali office employees.

All were later released after questioning. A second building taken over by the raiding party turned out to be empty.

The UN military spokesman, Major David Stockwell, said the raid was 'a textbook example of how these operations should go' using 'lightning speed and overpowering force'.

Nobody was killed in the attack but reporters who visited the two-storey villa found its windows blown out, the telephone and radio destroyed and vehicles damaged by gunfire.

Major Stockwell refused to say if the raid had been aimed at trying to capture General Aideed, claiming the mission was a success.

With Congress not in session and most politicians on holiday, Mr Clinton may escape without much political damage from the latest Somalia blunder. But criticism is mounting on both left and right.

Jeanne Kirkpatrick, a former US ambassador to the UN, yesterday called on the administration to explain why it is willing to become further involved in Somalia but is not prepared to do anything effective in Bosnia.