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
Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
Arts and Entertainment
Books should be for everyone, says Els, 8. Publisher Scholastic now agrees
booksAn eight-year-old saw a pirate book was ‘for boys’ and took on the publishers
Life and Style
Mary Beard received abuse after speaking positively on 'Question Time' about immigrant workers: 'When people say ridiculous, untrue and hurtful things, then I think you should call them out'
tech
Life and Style
Most mail-order brides are thought to come from Thailand, the Philippines and Romania
life
News
i100
Life and Style
tech
Voices
Margaret Thatcher, with her director of publicity Sir Gordon Reece, who helped her and the Tory Party to victory in 1979
voicesThe subject is being celebrated by the V&A museum, triggering some happy memories for former PR man DJ Taylor
  • Get to the point
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

Recruitment Genius: Installation and Service / Security Engineer

£22000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company is part of a Group...

Recruitment Genius: Service Charge Accounts Assistant

£16000 - £18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Are you a a young, dynamic pers...

Cancer Research UK: Corporate Partnerships Volunteer Events Coordinator – London

Voluntary: Cancer Research UK: We’re looking for someone to support our award ...

Ashdown Group: Head of IT - Hertfordshire - £90,000

£70000 - £90000 per annum + bonus + car allowance + benefits: Ashdown Group: H...

Day In a Page

General Election 2015: Chuka Umunna on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband

Chuka Umunna: A virus of racism runs through Ukip

The shadow business secretary on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband
Yemen crisis: This exotic war will soon become Europe's problem

Yemen's exotic war will soon affect Europe

Terrorism and boatloads of desperate migrants will be the outcome of the Saudi air campaign, says Patrick Cockburn
Marginal Streets project aims to document voters in the run-up to the General Election

Marginal Streets project documents voters

Independent photographers Joseph Fox and Orlando Gili are uploading two portraits of constituents to their website for each day of the campaign
Game of Thrones: Visit the real-life kingdom of Westeros to see where violent history ends and telly tourism begins

The real-life kingdom of Westeros

Is there something a little uncomfortable about Game of Thrones shooting in Northern Ireland?
How to survive a social-media mauling, by the tough women of Twitter

How to survive a Twitter mauling

Mary Beard, Caroline Criado-Perez, Louise Mensch, Bunny La Roche and Courtney Barrasford reveal how to trounce the trolls
Gallipoli centenary: At dawn, the young remember the young who perished in one of the First World War's bloodiest battles

At dawn, the young remember the young

A century ago, soldiers of the Empire – many no more than boys – spilt on to Gallipoli’s beaches. On this 100th Anzac Day, there are personal, poetic tributes to their sacrifice
Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves

Follow the money as never before

Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves, reports Rupert Cornwell
Samuel West interview: The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents

Samuel West interview

The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents
General Election 2015: Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, on what the leaders' appearances tell us about them
Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

The architect of the HeForShe movement and head of UN Women on the world's failure to combat domestic violence
Public relations as 'art'? Surely not

Confessions of a former PR man

The 'art' of public relations is being celebrated by the V&A museum, triggering some happy memories for DJ Taylor
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef succumbs to his sugar cravings with super-luxurious sweet treats

Bill Granger's luxurious sweet treats

Our chef loves to stop for 30 minutes to catch up on the day's gossip, while nibbling on something sweet
London Marathon 2015: Paula Radcliffe and the mother of all goodbyes

The mother of all goodbyes

Paula Radcliffe's farewell to the London Marathon will be a family affair
Everton vs Manchester United: Steven Naismith demands 'better' if Toffees are to upset the odds against United

Steven Naismith: 'We know we must do better'

The Everton forward explains the reasons behind club's decline this season
Arsenal vs Chelsea: Praise to Arsene Wenger for having the courage of his convictions

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Praise to Wenger for having the courage of his convictions