Somalia pull-out starts

MOGADISHU (AP) - Washington began pulling combat troops out of Somalia yesterday, starting with the battalion that fought in the battle that convinced President Bill Clinton to bring US forces home. In a grey, humid hangar at Mogadishu airport, about 450 members of the US Army's 2nd Battalion-14th Infantry Regiment lined up in full battle dress for a brief departure ceremony before the flight home.

'I have mixed feelings myself,' said Major-General Thomas Montgomery, commander of US forces here. 'It's hard when you come here to feed people and you wind up fighting for your life.' Although some support units left on Thursday and the carrier USS America left two weeks ago, the 2nd Battalion was the first combat unit from the 8,058-strong force to leave. Mr Clinton ordered US troops out by 31 March after an ambush on 3 October of US Army Rangers by Somali militiamen killed 18 Americans and wounded 75 near the site of a downed US helicopter. Three hundred Somalis were reported killed during the 12-hour firefight.

About 2,500 US troops, 30 per cent of the total force, are to depart before Christmas. Two of the three US bases will close next month. UN military commanders are scrambling to replace the formidable air power, intelligence network and logistics support the Americans will take with them.