Aideed militia complain about US show of force: Despite the roar of planes the signal goes out from Washington of a switch in policy from war to talks

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The Independent Online
MOGADISHU - The militia of the Somali warlord, Mohamed Farah Aideed, complained yesterday about a United States show of force in Mogadishu, saying the roar of American fighter planes could shatter a fragile truce.

But the spokesman for the 5,300-strong task force of fresh US troops arriving in Somalia indicated that their mission was not to hunt down General Aideed. 'It's to provide support and make sure the humanitarian mission is successful,' said Lieutenant-Colonel Don Gersh. The hulking profile of the USS Abraham Lincoln aircraft-carrier hovered near the shore and F-18 Hornet fighters flew overhead for most of the day.

General Aideed's militia said in a statement the overflights would 'create panic and terror among the population which certainly (will) induce them not to believe the announced peace'. But the special US envoy to Somalia said a fruitless military hunt for General Aideed that has cost hundreds of lives in the city was effectively over.

'President Clinton has recognised that over time the policy has become distorted . . . obviously the situation is getting worse for Somalia rather than better,' the US envoy Robert Oakley told Somali reporters on Monday.

Mr Clinton wants US troops out by 31 March but says reinforcements are needed now to complete a humanitarian mission and ensure an orderly retreat.

The guerrilla war in Mogadishu erupted when 24 Pakistani UN troops were massacred by gunmen on 5 June. A Security Council resolution called for the arrest of those responsible and UN forces clearly identified General Aideed as the guilty man. 'It's important to have an independent investigation to find out who is responsible,' Mr Oakley told journalists from the pro-Aideed Qaran and Hogaal newspapers and the UN's mouthpiece Maanta.

'Instead it has appeared that the UN policy and the US military forces have already decided on the individual and an entire sub-clan and this has produced a bad result.' Many blame Admiral Jonathan Howe, the chief of the United Nations mission to Somalia, for favouring the bloody campaign which identified General Aideed in Wild West-style wanted posters offering a dollars 25,000 ( pounds 16,500) reward for his arrest.

Mr Oakley noted that General Aideed himself had agreed to an impartial investigation into the 5 June killings when he announced a unilateral ceasefire against United Nations forces. 'This does not mean the Security Council resolution that calls for accountability of those responsible for the events of 5 June is not respected,' Mr Oakley said.

Overnight there were three small arms attacks against Pakistani forces. People scattered on the street as a gunman let loose with his assault rifle at a passing car.

Aideed supporters expressed anger that Mr Oakley had not contacted their militia directly, but later in the day US officials said he would be staying at least until today - giving him time to meet senior militia leaders. Mr Oakley said he was talking to people in 'direct contact' with General Aideed - elders from the general's Habre Gedir clan - but that he was not seeing the warlord himself.

Washington clearly wants to drop the focus on General Aideed and get Somalia's 15 militia factions round the negotiating table in the Ethiopian capital of Addis Ababa this month. The Aideed militia wants the conference to be delayed to allow a ceasefire to take hold.

Another body was delivered to the UN yesterday, apparently that of a US soldier killed in a battle 10 days ago. UN military officials said it had not been identified. Two other bodies have yet to be identified but the death toll from the disastrous US Army Ranger operation on 3 October is likely to reach 18.

(Photograph omitted)