MOGADISHU - Attack helicopters overflew the Somali capital, Mogadishu, yesterday but United Nations troops made no move to track down the wanted warlord, General Mohamed Farah Aideed, whose whereabouts remained a mystery.
Twenty-four hours after UN troops stormed and destroyed his military stronghold, Gen Aideed was reported to be hiding in the bombed-out city. Mogadishu's streets were calm, lashed by torrential rain. Few UN patrols were visible and, for the first time in several days, there were no reports of sniper fire.
President Bill Clinton said in Washington that the operation was over and had crippled the warlord's forces. 'The military back of Aideed has been broken. A warrant has been issued for his arrest,' he told a news conference.
Hospitals say more than 60 civilians were killed and 100 wounded in the battle to neutralise Gen Aideed. Details of casualties suffered by a combined force of US, French, Italian, Moroccan and Pakistani forces were still sketchy. A UN official in New York said five UN peace-keepers - four Moroccans and a Pakistani - were killed and 44 wounded. The wounded included 37 Moroccans, three Frenchmen, three Pakistanis and an American.
Independent analysts believe the UN forces may take their time to arrest gen Aideed, held responsible for the killing of 23 Pakistani peace-keeping soldiers on 5 June.
'I think one has to draw a distinction between the military operation to break his power and the longer-term UN intention of bringing him in. The latter process is still going on,' said a UN military source who declined to be named.
Thursday's operation, the fourth against targets in Mogadishu over the past week, was part of a plan to disarm the warlords who carved up Somalia after the overthrow of the dictator Mohamed Siad Barre in January 1991.
Unconfirmed reports said Gen Aideed spent Wednesday night in the basement of a hospital with about 150 supporters. General Bruno Loi, commander of the Italian forces in Somalia, said UN troops stormed the hospital but failed to find him. The UN special envoy to Somalia, Jonathan Howe, said he had ordered the General's arrest, adding that an investigation had implicated him in the killing of the Pakistanis.
'I have concluded it is time for General Mohamed Farah Aideed to be detained,' he told reporters, adding: 'He will be given all the protection of the law. He will be treated properly, carefully.'
The UN listed the aims of the operation in a forceful statement from New York: 'Aideed needs to be understood for what he is, one of the warlords largely responsible for the death of 350,000 Somalis - people who were killed or starved to death by power-hungry warlords, and particularly those who refused to stop fighting.'