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Clinton tells Rangers to pull out of Somalia

WASHINGTON (AP) - President Bill Clinton ordered the US army's unit of about 600 Rangers to leave Somalia yesterday, saying this reflected his decision to change the American mission from a military one to an effort 'to get a political settlement'.

Mr Clinton said the elite unit was not needed now that Marines have arrived to patrol the country's coast and since the focus is shifting away from a military-only operation. 'So right now we're in a stand-down position,' he said.

The White House spokeswoman, Dee Dee Myers, said the President had approved a recommendation by the Defense Secretary, Les Aspin, to remove the Rangers 'within the next few days'.

Rangers are light infantry trained to conduct special operations in all types of terrain and weather. Asked if the move meant he had given up the search for the Somali warlord, Mohamed Farah Aideed, Mr Clinton said: 'It means that we have 3,600 Marines coming in, many of whom have a similar capacity and it means that right now we are engaging in a political process to see how we can resolve our mission in Somalia.

'We're pursuing negotiations to try to get a political solution and I'm happy to say that . . . we're able to fulfil our mission better now than we have been for the last few months.'

Ms Myers added that the special US envoy to Somalia, Robert Oakley, was 'making good progress'.

A senior administration official said the decision to withdraw the Rangers had no connection with the release last week of Chief Warrant Officer Michael Durant, the helicopter pilot who was shot down but later released by Somalia. 'It reflects developments on the ground,' the official said. 'It's a confidence-building move.'

In the Somali capital, Mogadishu, the commander of US forces, Major-General Thomas Montgomery, said he assumed that at least some of the 3,600 Marines would come ashore. 'I would assume they'll be here to take part in operations as well. I anticipate that they're here to work,' he said.