President George Bush is hopeful that the US-led intervention to protect distribution of food and medical supplies could be concluded before his departure from office next month, but the resolution itself sets no time limit. In an effort to quell concerns that the US could become bogged down in Somalia, Marlin Fitzwater, the President's spokesman, said US troops sent to the country would be withdrawn as soon as supply corridors had been secured.
The international force will be led by a US commander. Pentagon sources said yesterday that the US military had put on alert a force of nearly 28,000 soldiers, sailors and airmen for the mission. France announced yesterday it would make a 'substantial' contribution to the force, while Belgium, Zimbabwe, Nigeria and Kenya are among other countries considering sending troops.
The President, who hands over power to the president-elect, Bill Clinton, on 20 January, reportedly stressed the short-term nature of US intentions in continuing consultations with other world leaders by telephone yesterday. He also discussed the situation at length by telephone with Mr Clinton, who has raised no opposition to the plans.
It now seems possible that US Marines already on ships off the Somali coast could be onshore and preparing for follow-on troops by this weekend. Mr Bush discussed details of the military operation with senior US generals, including the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Colin Powell. 'We obviously would like to resolve the military aspects of it as quickly as possible, and because the President leaves office on 20 January,' Mr Fitzwater said. 'If we could have them out before then, that would be preferable.'
He stressed that once the military mission of re-establishing aid distribution was accomplished the task of addressing Somalia's political vacuum would be left to the UN.
A few lone voices in Congress continued, however, to voice doubts about the feasibility of a quick US withdrawal, about the likely cost and about the precedent that might be set in terms of the US taking on a new role as world nanny. 'We have to know what the consequences are, we just can't afford to be the policeman of the world,' said Representative John Murtha.
The White House was considering plans for a statement by President Bush on the goals of the mission once UN approval is given. This would probably take place today, either as an address to the nation on network television or as a special White House press conference.
Cited as the force's likely commander on the ground is Marine Lieutenant-Colonel Bob Johnston, who was one of Norman Schwarzkopf's top aides in Operation Desert Storm in the Gulf war. He is currently commander of the First Marine Expeditionary Force. In charge of overall strategy would be Marine General Joseph Hoar, who is chief of Unified Command.
A draft mobilisation plan drawn up by Gen Hoar calls first for an amphibious landing at Mogadishu by the 1,800 Marines off the Somali coast who would proceed to secure the international airport and parts of the port. A US navy supply ship, meanwhile, the Jack Lummus, was steaming towards Somalia in the Indian Ocean with supplies on board, including 600 transport vehicles.
Among the troops on alert are 16,000 of the Marine Expeditionary Force at Camp Pendleton in California, and 10,000 army soldiers from Fort Drum, New York. They would be airlifted to the region across the Pacific and Indian oceans. A number of Special Operations covert teams would also be deployed, sources indicated.
LONDON - The Overseas Development Minister, Baroness Chalker, said yesterday that British troops would not join the planned force, AP reports. 'We will play our part in (the operation) though not with troops . . . we already have more than 2,400 British troops committed in peace-keeping in (the former Yugoslav republic of) Bosnia,' she said.
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