Clinton plans to send more troops to Somalia

THE United States is considering sending 2,000 extra combat troops to Somalia to help protect the 4,700 American soldiers already there while at the same time trying to end its military involvement in the country. A Pentagon source said the new force would also bring tanks and 50 Bradley fighting vehicles, with the presumed intention of ensuring that US forces can no longer be pinned down by Somali militiamen as they were last Sunday.

Earlier, Bill Clinton said the US must end its role in Somalia but added that the US forces there deserved support. He has held three long meetings with his top political and military advisers in a bid to devise a new policy that would get the US out of Somalia but not look like a scuttle.

Mr Clinton said the US must 'conclude our role' in Somalia but the country must not be allowed to return to the misery and chaos that prevailed before the US intervened in December. Nevertheless, the high military casualties at the weekend, and the Congressional and popular determination to get out, makes a withdrawal virtually inevitable.

The latest opinion poll shows that 43 per cent of Americans want the US to leave immediately and 26 per cent favour a gradual withdrawal. The USA Today-CNN-Gallup poll taken on Tuesday shows how little support there is for any further US military involvement in Somalia. Only 18 per cent want to increase military commitment, while 8 per cent say the US should continue as at present. A majority - 52 per cent - think it was a mistake for the US to get involved in the first place.

Congressional opinion also strongly favours withdrawal. 'If you asked all 535 members of Congress today, almost all of them would say let's get out of Somalia,' said the Democratic Senator, Jospeph Biden. Mr Clinton is to hold further discussions with Congressional leaders today before publicly spelling out the new policy.

The destruction of the American Ranger company has brought home to the administration that the military effectiveness of Somali militiamen is greater than was expected.

President Clinton is reported to feel let down by those responsible for US policy in Somalia. There has been growing criticism in the Pentagon and State Department of the UN envoy, Admiral Jonathan Howe. Two weeks ago the US asked the UN Secretary-General, Boutros Boutros-Ghali, to re-focus UN efforts to diplomacy and relief away from the war with General Aideed. The disastrous raid on Sunday shows the UN never changed its priorities.