Somalia sets alarm bells ringing in Washington: Horn of Africa held up as example of what could happen if US intervened in Balkans

US OFFICIALS who warned the White House that armed intervention in Bosnia would be the first step into a quagmire are pointing to Somalia as an example of the dangers of intervening in somebody else's civil war.

This contrasts sharply with the attitude last month, when intervention in Somalia was portrayed as one of the few US foreign-policy successes of the past year.

The prolonged assault by US helicopter gunships on the property and arsenals of the warlord General Mohamed Farah Aideed in Mogadishu has also underlined that US air- power is a very blunt instrument to use in a crowded city. This is important, because over the next few weeks President Bill Clinton must decide if he should use planes to punish President Saddam Hussein of Iraq for trying to assassinate the former president George Bush in Kuwait.

A few weeks ago the US was congratulating itself that intervention in Somalia had gone better than expected. In March, Robert Oakley, the special envoy who masterminded it, said the 'original limited mission for the US has been accomplished on schedule'. The goal should be to cut out the warlords and give power to women's groups, non-governmental organisations, clan elders, religious leaders and intellectuals.

This vision has now disappeared. Instead, Americans watched in confusion as the UN sought retribution for the killing of 24 Pakistani troops on 5 June. As the original humanitarian mission was blurred, the UN position in Somalia, backed by US air-power, looked increasingly like that of the US in Lebanon in 1983-84, which culminated in a suicide bomb attack that killed 241 US marines.

This is the bleak view of Frank Crigler, a former US ambassador to Somalia in the late 1980s. He said the effort to punish Gen Aideed squandered much of the political capital built up by the US in Somalia in the previous five months. It abandoned earlier limited and humanitarian aims of the first intervention by giving the UN sovereign powers.

Mr Crigler said punitive action was counter-productive, and it was useless to try to force the warlords to disarm: 'Their heavy weapons aren't the problem anyway; it's the thousands of small arms in the hands of young thugs and freebooters that cause most of the mayhem. Somalis will lay down their arms when it's safe to do so - that is, when they've reached a genuine political understanding about their country's future.'

Fortunately for President Clinton, Somalia differs from Lebanon in that the main US ground force has withdrawn and there are no US casualties. From the point of view of the White House, the decision to use US gunships against Gen Aideed had the advantage of showing that the new administration was no more reluctant to use armed force than Mr Bush.

UN officials in New York said the fact the UN troops killed in Mogadishu were Pakistanis and Moroccans has shielded the US from criticism it would otherwise have received for its role from Third World countries. There is also a hint of amusement in the response of other countries to the pursuit of Gen Aideed. The Russian ambassador, Yuli Vorontsov, suggested that the general be removed to St Helena and kept there in exile.

Mr Crigler said one reason the US was prepared to get involved in Somalia and not Bosnia was ignorance: governments knew more about the pitfalls of the Balkans than the dangers of the Horn of Africa. Possibly the UN will eliminate Gen Aideed as a political force and impose peace on the warlords. But so far the fighting in Mogadishu this month has reinforced the growing conviction in Washington that military intervention in Somalia, Bosnia and Iraq has few benefits and many dangers.

Opponents of involvement in the Balkans say that what is happening in the Horn of Africa shows how right they were to be cautious.

Suggested Topics
Arts and Entertainment
arts + entsWith one of the best comic roles around, it's no wonder she rarely bothers with films
News
people
News
i100
News
Davis says: 'My career has been about filling a niche - there were fewer short actors and fewer roles – but now I'm being offered all kinds of things'
PeopleWarwick Davis on Ricky Gervais, Harry Potter and his perfect role
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
Voices
A Russian hunter at the Medved bear-hunting lodge in Siberia
Save the tigerWildlife charities turn to those who kill animals to help save them
Sport
Frank Lampard will pass Billy Wright and equal Bobby Charton’s caps tally of 106 caps against
sportFormer Chelsea midfielder in Etihad stopgap before New York contract
News
i100
Sport
Usain Bolt of Jamaica smiles and shakes hands with a competitor after Jamaica won their first heat in the men's 4x100m relay
sport
News
Chancellor George Osborne, along with the Prime Minister, have been 'complacently claiming the economy is now fixed', according to shadow Chancellor Ed Balls
i100... which is awkward, because he is their boss, after all
Arts and Entertainment
The first film introduced Daniel Radcliffe to our screens, pictured here as he prepares to board the train to Hogwarts for the first time.
booksHow reading Harry Potter helps children grow up to be gay-friendly
Life and Style
A small bag of the drug Ecstasy
Health
News
i100
Life and Style
Floral-print swim shorts, £26, by Topman, topman.com; sunglasses, £215, by Paul Smith, mpaulsmith.co.uk
FashionBag yourself the perfect pair
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

Commercial Property Solicitor - Bristol

Highly Attractive Package: Austen Lloyd: A VERY HIGH QUALITY FIRM A high qual...

(Senior) IT Support Engineer - 1st-3rd Line Support

£40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A successful IT service provider that has bee...

Wind Farm Civil Design Engineer

£55000 - £65000 Per Annum: The Green Recruitment Company: The Green Recruitmen...

Principal Marine Mechanical Engineer

£60000 - £70000 Per Annum: The Green Recruitment Company: The Green Recruitmen...

Day In a Page

Save the Tiger: Meet the hunters tasked with protecting Russia's rare Amur tiger

Hunters protect Russia's rare Amur tiger

In an unusual move, wildlife charities have enlisted those who kill animals to help save them. Oliver Poole travels to Siberia to investigate
Transfers: How has your club fared in summer sales?

How has your club fared in summer sales?

Who have bagged the bargain buys and who have landed the giant turkeys
Warwick Davis: The British actor on Ricky Gervais, how the Harry Potter set became his office, and why he'd like to play a spy

'I'm a realist; I know how hard this business is'

Warwick Davis on Ricky Gervais, Harry Potter and his perfect role
The best swim shorts for men: Bag yourself the perfect pair and make a splash this summer

The best swim shorts for men

Bag yourself the perfect pair and make a splash this summer
Has Ukip’s Glastonbury branch really been possessed by the devil?

Has Ukip’s Glastonbury branch really been possessed by the devil?

Meet the couple blamed for bringing Lucifer into local politics
Dress the Gaza situation up all you like, but the truth hurts

Robert Fisk on Gaza conflict

Dress the situation up all you like, but the truth hurts
Save the tiger: Tiger, tiger burning less brightly as numbers plummet

Tiger, tiger burning less brightly

When William Blake wrote his famous poem there were probably more than 100,000 tigers in the wild. These days they probably number around 3,200
5 News's Andy Bell retraces his grandfather's steps on the First World War battlefields

In grandfather's footsteps

5 News's political editor Andy Bell only knows his grandfather from the compelling diary he kept during WWI. But when he returned to the killing fields where Edwin Vaughan suffered so much, his ancestor came to life
Lifestyle guru Martha Stewart reveals she has flying robot ... to take photos of her farm

Martha Stewart has flying robot

The lifestyle guru used the drone to get a bird's eye view her 153-acre farm in Bedford, New York
Former Labour minister Meg Hillier has demanded 'pootling lanes' for women cyclists

Do women cyclists need 'pootling lanes'?

Simon Usborne (who's more of a hurtler) explains why winning the space race is key to happy riding
A tale of two presidents: George W Bush downs his paintbrush to pen father’s life story

A tale of two presidents

George W Bush downs his paintbrush to pen father’s life story
Restaurateur Mitch Tonks has given the Great Western Pullman dining car a makeover

The dining car makes a comeback

Restaurateur Mitch Tonks has given the Great Western Pullman dining car a makeover
Gallery rage: How are institutions tackling the discomfort of overcrowding this summer?

Gallery rage

How are institutions tackling the discomfort of overcrowding this summer?
Louis van Gaal has £500,000 video surveillance system installed to monitor Manchester United players

Eye on the prize

Louis van Gaal has £500,000 video surveillance system installed to monitor Manchester United players
Women's rugby: Tamara Taylor adds fuel to the ire in quest to land World Cup

Women's rugby

Tamara Taylor adds fuel to the ire in quest to land World Cup