The deadly perils of peace-keeping: Somalia

THE AMERICANS can only blame themselves for having to return to Mogadishu just six weeks after they handed over command to the United Nations. The seeds of their return were planted by the failure of their intervention last December. Washington misread the nature of Somalia and underestimated what the operation would lead to.

The first mistake was to announce their arrival too far in advance of the first marine landings. This gave time for Somali armies and gangs to move their fighters and weapons out of Mogadishu and hide them. This mistake was compounded by a delay in the arrival of the marines and the abandonment of the original plan to take over several key points simultaneously. Instead, the Marines piled ashore at Mogadishu, established a beach-head and fanned out. By this time most of the serious guns were over the horizon or even the Ethiopian border.

Secondly, the Americans' stated aim was to create a safe environment for food relief. In fact they were taking over a country. Their brief fell far short of what was expected by Somalis or what was needed. The Somalis backed off in the face of US firepower but in military terms, all the Americans achieved was the ending of the toll system, whereby food relief was taxed, blocked or stolen by the warlords.

The key question of disarmament was left unanswered. Robert Oakley, the US special envoy in Somalia, argued it would be too imperialistic and might cost US lives. As soon as the Americans were replaced by soldiers who were neither feared nor respected by the Somalis, the guns returned.

Mr Oakley then made the third mistake, which was to court General Mohammed Farah Aideed and the other warlords. Mr Oakley was escorted from the airport when he first arrived by General Aideed's fighters, and moved into a house opposite the general's residence and under his control.

The only public warning Aideed received was in the form of two Cobra helicopters, which circled his house for an hour on the eve of the invasion. His response was to welcome the Americans ashore. What Somalis saw was Mr Oakley and Aideed shaking hands.

Many non-combatant Somalis argued that warlords and murderers had to be marginalised or destroyed before a new leadership could emerge in Somali society. They said the warlords' power was purely military and that Mr Oakley's attempt to turn Aideed and his rival, Ali Mahdi Mohammed, into politicians, was doomed.

The fourth mistake compounded them all. On 4 May the US pulled out the main force - too soon. Many believed last December that George Bush needed a glorious military display before he left office and that once the television cameras had gone the Americans would leave. They were not prepared to risk American lives to solve the problem.

Political progress is still minute and, as has been proved, vulnerable to a sudden flare-up. Mr Oakley spoke of peace on the streets and a new breed of leadership and a police force emerging, but he and his masters in Washington were not prepared to stay until this happened.

When they left, the only crucial question - who was to be master of Somalia - lay unanswered. In public, Washington said that was down to the Somalis to sort out and the UN to manage. In private, US officials admitted the Somalis were still at war and the UN was not competent to manage Somalia. Yet still they pulled out. It will take years for a new Somali leadership to emerge and gain enough respect to rule the country. In the meantime, the warlords must be destroyed or contained. The Americans failed to do this, which is why they are back.

And they have returned in such a way that no outside force will be able to remain in Somalia by consent. If the UN stays on, it will do so as an army of occupation.

(Photograph omitted)

Suggested Topics
Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Arts and Entertainment
Joe Cocker performing on the Stravinski hall stage during the Montreux Jazz Festival, in Montreux, Switzerland in 2002
musicHe 'turned my song into an anthem', says former Beatle
News
Clarke Carlisle
sport
Sport
footballStoke City vs Chelsea match report
Arts and Entertainment
David Hasselhof in Peter Pan
theatreThe US stars who've taken to UK panto, from Hasselhoff to Hall
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
Life and Style
Approaching sale shopping in a smart way means that you’ll get the most out of your money
life + styleSales shopping tips and tricks from the experts
News
newsIt was due to be auctioned off for charity
News
Coca-Cola has become one of the largest companies in the world to push staff towards switching off their voicemails, in a move intended to streamline operations and boost productivity
peopleCoca-Cola staff urged to switch it off to boost productivity
Environment
Sir David Attenborough
environment... as well as a plant and a spider
Voices
'That's the legal bit done. Now on to the ceremony!'
voicesThe fight for marriage equality isn't over yet, says Siobhan Fenton
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

Austen Lloyd: Regulatory / Compliance / Exeter

Excellent Salary: Austen Lloyd: Exeter - An excellent opportunity for a Solici...

Ashdown Group: IT Support Technician - 12 Month Fixed Term - Shrewsbury

£17000 - £20000 per annum: Ashdown Group: IT Helpdesk Support Technician - 12 ...

The Jenrick Group: Maintenance Planner

£28000 - £32000 per annum + pension + holidays: The Jenrick Group: Maintenance...

The Jenrick Group: World Wide PLC Service Engineer

£30000 - £38000 per annum + pesion + holidays: The Jenrick Group: World Wide S...

Day In a Page

Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history - clocks, rifles, frogmen’s uniforms and colonial helmets

Clocks, rifles, swords, frogmen’s uniforms

Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history
Return to Gaza: Four months on, the wounds left by Israel's bombardment have not yet healed

Four months after the bombardment, Gaza’s wounds are yet to heal

Kim Sengupta is reunited with a man whose plight mirrors the suffering of the Palestinian people
Gastric surgery: Is it really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Is gastric surgery really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Critics argue that it’s crazy to operate on healthy people just to stop them eating
Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction Part 2 - now LIVE

Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction

Bid on original art, or trips of a lifetime to Africa or the 'Corrie' set, and help Homeless Veterans
Pantomime rings the changes to welcome autistic theatre-goers

Autism-friendly theatre

Pantomime leads the pack in quest to welcome all
The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

Sony suffered a chorus of disapproval after it withdrew 'The Interview', but it's not too late for it to take a stand, says Joan Smith
From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?

Panto dames: before and after

From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?
Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Booksellers say readers are turning away from dark modern thrillers and back to the golden age of crime writing
Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best,' says founder of JustGiving

Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best'

Ten million of us have used the JustGiving website to donate to good causes. Its co-founder says that being dynamic is as important as being kind
The botanist who hunts for giant trees at Kew Gardens

The man who hunts giants

A Kew Gardens botanist has found 25 new large tree species - and he's sure there are more out there
The 12 ways of Christmas: Spare a thought for those who will be working to keep others safe during the festive season

The 12 ways of Christmas

We speak to a dozen people who will be working to keep others safe, happy and healthy over the holidays
Birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends, new study shows

The male exhibits strange behaviour

A new study shows that birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends...
Diaries of Evelyn Waugh, Virginia Woolf and Noël Coward reveal how they coped with the December blues

Famous diaries: Christmas week in history

Noël Coward parties into the night, Alan Clark bemoans the cost of servants, Evelyn Waugh ponders his drinking…
From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

The great tradition of St Paul and Zola reached its nadir with a hungry worker's rant to Russell Brand, says DJ Taylor
A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore: A prodigal daughter has a breakthrough

A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore

The story was published earlier this month in 'Poor Souls' Light: Seven Curious Tales'