Marines gear up for rescue mission in Somalia

US forces fear a new bout of factional warfare after the UN quits, writes David Orr in Mogadishu The UN operation, says this nation of nomadic herdsmen, was as pointless as `milking a camel on to the sand'

The first wave of US special forces is expected to land tomorrow to cover the pull-out of the last 1,200 Pakistani UN troops in Mogadishu.

At the weekend, flares lit the night sky as US Marines rehearsed the rescue mission. Landing-craft from the six-nation flotilla, which includes the British destroyer Exeter, have been coming and going from the beach. Helicopter gunships and troop-carriers have criss-crossed the cloudless sky like dragonflies while the vanguard of the Marines scurried about in the sand dunes below.

The Marines' mission is to secure the coastal strip containing Mogadishu port and airport while ensuring the speedy evacuation of the remaining peacekeepers.

Yesterday supporters of the faction leader General Mohamed Aideed, in pick-up trucks mounting heavy-calibre machine-guns, converged on the airport approaches, saying that they were under orders to protect the area from bandits.

As dusk fell, a fierce gun battle broke out around the hotel where I was staying. The clash was between renegade elements in the Kilometre 4 area of Mogadishu. Even the call to prayer from the city's mosques did not disrupt the deafening sound of gunfire, which went back and forth. [The window in front of the desk where I was working was hit by a bullet shortly after I filed this report.]

United Nations and US commanders are haunted by memories of their earlier ill-fated mission. As fighting raged and famine stalked the land, Washington led a UN coalition into Somalia at the end of 1992 to protect humanitarian aid deliveries. But the operation degenerated into a conflict with the warlords, particularly with the militia of General Aideed that the Americans tried to destroy. The deaths of dozens of Americans and hundreds of Somalis forced the withdrawal of the UN Unified Task Force last March.

There are few remnants of the Americans' previous incursion: some blasted buildings, a handfull of burnt-out military vehicles, some discreetly hidden graves and the graffiti left by Marines: "I love Kay", "Katya I love you, see you soon", "Teri, I'm coming home".

The Americans are taking no chances this time and will be spending little time on the ground. Once the peace-keepers are withdrawn, they will load up dozens of US tanks, helicopters and armoured vehicles leased to the UN Operation in Somalia (Unosom).

If the evacuation goes smoothly, only about a thousand Marines and a few hundred Italian troops will go ashore. About 200 of the US contingent will carry new non-lethal riot-control weapons, including Stinger hand- grenades, which explode into hard rubber pellets, and machines that spray foam laced with tear-gas.

The Marines are playing down the likelihood of an all-out attack. They are more worried about "spill-over fighting" from looting, expected to break out when they depart.

But the UN has ensured that the pickings will be limited to a few portable huts, some furniture and air-conditioning units. Recently the UN has shipped out $170m (£100m) of equipment for peace-keeping operations in Bosnia and Rwanda.

The last of 2,700 Somali employees have been paid off. Up to $1m a day has been spent by the UN operation, a huge boost to the local economy. Victory Gbeho, UN special envoy to Somalia, admitted UN money kept the civil war going, through taxes imposed by the warlords on the locally recruited workforce.

Lieutenant-General Anthony Zinni, UN force commander, and Mr Gbeho say they have received assurances from General Aideed and his rival, Ali Mahdi, that the international force will not be attacked. The signing of a peace agreement by the two warlords has been greeted as "a positive development" by Mr Gbeho, who insists that, despite the failure of previous initiatives, the prospects for peace in Somalia are good.

Somalia has been without a government since the January 1991 overthrow of the dictatorial president, Siad Barre.

Almost three years have passed since the beginning of the first UN operation in Somalia and nearly two years since Unosom II was launched to protect civilian lives and promote national reconciliation between the warring factions.

The UN has sponsored a police force, judicial system and prison service but once the paymaster has gone, the only hope for law and order lies in the hands of the warlords. Without a government, the danger of renewed conflict is great.

As the last UN personnel pack their bags, gunmen roam the streets. The hospitals have no medicines and public services are non-existent.

This nation of nomadic herdsmen has a phrase to describe a vain, pointless exercise: "Hal bacad lagulisey". The UN operation, some say, was as useful as "milking a camel on to the sand".

Not all is lost. Mogadishu's inhabitants, as they often tell you, are tired of the civil war that has caused so much suffering and destruction. In the past few years they have revived the local economy and business in the marketplace is booming. There is hope that the clans will avert renewed hostilities after the UN's departure.

Although armed militias are still on the streets, the warlords have neither the resources nor the support to wage war with the ferocity of earlier years. Yesterday a pro-Aideed rally drew a crowd of more than a thousand people, who chanted: "Down with the United States". But his Somali National Alliance is a fractured force. However, last night's shooting around my hotel might be the first rumble of thunder before the storm.

Suggested Topics
Voices
voicesGood for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth, writes Grace Dent
News
The University of California study monitored the reaction of 36 dogs
sciencePets' range of emotions revealed
Life and Style
fashion Designs are part of feminist art project by a British student
News
Joining forces: young British men feature in an Isis video in which they urge Islamists in the West to join them in Iraq and Syria
newsWill the young Britons fighting in Syria be allowed to return home and resume their lives?
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
Arts and Entertainment
The nomination of 'The Wake' by Paul Kingsnorth has caused a stir
books
Arts and Entertainment
The Tour de France peloton rides over a bridge on the Grinton Moor, Yorkshire, earlier this month
film
News
Snoop Dogg pictured at The Hollywood Reporter Nominees' Night in February, 2013
people... says Snoop Dogg
News
i100
Life and Style
food + drinkZebra meat is exotic and lean - but does it taste good?
Arts and Entertainment
Residents of Derby Road in Southampton oppose filming of Channel 4 documentary Immigration Street in their community
tv
Voices
voicesSiobhan Norton on why she eventually changed her mind
News
i100
Extras
indybest
Sport
Scottish singer Susan Boyle will perform at the Commonwealth Games opening ceremony in Glasgow
commonwealth games
Arts and Entertainment
Dwayne 'The Rock' Johnson stars in Hercules
filmReview: The Rock is a muscular Davy Crockett in this preposterous film, says Geoffrey Macnab
Life and Style
tech
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

BI Manager - £50,000

£49000 - £55000 per annum + competitive: Progressive Recruitment: My client is...

BI Project Manager - £48,000 - £54,000 - Midlands

£48000 - £54000 per annum + Benefits package: Progressive Recruitment: My clie...

VB.Net Developer

£35000 - £45000 per annum + competitive: Progressive Recruitment: If you're pa...

SAP Business Consultant (SD, MM and FICO), £55,000, Wakefield

£45000 - £55000 per annum + competitive: Progressive Recruitment: SAP Business...

Day In a Page

Screwing your way to the top? Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth

Screwing your way to the top?

Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth, says Grace Dent
Will the young Britons fighting in Syria be allowed to return home and resume their lives?

Will Britons fighting in Syria be able to resume their lives?

Tony Blair's Terrorism Act 2006 has made it an offence to take part in military action abroad with a "political, ideological, religious or racial motive"
Climate change threatens to make the antarctic fur seal extinct

Take a good look while you can

How climate change could wipe out this seal
Man Booker Prize 2014 longlist: Crowdfunded novel nominated for first time

Crowdfunded novel nominated for Booker Prize

Paul Kingsnorth's 'The Wake' is in contention for the prestigious award
Tour de France effect brings Hollywood blockbusters to Yorkshire

Tour de France effect brings Hollywood blockbusters to Yorkshire

A $25m thriller starring Sam Worthington to be made in God's Own Country
Noel Fielding's 'Luxury Comedy': A land of the outright bizarre

Noel Fielding's 'Luxury Comedy'

A land of the outright bizarre
What are the worst 'Word Crimes'?

What are the worst 'Word Crimes'?

‘Weird Al’ Yankovic's latest video is an ode to good grammar. But what do The Independent’s experts think he’s missed out?
Can Secret Cinema sell 80,000 'Back to the Future' tickets?

The worst kept secret in cinema

A cult movie event aims to immerse audiences of 80,000 in ‘Back to the Future’. But has it lost its magic?
Facebook: The new hatched, matched and dispatched

The new hatched, matched and dispatched

Family events used to be marked in the personal columns. But now Facebook has usurped the ‘Births, Deaths and Marriages’ announcements
Why do we have blood types?

Are you my type?

All of us have one but probably never wondered why. Yet even now, a century after blood types were discovered, it’s a matter of debate what they’re for
Honesty box hotels: You decide how much you pay

Honesty box hotels

Five hotels in Paris now allow guests to pay only what they think their stay was worth. It seems fraught with financial risk, but the honesty policy has its benefit
Commonwealth Games 2014: Why weight of pressure rests easy on Michael Jamieson’s shoulders

Michael Jamieson: Why weight of pressure rests easy on his shoulders

The Scottish swimmer is ready for ‘the biggest race of my life’ at the Commonwealth Games
Some are reformed drug addicts. Some are single mums. All are on benefits. But now these so-called 'scroungers’ are fighting back

The 'scroungers’ fight back

The welfare claimants battling to alter stereotypes
Amazing video shows Nasa 'flame extinguishment experiment' in action

Fireballs in space

Amazing video shows Nasa's 'flame extinguishment experiment' in action
A Bible for billionaires

A Bible for billionaires

Find out why America's richest men are reading John Brookes