We are currently trialling our new-look independent.co.uk website - please send any feedback to beta@independent.co.uk


'Briefcase admiral' blamed in Somalia crisis: American UN envoy lambasted for 'personal vendetta' against Aideed and for deploying gunships over Mogadishu

ADMIRAL Jonathan Howe, the United Nations envoy to Somalia, is being blamed by State Department and Pentagon officials for grossly mishandling the crisis in the country. They believe he must be dismissed as a first step towards ending the guerrilla war between the 27,000 UN troops and the Somali militiamen of General Mohamed Farah Aideed.

'He is spending 18 hours a day in his bunker. He never goes out,' complained one official of the retired Admiral Howe, who was put in overall charge of the UN operation in Somalia in May.

A military source said that Admiral Howe had used AC-130 gunships over Mogadishu - at the cost of heavy civilian casualties - against strong resistance from US officers on the spot.

In the first days of June, Admiral Howe agreed - though warned that General Aideed would consider it an act of war - to single out the general's arms dumps and radio station for inspection by UN forces. Pakistani troops, returning from the inspection, were ambushed by Somali militiamen, losing 24 dead. Admiral Howe later offered a dollars 25,000 ( pounds 16,500) reward for General Aideed's capture.

'In private, US officers in Mogadishu say they consider Howe a briefcase admiral, who has never held a combat command and is now making up for it,' said a specialist on Somali affairs who recently returned from Mogadishu. 'They feel he has put them in an impossible position.'

Officers did not object to helicopter patrols but opposed both the use of AC-130 gunships, because they would cause civilian casualties, and of Blackhawk helicopters close to the ground, where they were vulnerable to rocket-propelled grenades. 'It is only really possible to hit a helicopter with an RPG (rocket-propelled grenade) from less than 70 feet away,' said the specialist.

Admiral Howe, 56, was appointed Deputy National Security Adviser to President Bush last year after being naval commander of US forces in Europe.

He has long held influential positions in government, starting in 1970, when he joined the National Security Council, then headed by Henry Kissinger, as an assistant to General Al Haig, who later became President Reagan's Secretary of State. He has also had some experience of trying to find opponents of US policy who are on the run. In 1991, as assistant to Admiral William Crowe, who was then chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Admiral Howe was directly involved in the pursuit of President Manuel Noriega of Panama.

After his appointment to head Unosom II - the UN operation in Somalia which took over from the US in May - he increasingly saw himself as a war commander. 'He's a born-again Christian,' the head of a relief agency in Mogadishu told Michael Maren, writing in the New York-based Village Voice. 'He starts meetings with a goddamn prayer. He believes that inside every Somali there's a good Christian waiting to get out.'

Critics of Admiral Howe say his pursuit of General Aideed has become a personal vendetta and his scorn for regular officers is in keeping with his behaviour when he was naval commander in Europe. 'Senior officers who came to see him at 5pm would be kept waiting for two or three hours while he attended some diplomatic or social function,' a military source said.

Admiral Howe appears unlikely to survive reappraisals by the US and UN about what has gone wrong in Somalia. The hostility with which he is regarded by UN military commanders and his single-minded campaign against General Aideed makes it difficult to leave him as head of a UN force which is now meant to return to a more diplomatic role. 'The problem up to now is that his dismissal would have looked like a victory for Aideed,' said one official.

Leading article, page 25